The inaugural Terra Australis has been won by the mountain bike team, the TORQ Allstar pair of Luke Fetch and Beijing Olympian, Dan McConnell. Seventy riders covered a total of 550 km of the Victorian High Country starting at Falls Creek on Sunday and finishing in Wangaratta on Saturday, seven days later.
The Victorian pair of McConnell and Fetch found themselves in second place for most of the seven stages after a disastrous first stage which involved multiple punctures. The Total Rush team of Mark Fenner and Sam Bach secured a 33 minute advantage over the TORQ Allstars. To their credit, the Total Rush team managed to ride strongly and held the overall lead for the first four stages keeping the strong TORQ Allstar team at bay. Riding in the yellow jersey was a new experience for Sam Bach.
Bach said, “The jersey gives you strength. We are competitive beasts and we wanted this win so bad. The young guys (McConnell and Fetch) were just too fast in the end.”
The TORQ Allstar team finally took the overall lead on the fifth stage and finished just 20 min in front of Total Rush with the BMC team of Troy Bailey and Joel Donney placing third overall.
The talking point of the week was what bike to bring back for next year as the course was as its name implied - an epic journey. For all riders it was one of the hardest weeks of riding they have ever done. Bikes were subject to a brutal examination, particularly in the High Country as the riders traversed and descended through alpine meadows and ridge lines that would be lucky to see any traffic whether it be car, bike or hikers.
With the end result beyond doubt, the leading teams arranged for the final stage between Beechworth and Wangaratta to be a neutral or non competitive stage with all riders coming through the finish line together.
Stuart McIntosh, a local rider from Beechworth said, "I was riding up a hill with an Olympian on my left and a World Champion on my right and we were having a chat about mountain biking. It was a great experience and highlighted the fact that we had all been on the same journey, just at different speeds!"
The Gala Dinner on the last night allowed the competitors to let their hair down and celebrate a fantastic personal achievement. The dinner incorporated the final presentations and the camaraderie amongst all the competitors was as evident then as it had been during the week.
The highlight of the evening was an interview with Jenny Caldwell. Caldwell, now 62 years of age, had taken up mountain biking at the age of 50 and has since become a veteran of many stage mountain bike events. Her 50 hours in the saddle during Terra Australis was a massive effort and Caldwell and her partner Jill Hill were voted the 'riders’ favourites'.
The team of Kerry Ryan, a 57 year old Victorian and Hans Delacher a 53 year old from Austria were a team that all competitors envied. Their impressive eighth place finish overall plus a category win in the super masters (50+) was outstanding.
The seven day stage event was a resounding success with competitors describing the stages as brutal, breathtaking and brilliant. The friendships that have been formed will last a lifetime and for the weekend warriors riding with the elite was a great experience.
According to Hans Delacher, “It’s the best event I have been a part of.”
Zoe King,one of the top national elite women, siad, "It was a tough week of riding."
King's team placed a creditable fourth overall and won the mixed pairs category.
Winning team rider, Dan McConnell, said today as he boarded a plane, “It was hard but a good hit out. It’s definitely been good training."
McConnell and another Terra Australis rider, Katherine O'Shea, will race next weekend in the first World Cup cross country race in South Africa.
All riders pushed themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of and have vowed to return next year. The massive mountains, the stunning vistas and the race format made for an epic week.