The 77km Stage Four of the Inkgerreke Commercial Mountain Bike Enduro in Alice Springs featured equal parts pain and pleasure today with spills for some and come from behind wins for the more fortunate.
rider Naomi Hansen registered a bike-length win over yellow jersey rider, Melissa Anset, while Team Torq’s Jack Haig had his hopes of being the first to beat overall men’s leader, Andy Blair, dashed by a shoulder-crushing fall in the closing kilometres of what was a brutal day on course.
Haig’s fall was the second in two days for the Torq crew. While Haig’s bruised shoulder and broken handlebar didn’t stop him from finishing today’s stage, Robbie Hucker’s crash yesterday resulted in two broken bones in his elbow, ending the event for him and likely costing him at least three weeks out of the saddle. His incident happened nearing the finish line of yesterday’s Stage Three when he took a line through tall grass where three telegraph poles lay hidden. He managed to clear the first two but came down on the third, sending him and his Ingkerreke Commercial Enduro hopes over the handlebars.
On course today, Haig and Blair worked together for most of the ride, holding the pace and working as a pair before falling back to allow first Nick Both and then Ben Hogarth to join the front-end fray. With everything to gain in terms of time, the latter two did most of the work while Blair and Haig, safely 1-2 overall, had nothing to lose by sitting back to enjoy the ride for the middle section of the course.
Then things got interesting.
“Blair attacked through a rocky section before the ridge,” says Haig. “He took out a 30 metre gap or so. I had to work hard to get back onto his wheel.”
The rolling surge dropped Both and Hogarth as Blair and Haig went toe-to-clipped-in-toe.
“As we climbed up the first hill onto the ridgeline, we kept attacking each other, testing to see how fatigued the other was. I attacked across the top, trying to really push the pace. By the next climb I was leading, but had to unclip and walk a section. Blair overtook and then on the decent, which was a hairy section, I got a big rock under my back wheel and crashed badly.”
Despite a broken handlebar and aching shoulder, Haig remounted and limped over the final few kilometres, leaving Blair to an easy win.
“I could ride, but I decided to cruise and protect my shoulder. It’s pretty ginger. I’m hoping it will be okay to ride tomorrow – I’ll get a new handlebar and go for a ride later to see how it feels.”
Haig, who was overtaken in the final push by Nick Both for second placing today, still managed third place and maintains second placing in the overall standings.
“If I ride tomorrow, it’ll just be about trying to preserve second place overall,” says Haig.
The same conservative approach may be on the cards for overall leader Blair in tomorrow’s two stages, a 23km time trial and a 23km night race.
“If I think about it rationally, I just have to be cautious and ride sensibly. I’m unlikely to lose time if I have no problems. So that’s the most important factor: avoid problems. Then and again, the time trial is a true test, and it’d be good to go out and make statement,” Blair muses. “But realistically I should just stick to riding down hills smoothly and efficiently and fast up them.”
In the women’s the racing came down to a sprint finish on the final BMX track lap between Naomi Hansen and yellow jersey rider, Melisa Anset, although the giggling and hollering between the pair gave away the fact that, with Anset holding an unassailable lead in cumulative time, the riding between the pair was not as aggressive as between the men.
“The first part of the undulating double track was scary for me,” says Hansen who admits to not being top of the technical game. “I lost Melissa in that first section. Then we jumped onto the cycle track to Simpsons Gap where I just time trialled, eventually catching up to a group of guys. We then worked as group, catching Melissa.”
Anset had been riding out on her own, a fearsome headwind biting into her energy reserves.
“We rode together and chatted, actually,” says Naomi. “Melissa has fifteen or so minutes on me – so it’s not like there was any point in us pushing each other, except to stay ahead of the other girls. So we sat together for rest of the stage on a bit of a ‘ladies agreement’. On the last climb, Melisa rode up quicker, but then pulled back, saying she appreciated the work I’d done on the road section with her.”
Cue lots of squealing on the BMX track as Hansen and Anset rode in together, a final fun sprint giving Hansen the over-the-line spoils for Stage Four.
“I’m happy with today’s ride – I didn’t lose any more time to Melissa, and I put a bit more of a gap on (third placed) Terri (Rhodes) before tomorrow’s night stage and time trial, which she’ll do well in.
“Still, there are three stages to go and look how many of the top guys are out because of crash. On a stage race you never give up until you cross that final finish line on the last day - you never know what can happen in between.”
STAGE FOUR MEN
1. Andrew BLAIR, 2:50:15
2. Nick BOTH, 2:51:54
3. Jack HAIG, 2:53:40
STAGE FOUR WOMEN
1. Melissa ANSET, 3:23:39
2. Naomi HANSEN, 3:23:28
3. Terri RHODES, 3:35:44
OVERALL STANDINGS MEN
1. Andrew BLAIR, 6:25:43,
2. Jack HAIG, 6:33:18,
3. Ben HOGARTH, 6:43:11,
OVERALL STANDINGS WOMEN
1. Melissa ANSET, 7:45:40,
2. Naomi HANSEN, 8:00:49
3. Terri RHODES, 8:17:02
Tomorrow features two stages, the Stage Five 23km time trial backed up by a 23km night race..
Day 04: 23km Time Trial + 23km night race
Day 05: 40km
Ingkerreke Commercial Mountain Bike Enduro, MTB, racing, stage racing, off road, rapid ascent, andy blair, red centre, singletrack, Central Australia, Rough Riders