Andy Blair, no stranger to leading the ICME, has over a minutes lead heading into the second stage. Andy's team mate Shaun Lewis placed second with Tasmanian Ben Mather on his tail. A Tasmanian also featured in the top three woman's placings too with Rowena Fry across the line before Jenny Fay. Jenny King rounded out the podium but was five minutes down in time from the leading two woman.
At this stage there isn't much between the top riders, it will be interesting to see how the week pans out. Will Andy and Shaun work together all week? Which stage will Andy gift Shaun? Can XC pros of Kyle Ward and Ben Hogarth make inroads on the possible domination of the Specialized/Swell team?
|Image care of Rapid Ascent from the 2012 edition.|
Steve Billington gives us an insight to how his stage went down.
Yippee, Monday morning, finally race time. The rain had continued though as the 200+ riders were released for the 42km (claimed) stage under police escort through Alice into trails at the north part of town. As the police car sped off to signify the end of the neutral stage, the elites came to the fore with the Specialised Swell boys and Rockstar taking control at the front. Expectedly the pace upped a couple of notches and the field started to spread out. The initial 4wd track was sandy and sucky making everyone work that little bit harder to keep up the pace.
I found myself racing alongside the 1st two female elites and the track started to firm up with some pinches and sharp descents. During one of these early descents before the single track there was a rock bed that was kind of chunky which was bouncing everyone around at speed. Unfortunately for me, it took a liking to my front wheel, which suddenly grabbed, sent me over the handle bars and slapped me down on the track, Ouch. Luckily all good, bark off arms and legs, but everything was still working and the bike was not visibly affected. As everyone who has endo’d can attest, for the next 10mins afterwards I was all over the shop, adrenaline pumping whilst I tried to catch back onto the pack that I was with.
We had entered the single track now and whilst the grip had gone up immensely from before the rain, I could not get settled into a rhythm and was getting frustrated. Calm Stephen, its a 5 day race, do your best for the next section as you never know what will happen. Slowly I was working my way back into my race pace. I took a gel at the 1hr mark, grabbed a new bottle at the 20km drink station and I was starting to feel good. Another guy had caught up to me and we worked together, which is always easier than trying to push yourself. I was also getting into my race zone, feeling good about pushing and the single track was coming more naturally. The sharp rocks were a bit of paranoia for me, we had heard so many stories and I was trying to dodge them or hit them head on and protect my sidewalls. I was also suffering some chain suck and decided to try and stick in my lower front chain ring (2 x 10 setup) to minimise the chances of having to stop and get the chain unjammed.
At about 30km on my garmin, we hit a nasty climb that I stuffed up and had to run. We over took the leading girls here and I could start to see some other guys up ahead, good, this is not going to be so bad. I put the hammer down on a short road section and then got a big surprise, we were at the velodrome finish, what! We had only done 35km, Nooooooo, I needed the extra 7km! I still had my mate on my tail for our sprint around the velodrome and managed to snick him on the line.
Dissapointed, yes, but on reflection thankful for no broken bones or bike, no flats and there are 6 stages to go. I’m still in it.
This afternoon is the hill climb, a stage for the fans and a bit of pride, not no real time gains or losses will be realised. It is 300m long and quite steep, so we’ll see if I brought my climbing legs.