Two years in the planning and two days in the dismantling.
WEEK ONE: Terra Australis Bike Epic
Now that I’ve returned home I have had the opportunity to look back into the race tracker data and messages to try and piece together the events that led to the unfolding rabble of riders heading off in all directions effectively sabotaging the integrity of the Terra Australia Bike Epic as a bikepacking race with riders on a common course, with equal resources and detailed route data to achieve success.
Two years in the planning and two days in the dismantling.
This was the outcome of riders making self serving, irresponsible, ill informed decisions with absolute scant regard for the time, effort and detail of information at their disposal to achieve success.
You sign up for these events to race with honesty and integrity. Solo, unsupported make your own decisions. If you fail, put your hand up admit your shortcomings…. everyone will accept and admire your best attempt. But please, don’t go about hiding behind ‘authorities’ or blaming the race director because of your own inadequacies.
Saturday 15 September
The opening day was hot, the peninsular shire roads were corrugated rough and sandy. Within the opening hour the two European riders Sinisa Babic and Bernarda Juric missed a turn and rode off course. Two fails, riding as a team and navigation.
All riders made it to the start of the Old Telegraph Track [OTT] some making good progress along it. The tracker reveals that Paul Vandeleur rode trough for 20 hours to complete the OTT and arrived at the closed Bramwell Roadhouse at 2:00am. Steve Halligan stopped along the way at 10:00pm and was moving again at 5:00am to arrive at Bramwell Roadhouse shortly before the 8:00am opening time. Both Vandeleur and Halligan were quick to re-supply and on their way within 10 min of the opening time down to the Frenchman’s Rd turn
Monday 17 September
After 20 hours the first day, Paul Vandeleur then rode 23 hours on day two to arrive Coen [500k] at 7:00am the first rider on the course. Pause a moment and reflect on the reality that this was done with day temperatures approaching 40ºC. Paul’s subsequent decision to scratch and tour home was a smarter move…
Later that day around 3:30pm I arrived at Bramwell Roadhouse [217k] an hour after Brendan Corbin. Brendan’s parents were in Coen [watching the tracker] and ring the Roadhouse. They talk to Brendan and he then passes the phone to me as Paul Vanderleur [who had stayed in Coen throughout the day] wants to tell me that he’s been advised by Police and NatParks and some motor bike riders that the race route going via the Port StewartRd/ Wakooka/Starke River route is unsafe, if not impossible, to ride. Dry/sandy/limited water … it’s a very poor line and a garbled incoherent conversation. I was in no position to analyse what exactly the detail of advice was that Paul had been given.
Under the circumstances I suggested riders should continue south on the Peninsular Development Rd [PDR] and rejoin the race route at Cooktown. I borrow the Roadhouse phone make a quick phone call to my wife and arrange for text and eMail messages to riders advising them of the re-route. The next group of riders would be coming through Coen over the next 24hrs [and get Telstra reception] and so be updated on the change. There is a protocol to follow for route changes [fire, flood, road closures] and riders were informed of this process at the pre-race brief.
The shortest practicable route was south through Laura and make the turn east at Lakeland to rejoin the route near Cooktown. Clearly this was ignored or not received. A further 24 hours on riders commenced on a variety of freestyle routes south of Coen. On the Wednesday I started getting messages from riders. Not only were riders not going via Cooktown but effectively bypassing the entire route from Cooktown to Cairns and to top it off cutting out the entire leg out to Longreach and back to Byron Bay … a 2,750k snip.
This was becoming an absurdity and hard to comprehend … and what coincidence from solo independent racers? Had they all been privy to the advice from the ‘authorities’?
Clearly there was collusion amongst a group of riders who had decided that their own self interest and shortcomings would be best served by taking some soft touring route south.
Forget about the event they signed on for. Forget about the ethics of solo independent racing and decision making. Find an excuse to hide behind and blame someone else …. sit in a Pub long enough and you’ll find a solution.
And so the messages started coming into my phone…..
“Morning all, am just leaving Laura, paul is heading to the coastal Bloomfield trk I’m heading to mareeba, I think Irish steve headed to port Douglas, I will plot a course to byron bay and mareeba and plot a course south. This is all because we have been told by authorities out 2 longreach wilb worse than we have seen so far.”
So here we have it in a nutshell. The ‘authorities’ in Coen at the 500k mark have intimate knowledge of the race route for the next 2000k and it’s going to be ‘worse’.
“I will be following Paul down the coast then hoping to hook up with Carl at Byron and rejoin the race route”
“Hey Steve I’m out of race and touring.”
I message to all riders who wished to continue racing: To proceed direct to Mareeba and recommence the race route at that point. This effectively voided the section from Coen to Mareeba. It had become impossible to regain any cohesion to race the section from Cooktown to Cairns.
“Only got coverage once back in Port Douglas. Now I know whats going on, heading to Mareeba.”
Another message from Carl expanding on the decision to bypass the Longreach leg.
“I think it’s fair to say Steve that half of us are not convinced ur route to longreach is a safe option”
This whole unfortunate shambles has been created by the riders themselves lacking the discipline and self belief to follow the race route, re-supply effectively and
ride sensibly taking account of the heat and road conditions.
FOR THE RECORD
Coen Police Division does not cover the Cape Melville/Wakooka/Starcke section of the race route. My advice from the Coen Police senior station manager is that their Division boundary hardly covers 100k. The section above is covered by Laura or Hope Vale police stations. None of the above police stations would be offering any advice on roads/water/safety/conditions [Cairns-Longreach] a thousand kilometres away from their area of responsibility….
Coen National Parks office are responsible for the National Parks in the Coen area. There are Ranger Stations that cover Port Stewart and the Lakefield National Park and Cape Melville. What advice were they giving on roads/water/conditions hundreds of kilometres from their area of responsibility?
If you’re unsure about why you are out there riding in this event or perhaps thinking about signing on as a rider in the coming years go to the website and read some of the information available…. start with this!
The Terra Australis route is suitable for experienced multi-day ultra endurance riders who have a demonstrated capacity of racing and enduring the constant daily challenges, dealing with the elements and one's changing emotional space. In addition, they need to have the knowledge and capacity to prepare, plan and execute their ride with a clear understanding of their personal needs to remain hydrated and fuelled to undertake and complete the ride without any outside support other than that which is available to any fellow competitor from commercial business providers or public facilities along the route.