With no racing since nationals in March for most Victorians and the easing of restrictions there was high motivation to race once more. The idea of a new endurance MTB event on the calendar had Victorians mega keen to check out the Cattlemen 100 event.
The race comprised of 175km across the Victorian High Country starting and finishing in the remote town of Omeo. The route comprised of mainly fire roads with the odd section of tarmac and single track. Meaning it was borderline gravel bike worthy, although overall one for the MTB featuring a couple of rough stretches. Designed using three loops 32km, 53km and 90km and 6 feed zones the course was laid out for an epic race, considering the 3600m elevation we’d need to cover.
Friday before the event Russ and I drove up and rode the first 30km loop which set the scene of what we were in for. Having never been to Omeo before, it can only resemble a mix of the moon, Mongolian plains with a dash of Vic high country with an open landscape surrounded by large mountains. The first 30kms made for a sinking realisation of how hard this was going to be. Which had me thinking this course is going to need to be well respected and whatever you do, don’t go out too hard.
Race started at 7am and it already wasn’t cold, with the weatherman predicting high 30’s something nobody in Vic was yet to be acclimatized to. The first loop was chilled, besides the first descent which ended up being the only real technical descent of the day. With a few water bars and loose corners, it almost split the field early with mixed technical abilities in the bunch. After the first loop there was a bout 20 or so leaders in the front bunch. At this point in the race trying not to do anything stupid and eating and drinking was the main priority.
After the world’s fastest straight line decent, hitting 83kph and what feels like mountain bike terminal velocity, we it the first long climb at the 50km mark. The climb was exposed and hot and remember looking at the time on my Garmin (8:30am) thinking heck this is going to be a long day. Gradually riders would get dropped, either physically or mentally thinking this pace is too much right now. Lachlan Marshall went on the attack here and I was happy to sit back, thinking it was a bold move.
Coming into the end of the second loop at 80km we were still a large front group, but signs of fatigue were showing with the race really blowing apart from this point. With Lachy still minutes up the road our bunch dwindled from 20 to 10 to 5 riders and eventually we were all split riding our own races. This was helped by the fact that we were riding up 15% + climbs, where walking wasn’t much different to riding. I found myself on my lonesome ahead of the rest and as I made it to the 102km feed zone finally seeing Lacky up ahead. After filling up bottles (important component of the race) I started the descent back down the valley catching up to Lachy on the way down.
The next 30km or so on paper were supposed to be flat and in the mind of the riders ‘easy km’s’ where maybe we’d knock out the km’s at a faster place. Talking to lachy we thought it’d be advantageous to stick together talking turns for this section. Little did we know, this was Death Valley.. coming off the descent we were on an 8% decline riding at 20kph because the hot head wind was that strong, feeling like it wanted to blow us back up the hill. After rolling a turn I looked back, and Lachy was gone. With 75km to go I buckled up for a blown-apart race. I think, when a race is this hard everyone was having their moments yo-yoing from good to bad, from bad to terrible.
Riding through this valley was honestly pretty scarring, it felt like I was riding through Mongolian plains with nothing on the horizon, no shade and a brutal mix of both head or head cross winds. If it wasn’t for the wind it would’ve honestly been okay, but in no way was the wind working in our favour. With the open landscapes I could keep track of my chasers and roughly had a 2-3min lead coming into the 130km feed. At this point I was just trying to feed myself and become wary of not over cooking it with such a long way still to go.
If I though Death Valley was bad.. the next 45km must have been Hell. With large rolling hills, again in exposed open terrain the day really started to take a toll. On one of the long gradual climbs I read 38 degrees and it felt every bit like it, this was also the last time I would look at the temperature for my own mental state. Beyond the heat and my tiring body, there was another troublesome thought creeping in. At the final 150km feed I’d done the whole 3600m climbing which was planned and I knew we had at least one last climb before the decent into town. This had me thinking, either perhaps the climb will not be too big (unlike what the map suggests) or oh shit buckle up the final 25km will be hard.
This is where the race unravelled for me after 5hrs in the sun, dehydration kicked in as it was almost impossible to meet the demand. My only goal was to get to the 165km mark where I knew it was all downhill to the finish. Little did I know it was a 1000m climb to get there. I started riding really slow now, like walking pace. My body was just done, my mind trying to tell It otherwise. I was counting pedal strokes, tucking for speed on miner descents and bitting my tongue trying to distract my body from cramps. I got within sight on the crest of the climb as I saw Lachy coming up behind me, I buried myself with whatever I had left and made it to the crest with a small gap remaining. But Instead of going over the crest, we were directed left, up the final ridge of the climb. This ended up being another 3km ascent and 3km too long for my race with Lachy passing me without even a fight. I think we both looked at each other and gave a slight chuckle with both of us in such a poor state, just hanging in there.
At this stage it wasn’t a race anymore, rather a war of attrition and in all seriousness finishing the race was my next goal. Down the decent I had one eye closed, because two eyes gave me double vision and limped to get home. Crossing the line in 2nd after 7hrs:12mins that was the most wrecked and deep I’ve ever gone in a race.
Lying on the grass trying not to die, I was thinking shit there’s going to be some stories out of today and who ever finishes deserves a crown. That evening at presentations stories were shared and people were still finishing a good 12hrs deep into to race. In the end there was 50 odd finishers out of 120 starters, with all competitors gaining multiple war stories out of the day.
Overall, for a first-time event it was a unique and hardman’s race, which requires a whole amount of respect. The terrain was brutal and beautiful and if your looking for the ultimate physical challenge then this is for you. Looking back there’s a lot of room to play with in terms of bike set up which is a unique and cool feature of the race with racers looking for a light weight and fast rolling bike. I’ll be back, but like others that will want to look for redemption next year I’d be saying pace yourself and respect the course it’s a monster.
- Time 7hrs 12mins
- Distance 174.3m
- Elevation Gain 4,414m
- TSS 580
- Ave HR 155bpm Max 180bpm
- Ave Temp 29, Max 44 degrees