For one glorious weekend, the town was a mass of gears and wheels and lycra, well fuelled by tons of enthusiasm and buckets of coffee. And Audax riders were in the thick of things, adding their road bikes, mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes to the mix of urban downhillers, BMXers, trials bikes, kids bikes, electric bikes, hand-cranked bikes and tiny tots on balance bikes.
Sixty nine riders registered for BikeFest Audax, with 34 opting for the 100km loop around the coffee shops of Malanda and Yungaburra. Two diehard roadies decided they needed double the fun and chose the 200km option. The rest opted to tackle the rail trail and irrigation channel road on a 75km loop out to Tinaroo Dam and back through a maze of dirt roads through farming country. Most brought their mountain bikes, with a hardy few braving the gravel on cyclocross bikes.
The start line in Atherton was its usual blaze of bravado and bananas, as riders sorted themselves into their starting areas. Was it just the suspicions of the RO, or did most riders zone out while the ride briefing was delivered. The many sideways glances at the mention of cue sheets and comments of “do you know where we are going” did little to quell suspicions as the first wave of road riders was sent off at exactly 6.30am. The dirt riders headed down the rail trail one minute later, before the final wave of road riders got underway at 6.32am.
The dirt riders followed the Atherton Tablelands Rail Trail out of town, with the slightly downhill grade making the first 15 km an easy ride. Things got more serious after the turn onto Channel Road East. All European-inspired romantic visions of a continuously smooth flat road along a scenic man-made waterway to the dam soon disappeared. In between sections of postcard perfect riding, the Channel Road is interspersed with huge valleys where the waterway disappears into pipes and pumps, and the road tilts dramatically down and up again. There were a few offerings made to the Gods of Claret on the loose gravel, but the majority of riders made it through unscathed to the turnoff at Tinaroo Dam. The road then followed the shoreline of the dam to where Kim had set up the first Control at Downfall Creek Camping area (39km).
After refuelling on lollies, fruit cake and (you guessed it!) the best bananas in the world, it was time for riders to head back around the dam and onto the recreational bike path through Tinaroo township. Many riders stopped off at the only available coffee shop along the route, taking a chance on a promise of great coffee from the owners. From all reports, they weren’t disappointed. The route then threaded through the Kairi and Tolga farming areas along relatively flat and well-made dirt roads. For most riders, these roads offered a new perspective on the Tablelands with beautiful views over Tinaroo and vast areas of stunning green paddocks. It was then a quick hop back along the rail trail to finish at the Atherton Mountain Bike Park Trailhead, where the activities of BikeFest were well-underway. The first group of riders (Wil, Dietmar, Lucas, Andrew and Steven) was home in 3hr49mins including two of the cyclocross bikes. Graham came home at 5hrs29mins, pleased to have successfully finished, but already talking about being a volunteer on the next ride. Maybe the idea of sitting at a Control point eating bananas and lollies looked more appealing than riding.
The 100km and 200km riders headed in the opposite direction towards Wongabel, already dreaming of a leisurely meander through paddocks and coffee stops. After a quick stint up the Kennedy Highway, they encountered the notorious Belson Road with its nasty little 11 percent sting at the top. From there, things seemed to get more complicated. Most riders found the next turnoff and correctly ended up heading along East Barron Road. Others missed the turnoff, or confused East Barron Road with Upper Barron Road, or made SOS calls to the RO for directions. The Strava fly-bys view of the ride started to resemble a Tablelands-sized game of snakes and ladders, with riders heading in all directions, adding in bits and taking off bits, but everyone finally checking in with Jann at the Malanda Control (46km).
Malanda Bakery was well patronised by riders, who slowly forgave the RO for Belson Road and tackled the next section of the ride around the back of Lake Eacham towards Yungaburra. The 200km riders added in a 35km section around the tea farms, including quick dips down (and up) the Topaz Range, then in (and out) of two leg busting roads that backed onto the foothills of Queensland’s highest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere. Several 100km riders thought this detour was a good idea, and the tea farms got some extra visitors.
It was a busy day in Yungaburra, with the Folk Festival and the markets in full swing as riders approached the town. They gamely wove their way around the hustle and bustle to arrive at Control Two (89km) manned by Mal (our third-time volunteer) and Pat, who had set out every traffic cone on hand to demarcate a pathway to their table in the park. The RO feigned deafness as riders swapped stories of the routes they had taken, and argued the virtues of following a local rather than a cue sheet. Unfortunately, the local hadn’t checked the latest cue sheet, resulting in a gratuitous visit to the Afghanistan Avenue of Honour on the banks of Tinaroo. Many riders took the opportunity to disappear into a Yungaburra coffee shop or wander through the markets and folk festival acts. Those hard cases from Townsville enjoyed the action over a quiet ale at the Yungaburra pub before braving the last few kilometres into Atherton.
Peter and Tate arrived at Atherton Mountain Bike Park in 4hrs38mins, with another group (Jose, Paul, Kieran, Joe and Aitor) close behind, followed 10 minutes later by Kellie, Russell and Neil. The RO decided to quietly sign their Brevet cards and not mention the Avenue of Honour, or the tea farms, or Upper Barron Road. Riders trickled into BikeFest for the next few hours, with weary smiles and lots of questions about the totally unnecessary detour up Dalziel Avenue in Atherton for that one final hill.
Special mention must go to Tia and Mick, our granddaughter and grandfather team, who are already in training for next year and are determined to make it to the finish line. And to the ever-improving Glynis, who came within 24 minutes of the cut-off on her third attempt at a 100km ride. And to Dallas, who rode with Glynis all day, before cutting loose just before home in a sprint to make it to the finish in time. And to all those flat-landers from Townsville, Cairns and the coast who tackled the lumpy bits of our Tablelands with such good humour.
While it was the end of the day for most riders, Martin and Peter decided to continue on and finish their 200km epic, despite the enticements of BikeFest, the 30+ degree heat and the prospect of a climb up both Herberton Range and Watsonville Range to finish. They lingered over hamburgers and cold drinks, before finally starting off on the last 65km of their ride, while everyone else headed up to watch the madness that was the BikeFest Urban Downhill race. From all accounts, Peter and Martin made it up the ranges and found the secret stamp hanging from the windmill in the centre of the metropolis of Watsonville. After a celebratory selfie, they headed back over the Watsonville Range and down the Herberton Range, arriving back in Atherton after 10hrs 42 mins and nearly 3000 metres of climbing. A truly awesome effort !!
Thank you to all our riders and volunteers for making our third FNQ Audax such a great day out. We hope you achieved something that put a smile on your face and encouraged you along the way to your next great adventure on the bike.
Our next event is a 100km road ride – Rudolph’s Revenge – on 4 December 2016 leaving from the Cairns Esplanade. Online registrations are now open !! See you there.