For full 2012 stage results Click Here
Purni Bore to Birdsville – via the Rig Road, K1 & QAA Lines
Everything was looking good early in the season with the desert starting to dry out. The Warburton Crossing was about to open, but it was not to be. Late June rains caused the crossing to flood again.
Time to drag out Plan ‘B’. A fully staged race across the QAA Line. This had never been successfully done, so it was always going to be risky, especially knowing we had not been able to get near the desert for 3 years. Depending on the size of the flood detour at Big Red, we new the course was going to be somewhere around 570km. Considering the unknowns, the smaller field of 16 riders was a blessing.
After 2 years of trying, this was the first time the ‘fat bikes’ would have a chance to prove their worth. With half the field riding on these 4 inch monster tyres, it was make or break time and with the QAA Line being included in this years course, they were guaranteed mountains of sand.
The next five days racing brought plenty of challenges and memorable moments for both riders, crews and officials. By the end of Day 2, 11 of the 16 riders were still on 100%. Day 3, the first dune, 3 kms from camp bought the convoy to a halt. All hell had broke loose as the vehicles struggled to get over the soft sand capped dune and stay ahead of the riders. Day 3 lunch, battling 40’C temperatures and strong head winds, the riders emotions were on edge as they came into camp. Terry (rider #14) was exhausted, only just staying ahead of sweep after stopping to help another rider. By the end of Day 3, only 8 riders were still on 100% with worse to come. Day 4, the riders needed to make good time around Poeppel’s Lake to get far enough ahead of sweep before hitting the QAA Line. Heavy sand reduced the 100% group to 7 by the end of the day 4. With two short stages on the final day, the riders were able to enjoy a group ride on the last stage into Birdsville, letting Lou (William McLaren #16) take line honors.
The race was topped off with the final celebrations being held at the Birdsville Hotel, giving everyone the chance to sit back, relax and reminisce. As the evening drew to a close, shared stories of guts, glory, elation and despair filled the air at the end of another fantastic year in the desert.
Some memorable stats for 2012:
- first time the Warburton Crossing has been closed for 4 consecutive years.
- first year a fully staged race has been run using the Rig Road, K1 & QAA Lines.
- the oldest rider (Lou McLaren #16) to compete in the event at a spritely 74 years young.
- first true test of the ‘fat bikes’ in the desert.
- first time to have a draw for first place (rigged I’m sure!).
And to all those people who have contacted me since the race, vowing to return, train hard and we’ll see you in the desert next year.
Stage By Stage:
The convoy grouped at Dalhousie Springs on the way to the desert, for a quick swim before heading onto Purni Bore. Three years of rain in the desert has transformed the normally dry, baron Spring Delta flood plain into a lush green oasis teaming with wildlife. This was our first sight of a desert bought back to life by the last 3 years of rain.
With all but one crew in camp, it was time to get the event started. 5pm briefing, race director, Mark Polley welcomed everyone to the event and outlined what was going to happen over the next 5 days. Tension was building as the first time riders and crews sat hanging on every word. The weather forecast was looking good with only 1 day tipped to hit the 40’s and milder weather for the rest of the week, everything was set for another year. With formal introductions over, the crews mingled and prepared for the dreaded 4:30am start in the morning.
Finally, about 8pm our last crew joined us. They had stopped to help a stranded vehicle and lost several hours in the process. With everyone now accounted for, we were ready to start.
Rig Road, 78km & 49km.
Weather: Overcast and cool but warming up later in the day.
Day 1 – Morning (Stage 1)
The camp started to stir at 4:30am as crews hurried to pack. The lead convoy headed out on the track at 5.30am setting up the distance markers and direction arrows. Riders assembled, lining up at across the track. All the words of wisdom, “take it easy”, “pace yourself” were lost…..6am Sweep signaled the start and they were off on a mad dash across the desert.
7am and the sweep convoy followed…the show was on the road.
Fresh legs set brisk pace but some of the more experienced riders were holding back. Bitten by the desert before and lessons learnt. The first 30kms of small rolling dunes were easy going followed by a run between the swales but then reality hit as the riders turned back into the dunes. Lynton Stretton (#9) taking out the first stage at a comfortable pace (4h.30m). 13 other riders completed the stage.
Day 1 – Afternoon (Stage 2)
As forecast, the weather stayed mild, making riding easier for the afternoon stage mainly south between the swales, with a final dash into the dunes at the end. Riders maintained good speed in the overcast conditions. Lynton Stretton (#9) taking out the second stage in 2h.41m. Day 1 reduced the 100% contingent to 13 and the notorious Day 2 tomorrow.
Rig Road, 78km & 50km.
Weather: Overcast but warming up to 41 degrees.
Day 2 – Morning (Stage 3)
Another beautiful morning in the desert. An ominous sign of what is to follow. The temperature climbed steadily to hit the low 40’s by midday. For many years, Day 2 has been “Crunch Day” where riders would either ride into the history books or have their hopes crushed (to the delight of Sweep).
This mornings stage continued along the Rig Road with 34kms of dunes before a break heading up the swales past the Lone Gum Tree. The last section was back into the dunes before a 3km loop around the lake to cross the finish line.
Medics were seeing a marked increase in the number of requests for “bum-cream”, as the riders were starting to feel the effects of being in the saddle for the second day.
The last time we covered this course, the lead rider took over 6 hours to complete the stage. This year the desert was kind. Lynton (#9) clocked in at 4h 56m closely followed by Alan (#2) and Murray (#17) in 5h 01m. In total, 11 riders completed the stage.
The Sweep put in a valiant effort this morning, capturing 5 of the riders. Pickings have been slim this year.
Day 2 – Afternoon (Stage 4)
For many, the late finish on the morning stage had reduced there recovery time. This afternoons stage was going to be demanding in the heat. Some of the riders requiring special treatment including shading on the start line by there support crew (no sure where they found this crew member?).
Melanie (#8) was last seen vomiting on the tracks at the 16km point with the medics on-looking. Other stories of riders starting to signs of wear, were filtering into the night camp. John (#10) barely making to camp after pulling a ligament in his leg, finishing his race for 2012.
The riders are starting to fell the strain, many walking the larger soft dunes in the afternoon stage..
The fat Bikes share their first stage victory with Lynton (#9), Alan (#2) and Murray (#17) crossing the finish line in 2h 58m and Graham (#6) crossing the line 8 minutes later.
All up a good day with 11 riders holding onto their 100%.
Rig Road-K1 Line, 80km & 49km.
Weather: Partly Overcast and hot. 46 degrees.
Day 3- Morning (Stage 5)
This last section of the Rig Road is notorious for the big soft dunes able to stop riders and vehicles alike. This stage in 2007 saw most of the front convoy swept after the riders past them on the dune at the 19km mark.
The front convoy parted camp at 5:30am. By 5:55am only 8 of the vehicles had managed to get over the first dune at the 3km mark. With the real potential of the convoy being swept again, there was some serious panic. The support crews were starting to fell the pressure. Thanks to some airborne maneuvers the vehicles started to make progress, increasing the gaps between the riders. But not all the vehicles were holding together. Medic #3 first to come unstuck as the canopy parted company with the rest of the vehicle, followed closely by Team #8, who’s roof rack let go. Time for some very creative engineering solutions.
This year, the dunes were very soft but at least there was a flat top to land on. This was real fat bike turf. Alan and Murray , impressed the the capability of their bikes, riding most of the dunes in the stage.
The last 20km of the stage was on the K1 Line. In 2009 when we last used this track it was covered in the meter of sand and barely visible. This year, almost no sand at all. A flat fast clay track, except for the 46 degree temperatures and the roaring headwind provided smack on time to ensure maximum suffering!
The stage win shared by Alan (#2) and Murray (#17) finishing in a time of 4h 29m.
Day 3- Afternoon (Stage 6)
The afternoon stage continued north along the K1 Line for another 49km straight into the heat and head winds.
Tim (#7) reached the 20km mark and downed tools (the bike). Terry (#14) tried in vein for 20 minutes to get him back on the bike, but with the sweep rapidly approaching, he has no choice but to flee the scene. With sweep in hot pursuit, Terry pulled out all stocks to stay seconds ahead of sweep time. Exhausted, Terry dragged himself and his bike across the finish line and collapsed leaving his team in hysterics.
Pride and emotion filled the air as his crew defiantly shuffled him off to their camp away from the Sweep’s clutches.
The stage win shared by Lynton (#9), Alan (#2), Murray (#17) and Michael (#12) crossing in a time of 3h 27m.
Now Tim had fallen victim to the Sweep and failed to finish the 6th stage, there was only 8 left on 100%.
The grin on the Sweep’s face was growing with every new scalp and still four more stages to go.
K1 and QAA Lines, 67km & 40km.
Weather: Partly Overcast and hot with a cool change.
Day 4- Morning (Stage 7)
We had weather forecasts for damaging winds and high temperatures, a promise that was fulfilled. We had lightning during the night and the temperature was 27°C at 4.30am.
Driving north along the K1 Line near Poeppel’s Corner the sun commenced its ascent over the dry salt lake to the east of the track. The remarkable sight of a red ball rising through the dense dust haze, whilst in the north, thunder storms were illuminating the morning sky.
The temperature reached 47°C as the wind swept sand across the desert. Fortunately once the cool change arrived at noon the wind was behind the riders otherwise it would have been a total Day in Hell.
The riders were content to stay in packs today and take turns pushing the wind for the first 34km to the start of the QAA Line. Even the slower riders were finding solace riding together.
Once on the QAA Line it was a good 27km before the sand started to let up testing the riders and bikes to the limit. Finally a chance for the Fat Tyre bikes to shine however they are only as good as the motor.
The stage win shared by Alan (#2) and Murray (#17) crossing in a time of 4h 18m.
Day 4- Afternoon (Stage 8)
The cool change finally blows in as we break for lunch. The wind stiffens and turns to the south west. Only a short a stage of 40km this afternoon, to the eastern edge of the national park.
As the riders head further east, the dunes are bigger and separated by hard clay pan track. Only 7 riders complete the afternoon stage. Finally Sweep crushed Terry’s 100% aspirations at the 13km mark. Four days of racing had finally taken its toll.
The stage win shared by Alan (#2) and Murray (#17) crossing in a time of 2h 11m and the 100% field was reduced to 7.
The shorter stage allowed for an early briefing and a chance for our fines mistress, Donna, to goose two supremely over qualified candidates. I’m not quiet sure what these guys were trying to achieve but Medic Team 4, Ben and Ewin appeared clueless as well. Cheers Guys!
QAA Lines, 47km & 33km.
Weather: Partly Overcast and mild.
Day 5- Morning (Stage 9)
This year the morning stage has been split into two short stages to allow us to clear the desert and regroup before heading into Birdsville.
After a windy and wet night, we were treated to a fantastic last days riding. We leave the boundary of the National Park and head past Big Red and around the remaining floodwaters in Lake Nappanerica until we rejoined the main road east of Little Red. Also this presented an opportunity for the support crews to test their vehicles on Big Red.
An emergency had occurred in the desert requiring the Police and Ambulance to attend, requiring the rear convoy to vacate the track to allow them through leaving Melanie fee to make a break on the sweep. 5kms from camp, Melanie was forced to stop and change a flat tyre. Quickly back on the track and 2kms from camp, another flat but this time no spare. Riders at the end of the stage heard sweep gloating at the prospect of another victim. 5 riders were seen racing out of camp to Melanie’s aid. 3 running interference in front of the sweep whilst the others helping get Melanie’s bike to the finish line, with her running. True Desert Challenge stuff.
Day 5- Morning (Stage 10)
After a short break, the second morning stage started at 11:00am. The riders had decided to neutralise the last stage and complete the final 33km to Birdsville as a group. An emotional finish to the stage. At the spritely age of 74, the group decide to let Lou (#16) cross the finish line in first place. Alan, Lynton and Murray bringing up the rear.
Overall winners, Alan (#2) and Murray (#17) completed the 572km course in a time of 34h 32m.
Also congratulations to Alan for taking out the Bean Award for 2012.
Sincere thanks to everyone involved in this years race and all the people working behind the scenes to make this a truly unique and unforgettable experience.
We’re please to report that the person rescued from the desert was evacuated from birdsville by the RFDS in a stable condition, later in the afternoon.
On behalf of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, sincere thanks for another massive effort, raising $37,850.62.
Special thanks to Terry Flaskos and his supporters from the Greek community in Sydney, who raised a staggering $14,390.
Congratulations to all concerned and our deepest thanks to everyone who contributed.
|Desert Challenge Inc||$70.00|
Stories from the gallery
Susan Williams (#13)
As a newbie to the event, it was going to be a once only, and husband Gav said he’d NEVER ever do it.,,,
but that was before our wonderful week in the simpson with you and all the wonderful volunteers….
and huge effort and very well run event…
so much so that we are sourcing Fat Bikes and will be back next year….
Yep, both of us hope to ride…
For the full article click Simpson Story – just the desert part
Tim Grimes (#7)
Day 4, 11.30 am. Temperature about 45. Location, somewhere in the Simpson Desert. 5K from the finish of the stage and with an hour to get there, I sat down under a tree and told myself I had had enough, I was pedaling no more. I decided there that there were two types of people in this world, those of us who pedal the Simpson, and sane people.
So what happened? Well, the low point of my ride was also the high point, as over the dune came the medics in their green van, with cold water for my parched throat and a size 10 boot for my bum. They actually told me to keep going with the words, and I quote, “You will not die.” And so I did, and finished the stage.
And while I was swept once more, I also completed two more stages and finished 91%. And I rode into Birdsville the next day with 15 new mates, in the presence of talented riders and elite endurance athletes who let me feel like I belonged in their group. And all the support crews and all the medics and water crews and sweeps and directors from the race cheered, and I got to have a beer from the Birdsville Hotel.
And you know what? It was good.
For the full article click A Hacks Guide to the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge
Lorraine & Alan Hancox (WS2)
Our son, Graham was part of a support team in 2011 and became determined to enter in 2012. We thought we would be a support crew for another rider this year but that did not eventuate so successfully applied to become Water-Stop Officials. We have been in or across the Simpson Desert at least once per year since 1998, it is always different but this was quite a new experience.
Congratulations to everybody involved in this marvelous event; organisers, riders, officials, support crews and sponsors, without whom it just couldn’t happen.
For the full article click SDBC 2012 – A Water-Stop Officials view
Nic Learmonth (Crew #15)
In another first for the event, which is affectionately known as ‘Five Days in Hell,’ Sydney-siders Alan Keenleside and Murray Rook came first-equal.
Alan and Murray had prepared for the Simpson together, and they rode together throughout the week. At the end of the stage five Alan even paused at the top of the last dune, well in sight of the finish line, to wait for Murray to get up the dune so they could finish the stage together.