Race Director’s Report SDBC 2015
Consider this: –
You are stood in the Simpson Desert at the start of a 500km race along the French Line to Birdsville. You can choose between a fully prepared 4WD or a pedal cycle. Which would you go for? Look at the sand dunes, feel the heat of the sun, consider the distance you have to travel.
If you chose the 4WD you’d be quite a long way behind the leaders! The biggest surprise this year was that the bikes were faster than the cars, consistently, on every difficult stage. The front convoy was under constant danger of being caught.
20 riders arrived at Purni Bore from a field of 22. One rider succumbed to ill health, always a potential problem when your training program runs for the better part of a year. Another had last minute problems sourcing a vehicle, something we couldn’t get around at short notice.
For my part as Race Director, I was happy to have my entire waterstop crew from last year sign on again. Capable and organized, that took away a whole raft of worries. Alan and Lorraine signed on again as course markers, the best in the business. We had medics old and new, with the stalwart Dr Mal returning for his 13th straight year and Sophie was driven by the eccentric Pirate. Martin and Elizabeth, a couple of veterinarians, made up the third team. It seemed rather apt to have a vet to treat the primates that ride the bikes.
Of all the official positions, fast riders really put the pressure on the Course Markers. Course marking is a slow job; by necessity you must stop every 5km to hammer in a distance marker. The Course Markers hit the road at 4:45am, just a few minutes after the rest of the camp woke up. I worried about the course marker having enough time to do the basics, like eating and drinking.
Day 1 Date: Tues 29/9/15
Stage 1: (Dune Resurrection) 68km.
Much of last years course had been bulldozed flat so I was very keen for the riders to see some real dunes. Weather conditions were ideal with cool weather and low winds.
Pent up nerves and adrenaline mean the first stage is always raced hard. The going was good for the first 20km but once riders hit the dunes things got serious. The dunes were massive!
The lead convoy was working through the dunes but not fast enough, so I called a 10 minute rest at Water Stop 3 for all riders, to allow the convoy some headway. If we don’t get a time keeper to the end of the stage, there is no race!
Stage1 & 2 saw line honors going to the same three riders Ollie Klein, Peter Moore, Paul Schroder who completed the morning stage 68km in 3.31 and the afternoon stage of 40km in 1.47
Last in for Stage 1 & 2 was Don Perferment who rode with determination coming in at 5.22 and 2.51
Day 2 Date: Wed 30/09/15
Stage 3: (Belly of the Beast) 53k
This is the heart of the French line and a fantastic day in the desert, characterized by huge dunes that keep on coming; there is little chance to rest between the climbs. It started off cool with no wind and heated up to around 39C later in the day. It was a relatively short course but the heavy workload and hotter conditions took their toll later on.
I set the riders off at 7am start (instead of 6am) to give the convoy a head start.
First in for Stage 3 were the usual suspects Paul (22), Peter (12) and Ollie (3) in a time of 2.39. The convoy took 3.15!
John (19) was under the hammer and thought he was a gonner with the Sweep breathing down his neck. He gave it his all, surprising himself and finishing in 4.56.
Last in was Jorn (5) with a time of 5.02.
The intense workload took its toll with 2 riders swept in the morning. Don (13) at 39k and Mark (6) at 43k.
Stage 4 (Sandy Sojourn) 35k
The afternoon stage was a lot hotter and the toll edged up as bodies and minds deteriorated in the unrelenting conditions. Dune after dune, after dune punished the riders.
Paul (22) took the opportunity to make his move and pulled away strongly into the lead finishing in 1.46 with an 8 minute lead at the end of Day 2. It should be noted that the leader Paul is riding a fairly basic Surly Pugsley that weighs in at 16kg!
Lynton (9) led the Sweep in with a time of 2.43.
In the convoy, day 2 was really a ‘crash course’ in sand driving. It was great to see some novice drivers go from “concerned” to “confident” in a single day. My thanks go out to the experienced 4WD crews and in particular Tony 200 who did such a good job in sharing their knowledge.
Day 3 Date: Thursday 1/10/15
Stage 5: (Knarly Knolls) 70k out and back course
It was a cool morning with little wind. Riders headed out at 6.30am giving the officials a 1 hour head start to set up the ‘out and back’ morning stage. This was an easy morning for most crews as riders finished back where they started.
The riders enjoyed the many twists, turns, dips and switchbacks. In the lead pack, things were getting serious. Paul (22), now with the bit firmly between his teeth, made many attacking moves but was covered each time by Ollie (3) and Peter (12), resulting in the trio crossing the line together in a time of 3.33.
Stage 6: (Poeppel’s Crux) 42k
I always thought that this stage would be tough and that turned out to be right. We headed out at 1pm for Poeppel Corner to give us an hours lead on the riders. The temperature hit 38 degrees later in the afternoon.
The terrain was difficult and the convoy had to work hard. Novice 4wder – Jeni (Support 3) really drove well and proved to be unstoppable.
The lead riders settled in to a fast pace and at 12k Paul (22) broke away with a strong move leaving the others and finishing the stage in an amazing 2.19. He gained 15 minutes on the next 3 riders and was 30min faster than the convoy. The next three riders Ollie (3), Peter (12) and Billy (2) came in 15 minutes later as equal 2nd.
I think this stage is the toughest terrain that we have ever tackled. We’ve had harder weather conditions, but never the size and number of dunes present on Poeppel’s crux.
Day 4 Date: Fri 2/10/15
Stage 7: (Racing Snake) 80k
I woke the camp specially at 4:00am, half an hour early, just to see if anyone would notice. No-one seemed to mind.
Leaving the camp, the sunrise on the salt flats is a magnificent sight. It also gives the riders 20km of smooth, hard surfaces before the big dunes. As the day wore on the heat increased and so did the headwind. Soon enough riders hit the big soft dunes and the going got tough. The ‘triplets’ – Peter, Paul and Ollie were together in the lead and crossed the line in 4.46. Frank (10) put in a massive effort to get in just before the sweep with a time of 6.11.
Stage 8: (Nappanerica Dreaming) 54k
This stage was anything but a dream with Ronn (14) declaring it the hardest section he has ridden. He did this section 2 years ago averaging 22kph and this year he averaged 13kph. The heat had made the sand extremely soft and loose. Riders got their first sight of trees and greenery around Eyre Creek as they approached the edge of the desert.
Peter (22) and Paul (22) took line honors in a time of 3.21 with Ollie (3) following a few minutes later in 3.29 and Mark (8) not far behind on 3.41.
Frank (10), still clinging desperately to his 100%, put up an excellent fight but unfortunately couldn’t hold off the Sweep and was swept at water stop 2.
The campsite on the eastern side of Little Red was a really good spot, with a few trees and a good view of the dunes.
Stage 9: (Look to Windward), 15km
It was a real privilege to be able to ride on this dune. I had borrowed my bike back from Peter and took a spin along the top on the evening of day 4. The dune had changed its shape considerably since the survey in March, with easterly winds moving hundreds of tons of sand to the west, creating a crossed ridgeline.
In the morning we had a lazy start for a change – there is not much course marking to do on a loop track with only 2 turns!
Most of the support teams came to spectate along Big Red. Even at the start as the riders climbed back up Little Red to the crest it was apparent that Billy had the bit between his teeth.
The riding along the top alternated between firm sand packed by the wind and loose powder in the lee side. In some parts the only solution was to run!
Mark, 8, bust a chain. That was a problem as between the start and the finish support crews cannot help a rider. Mark was still on 100% so Lynton gave him his bike while he fixed the chain. Lynton caught up with Mark and they swapped back only to have the chain break a second time! Lynton has always been a real competitor. If he can’t beat you himself then he’ll help you beat the desert.
Billy decided that climbing the dunes was faster than riding along the top and completed the stage in 52 minutes, 17 minutes ahead of the rest of the field.
Stage 10 (Birdsville Bar Blast) – 35km
The riders are always welcome to race the last stage though it’s fairly common for them to band together and help each other through and that was the case this year, with all the riders crossing the finish line together.
After 5 days, the beer in Birdsville was fantastic. If they could find a way to bottle that first inch, I’m sure they would make a fortune.
So what to say about this year? Well, we tackled the French Line for the first time in 1987, but this time we made it. I loved the course with its varied stages, it’s big dunes and great campsites. The course was a challenge for everyone, for riders and support crews and officials.
Most of all, I loved the people. The good natured officials, the support crews working to help their riders and the riders themselves. It’s great to see top riders like Paul, Peter and Ollie in full flight through the Simpson.
And the desert. The vast empty desert. The achingly beautiful, vast, empty desert. Immense and every changing. Where else can you make a friend for life in just a moment?
Final Results 2015
Selected Photos from 2015
If you want to see the full set of photos on our Flickr site Click Here
Paul Schroder – outright winner
I can remember quite clearly getting the Simpson newsletter email, I usually have a quick read of them to see how things are proceeding. There was a friendly reminder that entries closed on August 15th, it was the 11th and I had not even considered entering the 2015 challenge. After competing in the 2011 event which did not actually enter the Simpson desert proper due to fires I had always thought that one day I would return. With the last minute support of Al (race director) I was on the rider list.
A serious 5 week training schedule followed. Unlike four years ago when training began about 18 months out from the even, this undertaking would be short sharp and unpleasant (kind of like riding a push bike up a sand dune actually). A young family meant quite a lot of home trainer in the evenings. While very unpleasant I have decided that this is a great way to get into shape for the Simpson for 3 reasons.
There is a lot of sweating involved, like the Simpson.
It’s mentally tough, like the Simpson.
2 hours on the home trainer in my opinion is equivalent of 3 hours regular riding, good value for money when time poor.
I also did a lot of short (90 second) hill reps on my fat bike, this was very similar to sand due efforts, typically a 2 hour session. Lastly I completed one long (100k-200k ride per week, not overly high intensity.
The race itself was incredible with 1200 sand dunes and amazing people to share the experience with. From Purni bore the dunes are small, reasonable firm and close together. They get bigger, softer and further apart as the race moves east. This is a very general description as there were some nasty dunes just 40km into day one!!
Stage 6 was easily the toughest riding, 42km in the afternoon mostly over big complex dunes. These are not the usual dune where you can see the track disappear over the top. The track winds it’s way over very big dunes that don’t really have a ‘peak’. After working hard (either walking or riding) to a summit, there may be a very little descent then another massive climb. From water stop 2 at 20km to water stop 3 at 30 km was the most difficult riding of the 500km journey.
Day 4 (stages 7 & 8) was tough due to it’s length, 134km , and a stiff head wind. Combine this with tired legs and some whopper dunes and you have up to 10 hours of sand riding in one day. I will never forget the biggest descent of the race from the last dune coming into Big Red. The colors were incredible, it was fast and the vista was a massive flat plain interrupted abruptly by the iconic Big Red dune. Twenty minutes later we were riding/walking up little red then descending into our beautiful overnight camp at the base of Australia’s most famous sand dune.
Day 5 started with a laps at the top of Big/Little Red, a once in a lifetime experience and very different to the previous 1199 sand dunes. I saw more than one rider (me included) topple down the steep side of the dune still clipped in. Riding as a group into Birdsville was tough due to corrugations and a head wind but the thought of completing the first successful French line route was enough to keep us all going.
My love of riding pushbikes and the outback make the SDBC an obvious choice for me. 2020 has a ring to it….
COURSE MARKING AGAIN and OTHER FUN JOBS
Lorraine and Alan Hancox
In 2014 we ventured into the unknown by accepting the role of Course Markers. Apparently we did an acceptable job because the Race Director made it clear the job was ours for “life”. Fortunately, as in that other event where life sentences are handed down, victims are occasionally “out” in a couple of years.
As experienced Course Markers, we knew a trick or two for this year having clambered out of the Troopy 155 times last year, opened the barn doors, grabbed hammer, peg and distance plate or some nonsense plate to position helpfully on the side of the track. This year we carried the hammer under Lorraine’s feet, five pegs in a tube on the bull-bar and distance markers, etc where luxury vehicles have a centre console. So, a lot less door opening and closing at least.
First out in the cool of the morning we were able to tackle those vehicle-and-spine-bashing-scalloped dunes and rock and roll to the top without too much hassle. Is oil supposed to dribble from shock absorbers? Why did so many screws work loose from built-in furniture? Why is my back so sore? Later as the first convoy made their way forward we had the entertainment of hearing reports of trouble and strife. “Not our problem!” On the subject of Unicorns in the desert, it is quite logical that they would be there. Like Dragons, Unicorns are mythical creatures. We have all seen Dragons in the desert, therefore Unicorns should also be in the desert. They may be just too shy to show themselves.
We worked to our Daily Check Sheets that incorporated any relevant information applicable to us taken from the Course Notes, including significant GPS readings. Our Garmin II Plus showed our route, waypoints for stage finishes and recorded distances. Our HEMA Navigator gave us a picture of where we were at any time as well as all the waypoints. The Troopy odometer allowed the driver to assist the navigator when the sun was full-on at the horizon and it was near impossible to see anything. The best time was prior to the eastern sky lightening because we had a clear view of every instrument. There was a bit of guessing where the track was at times. Using a decent topographic map on the Navigator we were able to see individual sand dunes, so when it came time to count-back 500 metres for the Boxing Kangaroo flag on the last dune crest we could judge exactly where to put it without incurring the wrath of riders.
President Kate eased her conscience for ‘swanning off to France’ by appointing us as Birdsville Pub Meal Voucher agents. A simple enough job until extras get added onto the list from time to time and others get taken off. The main thing was that everyone got fed, the money balanced and we didn’t get lynched. And, just to fill in any spare time “will you look after the merchandise”? We now know how a Chinese Fish market runs! Take 3 large bins of mixed hats, stubby holders and tee shirts. Place on a table as punters swarm in and then try and work out what you have while the numbers constantly change. We are glad everyone was so honest or we would have been deep in that brown stuff. There is definitely a case for getting organised before unlocking the doors. We were disappointed the Pirate’s brilliant idea for a $50 special on three stubby holders bore no fruit.
I will never understand why house auctioneers don’t put on a few sherbets before starting an auction. It works very well at the SDBC final night. Somehow we were conned into acting as auctioneer’s clerks for Bruce. I noticed that Howard, who unbeknown to us had initially offered to help took off like a Bondi tram when he saw us on the scene. Money and IOUs flew thick and fast as we struggled to keep up. Definitely a job for younger people! Back in our room afterwards we reconciled money with what was on paper. Strangely enough everything worked out OK and money was ready to be sent to our treasurer on Sunday morning. It was our pleasure really, to be involved in such a profitable fundraising event.
‘Le Tour de French Line’ Video by Billy Somerville (Rider 2)
‘Big Red Criterion’ Video by Billy Somerville (Rider 2)
‘Support Crew Perspective’ Video by Martin Solms (Support Crew 12)
2015 has been a whopper of a year for our fundraising with a record amount of $56,827 raised.
A huge thanks to riders and to their families and friends who collected an amazing $50,000!
Also many thanks goes to those that donated items to be sold at the Birdsville Charity Auction which raised approx $4300.
The Fines Tin and Event Donations came in at around $1450 and some officials donated there fuel allowance back to the cause($1250)
Thanks to riders, officials, support crews, donors, families and friends for your generosity and enthusiasm in supporting the Royal Flying Doctor Service and in helping make the 2015 Desert Challenge a success in every way.