Round 2 of the Victorian Enduro Tour (20-21 Jan) was held at the legendary Big Hill Mountain Bike Park in Mount Beauty. The small town in the state's North-East attracted close to 200 riders over a scorching hot Summer weekend. Faced with iconic old-school single track, flat corners, steep chutes and freshly cut off-camber grass sections the racers would tackle 5 unique stages while a 6th super technical stage was reserved for the Elite categories only.
The entry list read more like a National event with some athletes travelling 1000km to attend. 2x National Champion Chris Panozzo, former World XCE Champ Paul Van Der Ploeg and World Cup DH sensation Dean Lucas would do battle with other top athletes Jeremy Hamilton, Shannon Hewetson, Dave Ludenia, Ben Mcilroy and the Panozzo brothers Liam and Joel. A wildcard was thrown into the mix with former champion Dan MacMunn making his return to the Enduro scene. The Elite Women category was spearheaded by Ebony Tanzen, she would compete with Rachel Hore and Danielle Garden.
Saturday was reserved for practice and each rider was allowed to shuttle only 4 times throughout the day. Many athletes rode up early to try and beat the forecasted 39-degree heat of the afternoon, it was a clever move to also understand how much liaison climbing would be involved on race day. The shuttle road itself allows a full-size bus to ferry over 50 riders to the top at once so no-one had to wait long in line. Years of running national mountain bike events have the Mt Beauty crew and volunteers well organised and it showed with all the riders getting maximum time on the trails.
The overall vibe was relaxed and fun yet many of the riders were finding the tracks challenging and awkward. Every trail in Mt Beauty has been hand-built, it is renowned for its raw and natural approach, often going from fast and flowy to tight and rocky and with the temperature rising it became a frustrating puzzle for some.
Shuttles began running at 10am on Saturday. Many riders opted to ride up to practice a little earlier
Harrison Dobrowolski travelled down from the Blue Mountains to spearhead the U19s category, he among others opted to ride up before registration.
Once up the top riders had 5 tracks to choose from, each going to a different part of the mountain, Shannon Hewetson bombing down Stage 3
Rachel Hore making this awkward off-camber section look easy
Tom McLeod getting loose on the steep Stage 2
Jeremy Hamilton has spent a lot of time in Mt Beauty recently, would it pay off for him?
Dean Lucas set aside the DH bike for the weekend and went full Enduro instead
Chris Panozzo hauling down the top of the Elite only Stage 6 (this section was used in the 2017 National DH race)
Junior Boys getting loose in the dust
Danielle Garden dropping into Stage 3
Dave Ludenia also made the 800+km trip down from NSW, pumping down a unique feature on Stage 3
Sunday dawned clear with the promise of another scorching day in the saddle for racing. All athletes would race 8.5km in distance with 900m of decent over the 5 stages, the liaison between stages would add another 16km of distance with 1200m of climbing, add a little more for the Elite categories who would climb back up for another stage. It was clear that everyone wanted to get out there before it got too hot.
Fist thing's first...
Clear skies early on Sunday morning, for now, the dust lays still on the trails
It was no surprise to see Chris Panozzo and local super roadie Phil Bardsley-Smith up the climb first
But wait... Where is Paul?
There he is, just running a tad late, oops...
The Elite categories were given a 10-minute head start on the other categories so they would have clear trails. With dust like this, it made sense. Max Kreuzer.
Liam Panozzo sliding around a corner which featured in the 1999 DH Nationals!
Dean Lucas drifting between the trees
Danielle Garden at the top of Stage 1. It would be the longest stage at 3km in length, a perfect way to wake up...
Shannon Hewetson atop stage 1
Chris Panozzo would take the win on Stage 1 by a convincing 15 seconds!
Stage 2 used the notorious trail 'Honeysuckle.' Waiting in line to drop in was a daunting affair for some...
The first rider to ride down Stage 2 was Phil Bardsley-Smith, hanging on for life on this steep chute
U19 Pinner Jack Hewish and a tough time on Stage 2, slotting into 5th for the stage, would the series leader recover?
Paul Van Der Ploeg was slowly riding his way through the field, dropping into the beast of Stage 2 with the tranquil Mt Beauty below
Ebony Tanzen recently held a coaching clinic down Honeysuckle, her knowledge of the trails paid off with 2 from 2 Stage wins
Rhys Atkinson also made the trip to Mt Beauty, sending it down one of the steeper parts of Stage 2.
Some local wildlife checking out the action over on Stage 3
Jeremy Hamilton had a great run down the tight Stage 3 but it still wasn't enough to match Chris.
It was awesome to see Dan MacMunn back on the bike racing, he was sitting around 7th place before a snapped chain on Stage 5
Chris making it 3 from 3 Stage Wins, halfway done!
Rachel Hore navigating the tricky Stage 3. Sitting in 2nd place after halfway.
Riding/hiking back up to the top for Stage 4.
Stage 4 had a fair amount of flow to it. Here's Mt Beauty legend Bernie McCardle (he has built about 90% of these trails)
Series leader Darcy Wilkinson didn't have the best weekend, a couple of crashes and a flat tyre made for a up and down weekend
BeeMac would also have a mixed day, an OTB crash on Stage 1 didn't bode well for the day, but still stylish as ever.
Liam Panozzo was battling with Jeremy Hamilton for 2nd place overall, they would take it all the way to the last stage
But once again Chris Panozzo powers to another stage win. 4 from 4!
Stage 4 done! Only one more climb for most riders, but first; a drink.
Olly Zwar gives the Thumbs up. 4 down, 2 to go.
Stage 5 was another fast and flowy stage with one long rock garden in the middle. Ebony Tanzen takes another win, 5 from 5. Would she get the clean sweep?
Another Panozzo, this time it's Joel using the rock garden as a pump track
The last stage for the U19s. Harrison Dobrowolski would take a clean sweep on all 5 stages, relegating Jack Hewish and Ben Oliver to 2nd and 3rd.
Jonah Cosgriff would smash the U17 category, actually putting himself 4th in Elite after 5 stages, the future is bright.
Surprise, surprise. It's Jonah's brother Dylan Cosgriff who took the win in the U15s.
Olly Zwar, always smiling!
Chris Panozzo on his way to another stage win, 5 from 5 also
Danielle Garden took 3rd in every stage for 3rd place overall.
Rachel Hore rode a stellar stage 6 to take the win and 2nd overall
But it was all smiles for Ebony Tanzen, 5 out of 6 stages and a convincing overall win
Stage 6 was the toughest stage, rough, fresh cut, steep and loose. Darcy Wilkinson ends the day with a flat.
Paul Van Der Ploeg was the last Elite Male out on course, 6th overall after a rough morning and no practice on Saturday
Dave Ludenia rode super consistent and held off Paul Van Der Ploeg by 7 seconds for 5th place.
Dean Lucas almost took the win on Stage 6 to finish 4th overall, great to see!
Jeremy Hamilton's time spent lately at Mt Beauty paid off with an impressive 3rd overall, only to be bested by local knowledge
Liam Panozzo holds on to 2nd place overall by just over 1 second after 25 minutes of racing!
But it was Chris Panozzo who took a clean sweep of every stage to win by over 35 seconds
Checking the results after a long day
Elite Women Podium. 5th: Lauren Tanzen. 4th: Tara Oakley. 3rd: Danielle Garden. 2nd: Rachel Hore. 1st: Ebony Tanzen
Elite Men Podium. 5th: Dave Ludenia. 4th: Dean Lucas. 3rd: Jeremy Hamilton. 2nd: Liam Panozzo. 1st: Chris Panozzo.
Winners are Grinners! Panozzo with the Cosgriff Brothers.
That's a wrap, it was a super challenging day out there for the racers, but the overall consensus was it being one of the best Enduro events we've seen in Australia. Congratulations to all of the category podium winners. I apologise for not getting photographs of the junior women, it was hectic trying to keep in front of all the Elite racers, next time.
Results can be found here: http://livingitlive.com.au/results/VGETrd2mtbeauty/
Falls Creek holds round 3 of The Victorian Gravity Enduro Series on the 10-11 Feb, they've made a few changes this year which will make for an even better event. Check out all the details on the Facebook Page here https://www.facebook.com/VictorianGravityEnduroTour/
See you all at Falls Creek