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Mountain bike desert challenge

We often write about the challenges that individuals and teams put themselves through in the search for that extreme adventure. Today we report on an extreme which few actually succeed in completing  and it is done on a mountain bike. Further the race started just 2 days ago and after only 2 days there is just one person left with a chance of completing each stage of the race……read on.

Rider running through sand in the mountain bike endurance event in the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge, Australia

slowed down by sand in the Simpson Desert



Tough going for a competitor when the sand gets too deep.

The Simpson Desert Bike Challenge

The Simpson Desert Bike Challenge offers many unique challenges – physical, mental and logistical.

The race takes place mostly in South Australia, crossing the border into Queensland in the final 20km on Day Five. The start point is Purni Bore, on the western edge of the Simpson Desert.

From Purni Bore the race follows the Rig Road for the first six stages before coming out on to the Birdsville Track early on Day Four. The usual route then turns off the main Birdsville Track and follows the old Inside Track to Birdsville. However in wet conditions the Inside Track may be closed, in which case the race will divert along the Birdsville Track and include a short transport section.

The Rig road was constructed by a French oil exploration company in the 1950s. The road has degraded over the years and conditions vary greatly from year to year. It is generally extremely corrugated, with stretches of deep sand and numerous washaways. The sand dunes are encountered in the first five stages, with the track flattening out as the race reaches the salt lakes on the afternoon of Day Three. The gibber plains on Day Four can be rough and slow going, and the Inside Track surface varies from blissfully smooth to a cracked and torturous nightmare. Rain can transform the track overnight. It can be helpful by firming the sandy sections but can turn a smooth clay surface into a sticky bog that jams wheels solid with black goo in minutes.

To get through the race, you need a fit body, a good quality mountain bike and an enthusiastic support crew.

The race is a not-for-profit event which was originally created as a fundraiser and has supported the Paraquad Association, the Paraplegic Benefit Fund and now the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Simpson Desert Bike Race, Queensland Australia

the Simpson Desert

Tough, lonely and very dry……normally.

Race details

The race consists of nine timed stages over five days and covers around 590 km. The morning stage of around 80 km gets underway at 6am. There is a break between morning and afternoon stages with the afternoon stage of around 50 km starting at 2pm.

On Day Five the race ends around midday, with the final morning stage finishing outside the Birdsville Pub just over the border into Queensland.

The event has a minimum speed requirement (total elapsed time). Riders must maintain an average of 12 kph to stay ahead of the pursuing sweep vehicle. If caught by the sweep, riders are transported by vehicle to the end of that stage and receive a time penalty. Riders can then restart the next stage as normal.

Day two is traditionally the most challenging day of the event. In 2008, all but one rider succumbed to the desert on the second day, and by day four, all riders were eliminated from completing 100 percent – including the race winner Lynton Stretton.

Compulsory Water Stops are located approximately every 20 km in the morning and at 15 km, 30 km and 40 km in the afternoon. It is mandatory to stop and collect water at every Water Stop.

Riders must be self sufficient during each stage as no support vehicles are permitted on the track while the race is in progress. Support vehicles must travel in either the front convoy ahead of the riders or in the rear convoy travelling behind the sweep vehicle.

Medical teams patrol the course throughout the race to monitor the physical and mental status of the riders.

Race regulations require each vehicle to have a UHF radio. This is the frequency used throughout the Simpson Desert.

Support crew

Organising a top notch Support Crew, vehicle and equipment is vital. Many competitors who have trained hard for this event have been let down by inadequate support crew preparation.

All first time competitors are encouraged to link up with an experienced rider for information and advice prior to the race. See the Contacts page for details of your Regional Representative.

It is up to you to discuss and clarify your expectations with your crew. It is very difficult to provide support for a rider if you do not know exactly what is expected of you.

  • Set up shade at the lunch break and the full overnight camp each day.
  • Prepare all meals for rider(s) and crew.
  • Prepare and deliver water bidons to Water Stop vehicle at designated times.
  • Prepare a bag with fresh riding gear, comfortable clothing and footwear for the lunch break, towel/facewasher/toiletries, sunhat and flynet for rider(s) use when they arrive at the end of each stage.
  • Attend to rider(s) and crew laundry as required.
  • Check that rider(s) have everything they need prior to your departure each morning and afternoon. This might include a spare water bottle, hydration pack stocked with water, snacks, spare tubes, tools, sunscreen, and a warm jacket for cold morning starts.
  • Provide a comfortable bed for lunch breaks. A swag, stretcher or sun lounger with adjustable back are recommended.
  • A massage is always welcomed.
  • If you have sufficient water, setting up an area for a wash is appreciated.
  • Check the bike(s) prior to each stage. Make any adjustments in consultation with rider(s). You may need to oil the chain, change tyres or adjust components as directed.
  • All crews and officials are encouraged to be on the finish line to cheer each rider home. You will need to carry your rider’s bike back to your campsite. A shower of water from a handheld spray bottle is useful to cool riders down quickly.
  • Be aware of riders health and comfort at all times and consult medical officers when necessary.
  • Be responsible for the vehicle, ensure that equipment is safely and securely packed and monitor tyre pressure and fuel usage over the race.

Birdsville Hotel, Birdsville, destination of the Simpson Desert Mountain Bike Race, Australia

Destination – Birdsville Hotel in Queensland where the beer tastes SO good after nigh on 600 kms

2009 race report – day 2 completed

On September 29th 30 cyclists left Purnie Bore at 06:00 at the start 23rd Simpson Desert Bike Challenge. The challenge for each cyclist is to ride, walk or run the 580kms, to Birdsville via the Rig Road and Birdsville Track over the next 4.5 days.

Sand hill upon sand hill, heat, wind and flies soon took a toll on the riders. By the end of the first, day only 13 riders had managed to complete the stage within the designated time. 2008 Simpson Desert Challenge winner, Lynton Stretton from Queensland, rode strongly all day putting in a 16-minute lead on New Zealand rider Andrew Jamieson. Third place was shared by Alan Keenleside and Al Descantes, both from NSW, who rode together for the day. The Slovakian Katarina Cervikova, one of two females in the event was successful in completing 100% of the course today.

Day 2, known by cyclists as “Satan’s Velodrome”, took its toll on a further 12 riders  – leaving only one out of 30 starters still eligible to complete 100% of the 580km from Purnie Bore to Birdsville.

Yesterday’s event leader, Lynton Stretton succumbed to the extreme conditions this morning. Riders battled head winds, 40-plus degree temperatures, and very soft sand on some flat sections which made it difficult for riders to finish the stage within the allocated time.

However, NSW rider, Alan Keeneslide saw off the challenge of the desert today to become the only rider still in contention to complete the entire course. Stretton is in second position (91%), with Jason Dreggs (89%) in third.

Day two is traditionally considered to be the make or break day for most riders. Riders are still feeling the effects of a draining first day – and find it difficult to front up with legs that are fresh enough to overcome the large sandhills that present on the morning of day two – the question now is can Keeneslide continue at the required level, or will he too fall to the conditions the desert will throw up over the next few days?

To find out more details you can visit the official event web site which can be found on this link

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