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Rob Saunders: Gearing up for Hotrock24

It’s that time again when keen mountain bikers make the decision about how sleep deprived they’d like to be — do the full 24-hours solo of the Hotrock24, or join up with some mates and tag-team it… or just stick with the daylight hours 9am-5pm option. The choices! Either way, history will tell us that a good time will be had by all on the weekend of May 14-15. We caught up with Rob Saunders who’s part of the Mates on Mountain Bikes contingency that’s tackling the event this year. Rob is planning to do the full 24-hours solo. Then reward himself with a bath, beer and bed.

“The thing I enjoy most about the Hotrock24 is the challenge — racing off-road for 24 hours straight, whether it’s solo or in a team is a massive physical and mental challenge — I love experiencing how my body and mind reacts to the challenges over the course of the race.”

How long have you been mountain biking and what do you love about it? I started when I was 39 (12 years ago). I was 100kg and terribly unfit. I decided to do something about it so bought a (very) cheap mountain-bike from K-Mart and did a couple of laps of the Ross River bike paths. A couple of weeks later, in a delusional moment, I entered the Paluma Push [a point-to-point mountain bike race to Hidden Valley]. It took me nearly four hours for the rec course [42km] — I needed a sit down under a tree… even a cow overtook me towards the end. But I loved it! It was the freedom of riding through the bush, the feeling of my blood pumping and the admiration for those better riders that seemingly whizzed through the technical stuff and so easily up the steepest hills — I have been hooked ever since. The mountain biking community is so down-to-earth and encouraging and the sport has taken me to some truly remarkable and remote locations. I’ve developed life-long friendships and my physical and mental fitness is so much better. There’s nothing like going for a ride on the trails after a tough day at the office — within minutes of hitting the dirt, the rest of the world is left miles away.

Twilight on Ross Dam's trails.

Twilight on Ross Dam’s trails.

What do you most enjoy about Hotrock24 in particular? The Hotrock24 is a great event and ticks so many boxes. The trails at Ross Dam are ideal – great combination of flowing single-track, with a touch of technical stuff thrown in. The event centre and transition area is where everyone congregates and has a great vibe about it. The setting at Ross Dam is sensational — you get regular glimpses of the water, which is especially stunning in the morning as the sun rises. The night stint is also strangely relaxing… it’s often just you, your light and a whole lot of darkness. But, personally, the thing I enjoy most about the Hotrock24 is the challenge — racing off-road for 24 hours straight, whether it’s solo or in a team is a massive physical and mental challenge — I love experiencing how my body and mind reacts to the challenges over the course of the race.

Some of the mountain biking-mates completing the 700km challenge in 2015.

Some of the mountain biking-mates completing the 700km challenge in 2015.

There are a few teams representing Mates on Mountain Bikes — can you tell us about this group? Mates on Mountain Bikes is a small group of riders (we’re mostly long-term Rockwheelers Mountain Bike Club members) who do an annual charity ride from Townsville to Port Douglas “the hard way”.  This year the event will be in August and involves six days slog (typically about eight to 10 hours a day), mostly along remote station tracks on the western edge of the Great Divide. All up we ride about 700km including some 12,000m+ of climbing.  We raise funds for the RFDS. This year we have about 14 riders and most will be competing at the Hotrock24 – some in teams of two or four, some solo. Besides being a great opportunity to get some serious kilometres in the legs, it’s a no-brainer for most of mates because the Hotrock24 is such an enjoyable event. We have a few first-timers on mates this year and I know there is some trepidation about backing up for some big rides day-after-day so the Hotrock will be great opportunity to start getting minds and bodies exposed to some pain!

“Thankfully all has ended well and the dramas are typically washed away with a beer amongst mates when we eventually get home!”

What sort of training have you all been doing in the lead-up? Some take it more seriously than others! Most of us understand the demands that endurance races like the Hotrock24 place on the riders and their gear. We’re all stepping up our training – typically eight hours plus of riding per week with plenty of hill work… lots of hill work!

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Rob with wife Lisa and daughters Piper and Holly.

What are your best memories in the saddle? Mountain biking presents so many opportunities for fun and unique experiences. Most of my fondest memories involve epic rides through remote areas where you get to see a very different side of North Queensland – amazing scenery, fantastic wildlife and intriguing history. Interestingly, some of my best memories involve big rides where something has not gone to plan; e.g. getting lost, having major mechanical failures… thankfully all has ended well and the dramas are typically washed away with a beer amongst mates when we eventually get home!

Best MTB tip? Ride your bike like you stole it.

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Mountain biking is all about the adventure.

What’s something that may surprise people about this event or the sport in general? How about these:

  1. The fact that we ride for 24 hours straight off-road (on an unlit course) surprises a few people
  2. Cadel Evans cut his teeth riding MTB before crossing to the ‘dark side’
  3. Most of us don’t use tubes in our tyres (i.e. we run them tubeless with sealant inside to prevent flats from thorns etc)
  4. Most trails are open to the public — Douglas and Pallarenda fall into this category but access to the Ross Dam trails is restricted to members of Townsville Rockwheelers and participants of events such as the Hotrock24.

For those entertaining the idea of signing up — why should they? Anyone who’s reasonably fit and has a mountain bike should definitely sign up for a go. If you’re new to the sport or these types of endurance events, I’d recommend joining a team. Of all the trails in Townsville, I personally think that the Ross Dam trails suit the broadest range of riders, and Rockwheelers puts on a great event. For newbies to night riding, this event offers the opportunity to experience some fun trails in the company of other experienced riders. The Paluma Push is only two months after the Hotrock24 so this is a great opportunity to have fund while training for the Push.

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Get involved

Registration is open for Hotrock24. And if you get in before Thursday, April 28 you’ll be guaranteed a t-shirt! From 9am Saturday, May 14 to 9am Sunday, May 15, but remember that there are eight-hour and team options. Find out more here: https://thegotownsville.com.au/event/hotrock24-2016/.

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Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz is combining two of her great loves — writing and getting active. Previously working as a journalist, sub-editor, and editor in newspapers and magazines; she is editor and co-founder of TheGo Townsville. She stays active with the staples of road cycling and yoga, but has recently discovered triathlon. And become addicted (apart from the swimming part). She also has a Cert III in Fitness and is passionate about improving mental health through physical activity.

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