Australian mountain bike champion Imogen Smith is on the comeback trail after a serious high-speed pile-up in March that put an end to her road-racing season.
Smith’s recovery has been slow following multiple surgeries for a broken hip and shoulder, but for the competitive 36-year-old from Brisbane – the fire’s far from out on her riding and racing.
After working hard in rehab and training since the accident, Smith’s return to racing last month saw her take line honours at the Hidden Vale Giant 3+3 Brisbane.
Now Smith has her focus turned to The Redback MTB Stage Race in Alice Springs, but she admits there’s a lot more work to do so she can bring some form and race competitively.
You’re a former winner of The Redback (formerly Ingkerreke Commercial Mountain Bike Enduro), will this be your 5th time racing in Alice?
Gosh I'm not sure... maybe my third or fourth. I came to Alice very early on in the event's history and I come back any chance I get. I believe I've been to Alice Springs more times than I've been to Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth put together.
You’ve described The Redback as one of the toughest races you’ve ever done…you’ve also described it as a very special race…. What makes it so tough, and in what ways is it special?
The conditions make it hard. It's always hot and dry in Alice as you'd expect, but it's also the terrain. It's very rough and bumpy. The race format is always difficult, too, especially backing up after the night race. It takes a fair bit of motivation and planning, plus some good luck to make it through. It's special because the Red Centre is special. There's a great community around mountain biking in Alice Springs and it's great to mix with the locals, as well as people from all over Australia. There's always a friendly, welcoming atmosphere and that combines with stunning landscapes and trails to make the racing a wonderful experience.
How much are you looking forward to heading to Alice Springs for some warm winter riding? And what are you looking forward to about returning to ride the Redback?
Well I'm actually worried it's going to be cold! I'm from Brisbane, so 20-degree temperatures are the norm here too. The difference is we don't often get into single digits overnight! I'm hoping it's warm enough for a dip in the pool, though, and I just love the sunshine. Apart from the weather, I'm looking forward to the trails. Alice has the best, natural, rocky single-track in the world. And I'm looking forward to the amazing desert views-it's just a magical landscape to ride through.
Racing stages back to back must be quite different to single-day races… what sort of physical and mental differences come into play when you’re heading into a multi-day stage race?
You've just got to be really organised for multi-day stage races: mentally, physically, and logistically. Stage races always mess with your head at some point so you've got to be ready to deal with whatever arises on that front, as well as the pain and fatigue on the body front. Then it's important to recover well between stages: to get enough food, enough sleep. You've got to spend time making sure your bike is in good working order every day, and to have all your spares, race nutrition, clothes etc. ready for every stage well in advance. So the race goes on whether you're on the bike or off it!
You’ve mixed things up from mountain biking to road racing and back to MTB again in your career – what is it about getting off road that keeps luring you in?
I've always really been a mountain biker. It's just way more fun, and the atmosphere at mountain bike races is generally more relaxed and friendly. I'm also better at it, so mountain biking is really where my heart lies!
You suffered a very serious injury earlier this year, how has the journey back been going?
Slowly. Much slower than I'd hope. I'm expecting it to take a full year from the accident to get back to 'normal', although some things will never get back to how they were. I'm happy though that I can walk, run, and ride my bike, and now it's just a very long journey back to race fitness and to get my body strong again after months of bed rest.
You returned to racing earlier this month at the Hidden Vale Giant 3+3 – which you won!! Well done!!! How was your first race back?
HEAPS of fun. It's a really, really relaxed race so that was the perfect way to step back onto the start line. Everyone who rode up behind me or who I passed had a bit of a chat and a laugh. It's the way racing should be.
You clearly love riding and must love racing – what would you say keeps you coming back?
Riding: I love the freedom. You go out on trails and try to jump something or rail a berm and you just feel like a kid. It's amazing that adults get to play around like this and call it sport. Racing: I'm competitive. I turn everything into a race or a competition. I'm a nightmare to live with so it's a good thing I have this outlet!
Will you be riding competitively at The Redback, or are you just keen to enjoy the ride and just give it a nudge if it feels right?
Haha! I won't be in top form but that won't stop me. I always race. There is no 'off' switch!
What’s in store for you between now and the Redback?
Training, training, training, and rehab, rehab, rehab. I had a full shoulder reconstruction after my accident in March so there's lots of strength and range of movement work still to be done. I am also ridiculously unfit and my power meter is telling a very sad story at the moment. I'm trying to find some form to bring to Alice!
You can follow Imogen's journey on Instagram.
And you can read her race reports from The Redback 2014 HERE.
The Redback MTB Stage Race is a four-day, six-stage race that allows you to ride as much single track as possible whilst keeping the race logistics super simple – stay in the one location all week, no car or support crew needed.
It is taking place in Alice Springs, NT from 17-20th August. To find out more or to enter head to TheRedback.com.au.