Long post from Sarah on facebook explaining a bit more fully:
DAY ELEVEN REPORT
It’s been an eventful day. Despite recents updates, there are still twelve riders on course. The race continues, although the finish line has been adjusted.
After Jesse arrived in Hermannsburg yesterday, he had a choice of two roads. Finke Gorge or Mereenie.
Jesse was always going to take the Finke Gorge loop, it is slow going, but that was the challenge. We watched as he started to head in, and then stopped about 5 kms later. The road leading to the Finke Gorge National Park was badly destroyed. More sand and tourists had made the road near impossible for a bike. Very different to when we rode it a month ago.
Assessing the risk level, Jesse came back to Hermannsburg to speak with the locals. They confirmed that no rain for a year, wind and tourists had indeed destroyed the road.
The greater concern is that on the other side of Finke Gorge is another 25 km sand bed, one that we rode on the recon, and it was a very slow process moving over sand dunes. The chances are this road would be in worse condition too.
This stretch is 100 kms long, in these conditions where walking comes in play, it could mean 2 days at least for some riders. Walking isn’t too hard, lugging a packed bike is tough! Constantly hunched over, back bent, and your arms and shoulders tired from pushing. Moving slowly means zero chance of being able to charge electronics with a dyno wheel as well, that means no light in the evening. There is also no resupply, phone signal, and it’s getting hotter. The next resupply would not be for another 200 kms after this section, in Curtain Springs.
So Jesse came back to Hermannsburg and called me to say he was taking the Mereenie loop. I agreed it was the right decision as the risk is too high on Finke. The Finke Route was always going to be tough, it’s why we had the second option on Mereenie to give riders a safer option.
Jesse was all set to go when the permit seller at the Hermannsburg store came back, took the permit from him and said ‘no bikes allowed.’
Jesse had researched this, he spends hours and days and months researching every detail. There was nothing eliminating cyclists from using he road. Turns out it was only introduced recently, the website had not been updated to reflect this also. Only last week it was contested in court, and lost. It appears to be tied in with the time and duration of a single trip, on this part of road. One of which a cyclist can’t do fully. At the end of the day it’s a landowner decision, and we will not go against that or break the law, or any cultura beliefs.
So this is where making a safety call comes into play. In any of these races, all the riders need to make decisions that keep them safe.
Over a course this long riders will have to work out what to do when confronted with various challenges. Road and trail closures, floods, fires, snow and heavy traffic have all been encountered in previous editions of this race, amongst other challenges. That’s just life in Australia. To stay safe riders will sometimes need to stay stationary for a while, or look for alternative passage.
Riding the Finke loop is too high risk and irresponsible.
The backup option is NO LONGER an option, riding this road would be breaking the law.
So the next option would be backtrack to Alice (for Jesse), then every rider take the Stuart Highway until you can rejoin the course. The speed limit on the Stuart Highway is 130 kms, there are road trains, caravans and every other kind of vehicle. The shoulder isn’t consistent either, parts of the road narrow leaving little room for two cars let alone a bike. I’ve been pushed off this road personally from passing traffic and the force created when they pass you.
We consider this option to be too dangerous, and it goes against the design of this course as far as keeping riders safe on route to Uluru.
So after some heavy discussion we decided to draw the line at Alice. Riders may continue, but this will not be on us.
Jesse has since turned off his tracker, his ride is listed as finished, but he is still riding back to Alice as we speak. (He is not in Yulara, it has him there as I listed him as finished).
In addition, I’ve touched on how conditions out here change regularly. One day a road can be perfectly smooth from a recent grading and rolling. One week later it’s covered in heavy sand and chopped up by tourist traffic. Some roads are full closures for this reason, and with warnings to even 4WD travellers.
An even more important thing to remember in these cases is, IT’S JUST A BIKE RIDE. This isn’t about who is the toughest, who can go longest without resupply, who can walk their bike 100 kilometres. It’s about making good decisions and staying safe.
I’m absolutely gutted over the decision that was made. I’m upset for the riders that have put so much time and energy into this, some of which still have no idea what transpired yesterday. But they are still racing, and that’s exciting!
But mostly, I am saddened that Jesse didn’t get the finish he really deserved.
Jesse rode an incredible race. What it took for him to get out there after the past couple of years difficulties, is something most people won’t understand. And to see him showing everyone he is still one of the best in the world was a wonderful thing.
Plus countless hours, weeks, months, and money spent on making sure this course was perfect, even riding it in full to double, and triple check there were no roadblocks.
So congratulations Jesse, for an incredible ride and win. Will be sure to celebrate as soon as possible.
Jesse will be flying to Uluru today, where I am already. Hopefully we can sort a live video to talk to him about the win, yesterday and his whole experience.
Meanwhile, thank you for all the messages of support.