There is a way to avoid the incessant news and gossip surrounding federal investigations and high-profile doping cases. Simply go bush, writes Anthony Tan.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

While the cycling world waited with bated breath over the decision to acquit or convict Alberto Contador, I realised, rather belatedly, there was a subset of us who simply didn't care.

The weekend before last, I was immersed in the Apple Isle for the Pure Tasmania Wildside, a four-day mountain bike race held on the island's rugged though beguilingly beautiful west coast.

Thanks to my now infamous profile (courtesy Mike Tomalaris) and my equally notorious Prussian Blue jacket (courtesy Paul Smith), I get asked a lot of questions. At Wildside it was no different – but with one exception: not a single competitor (and there were 469 of 'em) asked me about Contador.

Mountain bikers, in general, are quite different from road cyclists.

For a start, they completely embrace nature and its elements, even when, as it did on the final two days of Wildside, the heavens opened and soft-as-pie journalists like me went looking for food and shelter, or, depending on my priorities, shelter and then food.

In fact, as the weather turned for the worse, it brought a smile to most of their faces; this is what they had come here for, so many of them told me.

The elite riders were also dissimilar to a number of elite road cyclists. They did not berate their mechanics about their bikes, scold their soigneurs about their food or bad legs, or squabble with their sport directors about their choice of tactics.

Why? Because more often than not, the cyclists were also their own mechanics, their own soigneurs, their own directeurs-sportifs. This is a world that operates in a largely self-sufficient way.

Self-sufficient, I said, not selfish.

Because therein lies another unique element to elite mountain biking: the riders may ride for different teams, but altruistically, adopt a set of principles where no one is above another, and off the bike, real friendships are established and maintained.

When I asked Paul van der Ploeg, one of MTB's next big things and a man who finished second overall to Sid Taberlay at Wildside, was he ever enticed by the attractions of the road – fame, fortune, what have you – he replied: "No – it's more of a lifestyle choice, mountain biking.

"It's very fun, very enjoyable, and a really good atmosphere to be a part of," the 21-year-old told me, whose two elder brothers, Daniel and Adrian, also race mountain bikes.

"It's so supportive… I'm good friends with all the competitors, and we all have a laugh."

The notion of egalitarianism was fostered at Wildside by having what organisers defined as 'cruising stages', in between what was usually two competitive stages per day (save for the last). These were essentially short, untimed, transitional stages that took competitors from the end of one stage to the start of another.

Importantly, it provided an opportunity for riders of all abilities to mingle with each other. Given 66 out of the 489 were of the female persuasion, one could surmise it provided opportunities for other things, too…

This is not some clarion call for you to burn your road bikes, go bush-bashing in the wilderness every weekend and camp underneath the stars while heating up a can of baked beans, singing crickets included, while staring longingly into the eyes of your other half, wondering if she's thinking what you're thinking. (Though it doesn't sound bad, does it?)

I'm more asking you to consider breaking your regimented road routines every now and then, escape the traffic and blaring horns, and lose yourself in nature.

Because maybe then, you, like the people I met recently in Tasmania, won't give a crap about 'caso Contador' either, or continue to lament what's become of professional road cycling.

For those of you who have already done so, I'd love to hear about your bush experiences, love-making aside, of course.

Twitter: @anthony_tan