MORE THAN 1200 riders have farewelled yet another of Australia's iconic mass-participation mountain bike races, the Highland Fling, in the southern highlands of NSW.
First run in 2004, the event has seen almost 20,000 racers pass through the starting banner, all tackling a scenic, undulating course of various lengths, with most of Australia's premier XC and marathon racers entering over the years.
The final race lured some of Australia's greatest marathon racers like Craig Gordon and Kath Bicknall to go around once more, while founder Huw Kingston admitted to a lump in the throat on the morning of the event.
"I wasn't really thinking about it until I heard the bagpipers sending the riders off this morning," he told MBA. "It's been a hell of a journey, 13 years on ther Fling and 20 years for Wild Horizon.
"This is the last event for Wild Horizons, too"
Wild Horizons also hosted other mass participation races like the Three-Ring Circus, which ceased last year. Huw couldn't put a finger on exactly why rider numbers had fallen away over the last couple of years, but suggested that perhaps the advent of trail apps and GPS traces sped up its demise.
"We used to sell 2000 entries in a few hours, and there was a frenzy around this type of event for a few years," he said. "It's hard to say what's changed. Maybe it's because an event has come to an area, and because of those events, a trail network has sprung up off the back of that, and people could ride them by themselves with Strava and the like."
2017 has seen the end of a few blue riband mass races like the Kowalski Classic and the Mont 24, and Huw noted that there are very few races like the Fling left on the calendar.
"There's not a lot of [similar] events left," he noted. "The bike industry is going through a tough phase, but I think there's still a lot of people out riding bikes, which is good.
"What's a pity is a few people have come up to me and tell me that they've done a couple of Flings, but they've missed this crazy, wonderful period of events like the Fling, like Mont and like Kowalski."
Huw's Wild Horizons business will continue to run tours and work within the industry, but there's no more events on the horizon.
"I think tonight there's going to be a few stories told about the last 13 years," he said.