Reigning Hattah Desert Race champion Daniel Milner. Photo: PAUL MENSCH
By MITCH RODD
CONQUERING the field in the Hattah Desert Race for Daniel Milner also means having to conquer his own body.
As a type 1 diabetic, the Gippsland rider has to monitor and adjust his blood-sugar levels while spending about four hours on the bike in Australia’s toughest off-road race, let alone worrying about track conditions or opposing riders.
The 27-year-old did that to a tee in 2017, claiming his first Hattah title, and he hopes to replicate that result this weekend in the 21st instalment of the Hattah Desert Race.
Milner and KTM Factory Team stablemate Lyndon Snodgrass (third in 2017) again loom as the ones to beat, alongside last year’s runner-up in Husqvarna’s Daniel Sanders.
Despite the toll competing at Hattah takes on the bodies and minds of competitors, Milner said he loves returning to Sunraysia, and that winning the title last year was “something really special.”
“It’s the hardest race in Australia and possibly the world,” he said. “You spend four hours at a time on the track and because of the amount of riders racing, the conditions are constantly changing.”
“Then there is the amazing atmosphere of the event as well. The Friday night scrutineering allows you to interact with fans and sign posters and take photos with them. I don’t know of too many other events that do that.”
Last year’s victory was the five-time Australian 4-Day Enduro (A4DE) champion’s first time back at Hattah since 2012. Milner spent time racing in the USA in between before returning home to sign with KTM at the start of last season.
Milner said his diabetes added an extra element to contend with on race day.
“It was special, especially being a type 1 diabetic,” he said.
“It’s the hardest race in the country and it had been a few years since the last one I did.
“It was also my first year on KTM, which is why I was back. I love coming up here, it’s one of the biggest events on the calendar. It’s also one of the hardest races for the length of time you’re out there.
“I run a CamelBak that has two bladders. One is straight water and the other is more of a sugary drink. I have a monitor in my stomach which keeps track of sugar levels throughout the race, and I can place it up on my handlebars. If my levels start to get low I can have some of the drink from my CamelBak, or if I can slow down a bit, grab a quick drink from one of the four or five mechanics we have spread out around the track.
“I was diagnosed when I was 12. It’s just another thing I have to make sure I’m on top of, I can’t just be purely focused on racing. The advancements in technology is really a big help.
“Last year – my first race back for five years – I didn’t have that same track knowledge, or as much knowledge about the conditions. This year I have a better understanding and if I was still able to win last year I’m hoping I can do it again.”
Milner spent time on the Hattah track on Tuesday with local riders, allowing himself to get reacquainted with the surface he will tackle on Sunday.
“I love coming up here and riding. The local guys are really cool and happy to go out with you. They let us tear up the track a bit which was nice,” he said.
“We were here for testing three weeks ago and it was perfect. That was just after the bit of rain that came through. Now it’s starting to dry up a bit more but it’s still in pretty good nick. The forecast says there could be a little rain on Saturday which would make it perfect again. Because it’s so sandy out there, there isn’t so much mud to contend with.”
Milner and Snodgrass will be at today’s scrutineering from 3pm at Quandong Park, Red Cliffs, for the annual meet-and-greet with fans. Senior Prologue takes place from 9.30am tomorrow, with the official race to begin about 9am on Sunday.