Three Marathons in three weeks. It’s a tough call – but it’s far from being too hard. Take a look at the European Marathon season, and those things are rammed into a pretty tight calendar – especially when you throw a few multi-day Stage Races in there too. But when you combine greater distances to travel, and remove the ability to be a full-time rider – then the challenge of back to back racing in Australia becomes more pretty big.
With Real Insurance tying these events together as the first half of the Real Insurance XCM Series, there is cause for top riders and the rest of us to get to them. I like racing a similar style of event each weekend. Personally, I aim to learn something from each race, and find that attempting to put that to use the following weekend can help you develop.
The Convict 100 is an easy drive from Sydney, and travels a well known route. As such, it’s pretty popular year in, year out. If you have raced here in the past few years, you know what to expect. Gone are the experiences of 2006 with the lead bunch going the wrong way, and a hike a bike up an escarpment still smouldering from bush fire back burning.
The Elite start group was pretty compact from the gun, taking off in the typical St Albans morning fog. A few riders had a little dig. Matt Fleming had a go, as did Andy Fellows – and then Jenny Fay! She was obviously feeling confident in taking the win, so headed out to break the course record and didn’t rate the pace that the rest of the field was riding at while just watching each other.
There were certainly no heroic attacks, and coming towards the base of the KOM/QOM at about 14km no protagonists had been dropped. Even a reasonably deep mud section was cleared, despite audible complaints from Anthony Shippard. That 1km climb to gain the ridge line doesn’t lie though. If you managed to sit near the front before the climb, that offers no guarantee you will make it over with the lead riders.
There was a definite split by the top of that short but steep climb. The first group contained riders such as 2011 winner Ben Mather who had a gap and was solo for a while. Adrian Jackson, Andy Blair and Trenton Day didn’t panic, and were almost happy to have Mather out there but in sight.
“The three of us just swapped off” confirmed Blair, saying that he and AJ were measured in their efforts. Experience counts.
Behind was Andy Fellows and Jason English. English managed to bridge by the first feed zone, but dropped off after that. The second group contained James Downing, Anthony Shippard, Series leader Shaun Lewis, Andrew Hall and a few others. In time Matt Fleming and myself bridged up.
Race winner Andy Blair noticed the contrast to the previous two rounds. “That split on the first climb meant there was no English, no Lewy and no Fleming. In the other rounds the front group was just so strong nobody would work on the fire trails, as everyone was represented.”
Without the series leader, his team mate, or the National Champion, there was no sitting up in the front group – and Blair attributes this combination to breaking the course record.
Unfortunately, Lewis was doing his best to respect the jersey, his team and the Series by turning up – but was in no fit state to be there. He went backwards, paying the toll of starting a race while ill. I dagged off the back shortly after, and was passed by a few other riders as the morning progressed.
Matt Fleming managed to tear the second group apart well before the 50km point, putting pressure on via a hard pace. Unfortunately a flat tyre slowed him down, but he rode back to finish in 10th.
Andy Fellows was seen in the last 15km, happy to hear that the final downhill was soon approaching. After illness struck him out of the top results at the Wombat 100, and prevented a start at the Capital Punishment, it was good to see him down south again having a crack.
Speaking to Andrew Blair, he is still justifiably stoked to have a Marathon win after a collection of top placings. With the Marathon Nationals at Mt Stromlo in June, a win a month out is good for the confidence. He was quick to admit that he wasn’t sure he would end up with the win at the Convict 100, given the strength of Trenton Day in the front group.
They ended up alone by the canoe bridge.
“We dropped AJ just before that, on the undulations. We got there together, and kind of worked together. But I was wary of not doing too much on the road.” Hitting the climb proved to work better for Blair. “When we did the climb, I tried to turn the screws. Each time I gassed it, he matched it. Trenton had a little bit of chain suck… but he would still ride back.”
“I was spewing I hadn’t put more on the line.” Blair was wary of blowing up, but figured he would have another good go. “I thought if there are any more pinches, I’d put it all out there.” There was another pinch, and Blair managed to put it all in.
“I got a gap, and when I looked back I could see his head was dropped. I took some risks on the downhill.”
Andy Blair (Swell-Redshift) discusses the mental boost of scoring a Marathon win before the XCM National Championships.
So now there is a respite in the Real Insurance XCM Series, but more racing is ahead. With the James Williamson Memorial Enduro on this weekend, and the ICME following that, plus the Rock Wallaby after that – May is a busy month.
Jenny Fay (Rockstar Racing) explains how her race unfolded at the Convict 100. Sounds like the first two rounds were a warm up!
We will feature more on the approach Jenny Fay has had to the Series in an upcoming article.
Full race results and split times can be found for all categories and distances online.