The start of the Convict 100 is less than two days away – thanks to the typical early morning start favoured by Australian race organisers. At 7am this Saturday 4th May, most of Australia’s best men’s XCM racers will be on the line in St Albans. Unfortunately, only a smattering of Elite women are attending the race.
The Convict 100 (previously the Dirt Works 100) is a 100km mountain bike marathon that starts and finishes in St Albans, north west of Sydney. This is part of the Hawkesbury Sandstone basin, so much of the terrain is on that type of surface. The fire trails at the start are typically sandy and rocky – depending on how recently they were graded – and this includes the steep 1km climb onto the escarpment. This can be a decisive part of the race, as it will distance out those riders who aren’t climbing well within the first 15km. About 30km in the courses hits the ‘Convict road’ that the race draws its current name from is more wide single track or double-track than a road. Typically there is only one fast MTB line on the old road that was built to connect Sydney to Newcastle.
Descending Sheppards Gully, riders cross a canoe bridge, and climb up the range again after a brief length of tarmac. If you are starting to hurt, it’s very noticeable right now. The course has changed a little over the years, and the first time I took part I recall doing a hike-a-bike through an area which had been recently burned for hazard reduction. So recent some tree stumps were still smouldering! Marathon racing has developed since then, and the courses are better designed for the high volume of mass participation events.
The last descent has huge water bars, and the last 10km includes another river crossing before finishing in front of the pub at St Albans. Andy Blair broke the course record with his win last year – and conditions are set to be fast again this weekend.
Reviewing the men’s field, Jason English (who recently won the Subaru Australian XCM Championships) comes in as a very strong favourite. Although he hasn’t won the race before, he’s got the form and has the experience. 2012 winner (and 2012 XCM Champ) Andy Blair of Swell-Specialized won the race on debut in 2012. With his team mate Shaun Lewis, who has raced the Convict 100 numerous times, either of the pair could finish on top using the strong team work that they display.
Team work can make a difference, and James Downing and Andrew Hall are racing under the one banner for Cannondale this year. Hall had an amazing summer and early Autumn, and Downing has been highly focused coming into the Convict 100 – a podium from one of these two would be a great result.
Although much of the men’s elite field could also be racing Veterans, some of the best riders are still U23 or near enough. Michael Crosbie won the XCM Champs for U23, and along with Kyle Ward, Brendan Johnstone and Sebastian Jayne there are four young riders who will certainly be in the top 10, with some able to be on the podium.
New South Wales, and Sydney in particular, has some highly consistent marathon riders who are capable of great results. Anthony Shippard knows the terrain well, and has finished 5th before at the race. Graeme Arnott (Subaru-MarathonMTB.com) and myself have both finished top 10 – and would be happy to do so again. Michael Kafka and Ondrej Slezak will no doubt be targeting good performances for their team, potentially with the help of Mark Griffin.
Rumours of a late entry from Ben Mather could blow the above predictions out of the water.
The women’s elite field is very small – and the chances of 2012 winner Jenny Fay (Swell-Specialized) not winning are slim. She has trained on the course multiple times. And that does make a difference. Fay is a highly focused racer and uses her time smartly. Her time spent riding around Wiseman’s Ferry and St Albans will be done finding the fastest lines, and helping decide what the best equipment to use is. She is likely to place top 25 overall, especially with the form she has after winning the National XCM Championship race.
Two Queenslander’s are flying in as well – Naomi Hansen (Subaru-MarathonMTB.com) who is one of about a dozen racers to have lined up for the Wombat 100, XCM Champs and now the Convict 100. Imogen Smith is also travelling to St Albans. Having lived in Sydney previously, and trained in the area, Smith isn’t coming in completely blind.
Hansen will be joined by her Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team mate Nienke Oostra. Having moved from age group triathlon, to age group Xterra and half distance marathon races, Oostra is now learning the ropes of both Xterra racing in the Pro category and full distance marathon racing. Sarah Neumann and Jo Bennett (not the WA one) round out the field.
We will be there covering the race, so check back over the weekend for results, and follow us on twitter for updates @marathonmtb.
Go to the Max Adventure website for more race details and rider lists.