Now celebrating its 11th year, the Flight Centre Active Travel Cycle Epic mountain bike marathon also attracted a record crowd out to Spicers Hidden Vale, Queensland on 15th September.
Queenslander Jodie Willett continued her dominance in the women’s section of the Epic while national champion Andy Blair and two-time winner Jason English fought out a titanic struggle in the elite men’s race at Grandchester, west of Brisbane, on Sunday.
Brisbane-based Willett claimed a record fifth victory in the 87km event, finishing the race in four hours, 40 minutes and 48 seconds, more than nine minutes ahead of Victorian runner up Tory Thomas. Queenslander Anna Beck was a further 8min.30secs back in third place. Subaru-MarathonMTB.com racer Imogen Smith claimed 4th place in 5:06:38.
Willett has been the most prolific performer in the 11 year history of the Epic, claiming the main title in five out of the last six years.
The men’s race was a much more closely fought contest with Canberra’s Blair neck and neck from the start with world 24 hour solo champion English before pipping him at the finish line for his maiden victory in the event. However it was Adrian Jackson who appeared to be the strongest in the first quarter of the race, able to climb away from all his rivals on the rises out of Hidden Vale.
As the race started, it was Robbie McEwan and Justin Morris (Team Novonordisk) who lead the Elite riders off the property. A small attack from Ben Forbes lifted the pace and got the race underway properly. Splits occurred through the single track and paddocks, with Adrian Jackson leading Swell-Specialized duo Andy Blair and Shaun Lewis, James Downing (Sugoi-Cannondale), Anthony Shippard (City Bike Depot), Justin Morris (Team Novonordisk), Ben Forbes and myself just struggling to stay in contact.
This group swelled once on the next dirt road section, and after another split on the climb, came back together again by the first feed zone. Soon after, James Downing attacked. Everyone watched.
Hitting the climb, the rise in tempo from the front group brought Downing back, and the bunch split again, with Blair, English, Forbes and Jackson riding away over the course of the climb. According to Blair, it was a very tactical race, as he lifted the pace many times to unhitch riders he saw as a threat.
It wasn’t until the trails well after 50km in that the lifting of pace by Blair unhitched Forbes, leaving the trio of Blair, English and Jackson to fight it out for the win. Within 15km to go Blair was out in front solo, but English managed to bridge across on the paddocks before the final single track. It was Blair v English up the final climb, and it almost played out like a track sprint. With a lot of traffic from 50km Pursuit riders, the race could be decided by a rider who may be unwilling to let faster, leading riders pass. All the work to this point by the two fastest riders was very close to coming undone. Blair didn’t give English a glimpse of clean air as the two came onto the lawn at Hidden Vale, powering away from English. Blair completed the course in hot conditions in 3hr58m47s, with English less than two tenths of a second behind. English, of Port Macquarie in NSW, was seeking to complete a hattrick of wins in the event. Two time winner Adrian Jackson of Victoria was third.
Retired Australian road cycling legend Robbie McEwen finished his first attempt at the Epic in 5hr1m47s.
“Robbie did incredibly well,” said race organiser Fleur Brooks, who was delighted at the record of more than 2,000 riders participating in the various Epic events over the weekend at Spicers Hidden Vale.
The women’s race stayed together for quite some time, with a strong lead group containing Willett, Beck, Smith, Thomas, plus a couple of men’s racers and even Robbie McEwen. They rolled turns through the feed zone, and splits happened on the next climb. Both Anna Beck and Imogen Smith noted the determination from both Willett and Thomas, especially the consistent attacks from Thomas. Willett proved the strongest, and won well clear of the other women.
With a record number of competitors, and categories, riders and winners rolled in for hours. Many sough shade, or water, or just a beer. A swimming pool right at the finish line was welcomed by many. After 11 successful editions of ‘the Epic’ there seems little chance of this race slowing down.
Full Results are available on the Timing Results website
1. Andy Blair (ACT) 3hr 58m 47s
2. Jason English (NSW) 3:58.47.17
3. Adrian Jackson (VIC) 4:01.26
1. Jodie Willett (QLD) 4:40.48s
2. Tory Thomas (VIC) 4:49.52
3. Anna Beck (QLD) 4:57.22