The Highland Fling – it’s the marathon race of the year for an awful lot of people.
Practice rides on the open parts of the course at Wingello are frequent, training progammes are designed to ‘peak’ for this weekend, and bikes are booked in for services in the weeks leading into it. There is no doubt that despite it not being an immensely hilly race in terms of vertical metres, it is one of the hardest. Tough rolling hills, often hot and humid conditions, and a course that gets harder as you get into it – it’s one that requires strong legs, proper nutrition and hydration, as well as sometimes some strong will and strategy – it’s all too easy to go out very hard, and as many poor souls can confirm, the price you end up paying on the return home from Wingello Oval is a steep one…
The names of the key climbs strike fear into the heart of anyone over 60kg’s: The Wall, Halfway Hill, The Kick, Outer Limits, The Rollercoaster and Brokeback Mountain – spend your pennies carefully, because until you hit that bitumen in the final few km’s there are places to be won and lost…
After a very busy and highly competitive year of marathon and stage racing, who will be there at the end to take the glory, the famous tartan jersey, and the over-sized cheque?
I won’t cover the prospects of the same riders we went through for Cape to Cape – it can be found here, and most of what I said there remains true now.
In the Elite men’s race, the past three years winners are probably worth mentioning – given they will all be on the start line, looking to join Shaun Lewis and Craig Gordon as the only people to have won the Male Fling twice.
Dylan Cooper won the Fling two years ago in what was the closest race possible, taking the win by 0.1 of a second from Ben Mather. He did that on a 26” bike too. Remember them?
Last year Dylan was second, suffering cramp in the last few kms. This year, Dylan justifiably has his mind elsewhere – the arrival of his first child is due on (give or take) race day. If he can get away from nappy duties he has proven he’ll be right up there. If bub hasn’t arrived, I suspect he will do well to get a leave pass to race!
Adrian Jackson won the Fling last year, riding away from Dylan. A great ride in a very competitive field. He quietly went about his business at this year’s Cape to Cape, finishing second and clearly is in form. He climbs exceptionally well, and is also a real ‘driver’ on the fire-roads. I’m sure that he will really close to the front this year and having won once, he now has the taste for it.
Jason English – what can you say about this guy? He won the 24hr Worlds again, and to be honest, and with all due respect to anyone racing against him, did anyone really think he was beatable? Two years ago Jason rode the 160km Fling. His two laps of Wingello were 2hrs and 1:59 – done alone. That’s as fast as the Elite ‘normal’ Fling. He then proceeded in returning to Bundanoon (again, alone) in the same time as the overall Fling winner Dylan Cooper! There is a reason people are wary of him at the back end of a race.
And then there is the wild-card. I have often spoken to my road-riding friends about racing the Fling, whether it’s because they have raced it and are fearful of going back as it was so much harder than they expected, or whether it’s to coax them into racing – to allow them to prove that they really can climb (and hurt). There are always a few ‘proper’ roadies in the race. Last year was Chris Jory’s turn. The NSW Elite road-race champion had a great crack, and finished a very respectable 16th.
This year we see a rider that you could comfortably call a ‘climber’ or a ‘proper’ roadie.
Lachlan Morton of Garmin-Sharp is having a crack. One of the bright lights and rising stars of the Australian international road scene; it’s been a break-through year for Morton on the road – with a most memorable win on Stage 3 of the Tour of Utah. The road went up-hill, some of the biggest names in road racing (eg team-mate Ryder Hesjedal) couldn’t hold the pace, and Morton attacked and rode 30km on his own to take a stage win. Not many in the field will have done that this year! Who knows how he will go on the MTB (he is no novice to it though – he rides a bit off road throughout the year), how hard he will push in what is an off-season for him. It’s great for the race to have such a rider, and it’s great for Lachy to be able to turn up and get a good race. I can’t see him getting dropped on the climbs though….
Other riders who are worthy of a mention – James Downing took the win in the Husky 100 over Jason Chalker – proving both have form. Michael Crosbie and Cameron Ivory are both hitting the Full-Fling for the first time and will go well, and after some wonderful riding in Western Australia and a couple of scores to settle with this race, I’ll be so bold as to include myself.
The womens Fling this year is made up of many of the contenders from the Cape to Cape, so I won’t spend too much time on them.
The Cape to Cape winner Jenny Fay is on home turf. What I think she would probably call her spiritual home Wingello is one of the places she has used for training over the years to hone her climbing skills. After riding into form at the Cape to Cape, Jenny looked to be heading into the Fling confident she could defend her title, and perhaps make it a ‘three-peat’, having won for the last two years. All was going well until she had an accident in her road riding bunch on the weekend, and suffered a concussion and a bit of skin off. Everyone hopes she is ok. She will be VERY hard to beat this weekend.
Jo Bennett is the rider who could take Jenny down. On the first stage of Cape to Cape the West Australian caught and dropped Fay in the last few kilometers. Make no mistake, Jo will be there right to the end and will never give up chasing if she is down. A great pedaler and time-triallist (like Fay) due to her triathlon background, expect Jo to be close.
Peta Mullens comes to the Fling after going very close last year, going down in a real dog-fight to Fay. Having suffered some back issues in recent times, Peta will be looking for a big ride in her new team colours of ‘Wiggle-Honda’. Proving her versatility and class, Peta rode to an excellent 2nd place in the women’s Elite Criterium at Noosa this weekend. Neither Fay nor Bennett would want to have Peta on their wheel going into the last few kilometers.
In the womens race the wild card comes in the form of Imogen Smith. A hugely classy rider with a long history in the sport, Imogen’s form is currently going through a real resurgence. Teaming up with MarathonMTBs very own Mike Blewitt at Transalp, they rode into the race ultimately finishing on the mixed pairs podium. Winner of the Mackay Marathon, and 4th place at the Flight Center Epic – her pedigree is clear. Imo is a real ‘stayer’ and climbs very well. I expect her to probably go out slightly slower than the above three elite women, but she will finish as strong, if not stronger. If you are in the age-group categories starting 45mins before the elite start, expect to witness Imo on the charge late in the race – and give her a shout, she loves the support.
Further to the 112km ‘main event’, there are two other races that are always popular, and are just as hard fought – the 160km monster race, and at the other end of the scale, the ‘Half-Fling’ – a highly competitive race for either the younger guns, or the speed merchants…
In the 160km race, a number of the 24hr chugging specialists have been doing their speed-work in anticipation of this short 6.5hr race. The big names to watch for are:
Ed McDonald, Matt Page and Andy Hall. Their approaches have differed since the ‘WEMBO’ champs at Stromlo about a month ago.
Matt went to the Croc Trophy for some fast, corrugated and dusty miles, Ed popped up at the recent Chocolate Foot 7hr race and beat all but one of the teams, and Andy has been riding some road-miles with the “best road bunch in Canberra” – clearly preparing for a sprint finish.
The Half-Fling field looks to be full of hitters. Despite there being no ‘Elite’ category, the winner will be an elite performer, and trust me – at the front, none of them are thinking of just winning their age-group, first over the line is a very prestigious result.
This race will be a close one.
Garry Millburn – The short-track specialist. Whether it’s CX or a dirt-crit or even a typical XC race, Garry is always at the front with his own (famously loose) style of racing. He’s all elbows and knees, but with poker-faced strategy. The other piece of anatomy that he races with is heart. Garry will turn himself inside out, and suffer with the best of them to take the win. He is hitting record ‘numbers’ in training (according to his coach), so things are pointing towards him having a good ride and being very hard to beat.
Jayden Ward – Too often regarded as ‘Kyles younger brother’, Jayden is a very different type of rider to his big bro. To beat Kyle, you might think of taking it to a sprint finish; I’ll give you a #pro tip – that won’t work with Jayden. He’ll kill you in a sprint. Physically Jayden is immensely strong, with excellent bike handling skills and a love of a real race. He is young though still, and the fast start and distance might be an issue for him, but I have a feeling he will be looking to repeat the family’s success in the ½ Fling.
Sebastian Jayne – Seb has raced really well this year over the marathon distances – setting his stall out early at both the Convict and the Kowalski. Seb goes hard from the gun, and is learning to pace his efforts over 100km – in time he will be able to sustain his fast starts. In the meantime, he has chosen to step-down a distance and race the Half-Fling. Much less chance of Seb blowing here, and he is likely to be right amongst it.
Although I will be out there racing, I must say that three-way sprint finish between Garry, Jayden and Seb is something I would love to see. All of them have a proper kick, and if the race is tactical, there will sparks on the grass at Bundanoon…
There a few ‘older’ men to play ‘the jokers’ to the sprinters game: Matthew ‘Flemo’ Fleming, Brad ‘Stromlo Specialist’ Morton, and Andy Fellows. All very classy riders, and together they’re as strong as a herd of bulls (with only Fellows legs as hairy), they won’t be wanting it to end in a show of raw speed. They’ll be driving hard throughout to take the speed out of the legs of fast finishers.
So – there you have it – a form guide for the 2013 Camelbak Highland Fling, and I haven’t even covered the Dash or the Rolloff race! So much going on. See you in Bundanoon on Saturday afternoon for what is always a brilliant weekend…