April is a busy month of racing, and to start, the countries best marathon racers congregated at Mt Joyce Recreation Park for the Australian Marathon MTB Championships, which were also the second round of the Real Insurance XCM Series.
The trails at Mt Joyce, which sits south west of Brisbane between Beaudesert and Boonah, are built to an IMBA standard – and they are no walk in the park. With about 25km of singletrack, and some big hills, there is more than enough terrain for a marathon race. It’s worth knowing that not many XCO events run there – but plenty of Gravity Enduro races do. As Tim Bardsley-Smith said “The course is like three Gravity Enduro races” although he admitted the timing on the climbs was a little more important.
With three 24km laps making up the race, starts were staggered between Elite Men and Elite Women, with the men starting first. A fast pace was set from the line as the race tore through the tech/feed zone, through the carpark and down the first grass descent, with Canadian Cory Wallace and Andy Blair exchanging places at the front. Hitting the first climb wheels were being dropped with tiny splits developing – Chris Jory moved around and Blair jumped onto his wheel. The distance to the first true singletrack was short, and Blair and Wallace entered it first.
The whole field was strung out, with about a group of about a dozen including Wallace, Blair, English, Downing, Fellows, Cooper, Hatton, Lewis, Jory, Cusworth and a few others out front. The Rubach brothers, Hall and McDonald trailed behind a little.
A long singletrack climb that leads into a long singletrack descent has a way of deciding things – soon enough Andy Blair was out front, and alone.
“I got a gap on the first descent. I got into the descent first and just tried to ride smooth, so I got a little bit of a gap and then I had some clear track so I was able to ride my own pace. I was buoyed by seeing Shaun Lewis was behind me with AJ chasing. It was good to know my team mate was there if I was to falter, he would have the situation covered. It helped me commit to it.”
And commit he did – Blair finished in 3:43:20 with a gap of 8:11 over team mate Shaun Lewis, with Adrian Jackson just under two minutes behind Lewis. Flying to South Africa on Monday for the first round of the XCO World Cup.
“It’s good for the confidence, so I just need to focus on recovery now and make sure I do the right things. This year for me the focus is on cross country and the Commonwealth Games. I didn’t expect this result but I’ll take it.”
A championship race doesn’t draw a big crowd, but it draws a pretty serious crowd. A national title was on the line, and they have a very high level of prestige.
“With the dilution of all the riders in two series competing against each other, the XCM Champs is the one that really counts. To win that one, that’s my year if nothing else happens, I’ve had a good year now.”
Jason English was 4th behind Jackson, and Dylan Cooper next back in 5th.
In the women’s race, all eyes were to Jenny Fay, an Irish National Champion, but still the favourite to win the race. All the other women were watching Jenny and the pace was high – in the end splits occurred and Jenny doesn’t slow down whereas others did, not coping with the pace, or heat, as well.
By race end, Jenny Fay crossed the line first 4:37:09, and Mel Anset was second in 4:45:35, which won her the National XCM title. A Queensland thunder storm was rolling in and Terri Rhodes rode hard in the rain for 3rd. Imogen Smith of Subaru-MarathonMTB.com trailed behind in 4th, with Naomi Williams in 5th.
The rate of attrition in elite and age group events was very high, a testament to not judging a race by distance alone.
Full results can be viewed here.