The Kowalski Classic is just three years old, but already attracts big numbers and top riders. Set in Kowen Forest near Canberra, the 100km and 50km marathons take in the finest trails built by the mysterious trail construction coven, the Kowalski Brothers.
Your MarathonMTB team were out on course today to bring you the best tips and predictions for tomorrow’s big race.
It’s dry, it’s fast, it’s twisty, and the bumps will sap your energy more than the hills. Expect a bit of dust tomorrow, and by a bit, we mean quite a bit.
The course is different from a lot of marathons in that it is nearly ALL singletrack, but the fact that there’s barely any fire road apart from the tough climb at the start, means that passing, drinking, and eating opportunities are limited. Plenty of opportunity to chat though. Expect to get close and friendly with the riders in front and behind you. You may be spending quite some time together.
While there are no particularly long climbs, the course changes gradient almost as much as it changes direction. The majority of the trails are in pine forest, but some are in open paddock, and there are plenty of rocks and roots to navigate.
The course has tonnes of fun, flowy sections that these trailbuilders are famous for, and will have you well in the flow zone.
While not incredibly techy and never gnarly, the faster you go, the more skill you’re going to need. There are no drop-offs and barely a log to hop over, but beware trees that lean into your bars the as you approach them, and rocks that shoot up to grab your pedals as you pass.
It’s well signposted, but that won’t matter if you don’t look for the arrows. Keep an eye out rather than just following the wheel in front, especially when crossing onto fireroads. We were caught out once and had to backtrack.
Expect a foggy, freezing start that will warm up to around 19 degrees. Slowly. The weather will be very dry, and a slight breeze will keep you cool, even once the chill wears off.
We reckon the perfect bike for these trails is a light dual suspension with about 4″ front and rear and a single chainring drivetrain. That said, we’re taking bets on whether a 27.5″ or 29″ bike is best… time will tell.
The pointy end
The perfect bike might be out of reach of most of us, but the top riders will all be on something like we’ve described above. The elite men’s race is stacked and the women’s is red hot.
We predict a very, very close race for the men whose field includes stars like Jason English, Brendan Johnston, Andy Blair, Shaun Lewis, Dylan Cooper, and James Downing, fresh from his win at the Flight Centre Epic last week, and we think it may come down to a sprint finish. Team tactics may play a role, and with Shaun Lewis fighting for the Maverick Marathon Series win and with the help of team mate Blair, he could well be the winner – but it WILL be close.
The women’s field is one of the best congregations of Aussie female riders since the Marathon National Champs in April and we’ve been interested to check out how much racing these ladies have been doing in the intervening months.
Jenni King is back from injury and racing well, and Mel Ansett, National Marathon Champ, has focused on cyclocross over winter. Others are more battle-hardened, with Jodie Willett backing up after her victory at the Flight Centre Epic last week and a European race or two over winter. Jenny Fay had some time off after her big race at World Marathon Champs in June, and will be racing on her home trails tomorrow. It’s also impossible to ignore the impressive results Rebecca Locke has posted on the road this season, coming third in last week’s NRS round.
The women’s race will be very tough at the start – they’re off in the first wave with the elite men, but will have to keep the pace on to avoid being swamped by the strong masters and 50km riders starting just 3 minutes behind them. With the huge amount of singletrack and the mental focus the race is going to require, we’re tipping technical aficionados Jenni King and Mel Ansett.
Our top tips
It will be dry, so drink plenty. The course is twisty and technical, so wear a hydration pack if you’ve failed to drink enough in races past, or if you like to keep two hands on the bars.
Look up. The track changes and turns constantly, and rewards smooth riding just as much as powerful riding. Keep your eyes looking where you want to go and find that flow.
Keep friendly. It’s going to be crowded out there and passing opportunities are limited. Remember to give way to the rider in front and cheer them on as you pass.
Save some. If you’re enrolled in the 100km race, remember the second half will be harder than the first, with more climbing. Leave a bit in the tank.