The Kowalski Classic has become a fixture of the Australian Marathon racing calendar in a short period of time, and this 3rd iteration was won by Brendon Johnston with a strong solo attack from 50km out, and by Jenni King, who attacked her closest rival about 60km into the race.
The course for the Kowalski Classic is ever changing, but what remains is a high proportion of singletrack, in a dizzying maze through the forest. The course has been described in detail by Anthony Shippard, and Imogen Smith wrote a race preview already about who to watch. So let’s just talk about the racing.
With a combined start of elite 50 and 100km racers – it was set to be fast. And it was – mostly. The pace was steady towards the trails, with a boost coming in on the pinch to the singletrack, lead by two 50km racers. At this point, if you were behind a bad wheel, you were in for a lot of chasing. Jason English sounded like he was in trouble at this point, where was his form that had him in the lead for so much of the Flight Centre Epic just one week ago?
A small group formed of Brendon Johnston, English and Andrew Blair by around the middle of the race, with Dylan Cooper nearby. Blair waited at the 50km transition through the start/finish to help his team mate (and Maverick Series Leader) Lewis bridge back up to a charging Johnstone. But no such luck. Johnston pushed his 20 second gap to a minute, and then set about pushing it out further. Blair retired, Lewis soldiered on, and Johnston finished in 4:18:54, about 4 minutes ahead of Lewis who crossed second, with English almost another 2:30 back in third.
Johnston said he didn’t believe the course really suited him, and is now focusing on the Cape to Cape and Highland Fling later in the year. Lewis was philosophical, in part ruing another 2nd place in the series, but also happy to retain the lead. Jason English is in training for The Munga – but we can’t confirm whether he rode home or not from the race.
Garry Millburn used his Cross Vegas legs to take a commanding win in the 50km race. Full results are online.
The field assembled for the women’s race was quite deep, but would require a strong rider with great singletrack skills. Would Jodie Willett back up from her win at the Flight Centre Epic? Would Mel Anset dominate as the National XCM Champion? Or would the wins at the Dwellingup 100 and Bendigo 6hr work in the favour of Jenni King?
Willett lead King for much of the race, until at about 60km Willett admited that the lights just went out. Riding in a tunnel of hunger she couldn’t follow as King attacked and rode into the lead and towards the race win. Fuelled by a banana, Willett battled on for 2nd, with Rebecca Locke clearly putting another MTB notch in her belt as the talented roadie finished 3rd.
Michelle Ainsworth won the women’s 50km race.