The MTBA XCM National Series started on Sunday 22nd March with the 5th James Williamson Memorial Enduro. It’s a great event, held in memory of the late James Williamson, and was a late addition to the series, making for seven races around the country. With that race won, and points awarded, we can look to the next six races in the series as a whole.
As there are two marathon series’ running in Australia this year, with the Maverick Series now halfway through after the Giant Odyssey on the weekend, we can see there is a real split in the middle of the year. But the first half is going to be a cracker. Here’s a preview of the next three races.
Easter in the Alice
While a stage race isn’t a marathon, the first stage of Easter in the Alice is the 2nd round of the XCM Series. The Bunny Buster stage is typical of many races in Australia – it has a silly name that belies the difficulty of the racing. It’s the longest stage of the race, and the demanding terrain of Alice Springs will test riders abilities. There’s not much extended climbing, but plenty of time when you’re either going up or down, and with lots of rock. With the likes of Chris Jongewaard heading out, that changes the dynamic a bit. He doesn’t race many marathons, but when he does – he wins. Andrew Blair will be ‘fresh’ off the Cape Epic, other top racers like Murray Spink and Ben Mather should be out there to make a pretty tight front of the field.
Jenny Fay has confirmed her attendance, plus she will be wearing the leader’s jersey after winning the Willo. But with current XCM Champ Melissa Anset, Courtney Shinn, Sarah Riley, Briony Mattocks and Imogen Smith in the mix too, it’s not a sure thing – more so for the stage race as anything can happen across 4 stages.
The stage will favour an aggressive ride from someone who floats over rocks and avoids flat tyres, especially if the start loop around the nature park is used again like last year.
Victoria actually doesn’t have that many big marathon races, despite the number of strong mountain bikers who reside there. Yet, the races it does have are truly great. The Wombat 100 is one of them. It favours a good field due to its proximity to Melbourne, and the sub 1hr drive from the airport. It’s an easy trip for those coming from interstate to race in one of the premier events on the calendar. The trails have been there for a long time, and change from pine forest to natural bush and open dirt road. The course has such a high quantity of singletrack that it is very demanding – but the start and finish location at Cammeray Waters is ideal, and probably up there with the Cycle Epic in terms of quality of race venues.
This race is on April 12th so falls just a week after the Bunny Buster stage at Easter in the Alice. Logistically this isn’t hard. But it does put two events close together for those juggling a series and travel budget – plus days off work if they are required.
Adrian Jackson is a proven performer at the Wombat, but we’ll need to wait to see who signs up as Jason English has eyes on the series, Ben Mather finds the Wombat an easy race to access from Launceston, and if the Specialized duo of Shaun Lewis and Andrew Blair race then they could easily dictate terms.
Now one of the oldest marathon races on the Australian calendar, the Convict 100 has turned itself on its head for 2015. The previous 50 and 100km courses are gone, and new distances put in either side of 50km to create new routes – the 68km version should be highly popular, taking in part of the Old North Road trail but avoiding being a 100km death march.
It’s the 100km race that makes up the series though, and with the main sections now reversed, it might favour Sydney based riders who can practice on the course, but realistically any accomplished rider won’t be put out. The climb up Jack’s Track will be very tough, and dependant on any recent grading or rain. But it’s the climb up Shepherd’S Gully that might cause a split for a tired rider in a front group. The trail is briefly technical, but as the climbing continues for some time, a mistake here could easily be punished.
Without knowing who will attend, it’s fair to expect some of the previously mentioned riders to attend and make a mark. Andrew Blair will be keen for another victory while he’s still got the 2014 XCM Champ jersey, and Jenny Fay could well be interested to set the course record on the new course, to match her previous record. But with Ben Mather also citing interest, and previous podium placed Brendan Johnston on another level, and Kyle Ward already in great shape for the year – Sydney’s marathon could well be the most exciting in this half of the year, given we can’t be certain how the race will play out.