In a matter of days, Australia’s marathon mountain bike racing elite, along with many more enthusiastic amateur racers, will travel to Derby, in North East Tasmania. A small town previously ravaged by mining and forestry, mountain biking is set to be the saviour of this town and its region.
100km of trails built by World Trail are planned, and close to 30km of them are already open, and attracting mountain bikers from around the country. I visited in February, for a lap of the proposed XCM Championships route.
Back in February we were invited down to ride the proposed Mountain Bike Australia – MTBA XCM Champs course on the Blue Derby Mountain Bike Trails. The lap is about 30kms, taking in stage one of the Blue Tier trails by World Trail, plus a few others that are in the works.The race is on the weekend of 16/17 May, and besides being a great marathon, it will also award National Champion titles, and be part of the UCI Marathon series, with international ranking points and the ability to qualify for the World Championships.Here’s a quick highlight video from the lap.More details are online: http://marathonm.wpengine.com/event/australian-xcm-championships-2/
Posted by MarathonMTB.com on Sunday, 29 March 2015
Since at least 2010, the Australian XCM Championships have stood apart from the other marathons on the Australian calendar. The courses at Avoca, Mt Joyce, Mt Stromlo and Atherton have had both more singletrack and more climbing than most other Australian marathon events. Of course, they are raced hard with championships titles on the line, and the rate of attrition is typically very high.
Have you read our reports from previous years?
I spoke briefly to some of the favourites, and some regular racers who will venture to Tasmania for the event.
Defending men’s champion Andrew Blair is excited about the race, “we have a bit of a history in recent years of going to brand new trail centres for our marathon championships like Mt Joyce and Atherton. The unknown trails add an element of excitement and anticipation but also create a level playing field because we are all riding them for the first time. It seems like quite pure way to crown a national champion.”
Jason English won the title in 2011 and 2013, and concurs “a purpose built track just sounds like fun. I am always interested in going to a new destination and checking out new trails.” It’s interesting that in Atherton and Canberra, the racing took part on Glen Jacob’s World Trail constructed trails. That alone has James Downing excited.
“I have always liked the Glen Jacobs World Trail designed and built courses as they are building for the overall experience of the rider. Stromlo was the benchmark put into place back in the day and has successfully stood the test of time.”
2014 women’s champion, Mel Anset, is looking forward to racing on fun trails, “I’ve heard some great reviews on the Derby trails, and a lot of work has gone into them, so I can’t wait to check them out. It’ll be fun! Not to mention picturesque. Last years champs in QLD also had a lot of singletrack which made it one of the best marathons of the year. I tend to get bored riding/racing fireroads on my Mtb and can’t keep up on the fast fire road sections. So the less fire roads the better for me. I think more singletrack makes for a better tougher race too. Smooth Mtb skills will also be more of an advantage – especially if it’s really wet & muddy.”
In 2015, Jenny Blair has Australian citizenship. While she has won the race in 2011, 2013 and 2014, she hasn’t won the title. That could all change in 2015.
“These trails are a Glen Jacob design & always a big hit for me to be racing on them, but also the first time for everyone on an unknown course makes it exciting! Also, I will remember it to be the first course to race for a National Australian XCM title! In my history of racing XCM National titles, the courses have always been shorter in length but always and sometimes longer than a typical race promoter event. I have always found them to be extremely hard both physically and mentally harder with 110% focus from start to finish – but that’s what it takes to decide a National Champion on the day.”
Many see it as a battle of Jenny v Jenni, and Jenni King is in great form and a previous Marathon Champion from 2011 and 2013.
“I’ve been told that the trails are pretty amazing and going by previous experience of riding on Glen Jacobs’ built courses, we should be in for a fun but also tough race! Concentration in the latter part of the race will also be important in order to keep the efficiency going and keep to the track!”
There is a whole lot of singletrack in the race, actually almost the whole thing save for the opening climb and part of the run to the finish. Most riders agree that although it will change the dynamics of the race, it’s unlikely to change the outcome.
“Such a high percentage of singletrack is very rare for a marathon because it makes them very hard. It definitely takes a lot of the tactics out of it which can make the racing somewhat boring because it becomes more of a time trial and usually the strongest guy will win,” said Andrew Blair.
Brit Anthony Shippard agrees that it may change the racing, but not the result “If the old adage of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ holds true, then a tighter, more singletrack based race will mean groups form and it becomes harder to jump across. It’s also tougher to gauge time gaps when you can see ahead. The fastest rider will still win though.”
Sarah Riley is looking forward to how the dynamics will shift compared to other events, “I think the singletrack will reduce the ability for riders to sit on the wheel and will hopefully break up the field a lot more. Marathons most recently have been directed more towards fire roads linked with singletrack so the ability to sit on the wheel and draft has been far greater. I find that with such races there is a slight difference in the rolling speeds between the 29er wheels and the 27.5″ wheel size and with a greater amount of single track the wheel size will not be such an issue. I also believe that XCM courses should also contain a reasonably technical aspect despite the increased distance and hopefully the high amount of singletrack will provide that.”
Imogen Smith is looking forward to an enjoyable course, beyond the racing, “the fittest, fastest, most technically proficient rider almost always wins, especially in the women’s. One thing the singletrack will do is make the race more fun, and concentration is a big factor here, but it won’t be much different from last year’s champs at Mt Joyce, which was also almost all singletrack and quite short. I think having a separate start and course from the men could make dynamics a bit different from normal, but won’t necessarily change the outcome either.”
This is a little harder, not having seen a start list. But in the men, it seems everyone is expecting Chris Jongewaard to win, if he races. “I know Trekky is up for it. Tupac will be dangerous and if Chris Jongeward shows up he will be too,” said Andrew Blair – who himself would be vying with Jongewaard as outright favourite. Beyond Jongewaard, Anthony Shippard thinks it might be the turn of the younger generation, “I suspect some of the real XC young guns will up there – Brendan Johnston and Ward Bro#1 (Kyle) spring to mind.”
James Downing is anticipating a change of crowns, “waiting in the wings are about 5 to 10 other riders who depending on what happens on the day will be motivated and eager to take the top step of the podium. I haven’t seen a start list but the I imagine that it will not be a light field at all.”
In the women, Jenny Blair and Jenni King will be eyeing each other off, “Jenni King has to be my bet, ‘says Blair, “she is a fantastic rider over singletrack and has been so consistent and hard to beat across XC & XCM this year to date.”
Of course, King expects Blair to win, “You really can’t go past Jenny Blair. She has been the queen of marathon racing in Australia over the last few years and I’m sure she will be in some peak form for the Champs.”
Sarah Riley predicts these two will be the ones to watch, “I would say Jenny Blair will be hungry to be Australian National Champion for the first time as she will be able to add it to her XCM race winning collection from 2011, 2013, and 2014, not to mention her Irish National XCM title 2014! Jenni King will be hot on her heals though I suspect.”
The bike of choice
We are mountain bikers, we like equipment! Riders are fairly set on what they will race and why.
Andrew Blair: “S-works Epic. I’ll take a few tyre and chain rings options to Tassie and decide the day before.”
James Downing: “I’ll be running my Cannondale F-Si hardtail. With numerous switchbacks out on course and a fair amount of climbing each lap I will rely on the efficiency of the hardtail to get me through the race. No major changes except for some wider Enve handlebars to more easily negotiate the switchbacks and berms!”
Anthony Shippard: “I’m running my Specialized Epic World Cup. No real changes made for this race, no need. Its pretty much the best bike for every and any style of course.”
Jason English: “I’ll be running a (Pivot) hardtail, I think a new track should be quite smooth, fast and flowy. If I thought the track was going to be super technical or rough I would consider the dually.”
Mel Anset: “I’m running the Trek Superfly FS. Perfect bike for everything! Think I’ll leave it as is, hope it’s not too muddy out there!”
Sarah Riley: ” I will be racing on my 27.5″ hard tail Giant Obsess. With the elevation gain forecast for the race and the switchback climbs the 27.5″ will be manoeuvrable and light.”
Imogen Smith: “I’ll be on my Bianchi Methanol 29 FS, which is all I race these days, with Fox shocks. I’ll have a knobbier Maxxis Ardent Race tyre on the front and a faster-rolling Ikon on the rear. Otherwise it’s just the lightest of anything I can get – 11 speed XTR, Valor wheels, speedneedle saddle.”
Jenni King: “I have decided on the Merida Team Big 9 Hardtail. This bike accelerates really quite well and with all the cornering in Derby I think this will be important. The new Sram RS1 forks give the bike such great suspension that it handles much like a dual suspension into corners and on the descents.”
So all we can do now is sit back and watch. Stay tuned for race coverage this weekend!