This weekend the forests of the Southern Highlands will once again play host to the Camelbak Highland Fling. Having already cemented itself as a classic among Australian marathon races, the ‘Fling’ has continued to grow and for 2015 it serves as the thrilling finale to the Maverick Marathon Series.
For some, the Fling serves as a final hitout to sign off on a fantastic Australian marathon racing season, while for others it serves as a pre-season hitout to blow away the off-season cobwebs. The full 110km Fling is peppered with a variety of steep, punchy hills that all add up to the race’s 2300m of climbing. The course is composed from a healthy amount of both dirt roads and singletrack, which weave together to create a challenging but also enjoyable track.
This track is the battleground that will decide who will reign supreme as the winner of the most prestigious marathon race in Australia for another year. After a hard-fought podium finish at the Croc Trophy, the Fling’s reigning champion, Brendan Johnston, will miss this year’s edition to rest up for a very important 2016 XCO World Cup series as we move into an Olympic year.
Brendan’s absence opens the door for a new champion. One rider with the momentum behind him is Kyle Ward. After a closely fought win over Mark Tupalski at the Cape to Cape, Kyle is feeling confident and is looking to take his first Highland Fling crown. “I feel I am back cycling at my best,” he says. “I am aware the Cape to Cape is a short format stage race and the Fling is a long hard slog. It will be – like every year – a race of patience.”
James Downing is one rider who has an eye on both the Fling as a stand-alone race, and also the Maverick Marathon Series. As he leads the series and is also a Data Scientist in his ‘day job’, I’ll let him explain how the overall series points are calculated:“The Maverick point series is done using a ‘creative’ algorithm that incorporates the time of the winner as well as the placing into how the ranking points are assigned,” he says.
Due to this slightly complicated points system I will refrain from making wild speculations about who could win or fill the podium and instead supply you with James’s secret race plan. “My sensations are good and I am ‘muy tranquilo’, but you never know how you are going to go on race day. I’ll give it my best, execute my plan and bring it home strong on the day – the rest is out of my control so I won’t worry too much about that.” Sounds like a pretty good plan.
If teamwork wins races, then there is one clear favourite to take out this year’s Fling. The Specialized Duo of Andy Blair and Shaun Lewis are hungry and with many years of experience between them they are the two to watch for both the Fling win and also the Maverick Series title. The fact that Mark Tupalski will be in Western Australia racing the Tour of Margaret River on the road also opens the door for both Specialized riders to make it onto the podium for the series and potentially win it, too. But who will be team captain? Answers are hard to come by… in fact, even when it comes to the choice of bike, Andy Blair was cagey: “I’ve always ridden a hardtail (even a rigid fork once) and as far as I know a dually has never won the fling. But the course is getting a bit rougher each year and my epic is so fast; I may make a last minute decision to switch to the dually.”
Over in the women’s race, Peta Mullens is standing out as the favourite. After a busy 2015 season including many wins with the latest coming at the Cape to Cape, Peta is looking forward to defending her Highland Fling crown earned in last year’s event. Challenging her could be last weekends Bayview Blast runner up Briony Mattocks, who is on the up this year and looking to better her race from last year. “Last time I did the Fling it was in my age category and I ‘bonked’ pretty badly with 20km to go. This time I’m keen not to repeat that (note to self: EAT) and knock a good chunk of time off my previous effort,” says Briony.
Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of favourites, you can be almost guaranteed that all of the favourites and the rest of the field will be exhausted at the end of the 2015 Camelbak Highland Fling! That was pretty bad, sorry… But the show must go on and I for one am looking forward to getting out in the bush and going on an adventure, racing bar to bar and seeing who comes out on top! See you there!