All photos from Russ Baker/MTBA
The 2016 Australian XCM Championship headed to Derby after the small town of barely 200 people first hosted the race in 2015. While the trails have been extended and have bedded in nicely, it’s still a small town in North East Tasmania that is earning a reputation around Australia for its trails.
On Sunday 10th April, it hosted the Elite men’s and women’s XCM Champs, the day after the masters and age group events. Given the wet conditions on Saturday, some more overnight rain and then early drizzle denied the upper sections of trail – namely the Atlas trail – any time to dry out much.
The mood in town was grey like to sky for many racers, and while the start line has less fanfare than most club races, it did have strong – if not small – elite fields. In the men’s Brendan Johnston was set to defend his 2015, Andrew Blair was aiming for another title to add to his 2012 and 2014 jerseys, plus Scott Bowden and Tasman Nankervis were sure to bring a lot of XC speed to the XCM format.
After lengthy warnings about slippery moss on the start climb, it was a steady pace on the first climb after the whistle (no gun) was blown. While one of the Euros in town did make a bit of a surge as the dirt road roughened, it wasn’t the fireworks some riders were curious about.
As the course lead almost completely into the climb save for a short section of singletrack, climbing prowess was paramount and riders on hardtails like Johnston, Nankervis and Bowden may well have had an advantage – beyond their obvious physical ability! These were the three key riders at the front of the race, also joined by one of Australia’s most experienced and credentialed racers – Andrew Blair.
But Johnston had too much class at the end of the 90km race to claim back-to-back green and gold jerseys ahead of Tasman Nankervis and Scott Bowden, with Blair and his team mate Shaun Lewis chasing behind.
“I was super nervous coming into the race. I didn’t expect to win it once let alone twice so really happy with how I’m going with my form,” an elated Johnston said, who is targeting Olympic selection.
“I had great amount of power which I didn’t think I would have in the last lap and pretty thankful for that and really enjoyed it to the finish.”
For Bowden, who had only recently returned from a bronze medal performance at the Oceania Championships in Queenstown, it was his maiden voyage over the long distance.
“That’s my first ever marathon on the mountain bike but it was super good fun out there and I think the muddy conditions made it much harder but it was great.”
As Blair dropped off the pack by lap three, the trio would wage a mini war heading into the final climb of the race, before three soon turned into two, Bowden succumbing.
“On the climb, we all kind of put in a few little surges but it was Tas put the hammer down on bit of a rough section on the climb and I didn’t quite have the legs and I didn’t feel to bad but thought of might have been able to bridge across but in the end they were just two strong,” the 21 year old said.
That left Bendigo’s Nankervis and the defending champ, who at one stage thought he’d be batting to make the podium.
“I was struggling and I didn’t know how to play it with these guys climbing so well,” said Johnston. Regardless, Johnston won the race in a time of 4:34:17 more than a minute ahead of Nankervis.
“They are really good riders and I was not expecting to ever beat them easy or at all.”
Blair would finish fourth with team mate Shaun Lewis in fifth.
Mullens last minute trip to XCM Champs pays off
A Friday night decision by Peta Mullens was made to compete at the Australian Marathon Championships and it paid off as she won her second National XCM Title, after her first in 2012.
“I was originally going to race and after Oceanias I had a rough run and thought I probably need to have a big break before Cairns. But I was feeling good in training and after a couple of ergo sessions I really had the itch to race.”
On the opening climb Cristy Henderson moved to the front before Mullens and Imogen Smith moved away from the field, before starting the singletrack of their start loop.
It was then Mullens solo onto their first full lap with Smith and Kim Hurst (New Zealand) working hard to close the gap to Mullens down to 30 seconds by the top of the Atlas trail.
“All I had to think about was getting to the top of the climb in the last lap and last hour was great fun.” Said Mullens.
It was an intriguing battle for the minor placing’s with Jenni King riding back into the race on the descent, along with Anna Beck and Eliza Kwan. Smith was distanced and then out with a mechanical, and Hurst had the same fate.
King rode into a silver medal position and in the closing kilometres of the final lap Briony Mattocks passed Kwan and Beck for 3rd, as Kwan was 4th and Beck 5th.
An overcast sky and some light drizzle greeted riders ahead of their 70km journey around the famed Blue Derby trail in Tasmania’s North-East.
Mullens hadn’t ridden the full course, but wanted to just trust her instincts with the race.
“I felt good on the first climb and thought I’ll try and dishearten them and go out and hurt myself.”
While it was only a battle with the clock for the Victorian Mullens, King had to overcome an ordinary first lap where she was sitting in fifth.
“I felt terrible at the start but really lucky on the technical descent and those other girls were climbing really well. And I had to put everything in to get second today.”