This form guide for the Highland Fling has been provided by Swell-Specialized racer Andrew Blair.
It’s November again. That means daylight saving has started, the weather is getting nice, and of course the Highland Fling is just around the corner!
As always the field is very strong. Looking through the start list there are a few obvious names that jump out as potential winners, but to me the big favourites are Brendan Johnston and Cam Ivory, with Marc Williams a worthy mention as the dark horse to make up my top 3.
Trekky is a two-time winner of the Fling, the current national XCM champion and the 2016 National XCM series winner. He has had an amazing run of marathon wins this year with the Willo, XCM Champs, Bayview Blast, Tathra Enduro, Dwellingup, Flight Centre Epic and Kowalski. Not many people achieve this in a lifetime, let alone in one year. As unbeatable as this list of wins is, it makes for a long season and he would be forgiven for being a little tired. But if anyone can handle it, this guy can! The Fling is a long, tough race that requires endurance and tactical savvy. Trekky has these in spades and would most benefit if the race is hard from start to finish.
Despite Trekky’s unbeaten run in marathons, I think it is fair to say that Cam Ivory is the fastest mountain biker in the country at the moment (of course it is the “off-season” for some). Cam is better known for his speed in Olympic format XC and is relatively inexperienced in marathon racing. If you look back through some recent results though you will see that he has been close in the Fling before with a 3rd in 2013 and I know that was with a lot less form than what he currently has. Cam dominated at the Cape to Cape recently winning 3 consecutive stages against a nearly identical field to the Fling until illness forced him to withdraw. Winning 3 different stages over there really highlights Cam’s strength which lies in his versatility. Hilly, flat, technical, punchy, muddy, sandy, he can win anywhere. The only question is can he win a race over 4 hours? I think Cam would prefer the race to be slower with an aggressive finale. His biggest challenge will be to remain patient because covering all the early attacks will seem easy to him, but they might accumulate in the legs over this long race. He also has the advantage that all 3 of his team mates have won the fling before, so for what it is worth, he will have no shortage of advice leading into the race. Cam is coming off a storming win in the Wollongong Criterium last weekend and would be on a hat-trick come Sunday after he wins his 4th straight Bundanoon Dash, the Fling ‘warm-up, on Saturday. Does anyone honestly think they can beat him on that 6km course?
Definitely worth a mention just behind the big favourites is Marc Williams. To most people he would fly under the radar and is just another roadie having a crack at marathons. He seems to enjoy the Highland Fling and managed to fit it in around road team commitments until making the mountain bike more of a focus recently. He is often in the front group deep into the final stage of the Fling and last year he went super close to taking the win. 12 months on, he is stronger and has improved a lot technically. He will benefit from the fact that the Fling is an unpredictable race and that the strongest guy on the day often doesn’t win in Bundanoon. This means that if Trekky and Cam falter, he will be there ready to take the race by the horns.
An indication of the depth of the field is that my top 3 does not include 3 former Fling winners – Shaun Lewis, Jason English and yours truly – as well as several quick young guys that could step up for a big result. The beauty of this race is that anything can happen and there are probably 8 guys that actually believe they can win if they have a good day.
The women’s race looks exciting too. In my opinion, the riders that I see as the ones most likely to shape the race are:
· Lucy Bechtel – Defending Fling champion and a very strong roadie. She won me as a fan at the National Capital Tour this year with a wildly aggressive ride in the stage around the embassies.
· Samara Shepard – She is the 2016 Cape to Cape winner having got the better of Peta Mullens. She is a very tough racer and will surprise no one by winning on Sunday.
· Peta Mullens – National champion at every discipline except tiddly-winks at some point, Peta is definitely an all-rounder and has proven before she can win the Fling (twice!).