The town of Orange in NSW hosted the first two rounds of the National XCO Series with back to back races on both the Saturday and Sunday. Dry, hot and very dusty conditions greeted the riders who travelled from all over to compete in a range of junior, masters and elite categories. While the Orange races are on at the same time as Road National Championships, the clash didn’t have the large negative impact some expected, with 16 women and 25 men lining up on the elite start lines.
Day one in Orange
Day one saw riders test themselves over a shorter, 4.7km loop. Although the course was void of any serious rock gardens or drops, it seemed to get more technical the faster it was ridden, with many riders emerging from Kinross State Forest covered in dust and pine needles. The green and gold jersey of Bec Henderson was to prevail by over 3 minutes in the end, but she had to work to hold of Kathryn McInerney, Eliza Kwan and Anna Beck (who unfortunately had a serious mechanical while in second). In the men’s race, it was three-time Olympian Dan McConnell who edged out Russell Nankervis and Ben Bradley by 50 seconds in the end.
After the men’s race, Dan McConnell said he felt good to come away with a win, as a sign that the form is where it should be. “It’s always hard the first race of the season and you never really know where you are at so to come away with two race wins pretty happy and I can build on that lead into a good season,” McConnell said.
“I think over the next few rounds you will see few more guys come back and the rest of the season will get more competitive.”
Day two in Orange
Day two changed it up a little bit – the same start and finish but a different middle section made for a longer lap (6km) which included a fair bit more climbing and some fresher off-camber corners that would (and did) punish anyone not paying attention. Carrying in disappointment from the previous day, the tiger-skin clad Anna Beck put in a marvellous performance to claim the top step of the podium, holding off a very fast finishing Bec Henderson. A fat tyre meant disappointment for McInerney, while Eliza Kwan backed up again with her second third place. The boys were much closer on day two compared to day one, with McConnell and Bradley going toe to toe for most of the race, McDonnell eventually showing his class and prevailing over Bradley and Ethan Kelly.
On Sunday Beck held a two minute lead heading into the final lap over McInerney and Henderson.
“I think I had more to prove today having a mechanical yesterday in second and everyone had sore legs so I tried to go out early and get a visual gap which worked.”
“It was super hard the course got more blown out and the climbs just seemed to get stepper and that whole last lap I was thinking just ride consistent and safe and not crash,” Beck said.
“Today I was super flat and rusty and was suffering and couldn’t just find a good speed.” Hendersen said post-race. “Finally on the fourth and final lap I had a little target and was feeling good and I could hear that Anna wasn’t that far ahead and sort of gave it what I had and almost got there,” Henderson remarked.
The Orange Mountain Bike club brought us fast, punchy and twisty trails for rounds one and two – we now look forward to rounds three and four in Armidale and what they might have in store.
All photos by Russ Baker.