Stage one on the Lasseters Easter in the Alice MTB stage race was also round 3 of the Australian XCM national series. With valuable national series points on the line, today’s 75km stage was bound to be the hardest fought of the 3 day race. Current national champion Brendan Johnston came to this race as series leader and current national champion. In the national champ’s stripes he was without doubt a marked man right from the neutral at the start of today’s stage. From the flag drop Johnston set off with former national title holder Andrew Blair who is returning after a lay off from racing after surgery on a problematic shoulder. Seemingly off his best Blair did not hold the cracking pace set by Johnston, however 2nd place getter from rd.2 in Bendigo Ryan Standish was hot on Johnston’s heels as was former road professional’s Michael England and myself. I was dispatched off soon after to join a chasing group. It became clear by the 10km mark that the leading trio of Johnston, Standish and England would call the shots for the podium on today’s stage.
The race weaved off the fire road start and onto some superb, sweeping singletrack typical of the trails in the area. Alice Springs has invested in MTB tourism and created some stunning trails in the MacDonnell ranges that surround the outback frontier town. The Central Australian Rough Riders club have certainly done a superb job in creating a trail network that is ideal for hosting a stage race such as this. Of the race organising committee Paul Darvodelsky remarked that the trails included for the 3 stages of the Easter in the Alice stage race are just the “tip of the iceberg of the trails in the area”. The exploration possibilities certainly make Alice another ‘must do’ destination for mountain bike tourists.
Johnston was quick to make his move on his two main rivals and put the hammer down before the first feed station and carried on to win another Australian marathon. Johnston now commands a very impressive winning streak in Australian XCM racing, one perhaps never seen before. Another deserving victory for this hard working athlete today. Ryan Standish is showing himself to be a name to watch in XCM circles this year with his 2nd consecutive MTBA silver medal. Ryan who will be sharing his priorities with commitments on the NRS road circuit this year is a definite favourite to reach the podium at the Toowoomba national titles in 2weeks. Michael England showed his form and experience to finish only 2min30 behind Standish for another impressive result. Michael will also be on the start line at the upcoming nationals. Finishing off the top 5 was Alice Springs local Luke Pankhurst followed by the evergreen James Downing. Andrew Blair showed his comeback to racing is on track with a top 10 finish today.
The women’s race became a duel between the experienced former national champion Jenny Blair and the emerging Briony Mattocks from Sydney. Jenny who is also returning to racing after a maternity leave break showed she has not lost any of the form that took her to be Australia’s most winning female XCM rider. Blair took the win from Mattocks not far in arears and Gemma Gooley in 3rd. Full results can be found here.
Tomorrow’s stage 2 takes riders on a 25km jaunt on some of the tricky, rocky technical terrain in the West MacDonnell ranges.