The Convict 100 mountain bike marathon has now well and truly established itself as a classic and reliable staple on the Australian XCM calendar. The race originally called the Dirt Works Classic was first run in 2004 making it one of the oldest continuously running marathons in Australia. A very similar course has been used year after year which to some may sound dull but many find this appealing as riders can return year after year in an attempt to improve on previous personal best course times and has made the course record a highly sought after title currently held by Shaun Lewis. There was a change thrown into the ring of the Convict 3 years ago when the course was reversed and has continued in this newer direction since. This means the decisive climb is Jacks Track, which is even steeper than the previous opening climb.
The climbing always plays a decisive role in this race and has split up high profile fields in the past. Always attracting Australia’s and even some of the world’s best racers, read about the classic 2014 race here. The 2019 edition would be no exception. Recently returned from the Cape Epic in South Africa 3 time Australian XCM champion Brendan Johnston was in attendance with Giant Australia team mate Jonny Odams joined also by two-time National XCM champ Andy Blair. In the women’s race Specialized Australia’s Briony Mattocks would be lining up against recent winner of the Bendigo Golden Triangle Epic Emma Viotto and MarathonMTB team racer and 2016 Convict 100 winner Imogen Smith.
In the men’s race it was the aforementioned trio whom would break away from the 400 strong field in the 100km distance at the first very sandy river bed crossing. The superior technical skills of the first 3 and some mistakes from the riders behind caused an early split in the field. Shortly afterward the hardest climb of the day up the infamous Jacks Track climb began. Here Odams and Johnston would put some early pressure on Blair and distanced the recent winner of Easter in the Alice stage race.
Behind the leading three a formidable group was forming including Karl Michelin Beard, Owen Gordon, Matthew Rizzutto, Marc Williams and MarathonMTB team racer Justin Morris (author). This group lacked the cohesion required to close the gap to Blair who was being dropped off by the Giant Australia leading duo. It was Owen Gordon, nephew of former World 24hr champion Craig Gordon, whom was proving he is a force to be reckoned with in his own right in this group. Gordon’s pace setting on the climbs and through the rocky terrain was shrinking this chase group as the kilometres were grinding on. Johnston and Odams would work together for the entirety of the race seemingly as a preparation event for the upcoming Port to Port stage race where they will race together as a pair. The 2 crossed the line together 15minutes ahead of 3rd place Andy Blair followed by your author Justin Morris in 4th a further minute back. Sebastian Meyer of road team Nero Racing would edge out Karl Michelin Beard in a sprint finish for 5th.
The ‘Great North Road’ is the original pathway built between Sydney and Newcastle by convicts in the 19th century. The road has in the modern era been replaced by a multi lane freeway. Leaving the classic road to fall into disrepair and make great terrain for a mountain bike race! The rocky, technical terrain that now makes up this road is often the decisive factor in this race, sandwiched by sectors of fire trails and dirt roads this rocky sector of approximately 30 kilometres offers those riders with the technical nuance on the bike to flex their proverbial MTB muscle!
In the women’s event it was Briony Mattocks who would prove the strongest across the varied terrain on offer on the trail. On this her 3rd attempt at the race Mattocks said she feels “honoured to add her name to the winners list” of the convict. She attests to testing her legs on the early climb up Jacks Track which was ‘steep and loose’ and establishing a gap on her 2 main rivals Smith and Viotto. She would hold this gap to the finish line and add victory at the Convict 100 to her impressive list of recent results including second at the Easter in the Alice. Viotto and Smith would be in a duel for the minor placings for the near entirety of the race with Smith getting the better of Viotto from Canberra. Full results available here.
The Convict offers racers 2 other distances as options for those not interested in the full 100km with a 68km and 44km course. With a 16th edition of the event on the cards for 2020, you can keep up to date through race promoters the Maximum Adventure team Convict 100 website. With over 1200 entrants for the 15th edition it appears the popularity of this classic race within day trip from Australia’s largest city (Sydney) will continue.
For photo’s from the 2019 event check out the album from Outer Image Collective.