On a glorious winter’s day in Brisbane, Brendan Johnston won his 4th cross-country marathon (XCM) title and Holly Harris won her first. After the 2019 National Championships were moved from Townsville to Redland Bay, there was a chance that the fields of the elite marathons would be a little deeper than otherwise. And that rang true.
With Port to Port finishing just two weeks ago, it looked like anyone who had raced well there had the perfect tune up for the championship event at the Bayview Blast marathon. 4 days of racing for about 2 hours or more each day is pretty good prep for a 4-5 hour race on singletrack!
While there was some rain predicted and a little fell, the course for the race was in prime condition. A bit of moisture kept the dust at bay, added a little bit of traction to the fresh gravel on some of the fireroads, and made about one puddle. It would be a fast day.
With riders corralled on the end of German Church Road, we would all be set off in waves, starting with Elite men and then Elite women, then moving through age group categories and then onto half-marathon groups.
The course took off along the road before a right hand turn into a short climb – but with a ramp that was steep enough to make some small splits. It then dove head first into a flow trail descent as part of a 17km start loop. The main contenders in the men’s race edged away, with riders such as Brendan Johnston, Tas and Russ Nankervis, Reece Tucknott, Alex Lack and Adrian Jackson at the front of the field. Johnston was pushed almost all the way to the line, but drew on his experience.
“It was a matter of pedalling as hard as you could for four and a bit hours. That was the game plan, about a third of the way into the race I started to feel really good and I decided that I needed to go to the front and get rid of as many guys as possible.”
“Then it was Tas and I left, and he was going pretty good. I laid it over in a corner, just a silly crash but I broke a shoe buckle. I knew I didn’t want to sprint with one shoe done up. It was now or never so I went to the front, and distanced Tas and pushed onto the finish.”
“People’s pacing or nutrition strategies either caught up with them or paid off. Reece had a solid day and we were on a similar ride plan. If you can get more fluid in early, it pays off. My experience in these races is invaluable in that sense. I get the fluid in and that’s the priority in the first part of the race, and then you start racing.”
Reece Tucknott was a close second behind Johnston. A stand out ride for Tucknott but at the same time Alex Lack in 3rd was also another stand out performance. Tasman Nankervis ended up with and Adrian Jackson was 5th.
In the women’s race, Holly Harris lead up the climb with Cristy Henderson and Imogen Smith on her wheel, and Em Viotto right there too. While Holly ebbed away and Cristy did the same, Imogen and Em were together until Em attacked on a fire trail. Tory Thomas and Imogen traded places for much of the race but the race at the front wasn’t waiting for anyone.
Harris made quick progress through the trails, hungry for a national marathon title, ripping the trails.
“It was pretty similar to last year and I think I forgot how hard it was – everything is really sore!” Said Holly. With Henderson so close behind after nearly 5 hours, Holly said she had expected a solid ride given Cristy’s race at Port to Port where she won solo women.
“Everyone performed really well. Cristy Henderson in particular, she is an animal! I watched her racing at Port to Port where she was riding as fast as leading teams – on her own.”
On winning the title, Harris was still a little gob-smacked.
“I don’t even know what to say. I’m pretty excited, it means a lot to win the green and gold. Watch this space as I’m really excited to take this jersey to some cool marathons.”
Henderson was just behind Harris, and then Em Viotto finished 3rd with Imogen Smith not far behind, and Tory not far back in 5th.
The Rats Cycling Club did a cracker of a job with the Bayview Blast, especially adding the National Championships to the race at fairly short notice. The race uses a lot of singletrack, and it’s a course that won praise from many riders who travelled from further south for the event.
That does bring it’s own problems with traffic, and there were remarks from a few riders about getting caught up behind riders, or getting passed aggressively. Given how much of a problem it could have been given the nature of the trails and the terrain – it sounds like this was pretty isolated and often well-managed by the riders who needed to make the passes.
Overall, it seemed plenty of riders would happily come back for the Bayview Blast, and would even love to see the national champs return here.