The 10th James Williamson Memorial Enduro (aka The Willo) was held at Sparrow Hill on 1 March and a crowd of over 400 mountain bikers gathered to remember one of Australia’s most talented endurance racers, James ‘Willo’ Williamson. The 2020 titles went to Canberra locals: National Marathon Champion Brendan Johnston won the classic marathon distance in the men’s and Junior National Champion Zoe Cuthbert won the women’s race.
The Willo is one of Australia’s top mountain bike marathons and attracted some of the nation’s top endurance athletes to its 10th Anniversary, but also a big crowd of racers from all over the country in memory of James Williamson, who passed away in his sleep in 2010 from a heart condition while racing the Cape Epic. His aunt Meg Patey founded “The Willo” in his memory and this year passed on the reigns to the team from Rocky Trail Entertainment.
While the event had been planned to take place at Wingello State Forest where it has made its home, the recent bushfires had destroyed too much of the trail network, which is still too unsafe to access.
For the first time at the start of the Willo herself – and having raced onto a 3rd podium position – Meg Patey said that she had really enjoyed the day. “It was a great Willo. We were all very happy with the day. It felt like a special day”, Meg said.
She added that it had been wonderful to have so many of the top guys there and that she loved seeing so many “Willo Juniors tearing around on their bikes”. More than half of the riders in the most recent Willo Skills Clinics Camp had participated at Sparrow she said and that she was proud that a big crowd of 37 juniors from James’ school had been in the event also, the Chevalier School from the Southern Highlands.
Brendan Johnston rides to victory among friends of James
On the back of his recent win at the Warrnambool Cycling Classic in Victoria, it was Brendan Johnston who took the 2020 men’s title after 3h11:03 in the classic marathon distance of 3 laps at the Willo on the 22km course at Sparrow. He said that he had fond memories of racing with James in the juniors out at Sparrow, which had been a nice consolation to not being able to race Wingello. Brendan was racing among his new team mates from the Giant Factory Team, which had come out in force to Sparrow Hill – James Williamson had been racing under the Giant banner as well.
“It’s very special to get the victory at the Willo for me”, said Johnson. “Obviously James and I were good friends and he was a great mentor to me early in my career. I always seem to be able to find something extra when racing the Willo, I’m sure he’d be proud of [this year’s] race. It was a really strong field and it was awesome to finish off a tough day with an exciting sprint against Reece.”
Reece Tucknott from was Johnston’s strongest competitor at Sparrow Hill this year and he admitted that he had to dig deep on the last lap to keep up with Johnston. After an attack after the half-way mark of the final lap, he said that Johnston was able to stay in the lead and take the victory across the line just 4 seconds ahead of him.
“I had a really good time at the Willo last year when it was at Wingello and I knew I wanted to come back,” explained Tucknott. “This year when it got moved to Sparrow I knew it would be a different race, but I was really excited to come back, because there is always a good field and atmosphere. Everyone came up and said hello, so I really enjoyed being out here.”
In the overall men’s results, Jon Odams from Sydney came in third with a gap of 1min58 to Johnston ahead of Canberrans Andy Blair in fourth (3h16:29) and Tristan Ward in fifth (3h18:42).
Zoe Cuthbert takes the women’s victory and Queen of the Mountain title
Canberra’s 18-year old Zoe Cuthbert has established herself as Australia’s top female junior talent and proven herself recently with a 5th place in the World XC short-course Championships. She took out the 2020 Willo QOM (Queen of the Mountain) title alongside KOM (King of the Mountain) Brendan Johnston.
“It was really nice to get into a rhythm into all the corners and not having to go at a 100% all the time like at most other races. I tried to keep a steady pace and just by taking it a bit slower into some of those tight corners made all the difference,” said Cuthbert post race.
In the Elite Women’s and overall female classification Cuthbert finished the 3 lap challenge in 3h44:00 ahead of fellow Canberran and experienced endurance racer Cristy Henderson. The 45-year old admitted in the finish that she had suffered in the warm early-autumn conditions to place in 2nd in the strong female field (3h53:45).
“Today was a hard race,” said Henderson. “It was really tough to chase Zoe around. The hardest parts were some of those really tricky sandy bits. But the atmosphere was fantastic as every year and it was wonderful to see so many women here today, just to scroll through that long female start list was great!”
Ella Bloor from Wright (3h53:45) placed in third outright in the women’s 3-lap division ahead of Sydney’s Gina Ricardo (4h04:06) in fourth and Georgia Whitehouse (4h04:06) in fifth. With Ricardo and Whitehouse now heading to the Cape Epic, they would have enjoyed the 4 hours training together before the big race in the west.
The Willo headed for its 2nd decade
Joanne Parker is one of the Willo Event Managers from Rocky Trail Entertainment and she said that she was really proud of this year’s event.
“I am personally really thrilled that the female competitors represented almost one fifth of the entire Willo field this year – it was an amazing experience to host this race with Meg Patey as our patron and all of the key sponsors and crew to support us.” – Joanne Parker
Parker explained that plans for the 11th Willo Edition in March 2021 were already under way and that the Willo junior skills clinics were a big focus too. Rocky Trail confirmed that the goal was to return to the event’s home at Wingello State Forest next year.
All photos by Outerimage.com.au