Australia runs on the metric system, despite being part of the Commonwealth, we saw that ‘Metric Made Sense’ and committed to it for all units, except perhaps for tyre pressures.
No doubt this week there are a number of Australian marathon mountain-bike racers who wish the mile was never invented as a unit of measure. In the scheme of the global marathon mountain-bike scene, miles are the new kilometers. The US has been into them for a while, and the UK has finally got on board, battling against archaic lands usage laws that prevent competition on public rights of way.
We listed the contenders in our 100 mile preview, and there were few changes on the day. The pace from the gun was moderate but racey. Mixing in with a few non-Elite ‘Full Flingers’ the 100 mile protagonists were able to develop some good group dynamics. Mark Fenner, John Blankenstein, Graeme Arnott and Mike Blewitt all remained close to the front, along with a few other contenders.
The first creek crossing was deep, and there was a mild split as some rode and others ran it. Nothing stuck from this, and even the next stream which required a dismount was not overly selective due to the open farmland that followed. The pace never got started, until passing through the township of Wingello at the 27 kilometre mark. Blankenstein got a gap on Arnott, Blewitt and Fenner, staying with the lead group of Full Flingers. They were brought back, but only to be let go again by a singletrack bike handling snafu by a Full Flinger.
Stress levels were low, as Fenner remarked with non-chalance: “We’ll get them back as long as we keep rolling through. Next time through Wingello Blanko will be out on his own anyway.” Fenner, Arnott and Blewitt continued to swap turns on the open trails, and take turns leading out the singletrack. The temperature increased, as did the perceived severity of the climbs.
Back through Wingello, and the time check from support crews had ‘Blanko’ 40 seconds up the road. Refuelled with new bidons and loaded pockets, the three riders quickly regrouped into a fast working trio along the dirt road. Lack of training made itself apparent for Blewitt at the second passing of ‘The Wall’. This was decisive on the first 53 kilometre lap of Wingello, sorting the men from the boys. It proved so again, with Blewitt flailing with poor line choice. Arnott also struggled but used his cyclo-cross abilities to run up to Fenners’ wheel. Soon after he would continue solo.
“When I saw Blewitt and Fenner dagging a bit I thought I might as well give it a crack. I was feeling ok, so I thought I would try and see if it would work,” said Arnott. He clearly possessed great legs, but his pace was high when developing his decisive break – enough to see him misjudge a corner: “Not long after I gapped Fenner, I clipped a tree and ended up on the ground. I was certain Mark was going to catch me then, as I’d only just got away. I guess I got a bit angry and pressed on hard from there.”
Blewitt and Fenner were left to pick up their pieces. Blewitt brought Fenner into sight at the mid-stage feedzone, and finally reeled him in on the open clay climb. Fenner had been vomiting, and could no longer stomach his sports drink. A brief exchange with Blewitt saw the former swap his water for Fenners’ sports drink and Blewitt continued on, painfully.
Only Arnott was able to reel in the phenomenal Blankenstein, who rode an impressive race. He finished barely 90 seconds behind Arnott, a testament to his fantastic pacing and tactics for the day.
Quizzed after the race about his own race plan, Arnott said, “Seeing as we would have to do two laps of one section, I thought I would see how it went the first time, and push it hard on the second. Hopefully I could pull a gap, and then limp home in the final sector.” The gap he put into his chase group companions was impressive. Indeed, his second lap of the Wingello stage was within the Elite Fling top-10 split times.
Would Arnott return for another crack at the event?
“I dunno at this stage, I’m sore all over. Any time you do a hard event, the second time around is even harder. You know what you are in for and it is just a struggle to push yourself towards so much pain.”
The race proved too much for some, with nine racers unable to finish. Craig Armour had an unfortunate incident with a tree that required a hospital visit. Other people were tremendously happy with their races. Pat Howard was enthused at the finish: “I had a great race, I’m really happy with it.”
Brendan Den stormed home in 8:20:56, in ninth place. He was also riding a rigid singlespeed, riding the much vaunted 650B wheelsize.
Katrin Van der Spiegel was the lone womens finisher, who was elated on the finish line to finish within her goal of nine hours with 8:53:22.
The next 100 mile event in Australia will be further south at Narooma, for the Escape from Cobra Mountain race. Will we see similar contenders, or shall more Marathon racers tackle the imperial format?