The Highland Fling draws big crowds, year-in-year-out. There seems to be a category for everybody. From people who want to ride in a relay format in a team of two or three, half distance racers, age groups, singlespeed, cyclo-cross riders, unicyclists and of course – The Elite.
Australia has great depth of talent within the Elite ranks for this style of event. A rich cash purse draws a good field, and although the start sheet of 41 riders may seem sparse, no one was there to just enjoy the scenery. There are other categories for that.
Australian marathon races are often characterized by an early breakaway – and the 2010 Highland Fling was no different. Matt Fleming headed off solo, and flew threw the first checkpoint with a one and a half minute gap.
MarathonMTB.com caught up with Andy Blair of the Swell-Redshift Team to get his insight into the race. Blair finished second behind Jason English, and was there as the events of the race unfolded.
“Matt headed off alone in the middle of the first stage, when you hit the paddocks. There wasn’t much of a reaction as it was early on.”
The rest of the front Elite group had stayed together until Wingello Forest, with Rockstar Racing’s Troy Glennan then hitting the front, “Glennan came to the front but it didn’t have much effect. Then [Pete] Hatton attacked and from then it was dangerous. We could only assume that Hatto and Fleming would hook-up – and that’s not a great situation,” said Blair.
Action was required, and at the singletrack at the top of ‘the wall’ 60 kilometres in, Blair himself started to push the pace, “We then had a small chase group of me, Lewy (Shaun Lewis) and (Jason) English. I was trying to work for Lewy, but in hindsight this didn’t work. I sat on the front to keep the pace high, which put me under pressure. In the end it put Lewy under pressure too. English just got to sit on. So when English stepped on it, we couldn’t really react, and he bridged across to Fleming and Hatto.”
Being left in a small chase group in no mans land wasn’t all bad for Blair and he was able to work well with Lewis. “Lewi and I just chopped off pretty hard until we got back to Wingello, and saw the others leaving as we arrived,” he explained. “That meant they had about one minute on us. We used the whole five minutes that the timing pause allowed us.”
The Highland Fling is unique with its two timing pauses to allow for safe transit through Wingello and across the train track which runs through the town – preventing a penalty for those caught by a train passing through. But with what amounts to a one-day general classification it creates interesting tactics for the race, as Blair explained.
“It becomes like a mini stage race, except you don’t start the stages together, and you don’t know who is sitting where on GC. I chose to protect myself at the second transition and use the full five minutes that you’re allowed. It’s tempting to push through and chase the group in front. But then if you catch them you then need to attack them to put time in them. It takes confidence, but I think it is better to have faith in your legs to get the time back, than having to shake someone later once you have caught them.”
So this was the logic behind using the five minutes, and Lewis and Blair headed off again together for the last ‘stage’ of the race.
“Pretty soon I realized Lewy was not quite as strong, so I eased a little. And then after a creek crossing I looked behind and he was gone. I had some indecision, but put my head down and kept going,” said Blair, who was now riding solo in pursuit of Hatton, Fleming and English.
“Hatton and Fleming had blown, and I caught sight of them on one of the grassy hills. I had to up my pace a bit to catch them, which meant I was hurting when I finally caught them a few kilometers later. I knew I had to hit them with everything I had – which was probably like attacking them with a banana skin,” Blair said with a laugh.
Nevertheless his attack managed to drop Fleming and left himself and Hatton in pursuit of English. “Hatto and I are mates, and we decided not to mess around. We came to an agreement that we would work hard until the finish and sprint for it. I knew we went through the first transition together, but thought I might have time on him since I used my whole five minutes the second time.” Blair and Hatton did get to the finish in a sprint, but after a countback on time, Blair was a clear second place-getter, with Hatton in third.