The 2011 Australian Open Road Championships Elite Men’s Road Race was
run and won this previous Sunday. Far from being the exclusive domain
of road cyclists, there were many Elite mountain bikers racing. For
some it was an opportunity to look for a result, for others it was a
chance to put a hard training race in a period that lacks high end
cross country or marathon races.
Looking down the start list we can see mountain bikers who score
results in the National XC series and Marathons: Lachy Norris, Steele
Von Hoff, Andrew Blair , Petter Hatton, Shaun Lewis, Chris Winn, Chris
Jongeward, Neil Van der Ploeg… and that doesn’t count Lowe, Hansen,
McDonald and others who started off road.
MarathonMTB.com recently spoke to Andrew Blair , who finished in a
strong 45th position. Asking about the number of mountain bikers in
the bunch, we were curious about the potential for any ‘cohesion’
amongst the elite XC racers.
“We definitely support each other, but it was hard as it was controlled” Blair explained. “Sky
had a lot of control, as they were riding for Gerrans and had five
riders making sure things were kept in check. But even after that,
there was HTC with a similar amount of strong riders. Garmin had
Bobridge up the road, but they were covering everything, and had Meyer
waiting incase he was required.”
The race certainly drew a strong field. Blair is one of Australia ‘s
most experienced cross country mountain bike racers, having
represented Australia both as Junior and Elite, as well as racing
numerous World Cups. But racing amongst top level professionals in his
own National Championships was still something special.
“I was starstruck! I heard somewhere there were about twenty-four
riders in the bunch who had ridden in the Tour de France. All the
riders were quality riders from proper Pro Tour Pro teams. It was a
case of looking around and thinking ‘He’s won the White Jersey at the
Giro. He’s won a Giro stage. He’s worn the Yellow Jersey. He has won
Tour of California’ and so on. It was unreal.”
Beyond this, the feeling in the bunch offered a completely different
sensory experience for Blair.The whir of wheels, the smell of people
over using brakes on carbon rims, plus the general banter.
“One of the descents was really fast, and everyone was close.
Most people were on deep carbon wheels, so the noise was amazing. The
speed coming through tight bends like that was a bit scary at first, but super fun.”
So why race the Road Nationals? For someone who specialises in Olympic
distance Cross Country, a hard four or five hour race on the road
seems a little left of field. Blair was matter of fact about it,
explaining how it fits with what he’s doing at the moment.
“Partly, it is a course that suits mountain bikers, with a good hill
in it. With a long break in the National Series, it is good to have a
good hard day. Although I didn’t do any specific preparation for the
race, I just wanted to be part of it. Last year someone told me that I
should do it, but that I wouldn’t finish. So I guess I then set it as
a goal, to race it – and finish.”
As Blair alluded to, the new Calender for the Australian National XC
Series allowed for such a hard event.
“It was fortuitous timing really. Last year there was only about six
days between Road Nationals and XC Nationals. Some of the guys did it,
but it’s a big ask, with transport involved too. So the different
calender this year provided a great opportunity.” Beyond his
experience at the Road Nationals, Blair races local criteriums in
Canberra , and usually manages the Tour of Bright, in December.
“I would like to do more, but overseas racing just doesn’t allow for
it. This year may be different, it will just depend when I head over (to Europe ).”
Blair has two goals still set before committing to the rest of 2011.
The National Cross Country Championships, and the Oceania
“Last season was draining and disappointing. I want to see how my
Domestic results go first, and then I’ll see what I head overseas for.
I will look to a more condensed race schedule – some short stage races
like L’Hexagonal and the Alpentour Trophy, and some of the World Cups.
I think you’re better off going over in great form, hitting a couple
of World Cups with everything you’ve got, and then rounding it off
with some short stage races for the volume of top level racing.”
“Last year, racing cross country just about every weekend, I think I
stagnated a bit.” Current results certainly don’t show that Blair has
stagnated. Since his 2nd place at the Highland Fling, Blair has been
placing fantastically in the National Rounds. He puts it down to a
proper break, and getting back to basics.
“I had a whole five weeks off the bike, and then started the build up
from there. At the Fling, I hadn’t even done any real intensity work.
I’m really happy with my form so far. I had a great training camp at
Mt Beauty between Christmas and New Years Eve, smashing it with other
top riders every day. I’ve got good confidence turning up at a race
right now. There’s enough under the belt that it doesn’t feel
unfamiliar to hurt and go fast.”
A lot of this has been due to the Swell-Redshift Team. “I can train in
a good atmosphere, and go to the races with a positive attitude.”
Quizzed on the close timing between the notoriously difficult Otway
Odyssey and the XC National Championships, Blair knows what he has to
do, but the hunger is evident in his voice.
“I reckon I could race a great Marathon at the moment. I’ve got the
kays in the legs, and the form is there. It’s not only the timing
though, but the travel time. I have already organised to get to
Adelaide early, from Canberra . If it wasn’t all so far apart, it would
be different.” So that’s an indication that for Australia ‘s XC Elite,
contesting the win at the Otway, and backing up at XC Nationals the next
weekend isn’t out of the question.
Check back to see how Blair goes with his goals in 2011, and hopefully
he will fill us in on what life is like at the pointy end of some of
Europe’s best Stage Races.”