This year the XCM Championship race, sponsored by Subaru, was organised in the beautiful Atherton Tablelands just inland of Cairns in North Queensland. Atherton boasts some amazing single trails that are IMBA designed and built, link this with some firetrail climbs and tropical creek crossings and you have the 33km, 1200hm, loop that constituted one lap of the XCM Championship course. The course had a good balance of technical riding and open climbing in a climate that was quite warm for an Autumn event.
There is no disputing that the 33km course was designed to sort the ‘men from the boys’ and the ‘women from the girls’, as a championship event should. There was, however, much unease leading into the event over the length of the womens’ race. Estimations prior to the event suggested a winning female ride time of around 6 hours (3 laps of the grueling 33km course). With a 0830 race start we were looking at the lead rider finishing around 1430 and the rest of the field in by 1730-1800, based on the cut off time of 1500.
Is this too long for a XCM Championship event?
The afternoon before the event a communiqué was released to amend the number of laps for the womens age-group event. The womens open event was to remain three laps but the womens veterans, masters and super-masters were reduced to two laps. This provided women with the option to change their category in light of the rumors surrounding the course. I was one of only two riders that changed category, originally registered in Masters I changed to the open category as a challenge to myself to complete what was destined to be a very tough event.
Elite rider Peta Mullens was instrumental in the amendment to the female lap numbers and the female age group riders will be singing her praise as the consensus post race was that two laps was tough enough and the 66km adequate to be considered a Championship XCM event. The rate of attrition (DNF) in the female elite race was low (two open females compared with 31 across the mens categories) so it seems that although a tough race the elite females were upto the challenge.
The quandary faced by the body of race officials was that for a Championship race laps are to be of the same distance so the decision the day before the race could only be three laps or two laps, there were no half lap options, 66km or 99km. I believe the decision to reduce the age group event to two laps and keep the open race at three laps was the perfect compromise. My only concern, as seems to happen with ‘tough’ mountain bike events in Australia, is that riders will be deterred from returning to Atherton and Chinese whispers will put a damper on what was a really great course in a beautiful location.
I spoke with Imogen Smith in the flight lounge en route back to Brisbane, she rode strongly on her final lap and finished 7th in the open women. Pre race Imo was apprehensive following all the race chatter and considered of changing her entry to the Veteran womens category. On the day she raced open and when the dust had settled she felt a great sense of achievement, as we all did, from actually completing the three laps.
Terri Rhodes was a dark horse with little marathon experience but great genes and she placed third in the open women. Retrospectively she agreed the race was tough, to the point that she was “had blurred vision and thought I was going to pass out on the last lap”. She suggested that an easier course may attract a stronger female field but in closing she stated that “the course has to be hard it’s an Australian Championship if it were easy we would all be Australian Champions and that takes the prestige and honor away from winning such a title so well done to Jenni king and Jenni Fay for winning such a brutal race!”
Jody Willett is a strong and experienced marathon racer, placing 5th in the open womens. Like most of the open womens field she found the course tough but fair “a great champs course but not a great course for the average rider”.
Jenni King, who won the Championship race, coming 2nd behind Fay believed the course was longer than required. “I think that 2 to 2.5 laps would have been sufficient and like Jodie said wouldn’t have changed outcome. I’m not quite sure why females did same distance as elite male? I know in previous UCI world marathon champs females have always had a shorter distance to cover and therefore overall race times have been similar (like in XCO).”
“In my opinion elite men should have been 3, elite women 2 – 2.5 and all other categories 2 laps. For sure this race has put off many of the age groupers I coach for future championship events which is quite damaging to the sport!”
Jenny Fay, the overall open womens winner put it all in perspective “It’s a national champs, it’s meant to be tough – and we all bring our A game to win the title, jersey, no matter what the course, race length, conditions we suffer on the day”. Mountain bike marathon racing is tough and the National Championships designed to determine the best of the best. “Wouldn’t it be boring if we were never challenged with a course like this any other time of the year?”, a comment from Fay that reminds us why the XCM Championships race is the toughest!
I believe the open womens race was a positive reflection on the direction of female mountain biking in Australia. Sure it was a tough race but there were very few elite women that didn’t rise to the challenge. Congratulations to everyone that completed the three laps, in whatever time you did and congratulations also to the team of officials who made a decision, against some strong opposition, that produced a fair race for all involved.
Full results can be found on durt.com.au