Round 5 – MTBA
Holly Harris (NSW) and Brendan Johnston (ACT) broke through for their maiden elite national cross country series win in Round 5 of the 2017 XCO National Series at Mt Taylor in Bairnsdale on Saturday. It also marked the continued dominance of Cameron Wright (QLD) in the Junior Men, as the 16 year old again produced a scintillating ride to make it five straight victories.
For Harris, who is competing in her first year of elite’s, it was the win she’d been waiting for as the Armidale rider took up the challenge to defending series champion Rebecca Henderson. “I was sitting in behind Bec and feeling alright and my team-mate Kathryn (McInerney) made a big attack and I sought of followed her and then somehow I took off on the front,” she said. However, Harris had to hold off more than the challenges from the chasing pack as the final of the five laps approached on a dry and dusty Mt Taylor course. “I sought of remembered the mistake I make every single race and that’s not blowing up and I tried to not do that.”
Hunting her down, was Jodie Willett (QLD) who made her move on the fourth lap and was closing. “I’ve been here helping with the MTBA junior squad and I think it’s a bit inspiring, cause I was riding on inspiration as it’s their first race and it got me over my cynicism to get in and give it a go.” The last time Willett medalled in the national series was at Pemberton two years ago.
Harris finished in a time of 1:29:52 ahead of Willett and McInerney, with Henderson more than three minutes back in fourth. It’s been a big week for the dual Olympian, having signed on with a new bike sponsor Scott earlier in the week. “There’s been a lot going on and pretty stressful time trying to get everything together, and today I was just really low on energy and couldn’t go with them.” “These back to back races aren’t doing me any favours and I’m just struggling to recover from the races and taking its toll the next couple of weeks,” Henderson admitted.
No such trouble for Johnston, who, in only his third race this series stormed off the start line and held his place at the front of the 25 man field. “I was lucky to be at the front and fortunate not to consume too much dust,” he remarked. After back to back seconds at Armidale, Johnston again attacked from the race gun and this time it would pay off with Tasman Nankervis (VIC) and Reece Tucknott (WA) unable to real the Canberran back in as he crossed the line in a time of 1:26:47 more than 30 seconds in front of the minor places. “It’s my first ever elite win and it’s something I’ve worked on for a while and maybe thought it was out of the question in the era of Dan McConnell, but the rest of us are starting to really challenge him and I’m just really happy.”
Nankervis, who finished second here last year, tried to match it with Johnston early in the six lap race around the Mt Taylor course. “First lap was ok then I had a stack into a tree and then lost that gap and Trekky was going that solid I couldn’t catch him again.” “Lately I’ve been doing a lot of training for these types of races and haven’t tapered at all and think it might work in my favour,” warned Nankervis ahead of Round 6 on Sunday.
In the junior men, Wright’s purple patch of form continued, as he produced the third fastest overall lap time of the day and accounted for another stacked junior men’s field. Despite his untarnished record this season, the Brisbane-based rider wasn’t expecting to again dominate a talented field. “Going into the season I’ve been feeling really strong but actually had my doubts today.”
Another junior relishing the Australian season is New Zealand’s Jessica Manchester (NZL). The diminutive Kiwi was again unstoppable as she racked up another victory on foreign soil and is heavily backed to claim the Oceania title in two weeks time.
Words courtesy of MTBA
Sunday produced markedly different race conditions compared to Saturday with cold winds and light rain replacing the stifling heat of Round 5. The weather did little to change the outcomes of the races though with Holly Harris taking another great win in the women’s elite and Brendan Johnston once again taking out the men’s elite race. Behind Brendan there was a close sprint for the minor placings with Dan McConnell edging out Tasman Nankervis.
The elite XCO field heads north in three weeks for the final races of the summer racing series. The Oceania’s are set for a thrilling clash of elite riders in Toowoomba on the 10–12 March and only one week later, the national champion for 2017 will be crowned at a new race venue near Canungra! If you’re near the races and want to race, head to MTBA now to book your place. Even if you don’t want to race, make sure to head over to witness the best riders in Australia battle it out!