Dan McConnell (VIC) and Jenni King (VIC) have backed up their Olympic-format Cross-Country wins in Mt Buller with wins in Round 3 at Stromlo Forest Park in the ACT. Both riders contested tough, exciting races on their way to the top of the podium.
The Elite Men started at a furious pace, with McConnell leading the pack out onto the fast, flowing course. The race quickly developed a lead group of 4, with McConnell, Paul Van Der Ploeg (VIC), Sid Taberlay (TAS) and Chris Jongewaard (SA) putting a small gap between themselves and the field early in the race, and staying together for some time.
2008 Olympian Dan McConnell was the first rider in the group to make a significant move on Lap 5. This move would ultimately prove decisive, and not only give him the win but also served to separate the top 4. McConnell talked about this: "I felt fairly strong early on, I was struggling a bit early on technically, but I put it together on the climb - I was able to open up a bit of a gap and then hold them off on the descent".
With Jongewaard back, today's field will likely be a mirror image of the field we'll see at the Subaru National Championships. Talking on this, McConnell said: "It's good to have everyone here who'll be at Nationals, and to come home with the win is a positive sign".
Paul Van Der Ploeg, riding in only his second Cross-Country race in the Elite Field is proving quickly that he belongs. Van Der Ploeg placed himself in the top 4 early and finished with an excellent second-place. "It was another really good race. A bit more pack racing, at one point the front 4 of us were separated by only 2 seconds, so it was also very exciting racing".
When asked about how he felt to be mixing it up with some of our most well-known racers, Paul reflected: "I remember when I was in U15 or U17 watching Chris and Sid race race in (the National Season in) Eildon so it's really good to be up there with them and fighting it out for the podium".
Sid Taberlay is almost the elder statesman of the Elite field, and has been racing mountain bikes at a National level for 15 years. Third was a good result for Taberlay today given he had to stop on course to rectify mechanical issues: "I guess I took a couple of laps to find a bit of a rhythm and get going. After closing the gap to the front 3 riders I had a little bit of a mechanical issue that I had to stop to fix, and then I had to close the gap again".
In the Elite Women's race, Canberra local young gun Bec Hendseron blasted off the start to take a commanding lead for the first two laps. "I wanted to have a good strong start, to try riding off the front, I wanted to go out hard and put the pressure on the other girls".
Tragedy struck during lap two, with Henderson having the first of what would eventually be 4 tyre-issues during the 6 lap race. "I'm not sure, I must have been a bit rough through a couple of the rock sections on the longer descent. I changed the front tyre, and then the back went flat". Henderson would end up in a credible fourth despite spending much time stopped working on her bike.
Jenni King was second to Henderson for the first two laps, and rode on to the win after riding past a stationary Henderson during one of the mechanical issues. While dominant on paper, today felt tough to King: "I really struggled with that course actually, it's kind of a power course, I think Bec would have had a really good day, I was a bit lucky to get the win today".
The win is somewhat amazingly King's seventh win from the eight starts during this Real Insurance All Mountain Cup season: "It's good to see my form is pretty good two weeks out from the National Championships".
Katherine O'Shea, the reigning National Champion finished in second place. "Positions changed quite a bit, Jenni Fay and I had a really good battle - it was pretty much a sprint race every fire road, and it was a good track out there". Jenny Fay (IRL) came in third, and also talked of the to-and-fro battle with O'Shea: "It was pretty hard actually, I wasn't expecting such a fast race, it was so close with Katherine, we had quite a fun race".
In the Under 23 Male category, Luke Fetch (VIC) had a sprint-finish win by 0.4 of a second from Robbie Hucker (VIC), with Jack Haig (VIC) in third place. In the women's Under 23, Amy Austin (NSW) had a confident win from Jacinta Aitken (NSW).
In the youngest of the international categories, the Under 19 Male, Billy Sewell (NSW) rode his way to a win by over a minute from Ben Bradley (TAS) and Benjamin Forbes (QLD). In the Under 19 Female race, Holly Harris (NSW) won from Emily Parkes (NSW) by just under a second after a race-long battle culminating in a sprint finish. Local rider Kyna Millan (ACT) finished in third place.
Sunday sees the final stage of Round 3 of the Real Insurance All Mountain Cup, with the 25k Point-to-Point race starting at 9am. All race information from this weekend and for the whole season is available at the Real Insurance 2011/12 Australian MTB Season website.