YES we have been MIA (missing in action) …… as far as our blog goes anyway …… WE ARE BACK …… so we are doing a bit of backdate updating of what we have been up to bring things up to speed, us :)
This Race wrap from the HIGHLAND FLING MTB marathon first apperaed in Enduro Mtb mag.
Bec and myself once again jumped in the car and headed up the Hume this time to the beautiful Southern Highlands of NSW. Our destination was the renowned marathon, the CamelBak Highland Fling. Our goal was for Bec to take the overall series win. With some serious talent lining up to contest the elite women’s race, this would be no easy task.
Neither Bec nor I had raced ‘the Fling’ before, but had heard reports that it was a hard one, not that every marathon you race doesn’t fit into this category! But the Fling was rumoured to be a little different, with reports of lots of climbing and the fact that the race actually came in at 110km, a little longer than the norm and quite a bit longer than the rides that we had been doing in the lead up to the race.
It was the 10th edition of the Fling, with the tag line “The Dirty Fling”, and it was the fourth and final event in the Maverick series. Bec had put together a solid year of results and was sitting high up in the overall series thanks to taking the win at the Odyssey and taking third place at the Kowalski Classic (we had missed the first round, the Capital Punishment). The overall Maverick series is based on your best three results of the four races, and you must finish at least three races to be in the running for the overall.
Naomi Hansen had been consistent throughout the series and held the leader’s jersey coming into the Fling. Initially, we hadn’t planned on racing the Fling. This was not because we hadn’t wanted to, however it’s not always easy to get to every event you want to do. It can be very pricey travelling around, chasing the races and a lot of the time it can be a real stretch. We don’t race for the money but the fact is the money helps you to be able to get to the races. The possibility of taking the overall win in the Maverick series had definitely been a bit of a carrot and, well, we ultimately wanted to get the Fling under our belts as we’d heard so much about it.
We hit the small town of Bundanoon on Saturday. Despite being a small town, Bundanoon had clearly embraced the Fling, with the streets lined with bike sculptures and the like, creating a great atmosphere. No sooner had we arrived that the weekend of events were underway, with the Rolloff World Championships being contested before the Bundanoon Dash for Cash and the Battle of The Businesses. The town was buzzing with excitement, music was pumping and the little Hall Expo and Rego were busy with activity. This year’s event had attracted over 1200 riders and over 150 kids. In addition to the side-events being run in town, there was a Kids’ Fling, a Casual Fling, the Full 110 km Highland Fling, and the 100 mile Fling.
On race day, we were greeted with some beautiful warm sun that was filtering through the gums surrounding the race hub, and with a predicted temp in the high 20s for the day, the conditions were spot on for a Marathon race. The atmosphere built as the 100 milers set off first, followed by the core Full Fling riders who heading off at 7.20am. The elite male and female fields then had a 15-minute wait before starting together at 7.35am.
The elite women’s Fling had attracted a strong field including defending champ Peta Mullens, Jenny Fay, Naomi Hansen, Bec, myself and many others. The elite men’s race had also attracted a strong field, and starting with them always pushes the pace of the women’s start.
As predicted, the women’s start was fast and once we hit the first real narrowing section of the course, the first grassy paddock, the field strung out as every one bounced and climbed their way into a long few hours in the saddle. There were some solid ups and downs in the early stages that quickly started to shape the race.
Jenny got a small break on Bec and Peta before the first feed zone at 27 kilometres. Interestingly, in the Fling, the feeds are also five minute neutral zones. This means that your overall time is paused once you crossed the timing belt coming into the feed and it starts again on your way out. How you used this was up to you. You could use the full five minutes in order to recover and take on food, or you could use less of it if you wanted to head out with other riders, or wanted to avoid heading out with other riders, meaning that tactics could come into play.
Despite Jenny coming in to the first feed with a gap, Jenny, Bec and Peta left the first feed zone together, meaning that Jenny was the leader on the trail (with a lower overall time at that point). I came into the feed in fifth spot, just behind Cristy Henderson who had been riding strongly. We left the feed zone together, meeting at the train crossing where we had to wait for a train to pass (as you do!), but there were no timing belts here to ‘pause’ our time. This has also happened to me twice before in road races, but it was a first for me in a mountain bike race.
Cristy and I didn’t ride together for long. She lost me and I continued on what would become a long, solo day of going as fast as I could. I picked up and passed the core Fling field riders and pushed on. I had no idea how far ahead or behind anyone was in my category, probably much like a lot of people out there.
This meant that the most exciting part of my day was a small acrobatic crash where I hit some thick dust and somersaulted down an embankment. Luckily I landed upside down in a large soft patch of dust, much to the amusement of some guys I’d recently passed. That minor incident aside, there was a lot of solid climbing, fire roads, soft dusty sections, bumpy downs, and some grassy paddocks. The nature of the terrain and course didn’t allow for much recovery at all, it was definitely a ‘pressure on the pedals all day’ sort of course.
Up front Jenny, Bec and Peta stamped their dominance on the race. Of this front three, Peta had a hard start to the day and had been on a bit of an elastic band on the climbs. Early on, it was clear that Jenny had strong legs and around the 60-70 kilometre mark she dropped Bec and Peta and was looking good. Unfortunately, Jenny suffered a significant mechanical within 20 kilometre of the finish and despite efforts too fix it (and no shortage of willingness to help from passers by from the core Fling field) it was ultimately a race-ending mechanical.
Behind and unaware of Jenny’s mechanical, Bec and Peta were still riding together, but the tide had turned and Peta had found her legs. Despite encouragement from Peta willing her on, Bec had hit Cramp Town and a big wall of sorts and so Peta rode off alone, taking the race lead.
Further behind, I had pulled Cristy back before the last feed zone and now was in third place, with Jenny out with her mechanical. It’s definitely not the way you want to move up positions but sometimes it just happens. I had been in a world of hurt from the final feed at around 80 kilometre and the distance was taking its toll.
Then, all of a sudden, I was a rabbit chasing a carrot. I could deal with the cramps, or so I thought, and I pushed on. But with 10 kilometres to go, my legs finally said, “no, nope that’s it, you’re not going to stand up. Nope, you’re not going to sit down. No, you’re not going to pedal for that matter!”
Thankfully a water crossing numbed my legs a bit, but it was all too late and Lucy Bechtel, who I’d not seen all day, overtook me. Unable to do anything or respond in any way, Lucy rode off, my wheels feel off and it was a grovel home through the final singletrack rock garden.
This section had a full-length mirror, to check your grovelling form I assumed. I gave myself such a fright when I checked my form that I almost crashed! As if this wasn’t enough, there were signs out on course in this last 10 kilometres to mess with riders’ heads, such a KOM sign to indicate that there was a King of the Mountain ahead…there was no KOM, just the sign, which filled me (and most others I’ll bet) with fear!
Peta owned the final 10 kilometre rock garden section and crossed the line with a two arm salute for back to back Fling wins. Bec, in her words, “grovelled the last ten kilometres home, wondering when the **** it was going to end” to take second place. After a solid run home, Lucy crossed the line in third, with me in fourth and Cristy in fifth.
Bec’s second place in the Fling gave her enough points to take out the overall Maverick series while Cristy’s fifth place gave her enough points to finish in second in the series. After the finish, Naomi Hansen announced that the Fling would be her last race for a while, and signed off (we hope only for a short while) and rounded out the Maverick series podium in third.
As we headed back home down the Hume, we reflected on a tough but rewarding Fling – a race that had something from everyone, a lot of ups and downs both on the track and in how the race played out, going to show that you never know what’s going to happen in a mountain bike race, let alone a 110 kilometre Fling!