Holly Harris (NSW) and Brendan Johnston (ACT) broke through for maiden elite national cross country series wins 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 competition, 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 feeling alright and my team-mate Kathryn (McInerney) made a big attack and I sort of followed her and then somehow I took off on the front.”
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 sort of remembered the mistake I make every single race and that’s blowing up so 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, I was riding on inspiration as it’s their first race and it inspired me to get involved 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 it’s been a pretty stressful time trying to get everything together, and today I was just really low on energy.”
“These back to back races aren’t doing me any favours, and I’m just struggling to recover and it’s taking its toll the next couple of weeks.”
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 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.
“First lap was ok, then I had a stack into a tree 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 I 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 I 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.