Racing: Olympians Henderson and McConnell Whitewash Mt Buller Cross Country National Round

Words by MTBA | Images by Russ Baker, MTBA

Dan McConnell (VIC) and Bec Henderson (ACT) won the Elite Cross Country races at Subaru National Season Round 2 at Mt Buller on the weekend, both backing up from wins in Friday’s Cross Country Eliminator.

Dna McConnel and Bec Henderson_IMG_2861 © Russ Baker

The Mt Buller venue is one of Australia’s very best, with massive trail networks designed to maximise challenge and equally importantly, provide enjoyment for riders.

In the Elite Men’s race, the hot favourites were always McConnell and Jared Graves (QLD). McConnell had a landmark year in 2013, winning the first World Cup round of 2013 in Germany, and racing well through the year to finish 2nd in the World Cup Series. This was the best result for an Australian since Cadel Evans in 1999.

Graves won the first round of the series in Adelaide. While better known as a living legend in the gravity side of the sport, the former World Four Cross champion and excellent down hill racer has been focusing on fitness as a key element to develop to ensure his results in Enduro continue.

Dan McConnell IMG_2833 © Russ Baker

Graves led from the start line climb, and held a 16 second lead at the end of lap 1. A race pattern developed for the first few laps, with Graves extending his lead each lap on the technical descents that are a feature of the first half of the Buller course. The chase group of McConnell, Michael Crosbie (VIC), Cameron Ivory (NSW) and Dylan Cooper (ACT) would then consistently contract the lead on the steep climbs of the latter half.

The unknown element at this stage was if Graves could maintain the pace on a course more suited to the specialist climbers, especially McConnell.

Elite Men Podium IMG_2916 © Russ Baker

Nearing the end of lap 4 of 7, McConnell made the widely predicted move in the single-track to take the lead, and then over a small road climb to the finish area he accelerated and established a 7 second lead. He would ride confidently to extend this lead over the remaining laps to give the dual Olympian his first win for 2014.

“It’s good to start the season with a win. My form seems to be coming along pretty good, so I’m happy with that” said McConnell. He reflected on the race pattern, “My start wasn’t so good, but in the middle part of the race I started riding better technically, I was able to get a good rhythm and build a good gap”.

Graves would ultimately finish second, and retain the Subaru National Season leaders jersey in the process, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “I had a really good crash at the start of lap 2 and cartwheeled over the bars, but I walked away from that thankfully”.

Despite the cross country success, his goals are in the Enduro discipline internationally. “My training’s been going good, I’m looking forward to getting as fit as I can for the Enduro World Series, that’s what this (riding cross country) is all about for me”.

Third place overall was taken by Cameron Ivory (NSW), who also secured the win in the Under 23 category at the same time after some close racing with Michael Crosbie (VIC).

In the Elite Women’s race, Henderson was the clear favourite. Her 2013 was one of the best in history for an Australian Female rider, and saw her win the World Cup Series for the Under 23 females. Jenni King (VIC) and Tory Thomas (VIC) were always going to challenge, and the three girls rode together as a bunch for the first two laps.

On lap 3, Henderson decided to put the power down, and rode the fastest non-start lap of the day, 40s faster than Thomas and King. She would ride confidently from here to ultimately win by 1m43s.

“Today’s the first race of the season back for me. I was pretty nervous coming in to this one” said Henderson.

Bec_Henderson_Finishing_IMG_2812 © Russ Baker

She spoke of the key move. “The first two laps I played the tactics well and lap 3 was when I put the Hammer down”. She spoke of the rewards of building up a gap from the field “Sometimes out of sight is out of mind, I could settle into my own rhythm and go from there”.

Adelaide winning King would eventually finish in second place after a tough battle with Thomas who finished third, and King also retained her Subaru season leader jersey.

Elite Women Podium_IMG_2901 © Russ Baker

King said “It was quite a tactical race, quite a bit of cat & mouse. I was gaining a lot on the descents and Tory was climbing a bit better than me. I was surprised to pass her at the end. I’m stoked to retain the Series Leader Jersey”.

Emily Parkes (ACT) took the win in the Under 23 category.

For the second round of the season, the under 19 Category has been upgraded to have international ranking points. Local Mansfield rider Mitchell Greenway (VIC) set the early pace in the men’s race to open up a lead of a minute from Reece Tucknott (WA) and Liam Jeffries (VIC). Greenway rode on to extend the lead throughout the race to take a dominant Under 19s win.

Jeffries, riding in the under 19 category by choice is actually under 17 rider and made a move on the second to last lap up to second where he would finish, Tucknott rounded out the podium with third.

Greenway won by a massive margin of almost two minutes despite a crash, and said “It’s really good, pretty surprising to have won by such a gap and it’s really good to get the international points and hopefully go overseas. I’m stoked with it”.

In the Under 19 Women, Sara Mills (NSW) initially lead over Ellie Wale (VIC). A series of crashes and passes ensued from both riders as the lead swapped, and Wale ended up taking the win.

Like Greenway, Wale was happy to win a race that helps her race internationally. “It’s my goal to represent my country and do well in my sport, so I’m glad this race was a good one for me”.

All information for riders and spectators can be found at http://mtb.subaru.com.au/national-series/

 

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