Andy Blair and Melissa Anset were crowned Australian marathon national champions after a challenging race in warm conditions at Mt Joyce, Queensland.
In a scenic location on the edge of Lake Wyaralong, a technical 24km course kept the riders concentrating over three singletrack-heavy laps. 2012 winner Blair led from the start and finished strongly, while Irish National Champion Jenny Fay beat Anset to the line to claim first place in the elite female category.
"The course is amazing. Because we've all come from out of town we were getting more familiar with the course as the race progressed," said Blair. "It was really fun on the first few laps - trying to build a lead and ride the downhills with as little brakes as possible."
Blair built his lead early, and although teammate Shaun Lewis and Adrian Jackson valiantly gave chase, the Queanbeyan-born rider had a 1:07 advantage by the end of the first lap.
Despite the taxing course and muggy weather, Blair showed little sign of slowing down, extending his lead on the the second and third laps to finish 8:11 ahead of Lewis as team Swell Specialized took the first two places on the podium.
"Then towards the end of the last lap I had to control things a little. I was getting paranoid about getting a flat or something! But the first two laps were just so much fun - the tracks here are awesome," said Blair.
"I fly to South Africa tomorrow for the first World Cup, so for me to win this race means a lot. My goal this year is to go to the Commonwealth Games, so marathon has taken a bit of a back seat. But for me to be able to pull this off is awesome - it will make my season, no matter whether I make it to Glasgow or not I'll still have this. It means a lot to me to win it back after having it in 2012, and narrowly missing out last year."
Riders in the elite female category started in a bunch, riding around the dam wall and up the first climb together. Fay, Anset, Terri Rhodes and Jodie Willett then made a break, finishing the first lap in a group before the Irish woman got away.
"We all went hard out in the first lap, so I was testing them and seeing who was strong and who was going to go," said Fay. "But it's their race, so they were smart enough not to chase me and just looked out for each other and conserved energy. I tried to race on my own and go as hard as I could. They had a tough battle out there!"
Anset said, "For the first lap there were about six of us in there, and then four of us made a bit of a break. On the second lap Jenny just went - she's an amazing climber. I got a bit of a gap on the really steep climb and just went for it."
This group maintained a steady pace for most of the second loop of the track. With her competition battling it out amongst themselves, Fay was happy to roll home and finish with an impressive time of 4:37:09.
After establishing a slight advantage on a difficult climb and with the Irish woman ineligle for the championship jersey, Anset grabbed the opportunity to break away and built a sizeable time gap by the end of the second lap. Despite cramping midway through the third, Anset held on to take the green and gold jersey.
"It's always important to win a marathon in Australia, especially up here I was definitely pushing my limits," said Fay. "The girls are really strong, so whoever wins is definitely going to be a worthy jersey-holder for the year. It was a very tough race!"
"I had a few falls. The course was very technical when the concentration span was at an all-time low and in sections it got really hot and I was dehydrated. So in the last lap I took it really easy and rode conservatively. I did what my coach and I planned to do, so I'm just happy I executed it!"
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