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Cory Wallace and Jason English lapping together at Weaverville. Doing the old "nah havent been doing any training" and "look how relaxed i am, this is so easy for me brah" body language trick.

It’s 6.15am on the second day of WEMBO Weaverville this past October and I’m focused on the task at hand: Don’t make any mistakes on the long winding descent back to transition after taking over the SS lead 30 minutes prior. All of a sudden I hear track being called somewhat urgently, ‘When you get a minute please.’ Jason English roars by mentioning he has a race on his hands and needed to keep moving.

Not long after, Cory Wallace smashes past. Fast forward two hours later and Jason has the ‘luxury’ of taking his time through transition. Stop. Eat. Monitor gaps. Continue. He looks casual and easy the next time I see him around 10am. And so it goes.

Has Jason English ever REALLY been challenged inside the final six hours of a 24 hour race? Will WEMBO Rotorua on Feb 20th and 21st be the first time? Who will deliver the most credible punch and will the seemingly untouchable Jason English be able to respond with an effort he may not have had to unleash to date?

The players:

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6 x World Champ Jason English. Next time you see him at a race, try and keep up for one lap!

Jason English

6 x 24 Hour Solo World Champion. Period. The man himself has logged training weeks of 23 hours, 27 hours, 34 hours, 27 hours, 24 hours, 24 hours, 33 hours and 18 hours over the past eight weeks. He’s been known to log incredible amounts of training over school holiday periods, which fit nicely into preparations for Rotorua 2016. He’s even up to his old tricks, Everesting Comboyne on the weekend just gone, less than two weeks out from Rotorua, doing 248kms in 13 hours – apparently climbing 13,708 metres, although that’s debateable as 20 x the Comboyne climb should be just under 10k of climbing? It’s a lot either way.

The bottom line is that Jason is clearly very strong and motivated. He’s amazingly good at eating and managing a 24 hour race through patience – arguably the two most critical elements in a successful 24 hour campaign. A perfect example of how Jason approaches a 24 hour race can be illustrated by his tyre choice. At WEMBO Weaverville, Jason ran Conti X King Protections front and back. He could have run tyres that weighed up to 150 grams less per tyre – like most of his competitors. However, he committed to the more conservative path basically ensuring he would be rolling in the forward direction for all 24 hours. Simple but important decisions if you’re playing the long game. If all of that weren’t enough, Jason is also an Australian Marathon Champion so he’s fast when he needs to be. Do we need to say any more here?

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Corey Wallace in En Zed Mountain BIke heaven at last weeks Pioneer race.

Cory Wallace

An interesting run since WEMBO Weaverville. After essentially not logging any training km’s on Strava for eight weeks (does that mean he wasn’t riding?), Cory logged three very heavy weeks beginning mid December that totalled 2,379 kms across 85 hours - climbing a total 53,746 vertical metres. Three weeks!

He then backed his training right down again (according to Strava - me thinks he was still riding a bit ;). Cory is also riding The Pioneer stage race in New Zealand as we speak so he won’t be short on tough riding heading into WEMBO Rotorua. Another interesting rumour floating around about Cory is that he only relinquished the lead in Weaverville after his contact lenses became dust affected resulting in limited vision. As Cory himself put it in his Weaverville race recap, ‘The last 7 hours of this race were rather forgettable as my vision declined to a point in which it was barely possible to make out the outline of the trail, sometimes losing it in places in the twisty forest where it would blend into the surrounding dusty landscape.’ Apparently, he had laser surgery immediately after WEMBO Weaverville – meaning no contact lenses going forward.

I’d highly recommend reading Cory’s Weaverville race recap for some excellent insights into managing a 24 hour race, how Jason goes about his business and how seemingly non-issues (ie vision) can become serious problems over 24 hours. Full recap at: http://marathonmtb.com/2015/10/11/the-2015- wembo-24hr-champs-according-to-cory-wallace/

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Toby Lestrell in his element, climbing long climbs and smiling in the Dandenongs. Of any MTBer you meet, Toby probs has one of the highest ratio's of friendly to fast.

Tobias Lestrell

17 hours, 18 hours, 18 hours, 12 hours, 28 hours, 20 hours, 18 hours, 19 hours, 22 hours over the previous nine weeks. Solid training hours but certainly not unprecedented. However, do you like apples? What those numbers don’t show is weekly long rides that essentially covered half of those distances. Let’s be specific: 232kms in 8:07, 252kms in 9:01, 252kms in 9:19, 289kms in 11:44, 224kms in 7:40, 159kms in 9:11 and 253kms in 8:48.

One of those was in 42 degree heat and two of those were Everests of Mt Donna Buang and Baw Baw – the latter being the third fastest Everesting attempt EVER. Nearly 60,000 metres of climbing in January alone. Not normal. We like ‘not normal’ in this case.

Tobias is putting the finishing touches on his WEMBO preparations as we speak – doing his last ‘proper’ long mountain bike ride this past weekend – 143kms in 7:39 (with seemingly very sustainable power data), which happens to be the same pace required to cover 450kms in 24 hours. Tobias seemed almost apologetic explaining he ‘only’ had time for 7:39 of riding on Saturday. That’s a good place to be. The question marks? Eating and mechanicals. Tobias finished 3rd to Jason and Ed McDonald at this past October’s Australian 24 Hour Championships at Stromlo at The Scott. What that number doesn’t tell you is that he punctured twice on his beloved (and very minimal) Thunder Burts, broke a wheel (while riding back to transition on a puncture) and simply didn’t eat enough and rode on fumes over the final 6 hours. At one stage, he overcame the early mechanicals and was putting significant time into Jason after midnight stretching his lead out to between 10-15 minutes. Then the lack of eating enough became an issue in the wee hours of the morning. Game over.

Tobias also had a significant mechanical issue in his only other 24 hour race (Wombat 2014) in the brutal conditions that only a Victorian 24 hour race could deliver, with yours truly riding past Tobias at roughly 3am in a driving rain (and mud) storm as he was running back to transition – bike in one hand, rear derailleur in the other hand. Tobias’ team quickly fixed the issue and he went on to easily win the race but it still cost him significant amount of time that he can’t afford if he’s aiming to be the 24 Hour World Champion for 2016.

Tobias has plenty of 6 Hour speed as he’s dominated that event over the previous two years on Vic Enduro Series – not to mention a 3rd place at last year’s Otway Odyssey against a solid field so he’s also fast when he needs to be. Can he be patient enough to win? Will he eat enough from the outset? Will his equipment cooperate?

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Lots of fun to be had in Rotorua. No major climbs though.

 

The course

Is there any sport, cycling included, that would only unveil a world championship course two weeks before the event itself? Not ideal if you’re one that likes to prepare very specifically for what you’re preparing for but, hey, we’ll leave that for another day.

The course was ‘revealed’ on February 5th and, to many riders’ surprise, features ‘only’ 283 vertical metres per lap across the 17.3 km loop. 15.5 kms of that will be single track – leaving a mere 1.8 km of fire roads with no significant climb, which we certainly experienced in Weaverville in abundance and which also features heavily at Stromlo (the climby part anyway).

It’s surely going to be ‘fun’ but it won’t be the most difficult 24 hour course these riders have ever seen. Is that a good thing? Depends how you look at it. The bottom line is that this course will be tough to get away from people on if you’re aiming to win – meaning the course won’t beat these guys, they’ll need to beat each other.

At the end of the day, we’re still talking about 24 hours and the fittest, smartest and best prepared rider will still win. However, this will be a big game of patience for the key players. History has proven that he who fades the least generally wins and that is usually about sitting tight early, waiting for the others to start fading, strike and then manage.

It’s tough to sit tight on an ‘easy’ course. In terms of the players, Jason has raced 24 hours in Rotorua before so that will surely help. He’ll know how the trees smell and what NZ dirt feels like. Jason is a master of mastering a course the first time through it so he’d be fine no matter what.

Tobias is equally good at flowing through a course site unseen. Lestrell will be in Rotorua eight days before the event studying, resting and preparing himself for the long game. It’s tough to say anyone will have an advantage on this type of course.

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Flying early at The Scott. Will Tobias Lestrell be patient in Rotorua?

Overall prediction

1) Tobias Lestrell 2) Jason English 3) Cory Wallace

A big call, I know. It will take an extraordinary effort to defeat The Man. However, Tobias seems to have the ‘X Factor’. He is very good at suffering for a long period of time – and he’ll be smiling the whole way through it. That actually matters in 24 hour racing.

Winning for Tobias, in my book, depends on a three seemingly simple things: 1) Patience and not trying to win the race in the first 18 hours. 2) Eating well and often. 3) Avoiding mechanicals.

All simple things in theory and all things that Jason English has proven to excel at. There’s a reason Jason is the 6 x defending World Champion. We can only hope that Jason, Cory, Tobias and everyone else are at their best so that we all witness a final six hour showdown never seen before.

Good luck gentlemen.

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