Words: Neil Martin    Photos: Robert Conroy

“It was a great day and an awesome event on the best trails in Australia.”

The words of Garry James perfectly summed up the feelings of everyone at the AMB100 at Mt Stromlo in April – and not just because he was triumphant in the 100km Super Masters category!

By far and away the biggest reaction from all riders - whether they were doing a 33km one-lap blast or dragging themselves out of bed in the dark for a 5am start in the 100 mile marathon – was regarding the perfect weather conditions. It must be said that a few competitors had bad memories of 40-degree temperatures when the four-year-old event was previously held in February, so they were delighted with the two-month bump on the calendar that brought with it cooler climes to go with the clear skies.

And it meant that they did not have to worry about anything else other than tackling the challenging course set up by Rocky Trail Entertainment’s superb event director Martin Wisata. More than 200 riders lined up at the start and they were not disappointed on a varied loop featuring the Casuarina Climb, Pork Barrel and Double Dissolution that tested a wide range of skills.

The most keenly contested race of the day came in the 100km elite men’s category as national marathon champion Brendan Johnston battled it out with Mark Tupalski. The pair were wheel-to-wheel for nearly two-and-a-half hours and still duking it out as they went through the start/finish area ahead of their third and final lap.

But 100m further on Johnston launched the attack that finally shook off his rival, eventually coming home six minutes ahead of ‘Tupac’. Jay Vine claimed third place and was simply amazed at the chance to stand on the podium alongside two such brilliant riders.

“I left it to the last minute to race, but it was a super day out,” said Johnston post-race. “I really enjoyed riding with some of the people in the 66km race and Mark, as the last couple of races have been a hard solo effort. This was a lot of fun racing with mates on my local trails.”

But Tupalski, who has been using the rock climbing discipline of bouldering as part of his off-bike training regime recently, can be well satisfied with staying with Johnston for so long given the fact he’s only recently got back into action after a 12-month break and is now trying to concentrate on his studies as much as racing. 

“Last year I had a whole year off and this year I’ve been getting back into it slowly. A lot of people don’t believe me when I say I haven’t been training a lot, but I’ve been focusing on my studying at university and trying to keep the results up there,” he explained.

“I’ve just started environmental science which is chemistry, biology, maths methods and communications and that’s a three-year degree course. But I’ll probably have a go at the undergrad medical entry test and see if I can switch streams because that is also pretty interesting.”

For sheer effort, Callum McNamara deserves acclaim for taking out the men’s 100-mile event after five laps totalling seven hours and 13 minutes in the saddle – with Michael Schmitt just three minutes behind in second.

“I’ve done this event in the past few years when it was in February and when the temperature gets to mid-30s and higher it’s just brutal,” McNamara said. “But this year it was sweet going out at 5am. There weren’t too many kangaroos or spider webs about either which was great. On the last lap my body just shut down and I was waiting for somebody to come past me, so I was pretty lucky it didn’t happen.”

Another superb performance came from Cristy Henderson in the women’s 100km race. Even though she was in the masters category, she also took line honours with a time of 4hrs 32mins – five minutes quicker than female elite winner Kelly Bartlett and good enough even for a top-10 place if she’d been in the men’s elite field.

But the racing was keenly fought over all distances and in all categories with the smiles on the riders as they crossed the line highlighting just how enjoyable the event was - irrespective of their final position.

In the 66km events, male elite winner Marc Williams used the pace of the faster 100km riders to pull him to victory, although he admitted he could have posted an even better time had he not eased off slightly with one eye on the National XCM Championships the following weekend in Townsville. 

Similarly, female 66km winner Meaghan Stanton probably could have gone quicker, but for the fact she was racing on a borrowed bike on a course that she hadn’t ridden for at least five years.

The future Brendan Johnstons and Mark Tupalskis were also out in force and proving there won’t be any shortage of fierce rivalries in the future. Jack Mcfarlane took the junior 33km title and then admitted he’d deliberately attacked just after his good mate Zac Barnhill had come off in a minor crash!

Speaking of crashes, mention must be made about a nasty incident involving 16-year-old Toby Schofield who was briefly unconscious after going down heavily in the upper section of Pork Barrel. The spirit of the whole event was summed up by a small group of riders who sacrificed their own participation to tend to the teenager out on the course until the medics could get to the scene and transport Schofield to a local hospital. Others still were more than willing to add seconds onto their lap-times in order to ensure they passed by the incident in a safe fashion.

It was just another example of what a brilliant ‘family’ the mountain bike community is – and everyone at AMB is proud to sponsor an event that will hopefully keep riders flocking back for more year after year.