NOTE: Results for Stages 1-3 found HERE
After being relegated to holding the silverware on Anzac Hill yesterday evening in the sprint stage, yellow jersey wearers Andy Blair and Melissa Anset climbed back onto the premium podium slots this morning with respective wins in the 49km Stage Three ride.
Crossing the line first extended both riders’ leads and delivered a bonus time and cash purse of 20 seconds and $250 courtesy of finish line host, Lasseters Casino.
Anset went into the stage nervous about the amount of early flat fire roads knowing it didn’t play to her strength on technical single track.
“I don’t like flat riding and having never raced the others much, so I wasn’t sure who had road legs and who I should have been keeping an eye on to break early,” said Melissa.
As it turned out, Anset’s concern funnelled into early speed as she pulled away from the gun, never to be headed for the remainder of the stage.
“I thought I’d just be trying to keep up with them, but in the end I actually put in a bit of a lead. After that I just concentrated on maintaining pace.”
Anset crossed The Lasseters Casino finish line with nearly five minutes up her yellow-jersey sleeve to increase her overall lead in the event.
Behind her there was a trading of places as Team Subaru-MarathonMTB.com rider Naomi Hansen put a push in to take second place for the Stage and overall, signalling her potential as a challenger to Anset over the coming days. Hansen’s second place today puts her four minutes ahead of Rhodes, but still more than 14 mins behind Anset.
Hansen went into the Enduro slightly injured after coming off on a course recce and slicing her knee on a rock. A veterinarian by profession, Hansen quickly had the gash stitched up by a local veterinarian - who is also her host in town - and got back on the bike to race.
“I didn’t want to wait four hours in Emergency just for a few stitches,” explains Hansen of the unusual choice of medical attention.
“It was hurting yesterday and blew up like a balloon. I actually thought I might have busted a kneecap. But it has come good and the bigger vet stitches have held together nicely.”
Hansen was more than happy with her move into second place overall.
“Last time I raced here I was so scared on the technical stuff, it not being my strength. But today the trails were amazing and I flowed over them, which really helped my time.”
Hansen took on board advice from a local rider to pull out a better result.
“They advised me not to force the track, to back off and focus on riding smoothly. If you try to force trail, you brake and accelerate all the time and lose much more energy,” says Hansen.
Hansen now looks forward to Stage Four where she believes the longer, less technical nature will create opportunity to start the reel in of Anset. Tactially the 77km course may prove a challenge for the latter, with a long flat section in the middle likely better suit Hansen and today’s third place getter, Terri Rhodes.
“I’m excited by tomorrow, the stage will suit my riding, which is one speed tempo,” says Hansen. “But if someone puts in a push, I doubt I’ll be able to go with them. My approach is to go the same speed day in day out, all day long, and hope the others who surge tire,” says Hansen, who is also mindful of protecting her damaged knee.
“If I split the knee again then I’m out. So smooth and consistent is the go tomorrow.”
In the men’s overall leader Andy Blair took advantage of his meticulous pre-event course research – a habit that paid dividends this year as it did in 2011.
In a pack with Nic Both, Ben Hogarth, Jack Haig and Robbie Hucker, Blair sat back and waited until teh early crossing of the Todd River where he had already picked and tested the best line.
“Ben (Hogarth) and the Torq team set the pace high for first five or ten kay until the crossing. Along with Nick Both I took the line I’d researched, picking the gap through sand. The others didn;t and slowed, giving Nick and I a gap, which we worked together on to hold Torq boys at bay.”
Blair’s approach echoes last year when he ‘researched’ what is now known as Blair’s Stairs to find the best ride line. As then it paid off.
“It was enough to keep the pressure on them. We re-grouped briefly, but as soon as we hit the undulating trails, I hit the gas and got away on my own. By the time I was on the rollercoaster section they were all out of sight, which I guess would have made it hard for boys mentally, not being able to see me.”
Both chased hard, nearly bridging the gap to Blair, while the other riders remained apart, unable to work together to reel in Blair everyone on own after that so they couldn’t work together.
“Blair didn’t relax, however, knowing that this was the stage last year that ended in a protest after a sprint to the line finish ended in confusion, Blair getting what he called at the time “the rough end of the stick”.
“I was keen to make amends for last year and it was on my mind.
Blair, who says he is in fine physical form, notes the massive mental difference knowing the course inside out makes.
“I speak to (local rider and ICME six timer) Paul Darvodelsky every night before the next stage – he tells me about the course in details – little things to watch for – and I study the maps, because – especially with on Stage Three, there’s a fast finish and the last thing you need when riding out front on your own is to be second guessing if you’re on the course.”
Of tomorrow’s Stage Four – the longest of the event at 77km, Blair is cautions, knowing a long flat middle section throws up opportunity for other riders to find some serious time.
“It’ll be an exciting stage. Last year guys who had lost time in earlier stages broke away from the lead pack - it’s the perfect opportunity for someone to sneak a stage win. I think Hogarth, Both, Sewell – and other guys who have suffered mechanicals and flats - will all be thinking of making a break.
MEN'S STAGE THREE
1. Andrew BLAIR, 02:04:39
2. Jack HAIG, 02:05:52
3. Nick BOTH, 02:06:47
WOMEN'S STAGE THREE
1. Melissa ANSET, 02:34:42
2. Naomi HANSEN, 02:39:39
3. Terri RHODES, 02:46:32
Tomorrow’s Stage Four is the longest stage of the five-day event, with riders facing 77km of MacDonnell Range scenery, with a BMX track finish.
Day 03: 77km
Day 04: 23km Time Trial + 23km night race
Day 05: 40km
More details at www.ICME.com.au
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