March 11th signals the start of the national elite season for 2006. Sprint and middle distance races will be held on Saturday using the intricate but open rock of the Clonalton property, used for the 2004 Australian Relays, and Sunday returns to the area used for the 2005 NSW championships, Yewrangara.
Clonalton, open farmland, will see some very fast competition and should provide for some spectacular mistakes as runners go all out for first-race glory in the sprint. The women’s competition looks like a battle in three with Tassie Foresters Hanny Allston and Grace Elson battling it out with Anna Quayle for the top honours, although Julia Davies should also be competitive. The men’s class could be a little more open with Julian Dent the slight favourite in front of Swiss international David Schnieder; Grant Bluett who despite retiring retains a fair bit of speed in his aging legs and Dane Rune Olsen should challenge can if he can replicate his run from the 2006 Australian sprint championships. Bookies have installed Stewart Fishwick as the roughie after some impressive speed training.
The afternoon middle distance will let the competitors calm down a bit and really concentrate on some orienteering. Having said that, don’t expect the pace to drop too dramatically from the sprint. There could be some battered egos looking to avenge some poor runs from the sprint. The men should be much the same with the longer distance bringing Ultimax Stinger Eric Morris into the equation. Victorian Nuggets junior Jasmine Neve will be up there among the women.
Sunday sees a change of discipline and a definite change of terrain. ‘Yewrangara’, used for last year’s 2005 NSW middle and long distance championships hosts the first ‘war of attrition’ long distance NOL for 2006. Some of the runners out there will be hurting after two high intensity runs on the Saturday and being the first races of the season some may be lacking recovery fitness. Eric Morris, who won both races here last year, will love the long distance and tougher terrain. David Schnieder who was 5th in the long at WOC in Japan is paying $1.85 at the TAB and looks the goods. Rob Preston, with some Adventure Racing training under his belt could benefit from some guys wilting towards the end of the tough 10.5 km course. The only doubt in the women’s field is whether Hanny Allston has recovered from her off-season ankle operation, although it seemed to stand up to an 8 hour rogaine on the slopes of Mt Wellington last weekend. If she has recovered, she should take it out but if not there are a few ready to pounce. Anna Quayle and Grace Elson have both shown good off-season form with WOC MTBO representative Anna Sheldon putting in some long hours over the summer.
The weekend should throw up some interesting results and the first NOL races of the year always show has been training and who hasn’t. Expect some surprises.