Australia have narrowly held off New Zealand in the Australia-New Zealand Individual Challenge, winning 9 classes to 6 in the race contested at the Oceania Long Distance Championships on Saturday. It was the closest New Zealand have come to winning on Australian soil, with the result in doubt until the two elite classes were finalised late in the day.
Rob Preston had the biggest win of his career, taking out M21E by nearly three minutes over Dave Shepherd. He took charge of the race early on, catching Grant Bluett by the sixth control. The two were together for much of the race, along with Murray Scown (who finished seventh), but Preston broke away over the closing stages for a convincing win. Bryan Keely, returning to high-level competition after a break, took third by the narrowest possible margin over Bluett.
Jo Allison returned to the winners’ circle at the top level for the first time since becoming a mother two years ago. She set up the win in the first half of the course; by halfway only Aislinn Prendergast and Vanessa Round were within six minutes of her. Both Allison and Prendergast lost time at 16; this cost the Victorian a place as Round stormed home, but Allison held on by 34 seconds, with Round second and Prendergast third. Lizzie Ingham and Kathryn Ewels, both of whom lost substantial time in the first half, came home strongly to complete the top five.
Competition continues today with the Oceania Middle Distance Championships at Yackandandah.