It is that time of year again; the weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and the race that traditionally marks the start of the summer racing season is this weekend…..the Briars Highland Fling.

By attracting 2000 competitors in its 8th year, the 2012 Fling is the biggest Marathon in Australia. Add to that the fact that it is the final round of the Real Insurance XCM series and you have one massive event that I for one am very excited about.  As I did last year, I thought I would once again share my thought on who I think will be the main protagonists and animators of this gruelling 110km of MTB fun.

Coops – Dylan Cooper

Dylan has had a quiet year by his standards with a decent holiday away from the bike through the middle of the year. He does appear to be building some momentum at the right time though with a win in the Kowalski Classic recently.  His performance at Cape to Cape was a little up and down but the Highland Fling is only one day and Dylan know what to do if he wakes up with good legs on Sunday. He is the defending champion and his win last year was all class; he probably wasn’t the strongest guy in the race, he got dropped a couple of times, but he was at the front when it counted.

AJ – Adrian Jackson

AJ can never be overlooked as a contender in any big race. He is a great climber that will be in his element when the race gets tough in the Forest NSW stage.  He has some huge wins to his name in all disciplines and is one of those very consistent performers. At the Cape to Cape he was in solid form, which I witnessed firsthand on day 1. He is definitely a big treat for the fling and he will have the extra motivation of securing place on the podium in the series and cementing the KOM jersey.

Wombat – Shaun Lewis

Shaun is a two time winner of the Fling, he used to be a highlands local and he has done all 7 events to date. He has had one his best seasons ever and has owned the XCM series in 2012. He took control early by taking out 3 of the first 4 rounds and has been the man to beat all year.  Lewi’s strengths are is his combination of race craft, experience, ability to suffer….and his sprint.  He has used this to his advantage this year to clean up anything that finished in a group. Shaun injured his knee at round #5 in Wollombi which enabled him to have a short break and start building specifically for the Fling. He trained through the Cape to Cape and I have no doubt he will be strong on Sunday.

Shaun is in an interesting tactical position too; he doesn’t need to win the race to win the series and he has a strong team at his disposal. Will he be defensive and guard the series or go on the attack to try and take out the series with a win?

Macca – Daniel McConnell

Hands down the strongest guy in the race. What Macca has achieved this year has been incredible highlighted by a top 20 in a World Cup and his awesome ride at the Olympics. Fortunately for the rest of the field he is just coming off a break, but at Cape to Cape he showed that his slow is still fast.

T-bag – Trenton Day

Trenton has been a very threatening force in marathons this year, he won the Rock Wallaby at Appin but was very close many more wins including 2nd at the Marathon National Championships. He is fresh off winning the state XCO championships last weekend so he has some good form. He will definitely be marked.

Flatty – Matt Fleming

2012 has been a bit quiet for Matt Fleming and he has not won a big marathon this year. The Fling will be his last chance to show the form that has made his name as one of the most prolific marathon winners in recent times.

Chatswood – Nick Both

Nick is a classy bike rider that has struggled to regain his best form since a big crash a couple of years ago. In the past few months he has been showing signs of returning to the condition we know he is capable of. He is still probably considered a dark horse, but a top finish certainly wouldn’t surprise anyone.

 

The Elite Women’s field for the Fling is one of the best ever. The entire podium from the marathon national championships is going to be there, along with our sole Olympian and the national XCO champ! This is my take on the field:

Jenny Fay

Jenny has dominated the Real Insurance XCM Series in 2012 having won 5 from 5 in convincing fashion. But the Fling is a different beast, as the start list resembles that of the Marathon National Championships which was the only marathon she has not won this year. Having said that, this course suits her more than Stromlo did, she is also the defending champion and has just come off a huge win in the Cape to Cape against a similar field.  She is the favourite, and is really hungry to finish the XCM series in style.

Jodie Willet

Jodie has come of 2nd at Cape to Cape and was 2nd at the Marathon National Championships in June. She has been dabbling on the road a bit this year for Pensar-Hawk which will have only helped her endurance. She is probably due a win, and she will undoubtedly give it everything on race day.

Peta Mullens

Peta proved her pedigree at Mt Stromlo when she won the National Marathon Champs this year.  In doing so she also showed her versatility and technical improvement by winning on a course that I would not have picked as being suited to her strengths. The Fling is a big race and Peta knows how to rise to the occasion.

Jenni King

There is no doubt about Jenni’s ability to win the Fling. She is the current national XCO champion and was the 2011 marathon champ. She was a bit tired at Cape to Cape after racing Lankawi, but if she has now had enough time to recover she will be hard to stop.

Rebecca Henderson

Bec is probably the fastest rider in the race, but after such a massive season which included the Olympics she has had a break and is probably not quite back at the level required to win the Fling.  It’s unlikely she will be there in the finale, but she could still make an impression on the race.

Becky Mates

Becky is a bit of a dark horse but I think she is capable of an upset. She showed some great form over in Margaret River but a mechanical prevented her from getting a high overall position. She was spotted training on the Fling course last weekend, so I have the impression she wants this one.