A deep early morning mist rolled over the Wingello forest but that did not dissuade riders, eagerly signing on for one of the best races of the year. The James Williamson Enduro Challenge is unique, a race unlike any other, it is a race not for personal gain, profit or glory, it is in memory of James, his ideals and his love of the bike. It is an emotional race for many, from the organisers that knew and raised him to the Elite category, full of his closest friends and in some ways a win here can mean a great deal more than stripes or medals.There is certainly a sense of family at this race and as the start loomed close, it was great to see some old faces in the mix, friends unseen over the summer, warming up and getting ready.
The race takes in some of New South Wales most well known singletrack and fireroads, broken down into three options the 25km, the 50km and the highlight the 75km. It is a odd format, in that whilst the distances resemble that of a marathon, the race is still lap based which makes for some interesting racing. Starting out in the quarry, it was a slow start with 75km racers slowly edging into the race with a pretty tame opening 25km. That’s not to say it was without unfortunate incident though, with Anthony Shippard’s race coming to close, when his wheel folded on what was virtually the second corner of the race.
GPM racing’s Chris Jory led out for most of the first half of the lap, claiming the KOM before eventually trailing to the back of the lead group as the pace increased. The Swell Specialized duo of Andy Blair and Shaun Lewis then spearheaded the attack into lap two with Peter Hatton, Dylan Cooper and Kyle Ward all in tow. That’s when Hatton made his move to the front, in an attack that was left unanswered he led over the KOM on lap two with a small yet consistent margin on Blair, Cooper, Ward and Lewis.
The 50km race was a little more subdued with the brunt of the contenders stuck in traffic throughout the first twenty five kilometers. Lap two it all livened up with several attempts at a breakaway being made but only one was able to make it stick. Brendan “Trekkie” Johnston brought home the line honours having been accidently lead out by Torq’s Tristan Ward in his own attempted break, Trekkie made the most of his lead putting a sly two minutes thirty into second and third. A battle for which was a story all of its own, positions were tight coming into the line with Garry Millburn claiming second place with little more than a second on Paul Van Der Ploeg in third. Em Parkes took out the Women’s 50km race in front of Elize Kwan in what had been a close back and forth race to the very end.
Front runner racing aside it was great to see the large volume of local riders getting involved, from the roadies trying dirt for the first time to the junior development squad making their way around. Tough riders faces leading to smiles later.
Jenny Fay rode encountered a lot of traffic in her race but was able to stay abreast of Lana Moy and Lucy Betchel for the win.
Into the final lap Hatton turned, with a re-surging chase group hot on his wheels. Blair, Cooper and co turned the screws to close the gap however it was not the leaders of that pack that caught Hatton. Leap frogging through those behind Lewis bridged the gap to Hattons wheel. It would all come down to the final straight, who could out sprint who. Remembering from last year to avoid the loose soil in the final corner, Lewis seized his advantage, passing Hatton he crossed the line, finger pointed aloft and hand on heart for James.
It is was an emotional win for Lewy, his first win at The Willo, the monkey finally off his back. Hugging Meg Patey, Willo’s aunt, tears unseen behind sunglasses it all shone clear just how much this race means to those who knew James.
Congratulations for all involved for putting on what is the best good vibe event of the year, big ups to Meg Patey and see you all again next year. Help support the James Williamson foundation HERE.
Words and Photos : Robert Conroy