In just his second road race, mountain-biker Marty McNamara (Maitland BMX) has taken a maiden state open road victory, winning the 2021 Keegan Downes Memorial Sundowner Handicap today.
After starting in the Limit bunch, McNamara sprinted to the win outside Gunnedah from a select group of five survivors.
The 121 starters were greeted by welcome sunshine and a tailwind for the 100km race between the northern NSW towns of Coonabarabran and Gunnedah.
Having been given a handicap of 40 minutes, plus extra firepower from Bunch 9 when the bunches were combined at the start, the Limit riders prevailed by 3:25 to the next finishers and 4:38 to Scratch.
Terence Wall (Illawarra CC) secured another NSW handicap podium with the runner-up slot, while Andrew Jackson (Camden CC) finished third.
McNamara is no stranger two-wheeled competition, but usually prefers the knobbly or petrol-powered variety, being a cross-country mountain-biker and dirt bike racer.
The memorable win came as a surprise to the Singleton father, for whom the 2018 Keegan Downes Handicap had been his first and only road race before today.
“Last time I done it [sic], it felt nice and casual, while this time it felt like a race. It felt like we were really pushing, the group I was in,” McNamara said. “It felt pretty fast and intense for my level, anyway.”
“I was just hanging on for dear life and following the guys around me, letting them lead the way.”
“I had a bit of plan but the pace was probably a bit high for my plan, so I just stuck to the guys around me and hoped for the best.”
Emily Gilmour-Walsh (Penrith CC) was the sole female survivor from Limit, making her the first woman home. She also clinched the QOM and Sprint Queen prizes along the way.
“My plan was just to experience a race like this,” said Gilmour Walsh. “I hadn’t done a handicap race before, so I thought I’d give it a go and see what it was all about – the longer distance – and I finished and managed to stay with the front group, so it was good.”
“We worked really well together,” she said about racing with the men in Limit. “A couple of us made sure we stayed together so we could keep away from the rest. It was a good experience.”
Scratch closed down all but eight riders, but began attacking each other with about 10km remaining.
For the second edition in a row, Sean Whitfield (Canberra CC) took fastest time, outsprinting Ben Neppl (Newcastle Hunter CC) from what remained of Scratch to complete the route in 2:01:08.
In the same bunch sprint, Haylee Fuller (Dubbo CC) just edged out Emily Watts (Sydney Uni VC) to claim the fastest women’s prize in 2:22:11.
Despite not making the catch, Whitfield was pleased with his and his Oliver’s Real Food Racing teammates’ performance, after they split the bunch in the crosswind section and set him up for the sprint.
“We kept it all together until we got out of the hills and dropped down onto the farm area, where it was flat and very open,” Whitfield said. “We took the chance with the team to put it in the gutter a bit and reduce Scratch to, really, the only people who are strong enough to be there, so we were probably a group of 15 by that stage.”
“We just kept working for the last 40km, and in the final we thought we had everyone. And then, we started racing for first, and Sam Hill was on the attack at every chance he got, every time we were on any sort of incline,” he said.
Whitfield was full of praise for one teammate in particular, Edwin Britts (Dulwich Hill BC).
“Luckily, I had Edwin Britts with me because he was unbelievably strong in the final, and he could match Sam Hill effort for effort. He rode him down two or three times,” Whitfield said. “Hats off to that guy, because he’s pretty green and just nailed it today, absolutely nailed it.”
“In the final, I just had to bide my time because I’ve sprinted here four or five times so I know how long that finishing straight is. I just had to wait, wait and wait, and when I kicked it was pretty easy from there,” Whitfield said.
Standing out among the top 10, Kazimir Boskovic (Dulwich Hill BC) went solo from long range out of Bunch 5. He rode through all the bunches except Limit, finishing 7th overall.
Tomorrow will see most riders back up for the Barnson Gunnedah to Tamworth Graded Scratch Races, with a new finish at the Tamworth Regional Cycling Centre.
For full results, visit: https://my.raceresult.com/172161/
Words and photos by Ryan Miu