This weekend sees the running of pound for pound, one of the toughest ultras, marathon and smaller races in Australia, the Buffalo Stampede – There’s also the Grand Slam for the real hard nuts.
This was the very first skyrace in Australia going back a few years now, which prides itself on a reputation of steep climbs across some of the finest trails in Victoria, starting and ending in the township of Bright – a mecca for outdoor sports and some quality beer too and not a cocktail in sight.
As always, some of Australia and New Zealand’s finest flock to this race and this year is no exception. We’ll begin with the ultra, the 75km and 4,500m odd of climbing, followed by the marathon in a separate article shortly.
First up, it les hommes de chèvre de montagne…
The real standout for me is Sam McCutcheon from over the ditch. Sam’s been a quality performer for the last few years, but in terms of making an impact on the international stage, he really felt his presence made by getting on the podium at the ultra competitive Tarawera 102.7896kms back in February. No-one was ever going to beat Jim Walmsley in that race, but to finish just two minutes behind Swedish speedster, Jonas Budd and ahead of our Aussie legend, Dave Byrne was a massive performance from Sam. Who also beat Gediminas Grinius in the process too.
A few others to pick out for podium potential include Victorian trio, Luke Preston and Ross Hopkins and Joel Fitzgerald.
Luke’s had some very good results in recent years over some of the flatter ultra trail races including a podium at the Two Bays ultra this year, along with second at UTA50 and a speedy 3:33 at Six Foot Track, both in 2015. Clearly he’s got the taste and the legs for the more runnable ultras, so it will be interesting to see how he fares on a course like this. Massive potential and could give Sam a real scare if he’s he decent shape.
Ross Hopkins is well-known on the Victorian trail circuit and a consistently high performer. He finished sixth at the Buffalo Stampede last year in a time of 9:36 and another highlight was his third place at the Surf Coast Century in 8:50. Earlier this year he finished sixth behind Luke at Two Bays and this will be his fourth Buffalo Stampede ultra – to say he knows the course is an understatement.
Joel Fitzgerald has started 2017 well scoring two fourth places, one at Bogong to Hotham (8:15) and then at Two Bays (4:31). He ran in fifth place at this race last year ahead of Ross Hopkins and is almost a shoe-in for a top five place here again. All being well however, I think Joel might snag a cheeky podium this time round. Another name to look out for is Matt Dore, a fast starter and bags of talent. If he keeps a lid on the pace early on could well feature too.
Now to the true chèvres de montagne!
Like the men, one lady in particular shines a light and that’s Christine Hopkins. She scored fourth at the Two Bays Ultra last year in 5:47 as well as third at the Surf Cast Century in 10:18. She also ran second place at the Great Ocean Walk in 2015 in a time of 12:21.
Chasing her hard will be NSW lady, Brook Martin. She ran a rather excellent third place at last year’s Great North Walk 100 miler, with a time of 25:29. She also finished just outside the top ten at UTA too in 13:25 as well as winning the Tarawera 85.2847kms in 10:35. She’s certainly got an appetite for the longer hard stuff and I would expect her to challenge strongly with Christine for the win.
Other ladies to look out for in the ultra are Isobel Ross and Michaela McDonald.