2015/16 Australian National Cyclocross Championships
Posted by auscxmag
Posted in News
words: Sean Couley photography: Riding Focus
The weekend that just passed was the pinnacle of the Australian Cyclocross season, and with Cycling Victoria hosting the event at Australia’s first ever permanent facility – Fields of Joy at Essendon Fields it was set to be a massive weekend of racing. For the first time ever, the championship event had been spread over a two day format with Masters Championship events being held on Saturday and the UCI category events held on Sunday.
The course for the weekend of racing will go down as the most challenging and also most feature laden course in Australia. Course designer Peter McInulty had included many features that Fields of Joy has become famous for including a massive double sand pit stretch at the bottom of the course, the log hill climb, a high speed 180 degree berm and the ‘Zolder step’ which mimics the step at the Belgian Heusden-Zolder course which is to be used for the 2016 cyclocross world championships. The Zolder step led competitors up an absolute wall of the climb that would sap energy of every rider no matter if they stayed on their bike or got off and ran.
The weekend’s racing began with the first ever team relay event. Many were curious to see how the format would work, but only four teams were entered on the day. After some rain over the previous night the course was very slippery on Saturday morning with barely any traction available in many sections. In the end it was the stacked Flanders-Nemisis team consisting of junior rider Noah Barrow, Josie Simpson, Paul Redenbach and Chris Jongewaard that took victory.
Following the relay event, an open non-championship event was held as well as the ever popular kids racing. Then as it became the afternoon it was time for the first of three master’s races to take place with Masters 5+ taking to the course. Defending champion Craig Peacock would again win the title.
Next race consisted of all Masters Women categories and again racing amongst the grades was fierce. Notable mentions were Karina Vitiritti beating defending champion Gemma Kernich in Masters 3, along with Diane Nelson showing her class by winning Masters 4.
Final race of Saturday was the largest field of the weekend with 70 competitors taking to the course for Masters 1 through to Masters 4. Conditions had improved during the day, and although there was mud, it was nowhere near as slippery as the morning sessions on course. Still, not one competitor on course road ‘lactic hill’. Racing at the front was comparable to elite level riders with some classy performances on display. Winners of the four categories were Ben Hogarth (M1), Adrian Scott (M2), Mark Mos (M3) and Ollie Klein (M4).
Saturday night – no rain, and the wind picks up.
Sunday Morning and the first race I view is the Under 19 men. Ben Walkerden is putting on a very strong performance, with world championship competitor Noah Barrow chasing the entire race in second. Walkerden ended up winning by 30 seconds, but it was seeing Noah Barrow ride up Lactic Hill every lap that impressed the most. It also meant the course had dried and racing would be very different to the previous day.
The Under 23 Men were next on the start grid and it was an impressive field with three of the riders having previously represented Australia at the Cyclocross world championships. Reigning champion Tom Chapman as well as current national Series leader Chris Aitken were the hot favourites to take the win and did not disappoint. From the gun Chapman and Aitken hit the front distancing themselves from Jack Hogan in third who had a slender lead on Nick Smith in fourth. Aitken continued to stretch his lead, but with three laps to go instead of riding the hill as he did previously Chris was running. He stopped at the top and his chain had come off both the chainring and the cassette and it seemed the sand had caused the issue. In the time it took him to fix the issue Tom Chapman took the lead and was 10 seconds in front before Aitken was riding again. Aitken did not lose his cool and was able to chase back onto Chapman’s wheel. After a brief recovery Aitken took the lead once again and rode away to take the win, with Tom Chapman second and Jack Hogan third – a clean sweep of the podium for the Focus Bikes Australia team.
As the Elite Women took to the start line the question on everyone’s mind was if two time Australian champion Lisa Jacobs recent achilles injury would prevent her from winning her third straight title. A strong field had assembled including Mel Anset, April McDonough, Terri Rhodes and Oenone Wood. From the start there was a furious sprint for the first corner, and Jacobs was able to lead the field into the first corners. The field powered through the sand, up the Zolder step before attacking the lactic climb in front of a large and noisy crowd. Lisa Jacobs lost momentum riding as Terri Rhodes and April McDonough rode past her, but as the entire field crested the climb it was McDonough who was left stranded with a bike that refused to work requiring a long run to the pits for assistance. Lisa Jacobs took control of the race from the first lap, while behind Mel Anset rode a strong race to put a stranglehold on second place. Further back the positions kept changing and Bec Locke, Terri Rhodes and Josie Simpson were battling for the minor placings. All the women rode an impressive race and the sheer effort could be seen on their faces. Lisa Jacobs eventually crossed the finish line as the winner, with Mel Anset second and Terri Rhodes outlasting the competition to claim third place.
The final race of the weekend was the race with the most talent that Australian Cyclocross had ever seen. The elite men’s field included current champion Chris Jongewaard, former champion Allan Iacuone, former XCE world champion Paul Van de Ploeg and world championship representative Garry Millburn who had flown in especially from his current training base in Colorado. The start was frenetic, and it was Millburn who led the field through the first corner, but with some close racing Van der Ploeg had the lead by turn three and an immediate front group formed with Van der Ploeg, Millburn and Jongewaard and the moved ahead of the field as they tested for each other strengths and weaknesses. The first time the field attacked lactic hill the shear speed that Van der Ploeg rode up the steep climb was unbelievable. The attacks at the front were thick and fast, and the pace was a bit much for Millburn as we was distanced from the front group by lap three to be left chasing on his own. Van der Ploeg was clearly dominating the race, but Jongewaard seemed to come good on lap 5 to gap Van der Ploeg and eventually form a 10 second lead. This would not last as Jongewaard took a downhill corner too fast and crashed, regaining just as Van der Ploeg passed and the two rider were together once more. This would not change for the rest of the race, but due to the front pair foxing each other Millburn started gaining ground on the leader and at one stage with just over a lap to go was just 11 seconds behind. On the second half of the last lap the attacks came from the lead riders but neither could shake the other off their wheel. As Jongewaard and Van der Ploeg came into view of the large crowd formed on the final corners, after one of the most competitive hours of Cyclocross this country had seen, what can only be described as severe brainsnap occurred. The moment that happened on the third last corner of the race when the leaders collided and became entangled was surreal to see and according to UCI regulations both riders can consider themselves more than lucky they were not disqualified. Paul Van der Pleog emerged as the winner with arms aloft, while Jongewaard crossed the finish line 13 seconds behind shaking his head in disappointment. Garry Millburn came storming across the finish line a further 8 seconds behind to claim third. I caught Garry on the finish line to ask his thoughts ‘I wish we had raced Saturday (tougher conditions), it was great to come back and bag some UCI points leading into Europe. I’m now looking forward to the European season once again with its own unique challenges, but I really love the Australian Cyclocross community.’
Also after witnessing a barrage of vitriol towards both Paul Van der Ploeg and Chris Jongewaard over the next 24 hours I reached out to both riders to hear their thoughts on the race. Unfortunately Paul Van der Ploeg was unable to comment at the time of print, but Chris Jongewaard has shared his view of the race…
‘The Silver Medal… I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. Yesterday I was the defending National Champion lining up with what I would call the most stacked and high calibre field I’ve seen. I started the race not real flash finding it hard to reach the ON switch for my legs and lungs. Meanwhile Paul Van Der Ploeg was laying down some serious watts up the brutal climb. A couple of laps later I found the switch and started bringing him back. It was in the 3rd lap that I reached him and we both appeared to be on our limits. This was pretty much the way it stayed for another 3 laps until I had a serious crack at breaking the Big Unit. I succeeded and got the gap I was hoping for and was out it front controlling the race. After the steep climb I hit the first right turn and was going in too hot, I ended up washing the front out and I was down…..Gap was lost, we were back together. 1 lap to go we were neck and neck when I attacked hard down the back road climb. At full gas we were unable to shake each other as we approached the pine log straight. Paul tried passing on the inside of the 3rd to last corner, which is when we came together……2 riders – 2 perspectives. Big Thanks to all the volunteers and Fields of Joy CX for making another National CX Championships a success. Great job! Special thanks to Paul and Seona Redenbach for hosting me. My sponsors Whippet Workshop, Curve Cycling, Adidas Eyewear, 4shaw, POC, JBLOOD ADVENTURES and FMB Tyres.’
The 2015/16 National Cyclocross Championships was a very successfully run weekend and Many thanks must go to Cycling VIC for hosting, Col, Peter and the entire Fields of Joy crew for putting the whole thing together. The atmosphere was amazing all weekend and all the racing was stunning. The team must be congratulated for a very successful weekend of Cyclocross action.