Melbourne GP of CX – UCI C2 Weekend
Posted by auscxmag
Posted in News
words: Sean Couley photography: provided by Fields of Joy CX
Well, there you go… International UCI level Cyclocross has arrived in Australia and ask anybody that was there and they will tell you with emotion in their voice that the weekend was a success. So many memorable events were witnessed over the weekend it is hard to know where to start, but we all came for the racing, so I’ll start there.
Saturday was set to be a big day at Essendon fields as it was to host the ‘Airport Toyota Melbourne Grand Prix of Cyclocross’ aka ‘Round five of the MTBA National Cyclocross Series’ aka ‘Fields of Joy CX presented by Sunbury Cycling Club’… That’s right, a lot of people with a lot of support from some generous sponsors and even governments had culminated to make the weekend what it was… It was a mega CX venue the likes have not been seen before in Australia. An epic course, a big sound system that could be heard from anywhere on course, a huge official marquee for rego, first aid or beer, a team’s area where there seemed to be an arms race of tent set ups. It had it all.
Saturday’s course was feature packed with Lactic Hill, Lisa Jacobs Ladder (stairs), Alby’s corner (off camber four corner downhill section and a few other tricky sections to catch a rider out. But the course was dry. Even this unfit Masters 3 rider only had to dismount at the stairs and was able to ride every other feature. This meant the days racing would be fast.
After the first three races of the morning consisting of the national series of Masters and Juniors competing in round five of the national series, the elite women lined up to battle it out for the valuable UCI points on offer. The field had some international flare with Emily Kachorek and Samantha Runnels of Squid Bikes on the front row along with Kim Hurst of New Zealand on the second row due to the cruel joke that is no UCI points on offer for winning her National Championship. From the starter’s whistle it was Emily Kachorek who got the fastest stat and she would gain a lead of almost 50 metres by the time the field attacked the hill for the first time. By lap three it was Australian champion Peta Mullens and Kachorek’s team mate Samantha Runnels that broke away from the main group to give chase of the leader. Heading in to the final lap Peta Mullens had caught and overtaken Emily Kachorek and crossed the finish line to take the win with Kachorek in second and Samantha Runnels holding onto third.
The elite men were to be the final race of the day and on the start grid the faces of competitors showed concentration and focus. Garry Millburn lead the field from the starters whistle and an immediate group consisting of Millburn, Australian champion Chris Jongewaard, Squid Bike’s Anthony Clark of America, Adrian Jackson, Chris Aitken and Ben Walkerden. Over the first three laps this group would swap the lead until just after a passing manoeuvre by Jongewaard on the bermed corner, a small crash between Millburn and Anthony Clark enabled Jongewaard and Adrian Jackson to forge a gap off the front that would not be caught again. Jongewaard would eventually break away from Jackson to take the win while Millburn crossed the line alone for third. In a sprint for the final places of the wide angled podium Anthony Clark bested Chris Aitken for fourth and fifth respectively.
Saturday night it was forecast to rain, and boy did it rain as well as get windy. While competitors were tucked up in bed a dedicated crew of organisers were trying to keep marquees at the event centre from blowing away clear to Antarctica. When I arrived bright and early Sunday I was greeted by organiser Col Bell who simply said ‘I hope you packed you gum boots because today the course will be insane’. He was not lying.
Sunday’s course was essentially Saturday’s course in reverse, except soggy and slippery. In the morning practice session people were arriving at the top of the big hill and stopping. My guess is wondering how to arrive at the bottom still rubber side down. The berm and the whoops (now uphill) were immediately completely rutted and would cake rider’s wheels in mud so thick your wheels would cease to spin. We were in for a real treat once the racing started.
The masters and juniors competing in the final round of the National Cyclocross Series had the hardest conditions. It began to hail as the non-elite ladies were being marshalled and once they arrived at the big hill on the first lap there was an approximate 20% success rate for riders successfully navigating their way down and the crowd loved it. But by the time the elite fields were due to race in the afternoon, the rain and hail had stopped and the traditional wind of Fields of Joy was started to slightly dry up the course.
The elite women lined up and were a mixture of relaxed and full race face on the start line. Naomi Williams lead the field through the first corners with Kim Hurst and Stacey Riedel hot on her heels. When the leader reached the big hill descent the first time the crowd erupted as Stacey Riedel in the drops and with both feet in her pedals completely bombed down the muddy descent to overtake both Williams and Hurst taking the lead of the race by the time the first lap was completed. Previous day’s winner Peta Mullens suffered a poor start and was hovering back in seventh as a lead group consisting of Riedel, Williams and Samantha Runnels had formed. The front group would swap the lead multiple times as they battled through the thick mud and Runnels stretched her legs out front as the race went on. At the same time Mullens was chasing back through the field and as the finish line approached it was America’s Samantha Runnels that would win her first ever UCI race with Naomi Williams in second while Peta Mullens overhauled Stacey Riedel in the last half lap to claim third.
To finish the massive weekend of racing the elite men were lined up a raring to go. Garry Millburn lead the field through the first corner with a very fast start and Chris Jongewaard hot on his heels. By the start of the second lap it was the familiar sight of Millburn and Jongewaard alone at the front battling with each other while there was a chase group consisting of Anthony Clark, Chris Aitken, Tom chapman and Adam Blazevic approximately 15 seconds behind. At the head of the race Millburn and Jongewaard extended their lead while showing amazing skill and to the keen eye two very different approaches to line choice on the most technical features. Behind Chris Aitken and Anthony Clark separated from the rest of the chase group as the race unfolded. As the race was drawing to a close most in the crowd were beginning to get ready for a sprint finish, yet as the two leaders got the bell for the final lap Jongewaard attempted to attack for the lead heading to the big descent. Millburn had the inside line and as the two riders hit the dirt before the drop there was a touch of wheels and Jongewaard crashed. This would be the race defining moment as Millburn rode the last lap solo with a small gap to claim the win. Jongewaard held on for second, while Chris Aitken had broken away from Anthony Clark to take third.
A huge thank you must going to the organisers, their sponsors, MTBA, the volunteers, competitors and also the international travellers for making Australia’s First International Cyclocross Event the absolute success it was. I’ll start – thankyou!