National Cyclocross Series – Round 4 – Melbourne
Posted by auscxmag
Posted in News
words: Sean Couley photography: Allister Payne
Day two of the National Series weekend in Melbourne returned to Cranwell Park. The morning start was a little colder, but the sun was shining and the coffee was already being brewed when we arrived. The team from Fields of Joy CX had been at the venue since before dawn creating a different course from the previous day and had a few surprises for the racers.
The top half of the course for round 4 utilised a lot of the previous day’s route, but in reverse. This meant forgetting the race lines that could be seen as in a lot of cases they did not work in the opposite direction. The major difference for the course was that from the start riders turned left off the straight and descended the entire side of the hill riding what felt like a slalom ski course, with the turns getting bigger and faster the further you went down. Once at the bottom riders then made their way back to the top via some switchbacks, followed by a double stair run. From this point the course was directed back to the mud pit and pinch climb used on the previous day.
The slalom downhill section with the Focus CX Team in practice
Racing for the day followed the same format as the previous day with Men’s and Women’s Masters 4 and above racing first. From the very first lap it was noticeable that the course was not as slippery as the previous day and indeed was riding faster. The racing at the front looked close, but towards the back I occasionally cringed as I heard and saw many back wheels slam into the pine logs due to poor hopping technique.
The second race of the day featured Men’s Masters 1 – 3 along with B grade and the start was a little more hectic than the previous race in part due to the return of Leigh de Luca dressed in civilian clothes diving into the slalom section ahead of the crowd taking the bunting and a pole with him. Once the field had settles the racing was fun and fast. For me personally, I was happy to stay upright and really enjoyed the course – I am still amazed I enjoyed racing at Cranwell Park as I hadn’t in previous years.
The Elite and Masters women took to the start line, and just like the previous day Lisa Jacobs rounded the first corner in front. By the time the field had returned up the hill Jacobs had already gained a considerable lead. Behind an interesting battle had begun with five ladies including Melissa Anset and April McDonough all together for the first two laps. As Lisa Jacobs put on another masterclass it was also obvious that she was pushing herself as hard as she could and not letting up for a minute. Behind Jacobs the field thinned out and Mel Anset was in second only just holding off April McDonough who was chasing hard close behind. Lisa Jacobs again claimed the win making it a clean sweep of the series so far, with Mel Ansett holding second and April McDonough improving on her previous day’s result to finish in third.
The Elite and Under 19 men lined up for the last race of the weekend and word must have gotten out that the racing was worth watching as there were more people than I had previously witnessed at Cranwell Park ready to cheer/heckle. The gun went for the start and it was Paul Ven der Ploeg who had the fastest start and he lead the field through the slalom section down the hill. By half a lap into the race a large lead group had formed including Van der Ploeg, Garry Millburn, Chris Aitken, Mark Williams, Ben Henderson, Tom Chapman, Allan Iacuone and Paul Redenbach. This large group rode together for the first four laps of the race extending their advantage on the rest of the field. On lap 5 in a similar move to the previous day, Chris Aitken launched an attack which only Garry Millburn could follow. The two riders gained an 8 second lead within half a lap while behind the rest of the lead group splintered slightly as Van der Ploeg, Chapman and Mark William gave a ragged chase. As Millburn and Aitken pushed ahead extending their lead, Van der Ploeg had some bike issues resulting in two bike changes. Mark Williams also rode strongly and at one point almost caught up to the leader until Millburn and Aitken again surged with 2 laps to go. From here it was clear the winner would be either Aitken or Millburn, and on the final quarter of the final lap Millburn ensured he was positioned in front giving him the perfect position on the final corners meaning he easily sprinted his way to win his second race of the series with Aitken finishing what should be considered a successful weekend in second. Paul Van der Ploeg recovered from his bad luck on the day to claim third.