Inaugural Champion System/SRAM Australian Cyclocross Series kicks off in style
A weekend of intense racing in Melbourne kicks off the 2012 Champion System/SRAM Australian Cyclocross Series.
It was a landmark weekend for Australian cycling on Saturday with Melbourne hosting the first two events in the inaugural Champion System/SRAM Australian Cyclocross Series.
Cyclo-cross, or CX as it's known, has a long history in the mud fields of Europe and has also seen spectacular growth in the USA, however it is a relatively new phenomenon in Australia.
Think a combination of road racing and mountain biking, with some steeplechase thrown in for good measure, and you'll be getting close.
Throughout the races, riders are forced to tackle various terrains including pavement, grass, mud and sand, all while negotiating obstacles such as rocks, steps and logs.
ROUND 1 - SATURDAY
In the opening event, the Specialized Cross Melburn, at Melbourne International Karting Complex in Port Melbourne, the much promised thrills, spills and mud came early as the elite women took to a course that bore no resemblance to the one the U/19, C and B grades rode on due to an icy downpour just one hour earlier.
Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro winner Melissa Anset and National Road Series star Lisa Jacobs went from the gun, with the first two laps a close affair.
Both women rode smooth, controlled races throughout, with Anset's off-road skills keeping her in the mix until Jacobs' top end road fitness helped her pull away, for the win ahead of Anset and Gemma Kernich.
"Cyclocross is very new to me, but I wanted to be able to use my road riding strengths and it worked out today," said Jacobs, who claimed the opening event of the 2012 Subaru National Road Series, the Mersey Valley Tour, in April.
"It was pretty muddy out there today, but it made for some fun riding. Plus there were big crowds, you'd go around a corner and there'd be people screaming with cow bells, it was great." Jacobs added.
The men's elite field, stacked with 69 seeded riders, was headlined by road cyclists Lachie Norris, Chris Luxton and Marc Williams, 'cross specialist Lewis Rattray, Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro and Cape to Cape winner Andy Blair, young gun Luke Fetch, and a host of former and current national road and MTB champions.
With the rain clearing and the sun poking through the dark clouds, a group of eight put daylight into a charging field by half way through the first lap.
However at the hour mark, the different road surfaces and the thick mud and wet grass began to take their toll on some of Australia's strongest riders, with the leading eight becoming just two. Adrian Jackson and Luke Fetch pulled away from the field, with the unseeded Fetch breaking away to win in front of the large crowd gathered at the wind battered Specialized finish arch.
"I started about fiftieth on the grid, so I was a fair way down," said Fetch after his win. "But I ended going up the outside, got a really good start, and latched onto the back of lead group.
"Then I managed to drop AJ and come through for the win, so it was great." he said.
With his family in attendance, Paul Redenbach's finished third after an epic battle with Rattray.
Perhaps the ride of the day came from Mitchell Codner who, despite being dropped off the lead group early in proceedings, rode a highly intelligent race to come from nowhere to move into third with three laps to go. But, after breaking his drivetrain in a sand trap going into his bell lap, his 15 minute walk with his bike on his shoulder to finish the race warmed the hearts of all present.
ROUND 2 - SUNDAY
On Sunday, all eyes of the Australian CX scene turned to the picturesque Darebin Parklands in Melbourne’s inner north for Round 2 of the Champion System/SRAM Australian Cyclocross Series.
Like the opening round the day before in Port Melbourne, the weather was Melburnian to the max, with warm sunshine one minute, followed by freezing and threatening with rain the next creating a tough, muddy course.
One of the perennial crowd favourites, the kid’s race, kicked proceedings off and despite the big turnout leading to tears at registration as the race sold out in minutes, those that competed put one of the best races yet.
With elite men's A grade entries also filling quickly, a packed B Grade field provided one of the many stories from the weekend, with 14 year old Liam Jeffries taking apart some of the more seasoned cross racers with a style that blew riders and spectators alike away.
Special mention to Commuter Cycles’ Huw Vellacott’s who finished second after staging an epic attempt to attack Jeffries while riding a single speed bike complete with porteur rack.
By the time the women’s elite field was ready to race, the crowd had grown to several hundred fans who, with cowbells in tow, were anxious to watch the women contest the slower course.
The race quickly split with Saturday’s winner Lisa Jacobs, one of the 2012 Subaru National Road Series stars, putting on yet another dominant and inspirational display over the field.
Despite the race being just Jacobs’ second cross race, she hit the course like a seasoned professional, taking the lead early, gracefully tapping away on the pedals and tackling barriers with ease.
Jacobs and Saturday’s runner-up Melissa Anset, fought it out for much of the race, but it was Jacobs’ unbreakable rhythm on the pedals which saw her clear away for the win.
The elite men’s race followed with hoots, heckles and of course cowbells inspiring the field to put on one of the fastest starts ever seen at Dirty Deeds.
After his stellar win on Saturday, Luke Fetch was expected to take it to the limit again, but was expected to face tough opposition from home-town favourites Lewis Rattray and Adrian Jackson.
In the end it was Jackson who soared to the front of the pack leaving any competitors in a mud spattered wake.
Racing on his home ground, Jackson took full advantage of local course knowledge as he finished well clear of what was a ding-dong race for second and third between Rattray and Lachlan Norris.
Norris eventually got the better of his Giant team mate, after Rattray ran out of steam on the final lap after miscounting the number of laps remaining earlier in the race.
Our thanks to Champion System, SRAM and especially the folks at the Darebin Creek Management Committee and the Darebin Parklands Association.
The series now moves to Adelaide for Race 3 and 4, to be held at the Adelaide Park Lands, 11-12 August 2012. Entries Close 5 August.
For more information and to enter the Champion System SRAM National Cyclo-cross Series, visit www.cycling.org.au/cyclocross