Author Brad Peppinck
The Carts Christmas Crits got off to a bang early on, quite literally with thunder, rain, and heavy wind gusts reducing Stromlo to a less than hospitable place to spend a Wednesday evening. Fortunately, the bad weather struck early and did little to dampen the spirits of the almost 200 riders registered to compete in what has fast become Australia’s best attended club criterium event.
Proving their metal early, the Junior HC Handicap saw Violet Withington riding strongly to stay out front for much of the race, her tinsel wrapped bike and Christmas themed outfit making her easy to spot. Last week’s winner, Quinn Peppinck, meanwhile, despite having given up a considerable margin on the start line, was getting down to business alongside Srey Rathi as the chasers seemed more intent on talking among themselves than driving the pace in the wet conditions. Fortunately, befitting the times, Santa in the form of Makka Edwardson turned up on cue and proving himself just as capable of pulling the sleigh as he is sitting behind it, put in two laps on the front helping the chasers catch Violet and setting up a nail-biting finish. In the end though, neither Santa nor the indignity of being beaten by his little brother was enough to see Quinn being overtaken as he held on to make it two from two, older brother Archer Peppinck winning the bunch kick in second from Hugo Williams third. Reyan Rathi also deserves a mention for his consistently strong riding and determination, staying away from George Williams in battle of the littlest riders of the night.
D Grade saw Criterium newcomer Sandow Johnson, better known for his MTB descending abilities, setting the pace early on, with juniors Callum Maciver and Luke Rogers also well positioned. Stuart Nicholls was aggressive, stringing the bunch out and testing the metal of many a rider on the wet track but it was Sandford Beggs who took the first sprint prime, splintering the bunch and forcing Darren Stevens to work hard bringing it back together. Tyler Martin then led a party of four who snuck off the front but couldn’t make it stick, before Chris Withington and John Astridge launched a combined attack with two laps remaining. Nicholas Jeffries bridged across but as the leaders faded on the bell, the crowd prepared themselves for a thrilling sprint finish. So it was that Stuart Nicholls lit the jets down the home straight, timing his run beautifully to nab a very close win from Sandford Beggs, with Tyler Martin completing the podium. Vanessa Judge came home first for the women, on a day that saw several abandons in the difficult conditions.
The Dominators was, well, dominating early on in C Grade before ‘Those Guys’ set about bringing him back with Eddie Mungoven also contributing to the chase. Ed Meeuwissen put in a powerful sprint to grab the sprint prime and, in the process, effectively launching an escape bid accompanied by Trent Smyth, Eddie M, and Dan Joller. Sensing the danger, Andy Gordon kicked into top gear and looked to drag the bunch back but was leapfrogged by Angus Steadman who successfully bridged making it five riders up front. As the chase fell into disarray, more riders bridged with the lead group swelling to eight before Trent decided to strike out on his own with a trademark solo effort. As the bunch looked around to see who would respond and with Those Guys sitting up, it was left to the Dominator to drive the pace with several riders locked on his wheel, Heath Chester also taking a big turn on the front. All back together, and after the briefest of respites, Trent went again as the bell sounded, Dan J sensing an opportunity in second wheel. Into collarbone, it was anyone’s to win (anyone in the first five that is) but as it was, Pete Rogers who seized the initiative to strike out early, Nathan Edwards assertively defending his teammates wheel from a flying Rod Bates who, after offering some constructive feedback on Nath’s move, looked to come round him in pursuit of the leader. But nothing was denying Pete a famous Christmas Crits victory as he sailed across the line well clear of the chase led by Rod B and Dennis Mungoven. Lucie Van Der Shalk was the solo finisher for the women and netted herself a victory in the process.
With the track drying out, it was time for round three of the Women’s Series – Christmas Edition. Series leader, Ella Bloor was watchful early on in the A/B race, controlling the pace from the front. Kimberly Wells took the first prime of the night with a gutsy sprint, Jen Darmody powering off her wheel across the line trying to get away with a surprise move. But the bunch wasn’t about to let a rider like Jen get away so easily, quickly neutralising the attack. Next, it was Kim Pederson launching a long-range solo move down the back straight to claim the second prime of the night, despite a big chase from Ella. The furious pace was temporarily checked by the traditional wayward kangaroos, but good communication among the bunch ensured everyone stayed upright. As the horn sounded for yet another sprint prime, Ella showed her speed to cross first, while Gracie Elvin showed her tactical guile, holding her speed to come off Ella’s wheel and establish a decent break with Bec McConnell, Jen D and Lauren Thomas in tow. Caught out by the attack, Ella had to quickly regain her composure and with Alice Patterson-Robert, commit to the chase. All back together with two laps remaining and with the lead riders carefully marking each other, the pace slowed as the bunch readied themselves for the sprint line dash. As the A/B and C/D bunches came together with one and half laps remaining, Bec M looked to slingshot past, darting into collarbone and putting her MTB skills to good use, extracting every ounce of grip as she laid her bike on the line. Strung out as the bell sounded, and with Bec paying the price for her long-range effort, she was swallowed up by a charging Ella Bloor who hit the wind through collarbone and looked to keep her perfect record intact as she entered the home straight in first. But just as she did with the opening prime of the night, it was Kimberly Wells who timed her run best, storming home to cross the line for a well-earned victory, just ahead of Jossie Pepper, Ella holding on to secure third. In Women’s C/D meanwhile, Lauren Bullman put in a commanding performance, with Carley Weiss-Kelly also active early. With the bunch largely staying together throughout, it was Natasha Sitsky who claimed the sprint victory, just ahead of Carly and Lucy Van Der Shalk.
After sitting out last week, Hayden Stevens was keen to make up for lost time attacking early on in B grade with Rainer Wilton in tow. Unable to make it stick, Stu Griffiths countered with Hayden chasing hard to bring it all back together. An exciting first sprint prime saw Marc Vroomens collect the prize money with a very narrow win over Jono Hazell, before Ben Carmody came to the front to instil some composure. Breakaway protagonists Thomas Wood and Mick Tollhurst tried their luck, as did Steve B and Riley Smithers, but despite stringing the bunch out, no one was able to seriously dent the will of the chasers who seemed hell bent on ensuring a sprint finish. Seemingly resigned to their fate, and despite pleas from Andrew Chamberlain on the microphone to ‘give the crowd some entertainment’ as the timing board ticked down, it was all about saving matches and positioning for the inevitable chaos that was about to ensue. After a long stint on the front by Michael Payne, it was Mick Tollhurst who blinked first darting down the far right of the home straight in a bid to get clear. But with Tristan Ward well positioned and Jono Hazell also contributing to the chase, Mick T was swallowed up as the leaders dived left into collarbone. Diving right into collarbone at that very same moment, however, was a kangaroo who realising the error of his ways tried to execute an about turn and get the hell out of dodge. In the ensuing chaos, some riders took to the grass while others jumped on the brakes. Finding himself without either of those options, Stu Griffith delivered a master class in bike handling skills bunny hopping the kangaroo seemingly without losing any momentum in the process. Whether it was the adrenaline or just the realisation that hey, if you can get away with bunny hopping a large marsupial at 50kmph, you may be on a good night, Stu then threaded his way through half a dozen riders and came off Josh Bilski’s wheel to grab one of the most unlikely – and impressive – victories we’ve ever seen at crits. Sean Murphy rolled across in third. Special mention also for Bec McConnell who backed up immediately after the Women’s A/B race and put in another strong performance.
Any chance for the crowd to quietly reflect on the outstanding riding they had just witnessed was quickly shattered with the A grade starters whistle closely followed by the horn signalling the first sprint prime of the night. Sean Whitfield led out a long sprint and despite a huge effort from Tom Chester, had enough in the tank to keep his wheel in front by the narrowest of margins. After getting a small gap, Sean and Tom thought better of pressing on, with Marc Williams left to set tempo on the front. Matt Rice put in a solid attack but couldn’t get away from Kris McCreath who took the second prime of the night, hurting the bunch in the process. CCS with seven riders on the front looked to be executing a plan, Cam Roberts taking a long stint at the head of proceedings. Not content to sit in a wait for the sprint finish, however, Harry Jones rocketed off the front before Tom C bridged across with Cam Roberts and Tim Cameron in train. As the bunch hesitated, the leading quartet rolled turns and quickly built the biggest gap of the night. Having missed the party, it fell to Olivers to chase with Campbell Jones getting stuck in. With a handful of minutes left on the clock, and perhaps realising the odds of Cam Roberts getting the better of Tom C were low, CCS committed all their numbers to the chase, Ben Morrison’s efforts reducing the margin to the four out-front. As the bell sounded, what had looked like a sure bet for the breakaway was suddenly looking a lot less certain, Tom Chester shouldering the lions share of the work to maintain the increasingly slender lead. As Campbell sacrificed himself to bring it all back together, Tom C switched from full beast mode to cannibal, muscling his Trek through collarbone at a breakneck speed and holding his lead all the way to the finish line for his trademark victory celebration, Oscar Chamberlain pushing him all the way to grab second place. But it was third place getter Makka Edwardson who deserves a special mention after he too was forced to bunny hop a kangaroo and clearly channelling Stu’s earlier efforts, didn’t break his stride as he carried his speed through to the finish.
All in all, despite the threat of thunder and lightning, not one but two close calls with kangaroos, everyone walked away safely and much the better from another outstanding Carts Christmas Crits. A special thanks to all the sponsors who made the evening such a memorable and successful one, and without whose support, we wouldn’t be able to run such outstanding events. Wishing all CCC riders and their families a safe and relaxing Christmas and look forward to seeing you back out on track in the new year.