More than 150 riders were on the start list for round one of the 22/23 CCC Crit Season taking advantage of the dry conditions and return to Wednesday night racing.
The Junior HC’s kicked off with the traditional curtain raiser, rolling the ‘big lap’ for the first time. Early pace setters Violet Withington, Barney Mungoven and Quinn Peppinck pushed hard in blustery conditions but riding solo, couldn’t match the combined power of the scratch riders who worked well together to catch the leaders on the bell. Annika Astridge showed no signs of slowing down despite suffering a broken arm in September, riding on the front from collarbone to win by a bike length from a hard charging Archer Peppinck with Hugo Williams in third.
A huge field of E Grade, D Grade and Junior White riders made a steady start, competitors looking to settle into the conditions and rediscover their crit technique. Warm up over, it was no surprise to see Darren Stevens launching the first real attack of the season and jolting the chasers into action. Chloe Pragt was quick to close the gap with Luke Rodgers and Jim Mungoven also positioning themselves well up front. John Astridge and Chris Withington took over in the engine room shortly thereafter but as the ten-minute mark approached, the bunch was still together. That was about to change, however, as Vance Arellano and Max Neve ripped off the front down the home straight causing chaos among the chasers with gaps appearing left, right, and centre. Blake Wooster and Douglas Wynn were quick to react bridging across to the leaders and then shooting straight past before Blake decided it was time to go solo. With the chase groups in tatters, Blake rode an impressive TT to hold on for a huge win and earn the attention of the handicapper in the process, Douglas not far behind with another strong solo performance. Meanwhile, Jordan Mirchevski continued to impress attacking in the closing stages to grab third. For the women, Lucy Skeldon came home at the head of the first chasing bunch to take first ahead of Sonja Falez, Natasha Sitsky holding on for third after working hard in a break earlier in proceedings. A particular mention also to Zac Thomas from the Junior HC’s who having missed his race, stepped up to ride with D Grade holding on to the bunch for the opening laps and showing great signs for the season ahead.
C Grade was a similarly huge affair with Nick Jeffries getting hostilities underway on lap one with a probing attack. Aaron Coghlan bridged across as the two leaders looked to catch the bunch knapping, but Declan Tancred was alive to the threat and shut them down. Sam Moffitt was next to attack although with riders on his wheel, decided to keep his powder dry. Andrew Yates and Adam Martin managed to get a small gap but with two minutes remaining, the bunch was back together, attention shifting to the likely sprint that would ensue. Despite some solo flyers down the back straight, Ben McCarthy had way too much to horsepower rocketing to the front with a dominant sprint victory, Angus Withington and Pete Rodgers crossing in second and third. Claudia Marks meanwhile was well positioned throughout the night, crossing the line in first for the women with Lauren Bates and Kaitlin McGuire also fighting for the sprint victory.
36 riders took to the line in B Grade, The Dominator skipping off the front from the starter’s whistle and drawing three of four riders with him in an early break. The diesel engine that is David Parker also contributing, the break spelt danger prompting some big efforts by the likes of Hayden Stevens, Dennis Mungoven and James Thorp to bring it all back together. Cartel LTD and Cartel PL riders temporarily set internal bragging rights aside in an effort to get four riders up the road with a Jimmy Carrol inspired move but the chasing bunch was having none of it, splintering in the process. As the bell approached, Trent Smyth ratcheted up the temp with a huge turn on the front before Hayden Stevens came onto the home straight with a perfectly executed sprint to comfortably take the opening victory of the season. Brad Peppinck just held on for second from a fast-finishing Jonathan Hazell in third. In the women’s race, Lauren Thomas won a close sprint nudging ahead of Josie Pepper, Kim Pederson rounding out the podium in third.
Oscar Chamberlain grabbed attention early, not simply by virtue of the AG2R kit he’s sporting these days but rather with a huge dig as soon as the whistle had blown. Before the race had even reached collarbone, the decisive break had already formed with nine strong riders up the road. Rolling turns, the leaders quickly built a thirty second gap despite some big efforts by Nick Wilson and Steve Crispin to rally the chase. A sneaky attack by Fintan Conway saw an end to the group cohesion, however, with Macca quick to join him. But any hopes of staying away were swiftly dashed by a big effort from Oscar down the home straight. The increased tempo saw nine slowly whittle down to six, CCS playing their numerical cards well while Ayden Toovey rode a typically smart race holding his nerve and keeping his powder dry for the sprint. Inside the bell lap, Ben Hill launched his sprint down the back straight but Oscar was immediately onto his wheel dragging Ayden and Tom Chester with him. Out of the final corner and onto the home straight, Ben Hill was still looking like the bookies favourite before Tom Chester found another gear altogether and went well clear with a dominant sprint that may leave the other riders scratching their heads when considering the tactical drawing board for the races to come. Ayden held on for second with Oscar rewarded for his hard work in third.
All in all, a textbook start for the first round of Crits and thanks to the Commissaire’s and volunteers without which, racing wouldn’t be possible. Looking forward to seeing huge numbers again on Wednesday and hoping the CCC good fortune with the weather gods continues to hold for a little while longer!