Photo: Ian Hutchings
Hot and humid conditions greeted riders who were making their return to racing after the Christmas break.
George Williams looked to press his four lap advantage in the Junior HC pacing himself nicely to stay clear of Quinn Peppinck who put up a valiant and determined chase behind. Alex Steele managed to hold on for third a little further back.
D Grade got underway swiftly with Junior Whites Hugo Williams and Zach Thomas well represented near the front of the bunch. Daniel Gowling was a relative constant in driving the pace through the opening stages along with Patrick Doan. Ryker Bentlin, Mark Cantril and Dan G managed to break away about five minutes in but were brought back under control after a committed chase by the ‘Fondo Boys’ racing team. Elizabeth Lowe showed good race craft, positioning herself near the front as the pace gradually ramped up, as did Archer Peppinck who proved the strongest of the Junior Whites in managing to stay with the D Grade bunch throughout. Down to the closing stages, things were still largely in tact before Dan G took a flyer on the bell, stringing the bunch to near breaking point. Not to be out foxed on the last lap, however, the Fondo Boys massed their full resources on the front, reeling Dan in and surging clear with an impressive lead out train. Out of the final corner and Stew French went clear by a bike length to cement a text book victory for the Fondo Boys, Dan G just gabbing second with a throw on the line a half wheel in front of Mark Cantrill in third. For the women, Roslyn Harper just out sprinted Darcy Henwood, with Elizabeth Lowe finishing in third some way further back.
C Grade saw Andy Yates setting the early tempo with Nathan Edwardson also riding upfront seemingly intent on policing any breakaways. Greg Harris was the first to go clear with Callum Maciver and Andy Yates quick to bridge. No sooner were the trio brought under control than Andy Y was attacking once again, stringing the bunch out single file in the process. After a brief lull, four riders countered as Blake Wooster, Nathan Monk, Greg Harris, and Kate Vandeberg looked to establish the decisive break of the night and quickly set about rolling turns to press their slender advantage. Ben Williams, however, had other ideas single handedly leading the chase to weld the bunch back together after a furious lap or two. With 15 minutes remaining, Blake W was off again in search of solo glory, Amelie Burrell digging deep as she tried unsuccessfully to bridge. With eight minutes remaining, Blake was back in the fold although his spirits clearly undiminished as he put in yet another attack in the closing stages. With two laps remaining, Max Neve exerted some control at the front as the bunch settled in for the inevitable sprint finish. Seizing the opportunity that brief lull afforded, Blake struck out again with attack number 657… of the night, daring to dream as his lead quickly grew to several bike lengths. Down to the bell and the accumulated fatigue notwithstanding, Blake was able to dig deep and hold on for a very impressive solo victory, Andy Yates showing his speed to close the gap considerably in his run to the line for second ahead of Rod Bates in third. Amelie Burrell capped off a big race with a victory for the women just ahead of Sophie Chapman, Phillipa Henry in third a lap down.
B Grade was fast albeit orderly through the opening laps as Thomas Wood wound things up before passing the batton to Matt Darling. Ben Henderson and Andy Blair were never far from the front before Dave Watts left everyone in his rear view mirror surging well clear in an emphatic show of strength down the home straight. But the jets burned brighter than they did long and Dave was back in the bunch a few laps later, only to kick once again with Em Viotto for company on this occasion. With 23 minutes remaining, the pair were caught before Bec and Matt Henderson countered with big acceleration and possibly the first ‘brother sister’ breakaway of the season, if not ever. With their lead out to a good 100 meters, the feel good script seemed to be going in their favour before Andy B, Matt D, and Stephen B – men not necessarily known for their sentimentality on the bike – ruthlessly combined to bring the escapees back under control. Just as the crowd settled in for a nail biting finish, however, Felix Koninx unfortunately added his name to the long and distinguished list of riders who have given ‘collarbone corner’ its fearsome name, clipping a pedal and going down heavily with Em V also unfortunately caught up in the crash. With the Commissaires stepping in the neutralise and then abandon the race as Nathan Edwardson took charge of the first aid response, B Grade would have to wait till round 12 before posting its first winner of 2024.
With collarbone corner out of action as the ACT Ambulance service attended to the injured, A Grade was unleashed on a modified course with riders sweeping at pace through the bottom cut-out before a lactate inducing charge to the top of the track and fast finish down the home straight. The fast downhill and constant efforts back up made getting away particularly difficult, and so it proved as riders struggled to go clear through the opening half. Tom Chester was the first to get a decent gap and held his advantage for a few laps before being reeled in with 20 minutes remaining, in large part thanks to the chasing efforts of Eddie Mungoven and Steve Crispin. Taking Reece Tucknott and Hayden Stevens with him for company this time, Tom C was off again before Stuart Griffith led the counter with Ben Morrison. No sooner were they back in the fold than Macca Edwardson tried his luck albeit with similar results to all the other erstwhile escapees. With seven minutes left on the clock, Tom C tried once more but the bunch weren’t about to see their chances sail away up the road. Inside the final five minutes and it was Eddie M who made the most of a brief lull in hostilities, quickly building a gap of several bike lengths. Sensing the danger, Hayden and Tom were quickest to respond and bridged to Hayden as the trio set about pressing their advantage. On the bell, it still looked like our winner would come from the three leaders but as they rounded the final bend, Ed was swamped leaving just Tom and Hayden to sprint for victory. In what must surely have been the drag race of the season thus far, Hayden and Tom through everything into the final downhill charge for the line with Tom prevailing by the narrowest of margins, less than the width of a tyre separating the two Canberra fast men. Ben Hill held on for third in what proved to be a thoroughly entertaining change in format.
As we head into Round 12 with the Christmas cobwebs well and truly blown away, we’re sure to be in for some long and exciting racing. In the meantime, our collective thoughts are with Felix and Em as we wish them a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing them back in the fold as soon as possible.