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Summer Criterium #18 Race Report

Image: Ian Hutchings

While summer might have been on the way out, there was a sting in the tail as Round 18 kicked off with track temperatures in the high 40s and very little wind to offer any respite.

Seldom troubled by the conditions, however, the Juniors took to the HC with casual indifference and little diminution in their attacking spirit. Starting one lap up on scratch riders Lachlan and Hamish Copeland, Alex Steele rode strongly to stick with scratch deep into the race and keep his one lap lead largely intact. Repeat accelerations from Lachie weren’t enough to dislodge Alex, although did manage to distance older brother Hamish who was making his way back to racing after being out with illness. While Lachie eventually managed to fly solo towards the end, Alex had done more than enough by that stage to preserve his lead and crossed the finish line a deserving winner. Valentin Torres-Schmidt, meanwhile, sporting a new rode bike put it to good use by dropping George Williams and doing enough to hold on for second. Lachie, meanwhile, put in the fastest time of the night but with such big gaps to make up, had to content himself with third place on handicap.  

The smallest contingent of the season rolled away for A Grade with just seven riders taking to the start line. But with Tom Chester and Trekky both present, that didn’t mean the pace was any slower although the high temperatures may have deterred the long range attackers, the small peloton staying together through the opening stages.  Undeterred by the calibre of his companions, Toby Stewart was a prominent aggressor with several attacks down the home straight. While not enough to dislodge Canberra’s ‘Galactico’s’, the pace did see the steady attrition of riders with just four in contention after the opening salvos, Tom Gibson unfortunately succumbing to a slow leak. Rob Jeffries, meanwhile, showed his tactical acumen spending his matches wisely to stay in contention, even when Trekky and Tom upped the ante as Toby went out the back door. While the crowd pondered how Trekky would look to get the better of Tom in the sprint, it turned out that question would remain unanswered for yet another week as Tom took his tally into double figures with yet another dominant victory. Trekky made him work for it all the way as he crossed the line in second, while Rob was a deserving third, picking up his first A Grade podium of the season. 

The D Grade pace was noticeably down on past weeks, a combination of the stifling conditions and the recent promotion to C Grade of several erstwhile protagonists. The bunch remained relatively orderly throughout, few riders eager to waste energy on quixotic long-range attacks. Chloe Pragt was seldom far from the front with Michael Straffon and Lachlan Carter also prominent in setting tempo, particularly during the closing stages. Down to the bell and it was anyone’s race to win, although that all changed as the bunch rounded the final bend and Will Astridge took flight for home showing a clean pair of heals to all but Chloe who crossed the line in outright second a bike-length further back. Bill Shelly capped off a cagey ride to emerge at just the right time in order to edge out Ryker Bentlin for third, while Ash Watts and Hannah Pettett rounded out the women’s podium a little further back. 

C Grade followed a similar script to D Grade with no one really able to strike out solo in the tough conditions. Juniors Callum MacIver and Luke Rogers kept themselves towards the head of proceedings, with Chloe Hosking also willing to put herself in the wind. Nathan Edwardson looked to ignite a promising move with around 10 minutes remaining but was brought back under control, the pace settling once more as the clock ticked down. Leonard Pooley and Sam Moffitt took responsibility for much of the pace making as the bell lap approached, with Chloe also looking to push the pace into the final sprint. As the bunch emerged at the top of the home straight, Glen Sinnott managed to get the jump on Stephen Peter and carried his advantage all the way to the line, Luke Roger’s holding on for third. Zoe Cuthbert finished first for the women on bunch time, ahead of Kate Vandenberg and Sophie Chapman.

With track temperatures nudging just below 40 for the last race of the night, B Grade had little to complain about as 23 riders took to the start line. Tristan Ward, new recruit to the Tiffen Cycling Team, was off the front early setting the tone for several Team Tiffen attacks to follow. Virtually all the squad stared in cameo escapes but weren’t able to gather the critical mass that may have seen them stay away. Jeremy Gilman-Wells was seldom far from the front of the action with Steve Blackburn also taking several strong pulls on the front. Zeke Findlay, making a return to racing, was also an early animator more than earning a mention in the race report with several bold attempts to get away early. Several of Canberra’s best female cyclists, meanwhile, were also in the thick of things, especially Lauren Thomas and Ella Bloor, who was clearly enjoying the switch from her gravel steed to a brand-spanking new Specialized and surfing wheels effortlessly to stay well positioned up front. Down to the closing stages and several breaks looked to threaten the group cohesion, but with Rainer Wilton, Ben McCarthy, and Matt Darling eager to chase, most attacks were extinguished before they had a chance to really get going. With a sprint all but a certainty, Steve Blackburn and Mick Tolhurst kept the pace high for JGW as the bunch received the bell, railing it through collarbone and down the back straight. As Jezz kicked hard, Ben McCarthy mercurially came around Rainer to slingshot onto the home straight, lighting the jets in the downhill run to victory a bike length ahead of Jeremy. Rainer held on for third while for the women, a fantastic three-way drag race saw Lauren with just enough speed to edge out Kim Pederson, who rode a tactically smart race all night, with Zoe Clark half a bike length further back in third but all three finishing on bunch time.

With just two rounds left, be sure to get along and make the most of the season finale. With few superlatives left to write about Tom Chester’s run of impressive victories, perhaps he can throw in a wheelie or even a Tom Pidcock style, superman finish line celebration to upend the now familiar script… but whatever he choses to do, there’s a chance to watch history in the making if he continues the record breaking run of A Grade wins. Don’t miss it. Massive thanks again to the Commissaires – particularly given they not only selflessly give of their time each and every week but also put their lives on the line as was the case with the recent discovery of a juvenile brown snake happily ensconced in the power box on the track!