Photo: Ian Hutchings
Clear skies and warm conditions hid the deceptively tricky conditions for Round Six of Summer Crits, a strong north-westerly biting hard down the back straight in particular. With longer racing across all grades, the sense of nerves was palpable as respective Grades awaited their respective turn in the hurt locker.
The Junior Handicap was a race in two with the Copeland Brothers and Quinn Peppinck starting from Scratch in an attempt to chase down Barney Mungoven and Alex Steele who started with half lap lead. Both units worked nicely together but with an extra rider, the odds narrowly favoured scratch. Sensing the danger, with two laps to go, Barney rocketed clear of Alex as Hamish managed to drop Quinn and Lachie through collarbone, digging deep to get to the head of the race. In the end, Hamish had enough in the tank rounding Barney up and delivering a convincing solo performance, going from strength to strength as he had time to celebrate his win. Barney held on for a convincing second while the ever-consistent Lachie was again on the podium in third.
A large D Grade bunch got underway with a steady, almost collegiate, tempo as riders kept the pace high but not high enough to split the field. Around the half way mark, that all changed as Thalia Chambers struck out alongside Amelie Burrell and Mungoven’s Ali and Jim. The four quickly established a promising lead that held for a few laps before coming back together. Undaunted, Ali was off again with Jim once more in the wheel, this time with Will Astridge and Amelie for company. With 13 minutes on the clock and having worked hard to set up the initial move, Ali found the pace too much retreating to the safety of the bunch, while the trio our front rolled seamlessly to extend their advantage. Patrick Doan and Darren Stevens were prominent in the chase but could do little to bring the leaders back as Jim, Amelie and Will shifted focus to the all but inevitable sprint to come. Down to the bell, Amelie was the first to kick off the fireworks surging clear down the home straight but couldn’t quite distance Jim who, in classic Mungoven style, waited patiently until the home straight before putting his nose in the wind. Accelerating away for an impressive win, Jim put a bike length into Amelie, Will rounding out an all juniors podium. Sonja Falez finished strongly among the chasers to grab second for the women just a half-wheel ahead of Ash Watts.
B Grade had almost 45 minutes on the clock and Trent Smyth was determined to make the most of every one of them setting a cracking pace at the earliest opportunity and stretching the bunch early. But in the difficult conditions, no one was about to let Trent go clear as Ryan Koroknai, Ben McCarthy, Matt Darling and a trio of Tiffen riders set about bringing him back. With more splits than a gymnastics competition, the bunch was left in tatters as a powerful quartet threatened to ride away with it, but not before Thomas Wood put in a massive solo turn lasting the better part of two laps, eventually dragging several riders back into contention. As the dust settled, a breakaway of 14 riders found themselves still in the fight while the rest of the bunch were given an early mark. As the clock ticked down, Trent was relentless in attacking, Matt D and Ben M standouts in response, with the end result being the status quo minus several thousand collective calories. On the bell, it was the so dubbed ‘invisible man’, Ranier Wilton, who decided to make a near-devastating appearance lighting the jets down the back straight and almost gapping the field into the home straight. But having worked hard to put himself in contention for his second win of the season, Ben McCarthy wasn’t about to let it slip away finding an extra gear to muscle his way to a fine victory a half wheel ahead of Ryan Koroknai, Dennis Mungoven in third. Em Viotto showed sparkling form to stay away with the leaders and seal a strong win for the women, Claudia Marcks in second a lap down and Lauren Thomas in third.
If B and C Grade were anything to go by, A Grade looked all but certain to be a brutal affair with a reduced bunch kick the likely outcome. Team Blackshaw marshalled the front through the opening stages but with nearly fifty minutes of racing on the cards, no one seemed to be in too much of a rush to stretch the friendship. Juniors Eddie Mungoven, Hayden Stevens, and Bailey McDonald were all well positioned early looking to ensure they found themselves on the right side of any splits. Dylan Hopkins was the first to really drop the hammer in earnest about five minutes into proceedings, Mackenzie Edwardson setting off in hot pursuit. A brave effort to bridge by Stuart Griffith came to nothing before the bunch managed to reel the escapees in around the 20 minute mark. Charles Hamilton was looking sharp and unafraid to set tempo on the front, while series leader Tom Chester looked relaxed as he surfed wheels. With eleven minutes to go, Eddie, Hayden, and Tom went clear with Stu G again just missing the train and clearly eager not to be left behind, dragging the bunch back solo.
True to the Blackshaw playbook that has served them well all season, Torben Partridge-Madsen was next to try his luck as Cam Rodgers, making a welcome return, looked to make the bridge albeit unsuccessfully, before Stu G tried third-time lucky and was rewarded for his efforts. As Torben faded with three minutes left on the clock, Stu pushed on bravely but was back in the ensemble cast with three laps remaining. Macca immediately countered before Reece Tucknott tried to slingshot his way clear into the bell lap, the bunch strung out through collarbone. Down the back straight, Karl Michelin-Beard kicked hard but was rounded up into the final turn, a phalanx of riders emerging from the setting sun to do battle one last time down the home straight. Cam looked to be in the box seat with Macca neatly poised on the opposite side, before 2023 fast man Tom Chester put paid to any ambitions they may have had rocketing out of the centre with another barnstorming run to line. With five victories on the trot, and having carefully consulted the CCC record books (or more precisely, asked a few other CCC old salties whether anyone has won more than four in a row…), we can now officially declare Tom to have taken the prestigious CCC record for most consecutive victories in A Grade. As we run out of superlatives, all we can do is offer a collective chapeau for treating us all to an outstanding run of performances and our heartfelt congratulations. Meanwhile, short of marshalling a well timed duck invasion of the track or perhaps just letting his tyres down… its hard to see what the A Grade bunch can do to stop the Chester show from rolling on but for those of us lucky enough to be watching on from the cheap seats, it will be entertaining to find out!
With rain again on the cards for Wednesday, it’s sure to be another pulsating night at the crit track. See you all there!