I showed up at about 11am since my race didn’t start until 1:30 and the mercury was quickly rising towards 40°C. I just missed the aftermath of what sounded like a horrific crash in the C-Grade bunch where Bade Stapleton came down at the finish line, knocked unconscious and taken to hospital. I don’t know if he’s okay or not, but it’s certainly a lousy start to Christmas.
The A-Grade race was a stacked field with over 100 starters and ripping fast pace to win those $100 sprint primes. With the hot northerly wind blowing a gale it wasn’t a surprise that there no moves were able to stay clear. The finish came down to a bunch kick with Shannon Johnson (Charter Mason) taking the win well ahead of the rest.
It was terrific to see the Elite Women’s race with such a strong field with some of Australia’s best domestic riders. With $100 sprint primes up for grabs it made for very agressive racing and a great show for the spectators. As with the other grades, no move was ever going to stick in that hot wind and the inevitable bunch kick was won convincingly by Nichole Whitburn with Chloe McConville in 2nd and Miranda Griffiths in 3rd.
The Elite Men’s race was the showcase event of the day with international pros showing up to get a piece of that $17,800 in prize money. Amongst the reputations on the line were Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), Greg Henderson (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Mitch Docker (Orica-GreenEDGE), Baden Cooke (Orica-GreenEDGE), Koen de Kort (Shimano-Argos), Michael Matthews (Rabobank, moving to OGE), Matty Lloyd (Lampre-ISD), Glen O’Shea (World Omnium Champ), as well as stacked domestic pro teams Drapac, Budget, SASI and Search2Retain.
By 1:30pm my computer showed 41°C at the startline and no amount of Coke Slushies could cool the body temperature. Everyone in the field knew that racing in that heat was going to take its toll so the pace didn’t set off as fast as expected. A few laps in the legs began to soften up and as soon the first $500 prime bell was rung, that was all the motivation necessary for the pace to pick up. Moves started launching off the front and as soon as I saw one that looked like it might stick, I bridged across. That’s when the realisation of how hot it actually was began to sink in. It wasn’t too difficult to sit in the field, but the moment you had to put an effort, all energy was completely sapped after a minute and holding the pace was unsustainable. I only had a couple of those in me if I wanted to stick around to the finish.
Greg Henderson and Patty Lane didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat however. They broke away half way into the race and Hendo himself gobbled up $8k worth of prize money alone. After Patty Lane decided to drop back to the bunch Hendo kept going and got within 13 seconds of lapping the field.
Hendo eventually sat up and Drapac drove the pace to set up Tom Palmer for a sprint finish. In the second last lap there was nearly a disaster with Baden Cooke being caught up in some argy-bargy on corner #2 and almost getting taken out. I was about 10m behind and heard the cracking and scraping of carbon but to my amazement he managed to hold it upright. Half the bunch was brought to a standstill with everyone dodging each other but fortunately nobody went down.
The race couldn’t have panned out any better. Tom Palmer (Drapac) brought home an incredible final sprint with Mitch Docker (Orica-GreenEDGE) in 2nd and Shannon Johnson (Charter Mason) in 3rd. Note that Shannon Johnson also won the A-grade race as well!
Congratulations to SKCC for holding a magnificent first edition of their Melbourne Criterium Sprint Championships which nicely sets them up for many more years to come. Than you to all the volunteers who made this happen, the sponsors who help pay for it, the spectators who bring the atmosphere, and all the professional riders who supported the event and helped raise its profile.
Have a wonderful Christmas and don’t forget to submit your #WYMTM2012 Photo Competition pictures over the holidays!