This year, round 1 of the National Cyclocross Series was held on a course known as Mulch Hill, with round 2 raced near a cemetery, earning it the name Zombie Park.
Both the men’s and women’s fields were super strong, but notable absentees were last year’s women’s overall champion, Lisa Jacobs, who was sick, and National XCO Champion, Peta Mullens, as well as Australian Cyclocross specialist Lewis Rattray and last years round 1 champion, Luke Fetch.
That said, the pre-race favourites Rowena Fry and Paul van der Ploeg were there along with the cream of Australian mountain biking, with riders like multiple national champion and Olympian, Sid Taberlay, defending series champion, Adrian Jackson, NRS leader Jack Haig, former national champion Katherine O’Shea, and her Torq team mate Sarah Holmes, not to mention three-time green jersey winner, Robbie McEwen.
South Australian cyclocross nut and Cycling Australia high performance coach Neil Ross was ecstatic with both the size and quality of the field and also with the number of spectators, which easily topped 300 on both days.
Round 1 saw the riders tackle a track of two distinct halves, with two dismounted ascents of Mulch Hill and some boggy technical sections, followed by an open paved run into the finish line.
In both races, it was the barrier section which was decisive, with groups staying together early and slowly being whittled down each lap to produce a lone winner.
The women’s race saw a group of four — Fry, Holmes, O’Shea and Lindsay Gorrell — break early before Rowena Fry was able to use the barrier section to progressively open up a gap, first dropping Gorrell, then O’Shea, and finally Holmes.
The men’s race was even more tightly contested, with a group of nearly 40 coming through on the first lap, but down to 13 by the second, and eight by the third. Sid Taberlay showed his class by bunny-hopping the barrier at the bottom of Mulch Hill on every lap (see video below), using his technical advantage to pull away to win by 30 seconds from a fast-finishing van der Ploeg and Haig.
The course for round 2 at Zombie Park was much more technical and favoured the riders who could corner hard. The work on the tyres was easy to see with plenty of riders rolling tubs, and learning that gluing cross tyres is not like gluing road or track tyres.
The course was excellent for spectators with multiple sightings of the riders from one vantage point, and the crowd did not disappoint.
Once again in the women’s race it was Fry who eventually pulled out a commanding lead, having been pushed all the way to the last lap by Holmes, who won a lot more fans from her home-town crowd.
The men’s race saw a group of five riders go away early, with hometown hero Shaun Lewis getting the holeshot with Taberlay, Jackson, van der Ploeg and Haig, being joined shortly afterward by WA’s Peter Hatton. A crash in the technical section split the group, and Haig drove the pace hard trying to drop his breakaway companion van der Ploeg. It was not to be, and the Giant rider took the closest win of the weekend in a sprint in the last 70m.
Star attraction Robbie McEwen had a more than respectable debut on the dirt, with 9th and 10th.
Robbie also saw some action, as you can see below:
Most importantly, it appears Australian cyclocross is here to stay, with every single rider having a great time on the course, and plenty of people reassessing their plans for July so they can make the next two rounds in Sydney.