A stunning winter weekend greeted the spectators and competitors for round 3 and 4 of the Australian National Cyclocross Series in Sydney on July 13 and 14. Although the weather was sunny and relatively hot, rain in the weeks leading up to the race had turned the course from last year’s fast and hard surface to a heavy, slow, power course.

Paul van der Ploeg and Rowena Fry entered these rounds as series leaders and race favourites. It was good to see Lisa Jacobs back racing in the mud after she missed the first rounds in Adelaide due to illness, and many were keen to see how she would compare to the Tasmanian Fry.

Notable absentees at this race were Round 1 winner Sid Taberlay, Round 2 runner up Jack Haig, Robbie McEwen, and Peta Mullens, who has entered the entire series, but not yet been able to race.

Manly Warringah MTB Club had superb organisation the entire weekend, and found two great commentators to give the event some atmosphere and keep the crowd informed. Saturday saw the cyclocross commentary debut of Neil van der Ploeg, while on Sunday, Rocky Trails’ own Paul Craft had his mits on the mic.

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The round 3 women’s race was a cracker from the get go, with a group of six riders going out to an early lead. As expected, Rowena Fry, Sarah Holmes and Lisa Jacobs were early runners, and they were joined by Lindsay Gorrell, Melissa Anset and April McDonough.

The group did not stay together long though, with the three favourites stretching a lead out with every lap. Fry, obviously the strongest, was gaining time in the barriers on each lap, and started trying to make her attacks stick after two or three laps. Jacobs was obviously feeling strong as she lead the chase, with Holmes following each time.

However a crash took last year’s champion in Jacobs out and it was left to Holmes to stop the Fry domination. The South Australian put in a flying lap to close it, but did not have the power in the sprint to prevent Fry from taking her third win from three races in the series so far.

Women’s round 3 top 10:

  1. Rowena Fry
  2. Sara Holmes
  3. Lisa Jacobs
  4. April McDonough
  5. Melissa Anset
  6. Lindsay Gorell
  7. Jenny Macpherson
  8. Claire Aubrey
  9. Karen Hill
  10. Erica Gurner

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The round 3 men’s race saw a field of 45 of Australia’s best ‘crossers take the start, with South Australian gun Shaun Lewis getting the hole shot. Although there was some congestion, it didn’t take long for the cream to rise to the top, with a group containing race favourites Adrian Jackson, Paul van der Ploeg, Shaun Lewis, Mark Chadwick, Russell Collett and Peter Hatton emerging.

Early in the race it was apparent that the Giant Riders were going to work together with Hatton interrupting the chase of van der Ploeg who had made a break by riding up the staircase on the first lap. The lead group was reduced to four, and the Giant team mates made use of their strength in numbers, with Hatton repeatedly attacking and forcing Shaun Lewis and Adrian Jackson to chase him.

This continued for the last five laps, until on the first corner of the last lap, when Lewis took the corner too fast and crashed, taking down van der Ploeg. Big Paul was able to rejoin the race, but it was curtains for Lewis, who had a fractured collarbone.

Van der Ploeg attacked immediately as he rejoined the group, and it was the decisive move, with Jackson unable to follow. Hatton crashed shortly afterwards, and that sealed the podium, with van der Ploeg extending his series lead.

Men’s round 3 top 10:

  1. Paul van der Ploeg
  2. Adrian Jackson
  3. Peter Hatton
  4. Nick Both
  5. Cameron Ivory
  6. Dylan Cooper
  7. Andrew Blair
  8. Russell Collett
  9. Jade Lean
  10. Scott Wines

The course for day 2 was a longer, more technical track, with the famous Sid Tablerlay stairs, and a more difficult route through the BMX track. Another day of drying had also let the track firm up a bit, with the only soft sections being the parts of the course with significant wear from the day before.

Sarah Holmes got the hole shot on day 2, knowing that she needed to stay in front of Fry to have a chance to take the win away from the former GreenEdge pro. However, Fry’s technical skill was on display as she bunny-hopped the barriers, taking a 15-metre lead each time, and extending it on every lap to take a well deserved win. Holmes came in for her fourth consecutive second place ahead of Jacobs.

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Women’s round 4 top 10:

  1. Rowena Fry
  2. Sarah Holmes
  3. Lisa Jacobs
  4. Lindsay Gorell
  5. April McDonough
  6. Jenny Macpherson
  7. Clair Aubrey
  8. Carla Franson
  9. Melissa Anset
  10. Annabel Cox

The leaders from Saturday were the favourites to take out the Sunday race as well. But it was the veterans Garry Millburn and Andy Blair who made the early running, with Pete Hatton suffering a terrible start and finding himself deep in the chasing pack. Blair rolled a tyre early, evidently not learning the lesson that so many others had learnt in Adelaide, and was forced to run to the pits, until given a wheel by team mate Shaun Lewis (the Canberra one).

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Hatton was able to join the favourites, and just as he did flatted and had to change a wheel, dropping him 30 seconds behind the leaders. Showing his strength had not diminished by the hard racing on Saturday he re-joined, finally cracking Millburn.

It was down to the inseparable trio of van der Ploeg, Jackson and Hatton, who attacked on the final section of tarmac. A dramatic crash saw the Giant team mates collide, and Pete crossed over the barrier tape as Paul picked himself up off the deck, while Jackson had stayed out of trouble. Hatton skillfully re-entered the course without losing any time, and was able to hold off Jackson in the sprint to take his first NCXS win.

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That was not the end of the story though, with the commisaires taking a close look at his evasive manoeuvres and disqualifying him for not re-entering the course where he had left it. A protest was lodged, and Adrian Jackson and Paul van der Ploeg both showed great sportsmanship to speak in his favour and have the decision overturned.

Men’s round 4 top 10:

  1. Peter Hatton
  2. Adrian Jackson
  3. Paul van der Ploeg
  4. Chris Aitken
  5. Garry Milburn
  6. Tom Chapman
  7. Nick Both
  8. Trenton Day
  9. Dylan Cooper
  10. Russell Collett

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Once again, Australian Cyclocross showed its quality, with brilliant racing in every race across the whole weekend, a different style of course, and all competitors having a great time.

In the words of Lisa Jacobs, ‘There’s just something about ‘cross racing that makes you happy.”

This post first appeared at BrewCX. If you’d like to read Paul and Greg’s report from rounds 1 and 2 of the National Cyclocross series in Adelaide, click here. The National Cyclocross Series wraps up in Melbourne on August 11.