With Orica-GreenEDGE being the only ProTour team to target the Bay Crits the weight of expectation was firmly on the Australian riders’ shoulders. On stage 1, raced on the hotdog crit circuit of Geelong’s Ritchie Boulevard, Orica-GreenEDGE managed to get two riders in the race-winning seven-rider breakaway: Luke Durbridge and Matt Goss.
When it came to the final sprint, however, the weight of experience and numbers didn’t help, with NetApp-Endura ProConti rider Zak Dempster (SASI) rolling the bigger names to take the win.
It didn’t take long for Orica-GreenEDGE to make amends though. Matt Goss benefited from a strong lead-out from his teammates at Geelong’s Eastern Park on stage 2 and crossed the line ahead of promising up-and-comer (and Orica-GreenEDGE signee) Caleb Ewan. Goss’s teammate, Leigh Howard, finished third.
After a disappointing season last year, Goss (and his many fans around the world) will be hoping this is the start of a much better year for the Milan-San Remo winner.
Goss headed to the tough Portarlington circuit the following day in the leader’s yellow jersey but the day belonged to his teammate Luke Durbridge. Durbridge, who won on the same course last year in a devastating solo move, went clear with domestic cycling veteran Pat Shaw and the two worked well together to establish an unbeatable lead.
Shaw sat on the front on the tailwind-assisted back straight while Durbridge powered along at the head of affairs into the front-straight headwind.
With an unassailable lead coming into the final bend the two riders launched their sprints with Durbridge proving far too strong. Back-to-back wins at Portarlington for the national road race and time trial champion.
A bold attempt to bridge across to the leaders saw stage 1 winner Zak Dempster ride most of the race alone, but it paid off, the Bendigo-based rider finishing well ahead of Matt Goss to take the leader’s jersey into the final stage.
The pancake flat Williamstown circuit looked tailor-made for young gun Caleb Ewan and so it proved to be, the 19-year-old launching his sprint out of the final corner and having it won 50 metres before the line.
The race had been animated by a lengthy breakaway by Marc Williams (Budget Forklifts) and Harry Carpenter (SASI) who, together, held off the peloton for most of the race. But with the race winding to a close, Orica-GreenEDGE took to the front and reeled in the escapees and ensured it would be a bunch kick to close out the Mitchelton Bay Cycing Classic.
While Ewan won it comfortably, perhaps the bigger race was happening just behind him. Zak Dempster, in yellow, was only just ahead of Brenton Jones (Procon Telematics’) on points coming into the final stage. Position on stage 4 would decide the overall standings.
In a final lunge for the line, Jones pipped Dempster by mere centimetres, finishing the stage second and taking the yellow jersey off Dempster by the narrowest of margins.
The win was an emotional one for Jones who, less than three years ago, was involved in a horrific accident in Toowoomba which saw him hospitalised in a critical condition.
It took months of intensive rehab, including learning how to walk again, before he got back on the bike. Yesterday he joined the likes of Baden Cooke, Matt Goss, Mark Renshaw and Robbie McEwen on the winners’ list at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic.
Zak Dempster finished the carnival in second place with Caleb Ewan’s win on stage 4 putting him into third place oveall.
When the startlists were released for the elite women’s Bay Crits there would have been more than a few that shuddered at the prospect of seeing the name beside #11: Giorgia Bronzini.
The two-time world champion had a stellar year in 2013, sprinting her way to 16 victories for the year including an unfathomable six consecutive stages at La Route de France. And, as predicted, the Italian dominated proceedings with her Wiggle-Honda squad.
She opened her account on stage 1, winning the bunch kick on Ritchie Boulevard in Geelong ahead of Annette Edmondson (Orica-AIS) and Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-Securitor).
On stage 2, at Geelong’s Eastern Park, Bronzini, wearing the yellow leader’s jersey, turned out her worst performance of the four-day carnival, finishing second behind Roxsolt rider Chloe Hosking who dedicated the win to her late brother-in-law Lachie who died of cancer last year.
The riders headed down to Portarlington for stage 3 and Bronzini was once again in yellow. The tough course features a steep climb which was the launching pad for victories by Tiffany Cromwell in the 2011 and 2013 editions of the race.
Cromwell went into the race as the favourite and was aggressive from the get-go, stringing out the bunch and trying to break away. But her moves were heavily marked and her efforts to avoid a bunch sprint were thwarted by the Wiggle-Honda team who were working for their Italian sprinter Bronzini.
A long breakaway featuring Australian national road race champion Gracie Elvin (Jayco National Team) was shut down shortly before the finish and Bronzini sprinted to victory number two in a stiff headwind.
Going into the final stage in Williamstown, the yellow leader’s jersey was firmly on Bronzini’s shoulders and didn’t look like it was going to be dislodged.
An early breakaway again featured Gracie Elvin as well as her Orica-AIS teammates Loes Gunnewijk and Jessie Maclean. But as the end of the race approached the breakaway was swallowed up and it came down to a final sprint.
Bronzini delivered again, comfortably winning the bunch kick ahead of her compatriot and Orica-AIS recruit Valentina Scandolara.
The victory more than secured Bronzini’s overall victory in the Bay Crits, ahead of Orica-AIS’s Annette Edmondson — who picked up two seconds, a third and a fifth — and Tiff Cromwell — who had three third places and a fifth place.
Bronzini’s victory makes her the first international winner of the Bay Crits.