Last weekend saw Melbourne host the inaugural Australian National Cyclocross Championships, and the fifth and final round of the National Cyclocross Series. Greg Murison and Paul Aubrey were there to cover all the action.
Reports leading into the weekend promised muddy conditions, and with significant rain in the lead up to the race, those reports turned out to be accurate. However, competitors were lucky with the weather as the horrendous conditions on Friday made way for blue skies and slightly warmer temperatures over the weekend.
Saturday – Australian National Cyclocross Championships
The course for Saturday’s Australian Championships was an up-and-down affair on the banks of the Maribyrnong River at Cranwell Park, offering excellent vantage points, with most of the course visible from the top of the track.
As the first ever National Championships, an opportunity to enter the history books presented itself. Several former national champions from both the road and mountain bike scene were present including series leaders Rowena Fry and Paul van der Ploeg, and fellow wearers of the green and gold bands Katherine O’Shea, Jenni King, Tory Thomas, Sid Taberlay, Andy Blair and Allan Iacoune.
As if any further incentive were required, it was confirmed that the new national champion would get an invite to Cross Vegas, the massive evening race held to coincide with the Interbike expo in October.
The first race was the Masters Women. A strong ride from Jenny MacPherson saw her dominate the race from the gun. This field was composed mostly of Melbourne locals who started in the Dirty Deeds Series, many of whom had taken in a coaching clinic run by Jenny.
The biggest field of the day was the Masters Men which included hitters like Leigh De Luca, Danny Hennessy, Russell Collett and former Olympic speed skater Danny Kah.
Split into 3 waves, for 30+, 40+ and 50+ age groups, with a minute between each wave, it was Lucas Spronson and Leigh De Luca who took an early lead, but Josh Smith from South Australia pulled them back, before being caught by Kah. Kah made up a minute deficit, and passed the entire 30+ field to take a well deserved and popular win.
The Elite women were next to line up, and all eyes were on Rowena Fry to see if she could extend her season dominance. South Australian Sarah Holmes was the early leader, but faded quickly.
Riders who had aspirations and showed their form early went hard, but the course had no time for resting and nowhere to hide behind technique. The race was always going to be a test of who was the fittest, as Lisa Jacobs and Fry pulled away.
The up-and-down nature of the course was tailor-made for a rider like Jacobs, and she extended her lead over Fry to take the victory. Following her promising results so far this year, Mel Ansett rode well to take the bronze medal.
Fry was disappointed, after dominating every cross race this year, but was gracious in defeat. “Even when I was at my best, I don’t know if I would have been able to match Lisa today”, she told BrewCX after the race.
Jacobs was ecstatic with her win. After having lost the chance to defend her National Cyclocross series win from last year due to injury, she put all her efforts into this race. Her preparation included training to be able to “repeatedly attack [Rowena]”. The end result was a green and gold jersey.
Paul Van der Ploeg was the favourite for the elite men’s race before anyone had seen the course, given he hadn’t finished lower than third in a National Series race this year. However the Maribyrnong course, with about 3 times the elevation change of the first 4 courses combined, was always going to be a challenge for the big Victorian.
As usual Garry Milburn got a holeshot. Adrian Jackson was the early leader, taking a huge gap on the field, soloing away from the others, and looking comfortable after a third of the one-hour race. Pater Hatton, Paul van der Ploeg and Cameron Ivory led the chase.
Biding his time in this group was Allan ‘Alby’ Iacuone. He started making his way up the group, passing each rider with apparent ease, having kept his powder dry in the early running.
Meanwhile, Jackson had crashed, and burped a tubeless tyre, losing time to the solo chasers. Alby caught Jackson, and didn’t intend to attack, but caught him and rode away for his second national title, after taking the bands on the road in 1994.
Under 23 rider Cam Ivory started at the back of the Elite field and rode through it to be up with the leaders, finishing 3rd overall. Rounding out the Elite podium in his best ever result was Nick Both.
The podium ceremony was brief, and the jerseys were presented to the two deserving winners. It was the roadies who took the prizes on the day, breaking the MTB stronghold on CX.
The theme of the day was to ride your own race, play to your strengths, and not to burn the matches early. Too many riders went out hard and paid for their effort, as the course was deceptively hard.
Sunday– National Series Round 5 – DDCX
Backing up from the nationals on Saturday was always going to be a big ask, but if anyone could do it, Dirty Deeds CX could do it.
Even early in the day, the crowd at Darebin Parklands was massive and the strength of the Dirty Deeds races was quickly apparent. The fields were massive — B grade was a sell-out with 80 riders, the open class for mountain bikes was also huge, and even the kids race was well supported.
The crew from DDCX had promised their best course ever, and they delivered with a scaffold flyover, named ‘Blakey’s Giant Erection’, after course designer, Andy Blake.
The B-grade field was dominated by junior superstar Liam Jeffries, who could probably have earned himself a decent elite finish, aged just 15. Brew CX’s Paul Aubrey scored himself 3rd place.
The course had started out reasonably firm during the morning practice laps, but the moisture was there under the surface, and as the day went on the course got seriously churned up, with several sections turning to a quagmire.
A huge crowd formed down the bottom, where a puddle and a slippery corner were causing havoc, and providing entertainment with sideways cornering and crashes galore.
On Saturday night, newly-crowned national champion Lisa Jacobs sent out a tweet, promising to accept every beer hand-up offered, and the crowds were waiting, brews to the ready.
Fry was looking to respond after her disappointment on Saturday, and ensure her series victory. Sarah Holmes got her customary holeshot and was joined by Fry who then attacked and eked out a slender lead, while Melbourne locals April MacDonough, Mel Ansett and Jenny MacPherson made up the minor placings.
Fry unfortunately crashed and bent a mech, dropping back to seventh place as she struggled to repair the damage. This set up the possibility of Holmes, who had been second in every race of the season, winning the series overall at the last possible minute.
While all this was happening, Jacobs, looking glorious in the green and gold bands, was celebrating hard, resulting in a few crashes in the mud, and a stumble up the stairs.
Holmes, who had struggled with the steep pinches on Saturday rode strongly to take the race. April rode a strong race for her best placing of the national series in second, while the podium was rounded out by Mel ‘The Smilin Assassin’ Ansett. Fry’s fourth place in the race was enough to secure her the 2013 National Cyclocross Series title.
Al Iacoune was resplendent in his new stripes in the men’s race, and had promised to match Lisa Jacobs’ efforts on the hand-ups. The points situation in the men’s series gave both Adrian Jackson and Peter Hatton a mathematical chance of taking the series away from van der Ploeg.
Once again, Garry Milburn got the holeshot, and Leigh de Luca pulled out everything to be first to the top of the flyover.
After a poor race on Saturday, Paul van der Ploeg had something to prove, and he went from the gun, with Andy Blair getting a great start from the second row. The two of them got away from a chase group with all the other favourites, including Taberlay, Ivory, Iacoune, Hatton, Lean, Collett and Milburn.
The crowd at the bottom of the hill was kept well entertained, as Sid Taberlay showed that being one of Australia’s best riders doesn’t prevent you from crashing in the mud. He was just one of many to taste the Darebin Parklands sludge.
The big mover was Cameron Ivory, who managed to bridge a gap across to Blair and van der Ploeg before the Victorian was able to use his power to create a 20 second gap. The DDCX commentators were expecting an outrageous victory salute, but even they could not have anticipated that van der Ploeg would strip off the top half of his Giant skinsuit to finish and win the National Cyclocrosss Series title bare-chested.
Ivory placed second, earning the Mr Consistent title for the weekend — being one of the only riders to perform well on both days — while Andy Blair finished third.
All the results for the weekends racing can be found here.
At the end of the National Cyclocross Series’ second year, it is already apparent that the CX scene is maturing. No longer “Hit and Giggle”, Cyclocross is attracting Australia’s best cyclists, generating crowds, and drawing in sponsors.
We have fitting champions who will proudly represent the sport, and an elite field with increasing depth in both the men’s and women’s categories. The Dirty Deeds crew have shown how successful Cyclocross can be, and the Port Adelaide Cycling Club impressed us at BrewCX with the quality of their courses and organisation.
Round 2 at Zombie Park was our favourite round. Rob Parbery up in Sydney is doing great things, and the scenes in Perth, Brisbane, Newcastle, Launceston and elsewhere are growing and developing new riders.
We hope to see you out there, getting rad, on some skinny, dirty tyres soon.
This article first appeared at Brew CX. Thanks to Paul and Greg for their time in putting this together and allowing us to share it.