ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) —The first national champions of the 2017/18 cyclocross season were crowned at Adelaide’s Zombie Park on Saturday, with the multi-discipline rider Peta Mullens (Focus Attaquer) and Chris Jongewaard (Flanders JBlood) both taking out decisive wins at the Australian National Cyclocross Championships.
Both riders are well and truly familiar with wearing the green and gold. This was Jongewaard’s third cyclocross title, adding to the five he has won on the mountain bike. It doesn’t mean he took the win for granted though.
“I think it gets a little bit sweeter as the time gets on actually,” Jongewaard told CyclingTips. “Today counted, its for the team and for my family.”
Mullen’s tally is up to ten, with most also coming from mountain biking, but the cyclocross win means she has now worn the elite Australian jersey across three disciplines, as she also took out the Road National Championships in 2015.
In fact Mullens has just come fresh from an extremely successful four months road racing in the United States, but was short on cyclocross time – so short that her last race in the discipline was about six months ago. That meant with the forecast for plenty of rain, it looked like soggy conditions would make it hard for her to rely on her power and fitness to gloss over her lack of cyclocross hours.
“I’m pretty sure that everyone was praying for rain, except me,” Mullens told CyclingTips. “It certainly doesn’t make cornering any easier, u-turns aren’t really my thing.”
However, the rain only came once all the racing was over and the podium presentations were under way, so conditions went in Mullen’s favour and so did the race.
Elite Women: Swapping the lead with Redmond
In the run up to the weekend the women’s race looked wide open, with the cyclocross regulars – such as Natalie Redmond, April McDonough (Flanders-JBlood), Rebecca Locke and Naomi Williams (Team WillyLocke) – being challenged by Mullens arrival.
Mullens, who came second in the National Championships last year, and Redmond, who had home-state advantage, both put the foot down early in the race. It wasn’t long before they had carved out a considerable gap on the rest of the field. They worked their way through the flat, grass, mud and technical sections of the Zombie Park course near the centre of Adelaide, swapping the lead as they went.
At one stage Redmond, who represented Australia at the Cyclocross World Championships last year, looked like she might even have broken the elastic.
However, the tables quickly turned and Mullens got the gap, then hammered it home. In the meantime a group of riders had been working hard to haul their way back close to the lead two, particularly Williams and defending champion Locke who played the team game and tried to take advantage of working together in the windy sections.
Williams was closing on Redmond fast, but ultimately she ran out of laps.
In the end Mullens came through for a comfortable win, while Redmond held on for second, Williams took third, Locke fourth and Mel Anset slotted in to fifth.
Mullens said the win was a relief as she had put a lot of pressure on herself to try and take it out.
“As it got closer I felt that I was over the peak and starting to come back down in form, so I decided to sit out a couple of race days hoping I could hold my fitness till this. Then the last couple of weeks I’ve been out with a running injury, from my ten minute run,” said Mullens with a wry grin on her face, as it would be fair to say there was little time to fit cyclocross specific training like running into the schedule.
“But that just meant that I came in really fresh. The only thing that was lacking was a bit of confidence and that came as the race went along.”
Victoria’s Erin Mitchell won the women’s Under 23 race and Emma Lendrum the Under 19’s.
Elite Men: A battle for second
It was always Jongewaard’s race to lose. The South Australian has been dominating the National Series for the past two years, and had hometown advantage again this year, as it was the second year running the national championship race would be held on the course next to the cemetery in Adelaide.
Once the race started he wasted no time stretching out a substantial gap, in fact he was pushing pretty much from the first corner, and never looked like having his lead challenged. However, that didn’t mean Jongewaard ever felt like he could ease off.
“I don’t underestimate any of my competitors,” said Jongewaard. “I felt like I was on that fine line the whole time. I just have to keep going to the finish. You never know what’s going to happen – a flat tyre, a dropped chain – so until I cross that line it’s not over.”
The competition was fierce for the rest of the podium spots in the initial stages with a bunch on the chase, but then podium regular Gary Millburn (Speedvagen MAAP) and former under 23 Australian champion Chris Aitken (Focus Attaquer) managed to pull away.
In the end Millburn surged ahead to take second and Aitken came in third, Tom Chapman (Focus Attaquer) fourth and Adrian Jackson fifth.
Jayden Ward from New South Wales just made it across the line ahead of Adam Blazevic in the men’s Under 23 race, while Queensland rider Zach Larsson took the Under 19 win.