Australian Road Race Championships
Buninyong, nr Ballarat, Victoria
On another cool summer's day, this race was run off with a consistent stiff and cool breeze, the initial laps also suffering from what was, at times, heavy rain. The temperature was only in the mid-teens all day. However, this was an excellent race, with plenty of excitement!
There were 10 non-starters. Including two visiting riders : Desiree Schuler (Ger) and Bettina Kuhn (Sui). The race started right on time - 11am and the first casualty with a mechanical problem on the start line was Liz Young (QLD). She was quickly back on the bike though and back in the bunch about 100m up the climb of the Midland Highway. Things stayed together for the rest of the lap. Heavy rain met the riders towards the back of the circuit and it was no surprise that the race stayed together, with a reasonably sedate 19¼ minute pace. The bunch was led over the line by Alexis Rhodes (SA). Loretta Mabin (VIC) climbed off at the end of the lap.
The third lap saw Amy Safe (SA) pull away on the climb up Midland Highway and into Mt Buninyong Rd. At the top of the climb, she had about 10 seconds advantage over a bunch which looked like it was simply surviving rather than chasing. The 'tail' of riders finding the pace too much was strung out over about 2½ minutes by this point. Last rider on the road was Audrey Quick (Vic).
By the fourth time over the top of Mt Buninyong, Safe's advantage was 1minute 32secs. The bunch was still had her in sight, but only just, on the long, straight climb. Riders were strung well back, still passing a 4 or 5 minutes after Safe had gone through on a 17½ minute lap. Safe managed to keep this pace, or close to it, on subsequent laps and her gap kept growing.
Mid-race, Amy Safe had extended her lead to a huge 2minutes 42 seconds. Others sensed the danger; a group of 8 set off in pursuit. The group included Oenone Wood, Olivia Gollan, Margaret Hemsley, Hayley Rutherford, Katie Mactier and Lorian Graham. They were 1minute 56seconds down by the top of Mt Buninyong Road. By this point, the bunch had disintegrated into small groups of riders. Although, notably, Kathy Watt (Vic) at 2min 25sec was ahead of the main group / bunch of riders, who went through at 2min 47secs. Audrey Quick was still riding strongly, she had, however, lost more time - she went through over 9 minutes down.
The eight chasers were brought back in by a bunch of riders on the next lap, whilst Safe's advantage was reduced slightly to 2min13sec, despite another lap time of less than 18 minutes. This was how it stayed for a couple of laps - Safe just over 2 minutes away from a main bunch. Then, on the eighth time up Mt Buninyong Rd, seven riders broke away to chase. They were : Hayley Rutherford, Oenone Wood, Katie Mactier, Sara Carrigan and Margaret Hemsley and defending champion : Olivia Gollan. The rest of the race were over 3 minutes behind. If anyone stood a chance of catching Safe, it was this group of seven chasers.
So it was as the race went through the start / finish area with 2 laps to go - Safe was still ahead, but her lead was reducing. She had 1 minute 51 seconds over the seven chasers. Kathy Watt was out on her own behind them and in front of the remnants of the main bunch.
With 13km to go, news came through that the gap was down to 1minute 11 seconds. But, the toll was telling, with Lorian Graham struggling to stay with her fellow chasers. As those chasers took the bell - 10km to go, the official time gap was 1minute 2 seconds. Amy Safe was working hard to stay away, but the dream victory ending by her capture seemed inevitable. On Mt Buninyong Rd, the gap was just 47seconds. Then, sadly for Safe, Hemsley caught her on the back of the circuit, with less than 5km to go.
Safe managed to stay with the group and Olivia Gollan slipped off the back at around 4km to go. A sprint finish was awaited by the sizeable crowd in Buninyong's Warrenheip St. As they came into view, they were still all together, but 100m out, it was clear that Oenone Wood was still accelerating - easy to pick out with her distinctive sprint style, she continued to open the gap to the line, where she took the Australian RR title in front of Katie Mactier and Sara Carrigan.
Having taken the TT gold on Thursday and (on top of 2 wins through the series,) the Jayco Bay Classic Series last week, Wood is certainly on form at the moment. She was obviously delighted with her ride. The race time given was 3hrs 01min 30 seconds - which took 2minutes of the time recorded by Gollan in 2003.
After the race, Safe collected the jersey as sprint champion - based upon intermediate sprints - all of which she had won. Reflecting upon her ride, she said she was disappointed not to win, but pleased with the effort she had made. Clearly, although not Champion, her ride was story of the day!
Newly crowned Australian Champion Oenone Wood, now double champion had nothing but praise for Amy Safe saying that "when she went, she certainly went strong." Wood apparently thought that Safe was "long gone", especially when the time gap grew mid-race. However "we had a really strong group chasing her. We worked together and I was pretty amazed when we got her back, then (Hemsley) my team-mate went with her (Safe) and I thought that was it, but when they brought them back I started thinking about the finish." Talking about the sprint, she said "Amy led it out, I don't know where she gets the legs, the energy, but when I got to 100m to go I gave it everything".
Next on Wood's calendar are the criteriums to support the Tour Down Under in Adelaide.
Sara Carrigan was somewhat retrospect about coming third. Speaking after the race, she said that she had wanted to "win the race today to make amends for Thursday" (where she finished second) she said she "rode pretty strongly but unfortunately in the last two laps my legs began to hurt". (Carrigan was hit by a car in training last weekend). However, she followed up her comments by congratulating Amy Safe : "she made the race out there". She added that "it was a tough sprint to the line, a great race and I hope everyone enjoyed watching".
Katie Mactier too, praised Amy Safe's ride, calling it "awesome" adding that "I don't know how she's going to pull up tomorrow!" As for her plans now? "Pursuit, pursuit, pursuit",,,,,,,,,,
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