The brilliant form of Luke Azzopardi continued by winning the Malanda Road Race and completing the Southern Tableland double, after successfully claiming Millaa Millaa’s crown the week before. It was this race at Malanda one year ago, that Luke won his first senior road race over the same course, making the district a happy hunting ground for the talented teenager.
After a couple of late scratchings, a top-class field of eight of the Far North’s best, faced the starter Commissaire Sue Helmke for their 69 kilometre journey, probably not hearing the fact that the race would be neutral through the village until reaching the Malanda Lake Barrine Road. Jamie Holman unleashed a powerful burst and spread-eagled field until turning into Anderson Road. The popular Jamie quipped a bit later, that whilst he admitted he may have missed the neutral instruction, it was always his intent to be the lamp lighter at some stage.
Once Holman was gathered in by Gavin Taylor, Bernard Cossar- Smith and Simon Hubbard, the now compact group headed for the tough climb to the Peeramon Turn. Azzopardi was quickly joined by Hubbard, and that duo’s mini break was short lived as classy Victorian Liam Edwards shot to a clear lead, heading for the transfer station. It was at this point, with Edwards well in front and some clever riding by Bernard Cossar- Smith and Gavin Taylor, avoided what could have been a disaster. A ute heading for the transfer station, more than likely blinded by the early morning sun, swung across the path of the seven riders in pursuit of Edwards. The officials in the car following held their breath, then admired the Peter Sagan like skills of all riders involved losing no ground, however Edwards descending strongly toward the bridge had increased his lead, although there appeared no panic from the seven in pursuit. Edwards had a nice lead after completing the first lap. And he was being followed by Cossar-Smith, Hubbard, Tobia Kipper and Kieran Mouldey, however, all seven chasing were bunched.
The second lap nowhere near as eventful as the first, saw Edwards reeled in by Anderson Rd and at the first of the hills Holman led with Cossar –Smith on his wheel. All Riders were taking their turn at the top and at the Peeramon turn Kipper had control from Cossar –Smith and Holman with the pace solid. Transfer station the second time with no ute in sight, Azzopardi led Taylor and Cossar- Smith all riders very compact. Flashing past at the end of the second, Hubbard led Mouldey the rest still bunched. It was in Anderson road on the third lap that the first signs of distress were noticed with Cossar –Smith and Taylor dropping off the back. Hubbard sensing disarray at this point, led at Peeramon only to be joined by Azzopardi and Edwards. Once that trio had broken away from Mouldey and Kipper both were looking to be struggling as the pace quickened. Although gathering a renewed energy Mouldey work hard to get across to the trio in front. Through the third Hubbard led clearly from Mouldey, Azzopardi and Edwards then a huge gap to Kipper and Taylor, tailed off were Holman and Cossar- Smith.
Fourth lap heading again toward Anderson Rd, it appeared a race in four, however, when peering at the rear view mirror in the official car following, Driver Bates exclaimed, “’well I’ll be!!!!!!!” as sliding out from behind a caravan emerged Tobia Kipper. Now there were five. And they stayed five through the hills of Anderson Rd and on down to the bridge with Mouldey and Kipper this time sticking right with the lead group. Start of the final lap, the order past the Judge, Kipper after a remarkable comeback, led Hubbard, Edwards, Mouldey and Azzopardi then a long gap to Taylor and gaps to Cossar-Smith and Holman. Final Lap, Kipper led Edwards then on to Anderson Rd for the last time Azzopardi led Hubbard and Edwards, what a race all five left putting on a clinic. A small break attempt from Mouldey and Hubbard was closed quickly by Azzopardi and Edwards. Past the transfer station and on to the bridge just prior the run in, Azzopardi had worked to the front, however he had company as Hubbard was smack on his wheel with Edwards about to challenge. They were closely attended by Mouldey and Kipper. Up into the straight it was Azzopardi and Hubbard wheel for wheel and Edwards charging late. The three had beaten off Mouldey and Kipper, however, past the school in the lunge for the line it was Track Specialist Luke Azzopardi holding off Simon Hubbard to narrowly grab another win on the Tablelands. Simon Hubbard’s second placing sees a return the form to that saw him place in the famous Melbourne to Warrnambool and another top notch performance from the man from the Goulbourn River, Liam Edwards, to take third, closely followed in by Kieran Mouldey and Tobia Kipper.
Not having been able to follow the other grades, here is precis of the remaining races. The biggest field of the day lined up for the four laps of the unforgiving Malanda Course. This field included in-form riders Thomas Rue, Brian Nesbit, Tom Cook, Matt Grillo and Jason Whiteside. Throw in Track Champs Brandon Hutton and Josh Rayner, plus reasonably newcomers in our riding ranks John Thompson, Jon Bodsworth and Matthias Wust. Add into that mix Misters Consistent Alex Starmer and Grahame Allen, plus another Victorian rider, Travis Edwards, and you have one heck of a race.
Bunched together for the most part of lap one, there was a close call with an Ambulance entering the bridge crossing at around the same time as the boys were closing in and like the A grade incident, clever riding by all avoided any situation. However the Tableland Jinx for Brandon Hutton again reared its ugly head with yet another mechanical forcing the champion track star out of the race. Father Greg will have to bake a few more cakes to get Brandon back for the Tour. Prior this happening Josh Rayner, Alex Starmer and Tom Cook were spending time at the top of a very bunched field. By the time they passed through the second Lap, Tom Cook was always in the firing line with Alex Starmer. The pair had a break over Thomas Rue, who was chased by Matt Grillo, Josh Rayner and Grahame Allen. The rest were bunched, however, the cracks were starting to appear with the boy from Rocky, Matthias Wust, joining Brandon as a spectator from that point on.
The third lap saw the emergence of Perennial Holiday Maker Travis Edwards as the Victorian swept to the lead and shot to a commanding break over Cook, Starmer, Rayner and John Thompson HOWEVER still the bulk of this group had high hopes of Podium Finishes. One lap out and still a long way to go Edwards powered toward Anderson Rd with catch me if you can tactics with a clear margin over a big bunch led by Jon Bodsworth, Matt Grillo, Jason Whiteside and John Thompson with Rue, Starmer and Cook closing in. It was during this lap that Edwards’s brave move had stirred the chase group into action with Alex Starmer making a strong attack that saw Starmer taking care of Edwards and Catching Rue, Cook and Brian Nesbit who was slowly creeping into contention by surprise. It was only a matter of time before the powerfully built Starmer would ride himself to a well-deserved victory, as from this point Alex Starmer would career to an unassailable lead, decimating the field with astonishing descending speed taking the former star Rugby league player through the bridge and into the straight for a great win. Alex was followed home by Thomas Rue, with third place to Brian Nesbit. They were followed in by John Thompson and Tommy Cook. All honours to Alex for a very clever ride.
Eight riders set out on their 3 lap journey through the glorious Malanda country side. Mostly bunched together through the first lap with Mark Knowles, Paul Mitchell and Adrian House mainly punching the crisp morning air at the top. Just tucked in behind them the long awaited return of Hard Man Donnie Huyser back in the saddle, after being sidelined after serious shoulder surgery, which had put the Flying Dutchman on the sidelines since September last year. Another enjoying the ride to Anderson Rd was former Track champion Greg Hutton. That was, until he straightened for the run to Peeramon (oh them hills). One rider not perturbed of the rising undulation was Melissa Green, the mountain biker, enjoying her transition to road racing, and looking very comfortable topping the Peeramon Hill. Passing the judges area for the first time it was a large bunch riding strongly with a small gap back to Mick Mehonoshen and a further break to the affable Mr Wheels Peter Craig who surprisingly wasn’t mixing it with his teammate Mark Knowles, maybe Peter was leaving it to Mark who probably had recovered from their venture riding together in the Epic Southc African Mountain Bike Challenge held in March this year.
Throughout the second lap Melissa Green and Don Huyser had joined Mitchell, House and Knowles in shaping the race and another rider Angela Vinnicombe, also on the recovery trail after her nasty crash in the Tour of the Tropics Last Year was slowly feeling the pinch. The order lining up for the final lap was Mitchell leading, Green and House closely followed by Huyser and Knowles, then a gap back to Vinnicombe, with the rest simply enjoying the ride?? All five in the leading group mentioned they were sharing the load on this final lap, and in particular Paul Mitchell. However, it was anyone’s race, after topping the Peeramon Hill Knowles took control in the run to the bridge although Melissa Green threw out a challenge just prior, where again Knowles wrestled the lead from Green. Off the bridge and catapulting for the run in, Huyser had called it a day, so it was Mitchell, Green and House out after Knowles. An grab him they did, with Adrian House taking on Green and Mitchell and snatching victory from the Mountain Biker with Paul Mitchell third. Mark Knowles putting up a strong performance was fourth followed home by Huyser then intervals back to Mick Mehonoshen –Angela Vinnicombe – Peter Criag and Greg Hutton.
Michael Etherington’s reputation had swept before him, scaring off all competitors. A quick shout out to Tony Nastasi, Michael’s arch rival who, no doubt, would have been there if not for bad fall a couple of weeks ago, putting Tony out for an indefinite period. And so it was Michael Etherington who Took King of the Mountain, claimed the Sprinting points, and then on to the checkered flag. There is one thing I can say about Michael, be it on his own or in a bunch, he will always give 100 percent.
Deena Keith, Terri Sullivan, Michelle Traill and Danielle Erskine were the only four lining up for their two lap romp through the rolling hills. Credit must go to the Four Musketeers of Cycling, for this foursome are always regulars on the Road and Criterium circuits. Whilst following A Grade, the first rider we passed at the back of the field was Deena Keith riding in her comfort zone, seemingly totally enjoying the fact that she is back on the bike and loving it. But this race was all Danielle Erskine. She came into the race as a warm favourite and Danielle showed all the hills were of no concern and continued to put distance between herself and her rivals at every stage, and had a comfortable win. Although speaking to Danielle briefly after the race, she probably felt a little guilty not staying with her mates a little longer. Michelle Traill, a reasonably new addition to the female ranks of Cairns Cycling, finished in second spot indicating a “watch this space”, as Michelle progresses through the season. Third in Terri Sullivan, another who delights in racing, regardless of winning or losing. Terri also had an interest in the A Grade Finish, having designed the striking outfit of Luke Azzopardi – the winner in the top grade. I believe there could be many lining up, hoping that Terri’s lycra can make them as fast as Luke. Fourth home Deena Keith.
JONESY’S WATCH THIS SPACE RIDES OF THE WEEK:
A grade Tobia Kipper (how did he get back on)
B Grade John Thompson
C Grade Paul Mitchell.
D Grade Michael Etherington (all he needs are rivals).
Women Deena Keith (just like the song OL’ MAN RIVER Deena just keeps rolling along). We love her attitude. And Michelle Traill