THE LONG AWAITED RETURN TO ROAD RACING at MAREEBA the famous GATEWAY TO THE CAPE, saw 40 RIDERS MAKE THEIR WAY UP THE KURANDA RANGE TO RACE IN NEAR PERFECT CONDITIONS. A GRADE WAS BOLSTERED BY THE VERY IN FORM LUKE AZZOPARDI returning from a hit run visit to Townsville where he took out the A grade Criterium from a very strong South of the Border line up. B Grade had the huge attraction of CHAMPION long distance rider Grahame Allen, back from his mammoth effort in completing his challenging ride from Perth to Sydney or Ocean to Ocean. Add to the list the super consistent Brian Nesbit and a new comer to Cairns, Matthias Wust, a young rider from the very strong cycling centre of Rockhampton – the home of Champions.
Not to be outdone, C grade had Peter Craig and Mark Knowles recently returned from the world’s toughest Mountain Bike Classic, The Cape Epic held at Cape Town South Africa. The D’s had the welcome return of Angela Vinnicombe, just back on the bike after a shocking crash in last year’s Tour of the Tropics when in a winning position was taken out only metres from the finish in her grade, suffering a broken pelvis. So there was interest through all grades as starter Richie Bates sent them on their WAY.
A Grade on their slightly shy of 50-kilometre journey was led out by “Have bike will travel” Gary Haydon, and course planner Tobia Kipper and they had for company Bernard Cossar- Smith, Brendon Skerke, Jamie Holman, Kieran Mouldey and Local Tablelander Vince Marcel. Watching it all unfold at the back was the nominal favourite Luke Azzorpardi. Reaching the first climb at Granite Hill, Mouldey strolled to the front and instantly applied pressure followed through by Holman and Skerke.
On to Chewko road, Azzopardi and Haydon had their turn of pace setting, however, by Melaleuca Grove the Aggressive Mouldey had again wrested the lead away from Azzopardi. On to the Circuit for the first time Kipper rolled to the front with Cossar- Smith, Haydon and Holman in pursuit with all riders in contention. Well into this lap, the strong headwinds and consistent pace mainly attributed to Kieran Mouldey’s stop start tactics, were beginning to tell on the Mountain Bike Specialist Brendon Skerke with he and local Vince Marcel both in need of a few more hit outs slowly dropping out of contention.
2ND Lap Jamie Holman led the field, however shortly after, there were only five real contenders as Jamie suddenly APPEARED TO BE STRUGGLING and when the official car drew alongside he simply said “I’M done” as the five left disappeared up the road, To Jamie’s credit he kept plugging away. All five were now working strongly together, all sharing the pacemaker role, but wary of the intimidating Mouldey, who generally made a break attempt at each rise. Mouldey finally put about 30 metres on the field, although there were no real signs of panic from Cossar- Smith, Haydon and Kipper with Azzopardi appearing extremely comfortable at the back of the chasing trio. Circuits over and in the run back to Mareeba, Mouldey was reeled by Haydon who had swept to the lead only to see the determined Mouldey kick again. It was at these final stages of the race where the conversation in the official car following turned to who may take the race. The Course reporter confident of another Azzopardi victory, with the driver opting for the return to the winner’s circle of Tobia Kipper who he had claimed, had to this point ridden the perfect race.
With The Atherton Creek Bridge behind them Mouldey again attempted a break, but this time Haydon and Kipper reeled him in and right behind them perfectly poised was Luke Azzopardi, whilst Cossar – Smith after a top ride was now out of the money. The sprint was now on, Mouldey and Haydon as brave as they were, couldn’t match the long sprint to the line against Azzopardi and Kipper with Luke hitting the front and Tobia inch by inch wearing him down and in a magnificent finish Tobia Kipper broke through for a well-deserved A Grade win, edging out Luke Azzopardi by the narrowest of margins third in Kieran Mouldey just in front of Gary Haydon with Bernard Cossar-Smith back in Fifth place then a gap back to Jamie Holman and Vince Marcel in what was a very entertaining A grade race and a very popular win to the affable former local Tobia.
With the reporter following A Grade the following reports are based on interviews with various competitors in the remaining grades:
Leaving Mareeba, Gavin Butler quickly went to the front and led out Chris Chastre with Brian Nesbit and Grant Knight prominent. 13 riders all compacto heading for the circuit where they would complete two laps before heading back into Mareeba. Interestingly, natural playmaker Gavin Butler, who recently demolished a C Grade Crit, was proving the elevation back to the B’s was the correct move, as again Butler was controlling affairs from the front, or close to. Also working well through the early stages were Jason Berry –Porter, Matt Grillo and Dave Wall. Up past Granite Hill suddenly an unexpected stiff headwind was beginning to test a few, including track legend Greg Hutton and surprisingly in form riders Brian Nesbit and Chris Chastre. Appearing that this tricky course was going to take its toll on some of the race favourites.
One rider however, encountering the strong cross winds seemed to relish the conditions, Grahame – King of the Nullarbor – Allen. Grahame faced serious head winds nearly all the way from his recent ride from Cottesloe WA to the Harbour Bridge, so this was simply a zephyr breeze to the man in pale green lycra. So Allen was going to be right in the finish. Finishing their final circuit and heading for home it also came to light that the young man from Rocky Matthias Wust was certainly going to be an asset in any future race he contests, when he whizzed past the lead group and putt a gap on the field. There is no doubt the fifth year medical student can ride as he went to a 200 metre lead. The cat was amogst the pigeons, another rider tucked away and comfortable in the chase group was the now SKINNY Josh Raynor. Josh having a stellar season on the track probably due the shedding of body weight, therefore making it difficult for his army of fans to still call him THE FLYING WOMBAT.
The pack out after Wust also included Jason Berry-Porter, Matt Grillo and the ever improving Jason Whiteside, Grant Night and of course Butler, just as Berry –Porter gathered in the tearaway Wust, Butler again attacked with the King of the Nullarbor smack on his wheel and Raynor getting the perfect cart up on Allen’s wheel. 500 metres out and Raynor took off with Allen easing into clear air followed by Butler, Grillo and Whiteside. Josh Raynor’s early charge allowed the super fit Grahame Allen a chance to run him down and the pair drew away to fight out a thriller with Allen throwing his bike at the line to pip Raynor right at the post in the best finish of the day. Matt Grillo close up in third spot followed by Jason Whiteside and Gavin Butler fifth. Another rider to perform well was a newcomer to most Dave Wall finishing just behind Grant Knight. Matthias Wust, after setting the race alight, tired slightly to finish back in eighth place However watch this space. All Honours however to the man of the moment Grahame Allen.
An Even field of ten saw the smiling assassin Steven Davies lead the way toward the circuit in a field that included the battle-hardened survivors of South Africa’s Cape Town EPIC Mountain bike race Peter Craig and Mark Knowles. Having spectators thinking the pair would be better heading straight for nearby Mt Emerald rather than the soft gentle rise of Granite Hill. Alongside Davies, Russell Eustace, Brenton Koch and Devan Van Vliet were all being touted as possible winners in the always competitive C Division. Having a chat to a few riders after the race James Mort admitted he was one of the first to give ground however he had plenty of esteemed company with Andrew Mills, Alan Clarke, and even fitness fanatic Idan Piercy was not having an impact on the very tricky circuit. In fact Idan may have been disappointed with his 6th placing as he was last seen donning the running gear and jogging along a track near the railway line heading toward Atherton. We all hope Idan will back in time for the next crit. Back to the race Peter Craig shunning the direction of Mt Emerald was very much in the running making a lot of the pace setting, and heading back to Mareeba he had breathing down his neck Steven Davies, Brenton Koch, Devan Van Vliet and Russell Eustace. The winner was in that group. Half a kilometre out, Craig was hanging on grimly to the lead hotly followed by Davies, Van Vliet, Eustace and Koch and a gap to Piercy. The four quickly pounced on Craig who had put up a bold showing and nearing the wire Davies, Van Viet and the strong finishing Koch had the race to themselves, with the smiling Steve Davies triumphant by ½ wheel from Devan Van Vliet and close up Brenton Koch, next home was Russell Eustace from the tiring but entertaining Peter Craig. His partner in the South African race Mark Knowles May have headed toward Mt Emerald as he finished back in ninth place However it was great to have the two mates adding plenty of extra colour to the always colourful C Grade.
Four Women v Four Men, and they faced off for honours in the out and back interest packed Battle of the sexes. Plenty of good humour amongst this Grade, However don’t tell me they’re not FAIR dinkum. Terri Sullivan, Elizabeth Blooms, Danielle Erskine and Angela Vinnicombe up against Chris Atkins, Michael Etherington, David O’Gorman and the race Favourite Tony Nastasi. All riders sport a Large fan base. Michael Etherington and Danielle Erskine led away at leisurely pace but before Granite Hill, David O’Gorman and Chris Atkins were in early trouble dropping off the back as was Terri Sullivan. This due to the solid pace set by Angela Vinniecombe, Elizabeth Bloom and Tony Nastasi. Then before the causeway Danielle Erskine and Michael Etherington who had worked early were losing a little touch as Angela Vinnicombe and Elizabeth Bloom put the pedal down and pinched a break even before the circuit although Tony Nastasi not giving up then ghost was still within reasonable touch.
Well from that point on Angela the real story of the race just rode off into the sunset. In LAST YEARS Tour of the Tropics I was calling the final stages of the Yungaburra Criterium when all riders swung into the final straight for the finish, with riders stretched across the track Angela right in the thick of things, searching for clear air, just nudged a wheel and Crashed heavily, people from everywhere running to her aid, there was a huge sigh of relief when she hobbled to her feet. Unbeknown to Angela at this point she had broken her PELVIS and was laid up for months. So to see her streaking away to an obvious victory was probably the highlight off the day, and more than likely we won’t see Angela Vinnicombe in this grade for a fair while. This now left Elizabeth Bloom also riding one heck of a race trying desperately to hold off Tony Nastasi now getting his second wind. However try as she might she couldn’t quite hold him and finished a terrific third behind Tony with Angela already in the showers. Fourth in Michael Etherington followed by Danielle Erskine. The verdict women first men to please themselves.
A MASSIVE THANK YOU TO TOBIA KIPPER FOR THE RACE ORGANISATION, AND TO ALL THE FANTASTIC VOLUNTEERS. Glenys, Mark, Graham, Mundi, Kim, Nicole, Sue and of course Don and Richie. We dip our lids to you all. And if I’ve missed any – you too!