Last weekend saw the start of Melbourne’s cyclocross season at the Fields of Joy CX course, organised by Sunbury Cycling Club. La Velocita’s Tom McQuillan headed along to check it out.
Words and Images - Tom McQuillan
Fields of Joy is Australia’s first purpose-built cyclocross venue, built on the side of a hill in Essendon Fields, a stone’s throw from the Essendon Airport. After being allowed to use the venue by the management at Essendon Fields, Sunbury CC built a number of features at Fields of Joy, including a staircase, two sandpits and a series of rolling bumps, all of which were a part of the course on Sunday. Here’s a quick breakdown of the course.
Feedback from the riders indicated that it was a very tough and technically demanding course, with the steep hill climbs in the second half of each lap forcing all but the strongest riders to dismount and run (or walk) their bikes up the hill.
After everyone had the chance to pre-ride the course in the morning, the first races of the day, and of the six-race Victorian CX series, were Men’s C Grade (40 minutes) and Men’s Open (30 minutes), kicking off at 10:50 am with a field of around 80 riders. Men’s C Grade got off to a fast start in raging winds thanks to a charging Dillon Swifte (MTBA), who built up a lead on the first lap while a certain La Velocita correspondent snapped his chain on the first corner and had to abandon amid heavy swearing. Swifte was eventually caught and passed by Simon Hawkes (Brunswick), who had won the second round of the Dirty Rat CX race in Creswick two weeks before. Hawkes (picture below) eventually ran out the winner by 41 seconds from young gun Henry Rawlings (Brunswick), with Wes Samson (Beechworth Chain Gang) finishing third.
Meanwhile, the Men’s Open race was taken out by James Pretto (MTBA), who won many fans by racing in a singlet instead of a jersey, his heart rate monitor clearly visible every time he ran past the crowd at the end of each lap.
Men’s B Grade was the next cab off the rank, and after a crash on the rolling humps during the opening lap held up most of the field, the race for first place was an arm-wrestle over most of the race between Brad Davies (St Kilda) and Jay Butler (Full Gas Pedallers), with several lead changes over the middle laps of the race. Davies (picture below) eventually pulled away to take the win, while Mark McDougall (Alpine Cycling Club) outsprinted Butler for second place, 34 seconds behind.
Racing then returned to the less technical section at the top of the hill as the kid’s races started in earnest. Some of the biggest cheers of the day were reserved for the youngest riders, with many proud parents trailing behind their young ones on balance bikes, or keenly ringing cowbells to encourage older riders furiously sawing away at their pedals.
Next up was the women’s race - all the women’s grades (A, B and Open) were run together, with nearly 50 women toeing the start line across the three grades, many trying cyclocross for the first time. It’s been fantastic to see such a growth in women’s cyclocross over the past couple of years, and we commend Sunbury Cycling Club in particular for their efforts to encourage as many women as possible to try this great sport.
As for the results, the Women’s A race was taken out by Mel Anset (Warrandye MTB) the runner-up at last years national championships, with the Focus team duo of Naomi ‘Ren’ Williams (St Kilda) and Bec Locke (Fitzroy Revolution MTB) in second and third. Anset had built up a lead of around 30 seconds over the first couple of laps, but was gradually pegged back by Williams as the race wore on (image below - Anset is on the left and Williams on the right), eventually finishing with a lead of just 10 seconds.
Starting just 30 seconds behind the A graders, the women’s B field also had a tough ride around a course that hadn’t gotten any easier since the morning, and at times it was difficult to tell the front riders in B grade from the back riders in A grade. In the end it was Phillippa Birch (Warrandyte MTB) who took the win, with Danielle Garden (Echuca/Moama) 1:22 behind in second and Nadia Combe (Hawthorn) a further 19 seconds back in third.
As for the Open Women, it was the grey jersey of Emma Yates (MTBA) who was first over the line, leading for almost the whole 30 minutes of the race in front of Aroha Yates (Forrest MTB) and Ella Atkinson (Melbourne Cycling League).
The last race of the day was the men’s A grade, which starred multiple Australian CX champions in Allan Iacuone (St Kilda) and Paul Van Der Ploeg (Team Mount Beauty), Australian world CX representative Paul Redenbach (Melbourne Cycling Club) and former Tour de France rider Jeremy Hunt (Sunbury). With such a field of heavy hitters, it wasn’t long before the cream started to rise to the top, with current national champion Van Der Ploeg eventually winning by such a margin that even stacking in the finishing straight didn’t stop him finishing in front of Iacuone and Steven Cusworth (Lysterfield District Trail Riders).
A great day’s CX racing, and we’ll definitely be heading along to the next 2 rounds of the Victorian CX series in Mount Beauty and Bright on Saturday June 11th and Sunday June 12th. You can find the relevant details about Round 2 in Mt Beauty here and Round 3 in Bright here.
There were plenty of photographers taking pictures of the riders on the day, so looking up the #fojcx and #ridesthyarra hashtags on Twitter and Instagram will let you see plenty of photos from the day. If you were there and want to share your photos, be sure to tag them with the #fojcx and #ridesthyarra hashtags to go into the draw to win a CX bike of your very own!