12/06 – 16/06/2004
The best Gippsland has to offer: strong riders, good weather, friendly atmosphere, and exciting competition on great racing circuits emerged for the Queens Birthday weekend annual 3 Days of Gippsland Tour.
Warragul Cycling Club was well represented in all men’s, women’s and junior racing grades, with their riders providing many highlights across the weekend for brave riding, outstanding performances and a small amount of cycling luck. With a stage held each day over the long weekend, the Tour graced the racing locales of a flat course through Lindenow near Bairnsdale on Saturday, hills and wind at Willow Grove on Sunday and finished at the all-rounders delight, the Darnum/Shady Creek circuit, which was hosted by the Warragul Cycling Club on Monday.
The Senior A grade field lacked the stand-out talents of past winners such as Warragul’s Joel Pearson, keeping the field and times on the General Classification close each day. Only six seconds separated first and second place by the end of stage two, although given the close field, any of the top five on overall standings were within grasp of an outright win by the end of the weekend. The third and final stage at Darnum saw fifth-placed and by far the oldest competitor, Warragul’s Thomas Sandner, embark on a gutsy and determined breakaway alongside Latrobe Valley rider Darren Spiteri, St Kilda’s Chris Lee and Bairnsdale’s Jim Peachey to be virtual on-road leader throughout the race.
The time gap on the chase bunch blew out to over one minute fifty seconds with 21km remaining, putting Thomas in the overall winner’s jersey had the race stopped at this point. However, over the remaining kilometres this was slowly reduced by a hard chasing peloton containing the overall top four tour leaders who collaborated together to effectively protect their standings.
The chase group did just enough work to reduce the time gap and hang onto their placings from the previous day. Overall winner, 17-yr old talented track rider Gerard Murphy from Leongatha, claimed victory from Mark Howard of Caulfield Carnegie by six seconds, with the winner decided by intermediate sprint time bonus’ accumulated on stage two. In third place, and a further six seconds down was Warragul’s John Mackenzie, who has shown some fantastic racing form in recent weeks including victory at the Gippsland championships at Leongatha last weekend. But it was combative Thomas Sandner’s courageous effort that was the talk of the onlookers and which was rewarded with a second place in the final stage and fifth place in the overall standings. He was also joint winner of the King of the Mountain climbing competition.
The Senior B grade field was also well represented by Warragul riders, including Geoff Thomson, Ross Henry, Tim Lee, Chris Beales, Brett Rollinson, Peter Bailey and Steven Sandner. Leongatha’s Tony Smith was the standout rider for B grade as he took out the stage win on day one and never looked back, accumulating more points across the sprint, climbs and finish on the windy Willow Grove circuit and at Darnum. Steve Sandner was the highest placed Warragul rider, finishing in fifth overall after some solid placings at Willow Grove and Darnum, as well as third in the King of the Mountain. Geoff Thomson finished in sixth.
Having lost team captain Glenn Fisher, suffering from some serious side effects of over-zealous race preparations, C grade was represented by Rob Monk, Dean Logan and Luke Hanley. The trio performed well across the entire weekend, with first time tour entrant Dean cleaning up the points on Saturday with a stage win on the difficult uphill finish at Lindenow, and collecting a share of the climbing points available.
Rob Monk rode strongly to pick up intermediate sprint bonuses. Sunday at Willow Grove, and under the tutelage of a watching Fisher, saw Warragul dominate in all points categories throughout the race, with Dean finishing the stage in second after getting caught leading the bunch sprint to the finish into the strong headwind. The Darnum stage was well executed by the trio with Dean securing his overall race lead, Rob Monk collecting more climbing points and Luke Hanley clenching the stage win after an impressive breakaway with Rob on the Nilma-Shady Creek climb.
Local knowledge of the course was put to good use as the duo worked together over the remaining 10km, taking advantage of the chase groups indecision. Dean Logan’s weekend performance, including a stage win, King of the Mountain and overall tour winner was a terrific effort for the newcomer to Warragul and racing.
The small women’s field was run alongside men’s C grade, and was dominated by Warragul’s Monique Hanley who collected all points available at the Lindenow and Willow Grove circuits, ahead of Bairnsdale’s Jenny Mcconnell and Latrobe Valley’s Emma Beveridge. Emma rode strongly on the final stage to collect the King of the Mountain and intermediate sprint points, but Monique held on to secure the final stage win on her home circuit.
James Henry was the sole Warragul representative in the Junior A field, but Saturday held no luck for the tough youngster as he struggled with gear problems before being forced to retire with a puncture. He returned to race the remaining stages, ineligible for any overall awards but hopeful of a stage win. He secured this on the Willow Grove circuit with an impressive solo breakaway left unchecked by the chase bunch. A break alongside Nick Aitkin of Leongatha paid off for the twosome on the final day, with the stage win awarded to Nick.
Next week’s racing is a club combine event with Caulfield Carnegie based at Picnic Point. Racing begins at 2pm and will be a mixture of Jindivick and Fishers Road circuits. It will also be the last race for club points in the autumn racing season, where final C and D grade places will be sorted on the tough climbs. Season presentations are scheduled to follow the race, and will include a BBQ and drinks.