By Stuart Cuckson
The 57 kilometre handicap held by Warragul Cycling Club on Saturday saw the scratch markers once again overpower the remainder of a big field. Twenty-five senior riders turned out in the cold and gusty weather to tackle three laps of the tough Christies Rd circuit.
As the sole limit rider in the senior event, Marion Ophof went around the first lap in 44 mins after starting eight mins up on the next bunch and thirty rains ahead of the two scratch men, Phil Gallagher and Geoff Thomson. Behind her, Anthony Vogrig and Debbie Williams clocked 40:57 for the first 19 km after working at a steady pace with newcomer Paul Kennedy.
The seven man 18 minute bunch split in the early stages with Jason Boxall and Ian De Bruyne leading through Scott Keeble, Ted Dunn and a returning Peter Finlayson by almost two minutes. Also on the comeback trail, Vic Spunner, another from that bunch rode through well behind the leader whilst Ben Fleming was forced to pull out due to illness.
Thirteen-minute markers Dale Grant, David Caims, Russ Walker, Matt Hall and Kim Spunner also split early with Cairns and Hall rolling away in the chase for the front. The hardest working group over the first lap was the second scratch bunch who had five minutes on the back markers.
Anthony Radcliffe, Ian Fromholtz, Ross Henry and Stuart Pharoah after losing Travis Fromholtz and Paul Yeatman took ten minutes out of the limit and lost only one to the two chasers. Their momentum may well have been even greater had Graeme Hanks not had the misfortune of puncturing on the starting line and losing almost five minutes with the change. Gallagher and Thomson found the going hard but experience and class helped them to consistent lap times as they gradually reeled in the leader. Behind them, Walker had picked up Dunn as the second scratch, with a much slower lap, loomed up be hind them.
Thomson, on his own admission, had struggled to stay with the brilliant Gallagher, but in the final circuit was able to put in some hard turns to reel in the front markers one by one. Cairns went to the front with 15 to ride with the gutsy De Bruyne and tough little Boxall hanging on for dear life. Thomson and Gallagher dropped Radcliffe and Pharoah but could not shake the determined Henry as they went past all remaining riders in the charge for the line.
It was not until over the rise with 300 to ride that experience told as the two back markers opened a small gap and settled for the sprint home. Despite a desperate lunge, Thomson was yet again unable to grab Gallagher whose time for his third consecutive victory was clocked at a net 1 hour 37 minutes. Henry turned in a tremendous effort to come in five seconds away third.
Boxall wore Cairns like a glove for most of the lap until out sprinting him again to take a very creditable fourth place 30 second only from the winner. De Bruyne continued his improvement to finish 45 secs further back and some 15 secs ahead of a close sprint which saw Radcliffe edge out Hall and Pharoah. Vogrig also put in a determined and improved effort to finish tenth, four minutes behind the winner and ahead of Walker, Ophof, Dunn and Hanks. Marion held on gamely in front for 43 km before battling on over the hilly course at an average speed of around 25 kph.
The most unfortunate rider was probably Hanks, who, once passed by the back markers, rode a virtual time trail on his own.
Although a total of eleven riders registered DNFs after covering varying distances, it was great to see so many competitors and supporters again in attendance.
Stephen Fenwick and Daniel Dilger again had a close tussle in a 19 km junior event with Stephen kicking clear in the final 50 meters to score. Both boys again improved on their best times over the journey and are starting to show the benefit of consistent efforts. John Dent was a welcome returning junior and he put in two good s prints over a short course – bettering his time as he went.
In the weekends 120 km Junior test races Aaron Nobelius fought gamely to take fourth place over some of Victoria’s best riders.
Riders are advised that the venue for next week’s racing changes to Cloverlea Primary School with the finish being up the Yarragon hill.