The Tim McArdle Handicap was 5 of a 24 race (best of 15) Gippsland Combine Series presented by Warragul City Motors.
By Rob Monk
Thirty seven riders lined up to contest the Tim McArdle Handicap on the Darnum Circuit on Saturday. In near perfect conditions times were fast and the finish was a thriller.
First away with 20 minutes head start were Annie Pryjmak, Donna Innes-Wardel and Michelle Scurr. They split up fairly quickly but made the chasers work hard to catch them.
The 14 minute group of Ian Wood, Mark Bensley, Duane McDonald, Chris Bagot, Rod Cheyne and Colin Manintveld struggled for cohesion and quickly were caught by the 10 minute group of Pete Finlayson, Leigh Jamieson, Mike Renehan, Justin Prestidge, Aaron Nash and Colin Brown. Justin struggled with the pace and was quickly dropped. Nash has done too much training with Col Brown so was ripping the group apart on lap one. Eventually the senior riders in the group, Peter Finlayson and Mike Renehan managed to control the inexperienced rider and the bunch started to roll smooth turns. Even captain surge, Col Brown, managed to contain himself. The 10 minute group would be very hard to catch.
The seven minute bunch also struggled to get it together on lap one . They had Tex Walker doing his best Col Brown impression and surging up the road contrasted with Jayman Prestidge who spent the first lap doing absolutely nothing. Not a single turn for a lap. Luckily Rob Monk, Jason Fritzlaff, Dave Smith and Mark Mason kept the speed at a reasonable level so the bunch could make some progress. By lap two, Prestidge started to roll through and Walker calmed down the the 7 minute group worked beautifully until the finish.
The five minute bunch of Simon Baxter, Brett Kennedy, Connor Bagot, Leigh Stott, Colin Aitken and Paul Yeatman lapped at a steady pace. They gradually zoomed in on the group 2 minutes in front of them but it would take them more than five laps to catch them.
The scratch group had won the past four Tim McArdle handicaps and the handicapper seemed keen to prevent five in a row. They would have to break the course record to win this one. They were on record pace after five laps. Daniel Furmston, Harry McLean, Craig Keane, Jim Timmer-Arends and Will Lumby broke the 5 lap record for the Darnum circuit but lap six was a bridge too far. They finished within a minute of the winner but were handicapped out of the race from the start.
The 10 minute group picked up the flotsam and jetsam from the 13 minute group on lap 3. With 2 laps to go the 7 minute group had only taken 1 minute out of the 3 minute gap to the 10 minute group.
The seven minute bunch kept the pressure on and at the bell got the word that they were one minute 20 down on the leaders.
Passing the Darnum footy ground with 6km to go the 5 minute group caught them. At this stage of a handicap it is common for the faster group to take over the chasing. In a strange act of collusion the 7 minute bunch seemed to take on the responsibility of chasing down the 10 minute bunch. Monk, Walker, MacDonald and Fritzlaff pulled sold turns while Kennedy, Connor Bagot, Yeatman, and Stott sat on and did nothing. Baxter was the only member of the 5 minute group to influence the chase; not in a positive way. He decided to attack the bunch which was not helpful. Jayman Prestidge pulled a monster turn down Sturs Rd to bring him back and Walker and Monk did the rest. At the turn into the home straight the 10 minute group still had a 200 meter lead but the fresh legs from the 5 minute group were ready to pounce.
Brett Kennedy talked Peter MacDonald into towing him up to the back of the 10 minute group at the base of the final hill.
Col Brown pulled his final surging turn and tried to launch his group mates to victory, Finlayson, Renehan and Nash headed for home but Kenny was coming fast. He blew past Nash and took the win. Nash was second and Connor Bagot held off a fast finishing Yeatman to take third. Then followed Dave Smith, Mike Renehan, Col Brown, Pete Finlayson, Rod Cheyne and Leigh Stott.
The next race is number 6 in the series and is a scratch race hosted by Leongatha over the Mardan circuit. One for the climbers. Details here. Race 7’s the Gippsland Championships hosted by Latrobe at Boolara.