Image: ©Laura Fletcher
Early 2017 sees much of the pro peloton - male and female - head to the Antipodes for some pre-season action. In particular, the leading riders will be taking on the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Santos Tour Down Under - plus of course the locals will be competing in the Australian National Road Race Championships.
Laura Fletcher of thepelotonbrief.com has headed Down Under to get a sense of the early season form and report back for Conquista. She begins her Down Under Diaries with the 2017 Bay Crits - starting on New Year's Day, no less.
Below you can find Laura's complete race report. But first, lest it be felt that the racing action were perhaps a little underwhelming at this early stage of the season, here are her top ten facts about these little-known races.
BAY CRITS: TOP TEN FACTS
- The first stage is referred to as “The Hot Dog” by a lot of the pros. We were hoping this had to do with the bay side food attractions, but sadly its just the shape of the course. When it rains, it’s called the Wet Hot Dog.
- It’s been running since 1989, which is also the year Milli Vanilli had a top 10 billboard hit with “Girl You Know it’s True”. Coincidence? We think not.
- Since 1989 there has only been one non-Australian winner (in 1989 in fact) until this year where the titles for both men’s and women’s were taken by international powerhouses.
- Robbie McEwen has won the race more times than anyone else (six titles). Robbie McEwen is also an anagram for “Comb Beer Wine.”
- Geelong hosts stage one of the Bay Crits, but it is also the permanent home of the National Wool Museum. Sadly it lost the competition for the biggest statue of a sheep though, won by the town of Goulburn in NSW. The "Big Merino” can be seen by the highway.
- Mitchelton Wines is the headline sponsor for the event. Shiraz is a variety of grape common in Australian wine. But it’s also a city in Iran. The city is noted for the school of miniature painting based there between the 14th and 16th centuries.
- Stage 2 occurs in the small town of Portarlington. Although this might be the Portarlington muscle festival, the town also hosts the Portalington mussel festival, for the seafood variety of the homonym. Last year over 10 TONS of Mussels were sold on the day.
- The road between Geelong and Portarlington is the C-123, not to be confused with the C-123 fighter jet used by the American Airforce starting in 1949.
- Valentina Scandolara took the women title in 2017. Her name means “strong and healthy.” Apt much?
- Williamstown hosted the final stage. Williamstown also hosts a TIME BALL. A time ball or timeball or ball time is an obsolete time-signalling device. It consists of a large, painted wooden or metal ball that is dropped at a predetermined time, principally to enable navigators aboard ships offshore to verify the setting of their marine chronometers.
BAY CRITS: RACE REPORTS
Geelong: Stage 1
It’s the first race of the season, a tester for the legs before the National Championships, and for many a new kit or new team parade. The infamous course, with tight corners around the beach front esplanade, is notorious for starting the new year with a bang (or maybe a crash).
The cloud cover rolls in off the water as the elite women started in the early evening hours. The men watched from the pits in the middle of the track as the 45 minute race ended in a three-up sprint with the Italian powerhouse Valentina Scandolara taking glory across the line.
As the men started there were more than a few nervous faces after seeing crashes in the previous fields. Early attacks, breakaways and counterattacks ensued throughout the hour, until a disastrous crash in the final lap for Caleb Ewan left the sprinters chasing to catch up, and resulting in a wide open win for Brit Ian Bibby.
International: 2. Australia: 0.
Portarlington: Stage 2.
The wind coming off the water further down the coast was more akin to Scarborough during the Tour of Yorkshire than January in Australia. It was a double jumper kind of day and riders wore a pensive look along with their fleece jackets.
This is a course that lives up to its name as part of the Bay Crits: the view off the road onto the ocean below was unbeatable as always, even as the rain began to fall.
As the support race finished the women concluded their warm-ups and took to the start line. The Orica-Scott team was hungry for the win after coming up dry on the first day, and the decisive attack by Amanda Spratt up the back straight saw her solo to victory, by over 1.5 minutes. The team swept the podium taking second and third as well, but with stage 1 winner Valentina Scandolara in sixth the series lead remained in her hands.
In line with the day, Michael Hepburn from the men’s Orica-Scott team soloed to victory just an hour later. The pressure was on for the Australian team, who share a sponsor with the Bay Crits (Mitchelton Wine), and clearly the message was heard.
In the same vein as the women stage 1 victor Ian Bibby retained his race lead after stage 2.
Williamstown: Stage 3.
The jumpers are off. By the third bayside start the sun finally cracks through the clouds and the crowds reflect this eventual summer.
The Ale Australia tent was parked right next to the JLT Condor tent, with race winners in both having quiet chats with their directors, as their teammates mulled race tactics going into the final stage. Both leaders had held the jersey since day 1, and neither seemed keen to let it go easily.
Just minutes from Melbourne, Williamstown drew the avid, the casual and the hip, a true cross section of Australian fans. It was an all-out pedal to the metal day, with Jessica Allen and Caleb Ewan (both of Orica-Scott) taking the wins, but only after furious attacks from riders throughout the hour that saw a rapid shelling of riders out of the rear end of the peloton.
Despite the day's Orica sweep, the race leaders held their jerseys, marking for the first time in many years, non Australians taking the titles in the season opener.