Worth the wait: Criterium Championships deliver the action

Worth the wait: Criterium Championships deliver the action


Words by Ryan Miu. Photo by Morgan Ho (St George CC).

After two separate COVID-19 postponements, the 2020 state criterium titles were finally able to be held at Sydney’s spiritual home of crit racing, Heffron Park.

The event was worth the wait, with breathless racing across each of the categories from Under-19s to Elites.

Originally scheduled for April, the event was postponed once when coronavirus shut down all community sport in NSW. Although local racing did restart in July, the state championships had to be pushed back again when inter-regional sport was put on hold in August.

Read on for the race reports.

Under-19 Men (18 riders) (30min + 5 laps)

Although the morning air was unusually still, the racing was anything but as these young men started energetically.

The early pace was hot, with Team Rauland trying to get one of their four riders away. Surges and counter-attacks continued throughout the opening 20 minutes, with riders like Aiden Sinclair (Hunter District CC, Oliver’s Real Food Racing) and Harry Jones (Canberra CC, CCS Cycling) trying to force a breakaway.

However, the bunch kept welding any gaps shut and it looked set for a sprint finish as they took the bell together.

But there would be late fireworks: Dylan George (Manly Warringah CC, Team Rauland) launched for home with half a lap remaining, and only five riders, led by Sinclair, were able to make the junction before the final corner and thus contest the win.

As it turns out, Sinclair had been working for Hunter clubmate Jonathan Farley (Dhuez Racing), who opened his sprint with 200 metres to go and could not be matched, taking the gold medal by three clear bike lengths.

Malachi Covington (Marconi CC, Avantias Pro Racing) claimed silver while Team Rauland managed to take the final podium step with Alexander Micallef (Lidcombe-Auburn CC).

  1. Jonathan FARLEY (Hunter District CC)
  2. Malachi COVINGTON (Marconi CC)
  3. Alexander MICALLEF (Lidcombe Auburn CC)

Under-19 Women (5 riders) (30 minutes + 3 laps)

As her name may have hinted, Claudia Marcks (Canberra CC, CCS Cycling) was a marked woman: her rivals knew they could not take the powerful sprinter to the finish if they wanted any chance of winning.

Endurance-oriented riders, especially Amelia Trkulja (Nowra Velo, Illawarra Academy of Sport), thus kept the tempo as high as possible, hoping to push Marcks beyond her limit. Such was the effort that this small field of five was lapping at the same speed as the Elite women, who were on course at the same time.

It took nearly the full 30 minutes to dislodge her, but this first phase was finally complete when Marcks let go of the field just before they saw the “three laps to go” sign.

The remaining four rider would sprint for the medals. In the growing cross-tailwind, Lillee Pollock (Illawarra CC) launched first and looked to have the legs to hold on, but Rebel Brooker (Tolland CC) came around on the windward side to claim victory. Pollock held on for silver, while Trkulja just edged out defending champion Georgia Wiltshire (St George CC) for the bronze.

  1. Rebel BROOKER (Tolland CC)
  2. Lillee POLLOCK (Illawarra CC)
  3. Amelia TRKULJA (Nowra Velo Club)

Elite Women (19 riders) (50min + 3 laps)

The Elite race was stop-start, characterised by a sequence of intense surges interspersed with the quietest of lulls.

A healthy number of women backed up from last weekend’s Masters championships, including Bridget Bremner (North Western Sydney CC), who unfortunately took a tumble and was forced to withdraw due to helmet damage.

Unlike last year, where Anna Booth soloed to victory after an onslaught of repeat attacks, Sydney Uni-Staminade seemed determined to keep things together, putting their faith in 2018 champion sprinter Georgia Whitehouse (SUVelo).

Veris Racing, with three riders, looked to send their Victorian Kirsty Deacon (Carnegie Caufield CC) up the road, but her moves were all shut down. So too was an enterprising solo attack by Eline Smit (SUVelo), who lost her 30-second advantage as quickly as she’d earned it once the Staminade-led peloton decided to kick into action.

In the inevitable bunch sprint, Josie Talbot (Camden CC, Cronos-Casa Dorada) started in second wheel. Her positioning proved key: after launching early, it took a desperate bike throw to separate her from a fast-finishing Whitehouse and Gina Ricardo (SUVelo, Sydney Uni-Staminade).

Talbot, the former junior world champion on the track, had just enough juice to deny the Staminade team and claim her second criterium title in four years.

  1. Josie TALBOT (Camden CC)
  2. Georgia WHITEHOUSE (Sydney Uni Velo Club)
  3. Gina RICARDO (Sydney Uni Velo Club)

Under-23 Men (29 riders) (45min + 3 laps)

Things started inauspiciously for the under-23 men. Rolling out from the start line, one rider became entangled in the wiring used for the race’s electronic timing system. While he was able to take a lap out and recover his position, the same could not be said for the timing system, which was put out of commission for the rest of the day.

The racers, however, were well and truly active. Attacks were flying off the front, pulling the peloton into single file as the north-easterly winds picked up.

Within the first few laps, a breakaway of three had established itself, with each rider having a teammate behind to anchor the chase. Those three were Tom Bolton (Dulwich Hill BC, Oliver’s Real Food Racing); Tom Chester (Canberra CC, Team Rauland) and Myles Stewart (Tolland CC, Team Nero Continental).

Working smoothly together, the trio opened a gap of 30 seconds while in the main group, Bolton’s teammate Kai Chapman (Hunter District CC) slowed the chase.

Unhappy with the lack of pace, Edwin Britts (Dulwich Hill BC, Dhuez Racing) nipped off to try to bridge the gap alone. While he managed to halve the gap, Britts became stuck in no-man’s-land and was eventually brought back into the fold.

Riders who’d missed the break like Matt Dinham (Manly Warringah CC, Team Bridgelane), Zac Marshall (St George CC, St George Continental) and Alex Durrant-Whyte (SUVelo) drove a forlorn chase but they were at their limit as the front trio proved too strong.

On paper, Bolton was the best sprinter of the three leaders. Knowing this, Chester launched over the pimple with half a lap remaining, but Bolton was quick to jump onto his wheel. Despite being pushed hard by Stewart, the Oliver’s rider proved too strong in the final sprint, taking gold after a flawless race.

  1. Thomas BOLTON (Dulwich Hill BC)
  2. Myles STEWART (Tolland CC)
  3. Tom CHESTER (Canberra CC)

Elite Men (29 riders) (60min + 3 laps)

All were expecting a rapid start, and so it proved with hard attacks from the word “go”. Within the first few laps, a surprisingly large group of nine riders found themselves on the correct side of a significant split.

Local knowledge had proved key, as experienced Heffron regulars had made the front group while strong country riders like Ben Neppl (Hunter District CC) were left scrambling behind.

Despite its large size, the front group worked well enough together to maintain a gap of just under 20 seconds. The pace proved too fast for Jonathon Cridland (Southern Cross CC) and Sean Whitfield (Canberra CC, Oliver’s Real Food Racing) who, after initially making the break, were simply dropped back to the peloton.

That left seven up front, comprised of defending champion Jesse Coyle (SUVelo, Team Nero Continental); fluoro-clad ZCC duo Jack Bennett (Randwick Botany CC) and Dan Bonello (St George CC), and individual riders Scott Law (Marconi CC, L39ION), Luke Cridland, Marcus Culey and Darcy Ellerm-Norton.

Last year’s runner-up Sam Hill seemed to be struggling for his usual form, caught behind a second split in the peloton and only just clawing his way back up to the main group.

In the middle phase, the breakaway extended its lead to 40 seconds while in the main peloton, Neppl and others like Nash Kent (Parklife CC) and Charl Van Wyk (SUVelo, Onyva Racing) looked around unsuccessfully for help in the pursuit. By halfway, it looked all but over for the peloton, and despite one last surge that halved the gap in the final laps, the medals would go to the frontrunners.

There, Culey found his legs’ limit, pulling out with around five laps remaining. With no teammates and a penchant for unpredictability, Ellerm-Norton went on the offensive, trying to split things up.

Unfortunately for him, Bonello was determined to keep everything together for Bennett; his last act of teamwork before he’d depart for Spain to join his partner, professional cyclist Brodie Chapman.

In the last month, Bennett has been unbeatable in Heffron club racing. The local boy rewarded his team’s confidence, shooting out of Jesse Coyle’s slipstream in the final sprint to claim a clear and popular victory. Coyle added silver to last year’s gold medal, while Scott Law won a deserving bronze in his return to state racing.

  1. Jack BENNETT (Randwick Botany CC)
  2. Jesse COYLE (Sydney Uni Velo Club)
  3. Scott LAW (Marconi CC)

Full results available here: https://my.raceresult.com/160802.

The races were live-streamed on the Cycling NSW YouTube channel and Facebook page.