Benjamin Spenceley (Lidcombe Auburn CC) has claimed his first state open victory, winning the Barnson Gunnedah to Tamworth Division 1 scratch race today.
The under-23 Rauland rider beat Edwin Britts (Dulwich Hill BC) in a two-up sprint after the pair struck out from the day-long breakaway.
Fine conditions greeted riders at the start line in Gunnedah, disguising the wind that would shatter many of the lower divisions.
As often happens in this 110km race, a strong lead group formed early and were never seen again. Today’s breakaway consisted of Rohan Haydon-Smith (St George CC), Malachi Covington (Marconi CC), Daniel Luke (Albury-Wodonga Panthers CC), Wesley Ho (St George CC), Sean Whitfield (Canberra CC), Spenceley and Britts.
With the major NRS teams of Rauland, Oliver’s Real Food Racing, Avantias Pro Racing and Onyva Racing represented, the leaders’ advantage grew out to 4 minutes across the flat roads in the first half of the race.
As they reached the rolling hills through Werris Creek, the front group began thinning down. St George’s Ho and Haydon-Smith were first to be dislodged, the latter withdrawing with a sore back. When Avantias riders Luke and Covington could no longer hold the pace, it left just three out front, including the two Oliver’s riders in Whitfield and Britts.
Despite being the meat in an Oliver’s sandwich, Spenceley took advantage of a tactical slip between his rivals: when Whitfield – the most dangerous sprinter of the trio – was distanced in the final 10km, Britts repeatedly attacked rather than waiting for his teammate. Spenceley clung to Britts’ wheel as he saw the gap grow larger and larger to his main sprinting rival.
The pair entered the Tamworth Regional Cycling Centre together, and after three-quarters of a lap, Spenceley had plenty in the tank for the sprint across the line.
The win is a milestone in the young western Sydney rider’s development. It’s his first visit to the top step amid a run of promising performances, including silver in the NSW U23 Criterium Championship.
“I was expecting Edwin to just ride Sean to the line. Sean’s got a really good kick,” Spenceley explained. “He put in a couple of digs and I was a little bit surprised, so then I started sitting on rather than working with him.”
Spenceley said he fancied his chances without Whitfield in the picture.
“He’s [Britts] just a big diesel, so if I could catch him off guard, I’d probably be able to get away,” Spenceley said. “I was definitely on the limit in that final sprint. Super stoked to come away with the win.”
“It’s an amazing, amazing feeling. Got close in that state crit, and I’m happy to go one better today,” he said.
A disappointed Britts explained why he continued to ride after his teammate was dropped.
“Sean and I sort of agreed I would try and go for the win today,” Britts said. “I went and Seano just let us two go. Then, in the final 10–15km, it was just Ben and I. I was just attacking whenever I could, sitting up when he would get back on. I just couldn’t do enough to shake him.
“There were a few points where I was fully sitting up and not even turning the pedals. I looked back and I couldn’t see anything. I could just see the whole convoy of cars, I couldn’t see Sean at all, so I wasn’t entirely sure if he was going to get back on from that point,” Britts said.
“So, we’ve learned from this one,” Britts said. “Not the result we were looking for, unfortunately, but that’s bike racing.”
The Division 2 race saw the peloton stretch out with 60km to go in the open crosswind sections, catching out several riders including Spenceley’s coach Russell Menzies (Lidcombe Auburn CC). Soon after, Glenn Mathiske (Manning Valley CC) struck out solo, with his advantage growing out to over a minute.
A motivated peloton, including several riders from Apres Velo Racing, reeled in the lone escapee to set up a bunch sprint at the criterium track. Rod Hutchinson (Penrith CC) was first across the line, with Mathiske still having enough in the tank to claim second place.
The Division 3 peloton was reduced to half its size by the finish. Rhys Ashpole (Hunter Valley Masters CC) proved strongest, soloing to victory by 47 seconds ahead of a small group led home by Tony Graf (Southern Cross CC). The next group finished over 11 minutes down.
Division 4 contained the A-Grade women, and they animated the race to set up a nail-biting finish. First, however, Katie Banerjee (Harlequin) had to overcome an early mechanical setback, completing a long chase back to the peloton after stopping to replace a dead battery in her electronic derailleur.
As Emily Watts (Sydney Uni VC) explained, she and LMLY X Knights teammate Banerjee waited for the right moment to split the race apart.
“We had a plan to go away with a breakaway with 60km to go, because that’s where the hills existed on a very flat course and the wind died down a little bit,” Watts said. “Katie went away, then I let her go a little bit and countered. Some men came with us, Haylee [Fuller] came with us, and we just kept chopping, and then the boys weren’t there at one point!”
When the race had settled down, the situation was this: Sean Vale (Manly Warringah CC) was alone at the front of the race, with a group of three women–Fuller (Dubbo CC), Banerjee and Watts–chasing, and the rest out of contention.
In the end, Vale had enough of a gap to sit up before the finish as Watts outsprinted Fuller for second place.
“I didn’t expect the wind; but it was an awesome race, very flat. My legs weren’t feeling the hills today,” Watts said.
In Division 5, the newly-promoted Terence Wall (Illawarra CC) won from a two-up breakaway ahead of Daryn Higgins (Newcastle Hunter CC). The win goes with yesterday’s runner-up place in the Keegan Downes Memorial Handicap, and third place at the Ken Dinnerville two weeks ago.
Division 6 was scattered to the winds, with William Martin (Gunnedah CTC) winning solo, 43 seconds ahead of Brad Oaten (Nowra VC). Local rider Isla Maidment (Tamworth CC) outsprinted Emily Walsh-Gilmour (Penrith CC) for third place and first woman, some two minutes back.
Cycling NSW thanks Tamworth Cycle Club for hosting the 2021 Barnson Gunnedah to Tamworth Graded Scratch Races.
1st Woman: Pip ASH (Tamworth CC) +1:22
Full results: https://my.raceresult.com/172832/
Words and photos by Ryan Miu