Canberra’s Sean Whitfield has won the NSW Elite Men’s Criterium Championship from a select group of three. Whitfield was the fastest of the breakaway trio, beating defending champion Jack Bennett (Randwick Botany CC) and Sam Hill (Tamworth CC) in the sprint in Broke.
Team dynamics played their part in the hour-long race as riders from Nero Continental, Oliver’s Real Food Racing, ZCC and Onyva Racing attempted to find a numerical advantage.
With 14 starters, it took 30 minutes of attacking and counter-attacking before the race settled down to a leading group of eight working smoothly together. Notably, last year’s under-23 champion Tom Bolton (Dulwich Hill BC) and 2019 Elite champion Jesse Coyle (SUVelo) both missed the move, as did former national champion Scott Law (Marconi CC).
Up front, the teams seemed content as ZCC (with Bennett and Phillip Lucas), Onyva (Sam Sautelle and Cameron Fraser) and Nero Continental (Sam Hill and Leo Yip) worked to keep the sprinting threat of Bolton out of the race. Christopher Ball (Manly Warringah CC) had also made the selection, while Whitfield was the lone representative from Oliver’s.
Once Bolton had been neutralised, the infighting began. The group was still too large to go to the line together, and Ball was first to surge, to no avail, before Hill launched an attack that drew out Bennett and Whitfield with about ten minutes remaining.
Onyva had missed out and were unable to shut down the gap, leaving Hill, Benett and Whitfield to contest the win.
Aware of his weaker sprint, Hill attacked again as they took the bell, but was nullified by Bennett. The trio paused to look at each other along the back straight before Hill went for a long-range sprint, launching first into the final corner and up the straight.
However, Whitfield played it coolly, slotting into Bennett’s wheel before stepping out with several powerful pedal strokes to drive his bike across the line first.
“We said at the start, ‘make sure we’re in the move, because we can’t be chasing everything today,’” Whitfield said about his and Bolton’s tactics. “I was outnumbered by almost everyone, so I could play the team game and hide a little bit. I did what I needed to do to get to within 15 minutes of the finish.”
“When Sam Hill started sitting on, that’s when I started sitting on, because he’s going to launch all the attacks,” Whitfield said. “I just followed him off the front into a three-man and I was happy to work with Jack Bennett and Sam.”
Whitfield had shown strong form at the previous day’s Orica Kermesse, where he placed second in the race-winning breakaway. Yesterday’s was the Canberran’s first NSW win since taking fastest time in the Keegan Downes Memorial Handicap in 2019.
“I guess I haven’t been on the podium for a couple of years, but I’ve been working hard through COVID, did a lot of big training rides and kept going at the start of this year,” Whitfield said. “I knew I had good form – a different sort of form that I’ve ever had, which is to ride off the front more than ever. We saw that today, so I’m really happy to get a win and be back on the top step at this level.”
Most Aggressive Samuel HILL (Tamworth CC)
The Under-23 Men’s race saw a surprise four-man breakaway of underdogs defy the favourites to survive until the end, where Luke Roper (St George CC) took the title in Team Rauland colours.
The race had been predicted to be quite open, but the biggest names of Kurt Eather (Dubbo CC), Myles Stewart (Tolland CC) and Matthew Dinham (Manly Warringah CC) had been expected to feature for their teams of Oliver’s Real Food Racing, Nero Continental and Bridgelane respectively.
When a moderately-threatening break of three went up the road – Thomas Lynch and Christopher McInnes (St George CC) wearing club colours, plus Ben Spenceley (Lidcombe Auburn CC) for Rauland – one would have expected the other teams to bring them back for a sprint.
Instead, Roper followed Jared Madsen (Camden CC) to bridge across, then dropped Madsen to make it a quartet of two St George and two Rauland riders up front.
Meanwhile, in the peloton, only Edwin Britts (Dulwich Hill BC) seemed to take responsibility for the chase.
With the gap out to 25 seconds, the breakaway was fully committed while the peloton dithered, holding off their chase as the clock wound down.
When the bunch finally hit the accelerator in the closing laps, it was too late, and the race would be decided in a four-up sprint, where Roper was quickest over Spenceley and Lynch. McInnes was awarded the Most Aggressive award for his contributions to the successful breakaway.
The win was a surprise for Roper, who said he hadn’t expected to be required at the final presentations.
“I think the bunch was a bit on-and-off, so we managed to stay away. Ben did a perfect job and gave me a good leadout,” Roper said. “I booked a flight for the Gold Coast tonight, so I was intending on leaving at about 1 [o’clock], but I’ve had to stay for the presentations!”
Most Aggressive Christopher MCINNES (St George CC)
With 24 riders on the start line, the Under-19 Men’s race was the biggest of the day.
Team Rauland was present in numbers, and it was their Bathurst rider Luke Tuckwell (Bathurst CC) who looked to be aggressive early, clipping off the front for several laps and continuing to attack even after he was caught.
Plenty of other riders were interested in making the race hard, with Aiden Sinclair (Hunter District CC), Jackson Young (Peloton Sports) and Ashley Markovski (St George CC) among them.
Markovski went down in a crash about halfway through, before Luke Tuckwell also took a separate tumble just one lap later, ruling both riders out of the race and causing a brief neutralisation.
However, despite a last-lap flyer from Young, it came down to a big bunch sprint. Once again, Brayden Bloch (Randwick Botany CC) showed his speed in a sprint finish, adding the junior criterium title to his Division 2 Orica Kermesse and Bathurst Tour wins in 2021.
Dylan George (Manly Warringah CC) took silver after winning the Division 1 Orica Kermesse on Saturday, while Ryan Britten (Illawarra CC) took bronze to make it a Rauland one-three on the podium.
Most Aggressive Luke TUCKWELL (Bathurst CC)
Earlier in the day, Benjamin Treble (Manly Warringah CC) continued his run of state open podiums, winning the Division 2 Men’s criterium in a bunch sprint after initiating several attacks of his own that were brought back.
Ben Morrison (Canberra CC) won the Division 3 Men’s race, also in a small bunch sprint.
Most Aggressive Benjamin TREBLE (Manly Warringah CC)
Most Aggressive Blake GILLMER (Manly Warringah CC)
Full results: https://my.raceresult.com/168316/results
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Words and photos by Ryan Miu