I really need to think of an original way of doing Race Recaps, but for now this will have to do.
So the Bay Crits this year are done and dusted, which means the 2017 cycling season has had it’s pistons readied up and it’s roaring to fire. The first event of the year in pro cycling, it attracts the big names in Australian racing from all over the world and locally too. And this year, it wasn’t just the Australians getting in on the action – for the first time ever the Men’s and Women’s editions were won by foreigners! While some politicians will be asking for their deportation because of the ability to take money away from the hard-working Aussie taxpayer, I was certainly reveling in the quality of racing over the 3 days! But for now, enough of the politics and let’s focus on the cycling!
Stage 1: Geelong
The Geelong “hotdog criterium” ended up being more exciting than your average snag from Bunnings with Onions, Mustard and T-Sauce. And that is quite something.
The Women’s race ended up being really exciting and disappointing at the same time – but for two different reasons. It started off quite slowly, before Ale Cycling with Hosking and Scandolara laid in the attacks to try and weaken the very strong Orica-Scott. With about 20 minutes of toying around with a break, one finally came; Rachetto of Hagens Berman eventually prodded the peloton and it all…split. Orica upped the pace to try and stay up the front, and in the end it meant that there was a final break of 7
. Within this final break, there were 4 Orica riders including Spratt and Allen, Scandolara of Ale, Mulseed of Holden Racing and Mullens of Hagens (I think, I will tell you why in 2 seconds). And while the break were out the front; Spratt collecting the Sprint points – the stream died. So everyone who wasn’t in Geelong had no idea what was going on for the last 10 minutes. But – not to fear, the stream came back…after the finish.
So here is what I can tell you about the finish. Presumably; Scandolara, Mulseed and Allen broke away from the group of 7, and with this race-winning move, the bunch hit the brakes and came back together for the finish after what was the blistering pace of before the interruption (which involved a few riders getting lapped). In the sprint, Scandolara broke from Mulseed and Allen after the last corner and had it wrapped up about 50m out. The battle between Mulseed and Allen was closer, but Allen cracked with about 15m to go leaving Mulseed in 2nd and Allen in 3rd. This meant Scandolara wore yellow into Portarlington, while Spratt had the Blue Sprinters jersey. The stage showed us how Scandolara’s performances at the Shimano Super Crit were completely representative of how dominant she is in these events; again completely blowing the peloton away in a display of elegant dominance. However, it also showed how Orica are head-and-shoulders above their local Australian counterparts, compared to the Men’s team who are occasionally (like…the Geelong crit) are equal with the CT teams.
And on that note, we can all cringe at how badly Orica rode the first crit. And I am an Orica fan so this is hard to say. The Men’s crit had a lot more action than the Women’s one. There were many crashes going into the corners, as well as mechanicals for a few of the riders including Docker from Orica which shook up the race. However, the crit was dominated by IsoWhey (to Orica’s embarrassment). IsoWhey spent the whole crit attacking off the front with Bayly and Kerrison, and took the win in all three intermediate sprints. Finally, a solo attack from Bayly stayed out (for way longer than it should’ve) and from there, Orica were playing chasey. They let Bayly get a 16 second lead at one point (about 200m) and they seemingly assumed him of no threat. So instead of putting the effort in earlier in the crit, they waited until the last ten laps where they kind of went “Holy shit he might win this” and sprinted him down with 2 to go. This, however, exhausted their lead-out train for Ewan, basically leaving Ewan to go solo for the last 2 laps and hop on JLT and IsoWhey wheels. And then the cherry on top for Orica’s crit was Ewan crashing into the last corner and taking some skin off and forcing him to finish in dead last when he looked a half-chance of winning. This opened the door for Bibby of JLT and Kerrison of IsoWhey, with Bibby taking a surprise win in the crit ahead of (equally surprising) 2nd place Kerrison and 3rd place Gibson. Bayly, who stayed out for most of the crit, ended up taking 5th in what was an absolute guttural ride from him.
So at the end of Day 1, we had one very neatly ridden race and one race that was ridden aggressively and for some, poorly. I may seem very critical of Orica’s performance, but what is an article from me without an opinion?
Stage 2: Portarlington
The hilly Portarlington Crit saw a change of fortune for some, a lack of luck for others, and some surprising moves.
On the hills of Portarlington, the Women’s race was decided quite early. A high tempo from Orica completely blew away the peloton within the first 15 minutes, leaving a front group of nine containing all 5 Orica riders, Mulseed, Scandolara, Mullins and Kajihara (Novotel). From this, Orica was able to lay down the hammer even more and try to drop Scandolara. Spratt – Scandolara’s biggest GC threat – attacked about half way through and claimed all the intermediate sprint points to consolidate her jersey. But Orica back in the peloton were able to slow the tempo down to give her a unassailable 1’40” lead, before bringing the bunch together to reduce Scandolara’s chances in a bunch sprint after being ridden around the ringer for a day by herself forced to chase attacks to keep her leaders jersey or keep up with the high tempo of the lead bunch. This allowed Orica a breezy finish; Spratt winning the stage, Crooks in 2nd and Van Vleuten in 3rd, taking a podium block-out. Scandolara finished back in 6th, not being able to compete in the bunch sprint after her efforts. This would have given Orica some confidence going into Williamstown about taking the GC, considering they already had the Sprint and Team’s Classification wrapped up. Great ride from Orica, completely controlling the tempo of the race and allowing Scandolara and the other favourites no breaks and doing them no favours.
In the Men’s race, Orica finally showed what they are made of. Today, they didn’t let out any excessive breaks, controlling the peloton from start to finish. While Bayly was able to attack for the intermediate sprints, and a couple of the riders like Elliott (VTwo) tried to get away, Orica with Hepburn and Durbridge were able to keep a tempo up that the others couldn’t. As is the norm with the Portarlington stage, the peloton slowly withered away, however, this fast pace didn’t stop Caleb Ewan and Robbie Hucker breaking halfway through the stage in what seemed like (before the last few laps) a race winning break. Hucker, however, was disinterested and they got absorbed back into the bunch. Hepburn of Orica went even higher with a few laps remaining, breaking with with Kerrison of IsoWhey with a handful of laps to go, forcing a move from JLT. Luckily for JLT and Bibby, Kerrison crashed with 2 laps to go (crash number 2, about 24 seconds in) on one of the descents and abandoned. However, there was no stopping Hepburn, winning with plenty to time to spare and showing the potential Orica had yesterday if they were rode well. Bibby cleaned up second place and Gibson again took 3rd. Bibby’s 1st and 2nd on Stages 1 and 2 basically all but secured his leader’s jersey, with him needing to be in the points to win it in Williamstown. Sadly for Kerrison, he couldn’t contest what would have been a even closer battle due to his crash which all but dashed his hopes of winning.
Stage 3: Williamstown
Today’s Williamstown crit was the explosive finish I think we all hoped for during this week of racing, and the results were similar to those we expected at the start of the week.
In the Women’s race, Orica was put into a tough situation. They put Jessica Allen – an outside chance at GC – into a break and laid off the pace, which allowed Ale to rest up Scandolara without the pressure being laid on. And because Scandolara was the best rider in the bunch at a sprint finish, as long as not too many went out in the break, she would win. They also attacked with Spratt to secure the sprint jersey, but by putting Allen up front they gave themselves a chance and shot themselves in the foot simultaneously. In the end, Jess Allen won the stage, but Scandolara sprinted well to keep herself in yellow (lose the battle, win the war they say). Outside of the battle between Orica and Scandolara, not much happened. Bechtel of Specialized and Skerritt of Ale broke with Allen and finished in 2nd and 3rd respectively. And that basically summed up the Williamstown crit for the women. It was a high risk high reward situation for Orica, and they didn’t quite pull it off. That is not to say that Scandolara didn’t ride herself into Yellow in the first place, two great rides in Geelong and Williamstown gave her the leaders jersey she deserved. Chapeau, Valentina.
The Men’s race was equally dominant by a team, but not Orica. Instead, JLT laid down the hammer and protected Bibby for GC while getting Jones a run for the stage win. While the 3rd major team in IsoWhey had some major DNF’s today in Sunderland (DNF due to high tempo of riding and prepping for Nats), Kerrison (DNS because of crash + Nats) and Bayly (DNF) and were weakened, they still tried to get Giacoppo up there for the sprint. However, in a largely uneventful race otherwise, the sprint finish in the end was all we wanted for the whole week. Ewan finally had a chance of winning, and took Jones to the line out of the last corner. Jones was unable to jump over Caleb and ended up half-wheeling him across the line for 2nd, leaving Ewan to take the win and take the form into the Nationals Criterium tomorrow. Bibby was able to comfortably keep his yellow as Ewan and Jones were no threats to taking the crown, and Jones’ sprint allowed JLT to secure the Team’s Classification. The only breaks of today really came from Haas attempting to take something off the front, and he constantly yo-yo’d between the front of the peloton and 10s up the road, but didn’t get anything major out of it other than some entertainment for the crowd.
And that’s a wrap! The Bay Crits this year were an amazing watch, and I am quite happy that they decided to televise it and I hope they do it again in the future. The racing isn’t over yet though! Tomorrow sees the National Criterium Championships in Australia, followed by the TTs and RRs later in the week. For now, I’m out.
~The Cycling Raven