Cyclocross racing has well and truly landed in Australia. After keen interest in 2010, this year the 'cross bikes have multiplied and have led to a relatively full season in Melbourne with eight races being held this winter. Those riders who have been keeping their full length skinsuits in the closet can finally come out and get amongst it.
The first round of the Specialized Cross Melburn CX Series was held on Sunday in magnificent Melbourne winter weather - 19 degrees, little wind and not a cloud in the sky.
The course was a cracker and quite different to those held in the inner north by the Brunswick Club. With a bit more room to move, the course out at Lysterfield had a huge variety of terrain from fast gravel to beach and soggy-grass to muddy run-ups.
Starting the day was the Open category allowing riders who are not quite sure about this whole ‘cross thing a chance to stick a toe in the water and feel if it’s to their liking. Except the party was gate crashed by wunderkind Liam Jeffries, who started this ‘cross season with a win and decided that he could do the Open Class Junior Race as a warm-up to his cyclocross race in the afternoon. Jeffries led from start to finish to win from fellow Trailmix team mates; Ben Walkerden and Mitchell Lakey. It wouldn’t be the last time we were to see Walkerden and Jeffries on the podium.
Jade Forsyth (Trailmix), heavy in training mode for the upcoming Tour de Timor, took time out from her days training session to race the Open Women's race, take the win, before resuming her training ride at Lysterfield Park.
In the Open B Class we saw Neville Bird (Scott) take the win from Con Mavroudakis (Specialized) who despite leading early, was pushed all the way to the line by the sole female in the field, Amity McSwan (Trailmix). Will we see Amity racing in the ‘cross category later this season? She may well push a lot of the gentlemen for another podium position, watch your backs boys.
In the Open A Grade race Trailmix rider Stu Brown rode his singlespeed bike to glory and adulation. A 24hr Solo rider of some repute, Brown finished a lap ahead of his nearest rivals, Lee Floyd and Dev Ransom, despite this format being over 23 hours shorter than his preferred distance.
Liam Jeffries just looked so comfortable on his Specialized Crux, you could be forgiven for thinking that he’s been riding it for months or years. In reality however, he picked it up on Saturday, hopped on it to ride the event lap a few times, before declaring that he was ready to race and it was now time for bed. Well whatever it is that’s in his water at home I want some, because his lap splits would have shamed some of the more experienced members of the other fields.
If watching Liam effortlessly glide around the course wasn’t the curtain raiser then the B Grade Men put on a decent show. The team mates from Avanti, Nick Grosso & Neville Bird rode well to take a one-two to Jason Butler with Andrew Blake a little way back in fourth. Unlucky Rik Blazevic took a disliking to one of the trees on his first lap and gave it a hip ’n shoulder that Leigh Matthews would have been proud of, his fifth could have been higher if he wasn't chasing traffic for the remainder of his race.
The A-Grade field had its favourite for the win and their wasn’t a betting man in the infield willing to put money on anyone else but Lewis Rattray (St Kilda Cycles), in fact I think most of the A-Grade field knew that Lewis was, and is, the current benchmark by which all ‘cross performances are measured in Melbourne.
The rest of the field was not without its dark horses; Former Australian Road Champion (won four years before Liam Jeffries was born) Allan Iacuone, former Australian Time Trial Champion (won when Liam was Three years old) Kristjan (Snozza) Snorrason, Former Australian Track Team Member Chris Carr alongside super experienced road and track riders the caliber of Mikk Godfree and Leigh DeLuca. Could this field and this tougher, faster more Euro cyclocross course be the first stumbling block for Rattray? In a word, "no".
Out of the starting line, it was Godfree, Snozza, Gray then Rattray who where the early leaders with Snozza taking a comfortable position in the lead for the first lap. Hitting the beach, water crossing and stair run, Snozza opened the throttle a little and only Rattray and mtb’er Matt Gray (My Mountain) responded. On the back straight the pace accelerated as a 100m gap become 200m and soon the leading trio had a gap that would prove difficult to overcome.
With 4 laps to go, Gray and Rattray made it a two-man battle for the win as Snozza put it in reverse. The man who looks like he can hurt more than any other, Iacuone, passed Snozza and headed off in pursuit of the front two. However, Iacuone started his run too late and could only get within 20 seconds of Gray who finished up a very respectable 35 seconds down on the seemingly unstoppable Rattray.
Meanwhile a couple of minutes back, Cameron McKenzie put in a fast last lap to snatch fourth place from a fast reversing Snozza.
With three more races to come in the Specialized Cross Melburn Series there are plenty of chances to get a taste of 'cross racing and keep those legs ticking over until the warmer months arrive.