Day 2 - January 3: Barwon Heads. Start 12.30pm, finish 3.30pm
By Karen Forman in Barwon Heads
A dark veil of controversy surrounds the finish of today's second round of the 2002 Skilled Geelong Bay Classic, with what had appeared to be a simple case of friendly rivalry between top billers Robbie McEwen and Graeme Brown coming to a head with an altercation in the final straight - which led to an ugly war of words, a disqualification for Brown and a black mark on what was otherwise a top day of racing.
NSW rider Brown (SBR-Elite), whose strong solo work led his team and sprinter Hilton Clarke to overall victory on day one at Rye on Wednesday, appeared to have won the event over Brett Aitken (Rio Coffee) and McEwen (Crown Casino).
However a protest by McEwen over the way Brown had sprinted, resulted in a disqualification for Brown, who was relegated to an out of the points-eleventh spot, and a win for Aitken, with McEwen second and Aitken's Rio Coffee team mate Graham Roots third.
With Commissaires issuing a warning that rough and intimidatory riding would not be tolerated, Brown has appealed against the ruling. The hearing will be heard at 4pm on Friday, prior to the start of the third stage at Geelong and all interested parties have been invited to attend.
The incident had the cycling community divided, with some commenting Brown, known for his aggressive sprinting style, had deserved the cuff across the ears, while others suggested McEwen had over reacted. Brown was allowed to hold onto his green sprint jersey, after winning the first and second intermediate sprints and teammate Clarke (placed fifth today following his win at Rye) holds onto the leader's yellow jersey.
The incident added plenty of drama to an event which had looked to be almost a repeat of the previous day, when SBR-elite put perfect team tactics into play to win. Fine albeit chilly weather and a larger (1.1km) course at Barwon Heads had riders in good form for the race, which set a fast pace from the gun.
SBR-elite obviously was playing a well-orchestrated team game again, with Kristjan Snorrason a major player throughout the early stages. He and Rod McGee were swapping turns on the first lap, with other early chargers Robert Tighello and Baden Burke.
By the second lap of the hour-long affair, the peloton was snaking out in echelon formation, with Trent Wilson (iteamNova.com), Tighello and Snorrason doing the work at the front. A nine-man breakaway four laps in included iteamNova.com captain David McKenzie, Snorrason, David Tanner, Tighello, SBR rider Pelle, Tim Wilson, Andrew Torney, Aitken, McEwen and Italian sprint champ Adriano Baffi.
Having been well guarded by Snorrason, Brown had the energy to leap forward to take the first intermediate sprint from Jono Davis and SBR teammate Greg Henderson.
A four-man breakaway after this included McEwen, Clarke and Renshaw , with Cory Sweet, Chris Carr, Tighello and Snorrason joining them. The break was reeled in three laps before the second sprint, which was again won by Clarke, with McKenzie second and Henderson third.
The attacks were fast and furious from then on with 11 getting away including Scott McGrory. A lap before the third sprint Snorrason was still out there, with Brown and Jens Mouris (City of Greater Geelong) but the points went to Jan Koerts (Fitzroy Cycling), Baden Burke and Jono Davis.
Eight laps to go to the finish, iteamNova.com came physically together as a team and looked to be doing some damage in a 20-rider breakaway led by Wilson. Teammate Jamie Drew attacked hard off the front with six to go. McKenzie was the attacker at the front with five to go.
It was reminiscent of the scene at Tour Down Under last year, with McKenzie out front and managing to hold the rest of the field at bay for his win.
But the bunch worked hard and with three to go, it was SBR-elite back in time trial formation - Snorrason, Henderson and Clarke. Clarke was positioned nicely for the sprint to come at third wheel on the second last lap. At the bell, it was Matt White with Clarke and Brown in hot pursuit. And it was Brown who crossed the line first. But then...
"He's got no respect for anyone in the field," an unhappy McEwen was telling journalists (of Brown) after the finish. "The rules are there and should be abided by. Without Brown doing what he did, Brett (Aitken) might have won."
What did Brown do?
"Brown and I started sprint at the same time...he was trying to run me into a parked car. It is just not on. Trying to put other people in danger is not on...not at 65km per hour."
"It is not a good way for a race to finish. I don't want any controversy as much as anybody, but Graeme is an up and coming rider and when I was young and coming up I wanted to beat everyone too. It is just the way he rides I think. I think everyone (in the peloton) saw it and there was a collective gasp as we went across the road.
"Graeme can do his best and talk it up as much as he wants but he has got to have respect...for each other."
Brown and Clarke both expressed their disappointment and anger at the commissaires' decision to disqualify Brown as a result of McEwen's complaint.
"We're very disappointed," Clarke said. "We did the work and they took it off us. We're not happy. I don't think we'll put the boys on the front. We'll make it as dangerous as possible I think."
Brown said: "We actually did the work today but we didn't get on the podium for it. I am not happy. I'm no prince when it comes to sprinting - I admit that. But personally I don't think I did anything wrong. "
He acknowledged the rivalry between he and McEwen but said he thought it had only been "a bit of fun".
"Last year it was a bit of fun but now he seems to be taking it personally," he said. "If he wants to take it to heart, I can also take it to heart. I find it a shame. He makes stupid comments, I make stupid comments. I race to win but we should try to get on with each other."
His version of events, not surprisingly, differs from that of his rival.
"Anyone who tries to come underneath me...it is not the best idea. I was coming down the back straight and McGrory decided he wanted my position. Hilton hit out and I stepped right and started sprinting. Robbie decided he wanted to go right as well..."
Race director John Trevorrow said the official word on the incident was that Brown had changed his line in the final sprint and moved across, forcing McEwen to take his hands off the bars to remain upright and stop his run.
"Otherwise the racing has been superb, we have been fortunate with the weather and we are expecting enormous crowds and top racing for the Australian criterium championship and third round of the Skilled Geelong Bay Classic at Geelong tomorrow night," he said.
Men 1 Brett Aitken (SA) Rio Coffee 2 Robbie McEwen (Qld) Crown Casino 3 Graham Roots (NSW) Rio Coffee 4 Scott McGrory (Vic) Skilled Quest 5 Hilton Clarke (Vic) SBR - Swim Bike Run 6 Leigh Egan (Vic) Ashburton Cycles 7 Baden Burke (ACT) Ashburton Cycles 8 Mark Renshaw (NSW) NSWIS 9 Adriano Baffi (Ita) Fitzroy Cycles 10 Graeme Miller (NZl) Skilled Sprints Sprint 1 1 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR - Swim Bike Run 2 Jono Davis (NSW) NSWIS 2 3 Greg Henderson (NZl) SBR - Swim Bike Run Sprint 2 1 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR - Swim Bike Run 2 David McKenzie (Vic) iTeamNova.com 3 Greg Henderson (NZl) SBR - Swim Bike Run Sprint 3 1 Jans Koerts (Ned) Fitzroy Cycles 2 Baden Burke (ACT) Ashburton Cycles 3 Jono Davis (NSW) NSWIS 2 Overall Standings after Day 2 1 Hilton Clarke (18) points 1 Robbie McEwan (18) points 1 Brett Aiken (18) points 4 Graham Roots (15) 5 Scott McGrory (11) 6 Graeme Brown (10) 7 Graeme Miller (6) 8 Baden BurkeLeigh Egan (5) 9 Greg HendersonMark Renshaw (3) 10 Chris CarrAdriano Baffi (2) Sprint Ace after Day 2 1 Graeme Brown (12) points 2 Jono Davis (5) 3 Alan Iacune (3) 3 Jan Koerts (3) 5 David Pell (2) 5 Rod McGee (2) 5 David McKenzie (2) 5 Greg Henderson (2) 5 Baden Burke (2)