Day 5 - January 6: Crown Casino Complex. Start 9.30am, finish 12.30pm
McGrory shows his Skill, whilst Robbie McEwen takes the title
by Karen Forman in Melbourne
It was fast, it was exciting and, like a good book or movie, it didn't disappoint at the finish, with all the ends neatly sewn up for a heart warming conclusion.
Not only did the final event in the 2002 Skilled Geelong Bay Classic, raced over a tight and challenging course outside Melbourne's Crown Casino, boast enough twists and turns of plot to place a couple of new faces on the podium (Scott McGrory and Stuart O'Grady).
It also included some nostalgia, with series leader, Robbie McEwen, and series sprint leader, Graeme Brown, winning the overall prizes.
And a well deserved break story, with the SBR.elite team comprising Brown, Hilton Clarke, David Pell, Craig Henderson and Kristjan Snorrason completing a remarkable debut in the Skilled Engineering Bay Series winning the overall teams event (as well as Brown's green sprint jersey and Clarke coming a close second in the overall yellow jersey).
But it wasn't a story without suspense.
Only two points had separated McEwen (30) and Clarke (28) at the start.
Clarke had team mate Brown to help him out, but McEwen had appeared to have been doing it without a lot of support from his Crown Casino teammates in previous stages.
Not surprisingly, with the series at stake, Brown and Clark hit the front hard from the gun, with a wary McEwen on their tails.
Then Stuart O'Grady (Skilled) got away with Tim Morley (Crown Casino) and Peter Milostic (International), chased hard by major player from throughout the series, Robert Tighello (Ashburton Cycles).
The pace was fast, the atmosphere tense and the large crowd which gathered to watch was delighted.
O'Grady's breakaway was joined by Graham Roots (Rio Coffee), Paul Redenback (Jayco VIS) and Tim Morley (Crown Casino) and challenged hard from behind by Rodney McGee (NSW IS) and Italian sprint hero Adriano Baffi (Fitzroy Cycles).
They were reeled in two laps before the first intermediate sprint, but another attack got underway almost immediately - this time Baffi and Mark Roach of 100% Cycles/Cervelo.
Baffi showed remarkable leg speed and the true style which has won him a stage of the Giro d'Italia to win the sprint from Roots and a firing- on -all- cyclinders Brown, adding more points to his series sprint ace lead.
While they were recovering from their burst of speed, Matt White (NSW IS) quietly pushed ahead, testing the waters for a breakaway - and his judgement was spot on.
Corey Sweet (Skilled) and Jason Phillips (Skilled Quest) climbed aboard, along with McGee. Another lap around, they were joined by Rootes, forming a very good breakaway bunch.
When the second intermediate sprint came up, it was Sweet taking the top points, followed by McGee and Rootes.
Meanwhile, back on the bunch, the iteamNova.com boys (David McKenzie and Alan Iacune) were showing their colours as a team.
When the breakaway was reeled back in, McGee attacked, was chased hard by SBR-elite's David Pelle and pulled back in time for Redenback to launch a solo breakaway, which he held for a couple of laps, despite the top efforts of McKenzie, Stephen Cunningham (Rio Coffee) and Brendan Cato (NSW IS-2) to hunt him down.
There was one man, however, who had a little more energy available - O'Grady - and with two laps to go before the third intermediate sprint, he broke away and established an extensive lead.
The chasing bunch had no choice but to increase its pace, but O'Grady was never in doubt as the sprint winner. Brown was second, ensuring he would retain his sprint ace leader's jersey and team mate Snorrason was third.
With the race now in its final, crucial stages, it was time for somebody to do something big.
O'Grady was still out front, head down, legs pumping. McGrory and Chris Carr set off in chase, working hard together to bring him back. And further back on the front of the bunch, Brown, Clark, McEwen (who never let rival Clark out of his sight) and Graeme Miller (Skilled) were making up ground.
The crowd was going wild every time the field passed the start-finish line. When the breakaway was caught, there was a silent, but collective, sigh.
Carr, McGrory and O'Grady made a move then, gaining seven seconds on a bunch led by Milostic and Brown by turn.
Then Milostic caught the leaders, hard working Brown went to the back of the chasing bunch to have a nap behind somebody's wheel, and race caller Phil Liggett counted down five laps to go.
In the breakaway were Carr, Milostic, McGrory and O'Grady. It looked like a teams time trial but it wasn't. Each man, by this stage, was riding to win the stage.
Back in the bunch were the two series leaders, being dragged along with a refreshed Brown, Jans Koerts (Fitzroy Cycles) Miller, Brendan Cato (NSW IS-2) and Rootes.
MCEwen could only hope Clarke would not collect those extra two points.
Speculation began in the crowd. Would it come down to a sprint between the four? Was there any way the chasing bunch would catch the breakaway in time? Major player Brown indicated his work was done when he pulled back and dropped out of the racing field, red faced and sweating profusedly.
Meanwhile, two of the cream of Australia's racing crop - O'Grady and McGrory - were sizing each other up, trying to figure out how the other was feeling, whether there was any tiredness or weakness to be taken advantage of.
And then, with two laps to go, McGrory selected a larger gear, pumped hard on his pedals and took off.
He was still well clear at the bell and halfway to the finish line was waving at the crowd, sure of the win to come.
Behind him, a smaller contingent comprising, O'Grady, Milostic, Dutch riders John den Braber and Jens Mouris (both City of Greater Geelong) were sprinting for honours, while back in the bunch, MCEwen just had to finish in front of Clark.
And that was how it went. Victorian, McGrory won his first stage this series. South Australian O'Grady crossed the line in second place, ahead of Milostic and Carr. McEwen coasted in, in fifth place, ahead of Aitken, Baffi, White and Iacuone and Clarke picked up 10th position.
And everybody was happy.
"It went pretty much how I thought it would be," fifth placegetter and series winner McEwen (who won the Geelong stage and the Australian criterium championship on Friday) said.
"I knew I had to ride on Hilton's wheel the whole time."
He now contests the Australian road championships and the Tour Down Under before heading back to Europe.
McGrory, who heads back to Europe immediately to rejoin Mapei Quick Step, was over the moon with his win.
Both riders said they were pleased the race had been free of the aggro involving Brown and implicating them during the previous two races.
(Brown was disqualified and relegated from first to 11 place at Barwon Heads on Thursday after being found guilty of sprinting illegally, causing McEwen to almost crash into a parked car. Then, at Geelong on Friday, Brown accused McGrory of bumping him, causing him to come down and bruise his shoulder and hip.)
"It was much better out there," McGrory said. "The main aggressor realises there is more at stake not just injury.. "We all try to be professional. We get paid to race bikes."
"I can undersatnd that gets can get fairly tought, but we have etiquette. We are out there to beat them, not kill them."
McGrory said he believed the rider (Brown) was "very talented" and "has a big future if he can control his temper."
"As far as I'm concerned it was over the next day," he said of the incident.
"We're pleased that we won the teams and the sprint jersey and came second overall but a little disappointed because we would have liked to have won."
He couldn't resist a little dig, however.
"Aiken was being an idiot out there today, doing ridiculous things, chopping people," he said.
"After McGrory dropped me and Aitken being an idiot today, I wouldn't go out of my way to help either of them."
Elite Men's 1 Scott McGrory (Vic) Skilled Quest 2 Stuart O'Grady (SA) Skilled 3 Peter Milostic (NSW) Fitzroy Cycles 4 Chris Carr (Balance Carnegie CC) 5 Robbie McEwen (Qld) Crown Casino 6 Brett Aitken (SA) Rio Coffee 7 Adriano Baffi (Ita) Fitzroy Cycles 8 Matt White (NSW) NSWIS 9 Alan Iacune (Vic) iteamNova.com 10 Hilton Clarke (Vic) SBR Swim Bike Run Sprint 1 1 Adriano Baffi (Ita) Fitzroy Cycles 2 Graham Roots (SA) Rio Coffee 3 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR Swim Bike Run Sprint 2 1 Corey Sweet (SA) Skilled 2 Rod McGee (NSW) NSWIS 3 Graham Roots (SA) Rio Coffee Sprint 3 1 Stuart O'Grady (SA) Skilled 2 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR Swim Bike Run 3 Krisjan Snorrasson (Vic) SBR - Swim Bike Run Sprint ace pointscore 1 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR Swim Bike Run 2 Mark Renshaw (NSW) NSWIS 3 Robert Tighello (Vic) Ashburton Cycles Overall Final Series Pointscore 1 Robbie McEwen (Qld) Crown Casino 36 points 2 Hilton Clarke (Vic) SBR Swim Bike Run 29 3 Brett Aitken (SA) Rio Coffee 24 4 Scott McGrory (Vic) Skilled Quest 23 5 Peter Milostic (NSW) Fitzroy Cycles 20