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APCO Easy Shop Twilight Criterium
Murphy Street, Wangaratta, Saturday January 24, 2004
By Mal Sawford
The Wangaratta Sports Club has for many years run a popular Australia Day Weekend Sports Carnival, with Track Cyclists, Professional runners and Axe-men chasing glory at the Wangaratta Show Grounds. For the first time, as a lead in to the traditional Sunday program, Saturday night saw the staging of a twilight Criterium up and down Wangaratta's main street.
With the race (and the entire Carnival) well supported by the Rural City of Wangaratta, Murphy Street was closed to traffic at 4.30 ahead of the 6pm start, allowing plenty of time for competitors to familiarize themselves with the hot-dog circuit. The race promised plenty of action, with all the top Trackies on the start line, as well as some of the state's premier Criterium specialists, fresh from the recent Jayco Bay Classic. A good crowd lined the full length of the course which encompassed Wangaratta's extensive café and restaurant strip.
2003 Wangaratta Wheelrace Champion Todd Wilksch (Fitzroy Cycles) and Barcelona Olympian Robert Crowe (BikeNOW) were the pre race favourites, but the Team MG-ZT boys had impressed in the Bay Classic and had strength in numbers on their side. With the first of the tight right hand corners only 100 meters from the imposing TAC/Victoria Police ‘Share the Road' inflatable finish line kite, a good start was essential, and the opening dash saw the 40 strong bunch charge into the corner, all trying to get there first.
The opening laps were run at a furious pace, and within minutes the field was decimated, with the MG-ZT trio of Joel Pearson, Mikkeli Godfree and Rhys Pollock, and mountain bike specialist Nick Kiraly (Team Carnegie Caulfield) responsible for much of the carnage. Many of the track stars found the going tough, with Wilksch and Joel Leonard (Giramondo Sportswear) among the early casualties. Wilksch would make up for his disappointment the following day by becoming the first rider to win the prestigious Wangaratta Wheelrace two years in succession; the feat made more impressive by the fact he rode from Scratch on both occasions!
At the first intermediate sprint, won by Pearson, the lead group was down to a dozen, with small chase groups spread around the 800 meter circuit.
An attack from Kiraly before the second sprint saw him open a ten second lead with Shepparton track star Brad Norton (Drapac) and Pearson, with Crowe in pursuit. Playing the team role to perfection, Godfree and Pollock shadowed the chase, and when a determined Crowe made contact with the leading trio, Team MG-ZT had three riders in the lead group.
The group of six went on to lap the remnants of the field, with the sprint for the final place in the generous prize list taken out by Zak Dempster inches ahead of the unlucky Leigh de Luca (Specialized).
Up front, the hard working Crowe battled the odds to counter the three pronged attack from Team MG-ZT, but with help from Norton kept the group intact. Pearson pushed too hard into the first corner in the closing stages, hitting the bitumen and taking team-mate Godfree with him, but both were able to rejoin the race a lap later. In the end, it was an impressive attack from Kiraly with four laps remaining that surprised the group, with the lightly built climbing specialist producing an impressive time trial effort to the cheers of the crowd to take the $500 win alone.
The sprint for second should, in theory, have gone to MG's sprinter Pearson. Crowe had other ideas, however, and powered out of the final corner in the lead and defied the best efforts of Pearson and Godfree to run him down. Pearson had to settle for third, and the win in the Sprint King Category, while the award for Most Aggressive Rider was taken out by the race winner. Kiraly was clearly delighted with his win, the 24 year old telling race announcer George Underwood it was his best win on the bitumen. "The crowd was pretty impressive. There's not many races I do that have this sort of turn-out. People cheering me on, as soon as I went on the attack there were guys cheering. It was fantastic, it's pretty exciting to have that - a lot of the races I do there's no one around and you only have yourself for motivation. And it's good we're racing on the main street, there's not many places that do that. We don't get to race in Bourke Street in Melbourne or Oxford Street in Sydney! This was pretty cool."
Images by Mal Sawford
1 Nick Kiraly (Carnegie Caulfield) 2 Robert Crowe (Carnegie Caulfield) 3 Joel Pearson (Warragul) 4 Mikkeli Godfree (Carnegie Caulfield) 5 Bradley Norton (Shepparton) 6 Rhys Pollock (Albury-Wodonga) 7 Zakkari Dempster (Bendigo) Intermediate Sprints 15 minutes: Joel Pearson (Warragul) 30 minutes: Nick Kiraly (Carnegie Caulfield) 45 minutes: Joel Pearson (Warragul) Sprint king: Joel Pearson (Warragul) Most aggressive: Nick Kiraly (Carnegie Caulfield)
Local results 2004