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105th Austral Wheelrace - IM
Vodafone Arena, Melbourne, Australia, March 16, 2003
2003 Austral Wheelrace
By Mal Sawford in Melbourne
The 105th running of the prestigious Austral Wheelrace, thought to be the world's longest running track race, saw history being made tonight when Tasmanian Scratchman Darren Young took out a thrilling final in front of a crowd of over 3,500 to become the first winner to successfully defend his title. In the process he also proved the foresight of the printers of the official program, who had inadvertently labeled the back cover photo of his 2002 win as the 2003 winner!
Despite his success last year, Young played down his chances of a repeat performance before racing got underway, pointing to his (slightly) less than perfect performance a week ago at the Bendigo Madison, where he partnered former World Champion Eric Weispfennig to second place.
"I was pretty disappointed, I think more so for Eric. He came all the way from Germany for his third second place, and I definitely wasn't going as well as I normally do," said Young.
The modest pocket rocket nominated former World Keirin Champion and fellow backmarker Ryan Bayley as the rider to watch, with the claim, "I don't ride handicaps as well as I used too anymore".
130 riders contested the main event, spread over eight heats, with the outmarkers given a generous 245 meter start on the 250 meter indoor track. Bayley looked comfortable in winning his heat, while Young was forced to settle for second in his heat behind the winner of the inaugural Bendigo Madison Criterium, Robert Wilson. Other riders to impress in the heats were 16 year old Cameron Wise, who sprinted well clear of the pack in the final bend, and former elite Aussie Rules footballer Aaron Salisbury. Colac rider and former triathlete Andrew Cox made his first major final with a good heat win, while consistent finalists Tommy Nankervis, Steve Martin and Rick Talbot also scored convincing heat wins.
One of the pre-race favourites, Under 19 sensation Daniel Thorson, was a non starter after a nasty fall in the closing meters of the Invitation Sprint Derby, convincingly won by Bayley. Although escaping without serious injury, Thorson's bike was written off in the crash and he took no further part in the night's racing.
The Wheelrace Final saw the unusual sight of the two outmarkers start directly behind the two Scratchmen; effectively with one less lap to travel, and Justin Leske gave everything at the start in an attempt to hold the wheel of the rider in front. With the crowd cheering him on, Leske fought his way onto the wheel of Bayley, and stayed there for four laps, before his brave effort became too much and he rapidly lost contact.
Ahead of the flying group of backmarkers, powered along by former World Junior Champion Shaun Hopkins, Robert Wilson, Leigh Egan and Brad Norton, the strong group of middle markers reeled in the leaders with four laps remaining, only for the chasers to make contact on the following lap.
Sean Finning, who has been dominating local Club racing over the last month jumped away from the bunch two laps from home, but Bayley turned on the afterburners to take the race lead at the bell lap. Young had had a dream run to this point, and came off the wheel around the final bend to take a great win in a race record time of 2'02.301, an average speed of 58.87 km/h. Cameron Wise had found his way onto Young's wheel and followed the elated winner past Bayley to snatch second place and earn the biggest pay day of his short career.
Young was delighted with his win, comparing it his effort from last year. "This is better. I won't say I expected it but I thought we could get there. Last year I didn't think we could get to the front runners," he said.
When reminded about his lack of confidence before the heats, he confessed amazement at his turnaround in form over the past week. "I rode the Madison last week and that must have brought me up, all the sprinting, because I haven't done much track work. I couldn't have won a Club race last week. It's funny what happens in a week. I backed off the week before Bendigo but nothing seemed to happen, I still felt slow."
Young's next goal is to claim a place in the Australian World Cup team, targeting the Points Race and Scratch Race at the Australian Track Championships. Further down the track, he hopes to earn a ride on the European 6 Day circuit. To top off a great night, he also took out the opening Aces Elimination race ahead of Robert Wilson and Sean Finning, and bettered his second placing of last year in the night's final event, the Aces Scratchrace, taking out the 25 lap event with another good sprint to hold off another strong challenge from Wilson and Nic Sanderson.
The final event in the Fitzroy Cycles International Cycling Series for 2002/03 is the Sid Patterson Grand Prix on March 29, featuring the Champions Wheelrace, where the winners of all the major Australian Wheelraces will ride off to determine the 'Champion of Champions'.
Images by Mikkeli Godfree/Cyclingnews.com
Images by Mal Sawford/Cyclingnews.com
More images by Mikkeli Godfree/Cyclingnews.com
Fitzroy Cycles Austral Wheelrace Heat winners Heat 1: C. Wise 180 Heat 2: R. Talbot 170 Heat 3: S. Martin 160 Heat 4: A. Cox 185 Heat 5: A. Salisbury 110 Heat 6: T. Nankervis 90 Heat 7: R. Wilson 15 Heat 8: R. Bayley Scr. Final 1 Darren Young (Tasmania) Scratch 2.01.301 2 Cameron Wise (Carnegie Caulfield CC) 180m 3 Ryan Bayley (Western Australia) Scratch 4 Adrian Salter (Footscray CC) 135m