The fifteenth Regional Australia Bank New England Festival Criterium served up another great day of racing for over 60 riders from across the state, including a fantastic turnout of junior riders.
Pre-race attention was focused on the weather charts, with heavy rain was forecast across the state over the weekend. But the weather gods were shining on New England, as despite an early morning shower racing was able to proceed as planned in fine conditions.
New for this year was the running of a “Hot Lap” – a single lap of the Crit circuit ridden solo from a standing start, with the fastest time taking the win. This was run separately for the Juniors, combined B/C Grade riders, and A-Grade.
First up for the Hot Lap were an eager bunch of 19 juniors, and some very determined riding saw some close times recorded. Fastest around the circuit was Armidale’s Alex Harris taking first place in a time of 1:30, closely followed by Thomas Singleton (Armidale) with a time of 1:32 and Oliver Belson (Armidale) at 1:34. With a wide range of ages & abilities, the times all the juniors recorded on the hot lap were then used to grade the juniors into 2 separate races, and calculate rider handicaps for the racing that followed.
In Junior Race #1 we had 7 juniors line up, and with the handicaps in place riders were set off one by one for 2 laps of racing, with the first rider to cross the line being the winner. As the handicaps kicked in and the juniors came together, it was Thomas Page (Armidale) who held off the chasing riders behind for an great win, with Andy Blair (Armidale) reeling in all but Thomas from starting in last place to take second, and Poppy Stace (Armidale) coming home 3rd.
In Junior Race #2 we had 11 juniors line up for 3 laps of racing. It was heads-down as the riders were set off, and a blur legs and wheels saw riders all over the course as the last riders off the start line attempted to chase down those ahead. But it was middle-of-the-pack rider Richard May (Armidale) who paced the 3 laps perfectly to overtake all those ahead of him and hold off the fast finishing riders behind to take out a famous win ahead of Kal Blair (Armidale) and Lucas Howlett (Armidale) 2nd & 3rd respectively.
Well done to all the juniors, and for many watching their spirited & enthusiastic riding was the highlight of the day!
With the junior racing complete, it was over to the senior riders to step up to the plate. First up there was a combined B/C Grade Hot Lap, with 10 riders having a crack at the race of truth. Some very close times were recorded, with Tamworth’s Daniel Nash coming in first in a time of 1:08, with Clint Bourke (Armidale) and Alex Griffiths (Brisbane) taking a joint 2nd place just 1 second back at 1:09.
With that warm-up effort out of the way 9 riders lined up for C-Grade and 20 min + 3 laps of racing with 2 intermediate sprint prizes up for grabs. Andrew Swan (Armidale) was prominent at the front of the race throughout, keeping a solid pace that deterred any early attacks. Chris Stace (Armidale) popped up at the front of the race to take out the first intermediate sprint before settling back into the pack. But it was visiting rider Dominic Waters (Lismore) who shook up the race with a strong attack that saw him take out the 2nd intermediate sprint, and off the back of this build up a solid lead. The chasing pack worked hard to reel him in, but as the final laps ticked down Dominic was able to hold on for a strong win. In the group sprint that followed for the remaining places it was Richard Wilkison (Armidale) who took out second place, with Dene Bouke (Armidale) round out the podium in 3rd place.
B-Grade was a hotly contested affair with 17 riders lining up for 35mins + 3 laps of racing and 3 intermediate sprint prizes. Hugh Munday (Armidale) made the early running driving the group along at a cracking pace and attacking off the front, and his efforts paid dividends as he mopped up the first 2 intermediate sprints. This set the tone for the rest of the race with numerous attacks and chases from individual riders. Zane Tapp (Tamworth) rode strongly throughout and was also punching off the front, grabbing the third intermediate sprint. But as the race reached the business end of proceedings, the pace whipped up and the group came together to contest the final lap and sprint. And emerging from the pack like a scalded cat was Clint Bourke, who opened a small gap into the last turn, and held on in the sprint to take out the win. Hugh Munday had enough left in the tank to take out 2nd place, with Codie Miller coming in 3rd.
With A grade riders saving their legs for the big race, only 3 riders contested the A-Grade Hot Lap, with Shaun Baxter taking out the fastest time in 1:02, with Xander Griffiths (Brisbane) second in 1:05, and Pete Harris (Armidale) 3rd in 1:07.
Finally it was time for the much-awaited and hotly contested A-Grade race to begin with 19 rider ready for 40mins + 3 laps (4 sprints). A Grade unexpectedly gained an extra rider as B-Grader Nathan Paul (Armidale) chose the wrong day to sleep through his alarm, and although he was supremely well rested, he would pay a heavy price for the extra slumber as in his own words he was spat out of the back “faster than a bad burrito”!
An early attack saw a pair of riders and gain a small advantage in the early laps. But the main group weren’t keen to let any sprint prizes slip through their hands, and they were soon reeled in before Shaun Baxter took out the first sprint of the day. Frenetic and fast paced racing followed, but with none of the attacks sticking Dave Munday (Armidale) surged from the bunch to take out sprint #2. From this point in the racing was full gas as the pace ramped up and the strongest riders emerged from the group to drive things along. And on the day the strongest of them all was Mick Harris (Armidale), who took out sprints #3 & #4, before unleashing a fantastic sprint finish to take out overall first place. Phillip Almond (Coffs Harbour) came in a well deserved 2nd, with Shaun Baxter following up his strong effort throughout the race for 3rd place.
Many thanks to all riders, spectators, club members, and race officials who ensured that the fifteenth Regional Australia Bank New England Festival Criterium was another race to remember. Special thanks to Rob Hale & Hugh McKellar for some great race photography which you can find on the clubs Facebook page
We look forward to seeing you all again next year!