By Paul Ingwersen
Another balmy border Wednesday evening and another round of summer criterium racing but with a difference last week as the women shone through. Maddie Wright got one on the men, setting an all-time fastest lap and Jodie Nicholls took out the D Grade with a strong solo finish.
The classy A grade field started at a normal pace, but by lap two there was no easing into the race or chance to warm up with the intentions clear. Jess Featonby attacked solo to be chased by Neil van der Ploeg and the race shattered the way a crystal vase responds when dropped on tiles. Riders, like the shards of glass, were spread everywhere. Pain the only expression on their faces, and panic the reaction, as they desperately tried to make contact with the front aggressors. Some never made it and the field was culled with DNFs appearing from lap three.
Towards the front, there were some super efforts by the likes of Charly McMillan, Maddie Wright, Marcus Warner and Brett Nicholls to get back on terms with Featonby and van der Ploeg. Then on lap three as they closed the gap, Maddie Wright, mixing it with the strong boys, set the record of 2:00 flat on the official Strava lap timer averaging 46.9km/hr over the 1.5km circuit. The time suggests it won’t be long before the first sub 2:00 minute lap appears.
The front of the race reformed and the next six laps were all 2:10 or faster as Featonby attacked, McMillan chased or van der Ploeg set a tempo that in music terms could only be described as allegro vivace. The only antidote to a Featonby attack was for van der Ploeg to ride his very fast tempo on the front. Both scenarios dishing out the pain, either constantly or sharper spurts of the same.
From lap 10, there was a slight pause and the race then alternated between moderato and presto as attacks were chased down, riders looked at each other and then attacked again.
Coming into the bell lap Brett Nicholls took a flier, and led the diminished bunch by a few seconds. for much of the final kilometre. McMillan led the chase and rounding the last corner, in any other grade, the gap would have been enough for Nicholls to win, but the black kit of van der Ploeg and then Featonby and Marcus Warner flashed by to push him down to 4th. Maddie Wright took 5th, only seconds off the winners and with the lap record secured for at least the next two weeks.
Simon Crawford took out the B grade race after attacking the bunch with a lap to go. Despite a solid chase he kept the gap, and lifted himself out of the saddle to sprint the last section as Ken Payne and Dan Owen rounded the corner, getting a slingshot off the chasing riders, but couldn’t make up the ground.
Racing takes a break this week to allow the screening of Le Ride, the story of an Australian and New Zealand team riding the 1928 Tour de France. At the Regent Cinema, 22 February, 6.45 pm.