The addition of three riders from the Riverland and one from Wagga to the field of local raised the stakes in Mildura-Coomealla Cycling Club’s Annual Autumn Classic to a level not experienced for several years.
Last Saturday’s race, for the L and V Westcott Shield, is a major event on the cycling calendar.
At close to 100km, it is the longest on the race program, and being a handicap event, it attracts a lot of interest from participants and spectators alike.
It is a race that anyone can win, as is theoretically the case with all handicap races.
From Nangiloc, the 18 riders headed towards Colignan, turning right into Boonoonar Road, and staying on this road until just short of the Calder Highway, before returning to Nangiloc and repeating the route again.
The handicappers divided the riders into five groups.
Barry Pollock and Donna Harris formed the limit group and rode 80km under time/distance conditions.
All other groups set out on the full course of 95km.
First to leave were Dave Edwards and Tom Athorn in second limit, followed ten minutes later by second block consisting of Tim Williams, Brian Gray, Matt Hissey and Paul Hicks.
At 16 minutes, the limit group of Pollock and Harris were dispatched, then at 20 minutes, the largest group for the day comprising Lee Stevens, Greg Toole, Steve Jaensch, Ben Nicholson, Shaun James, Tyler Beruldsen and Nigel Keath.
Finally, after another five minutes, scratch, consisting of Adam McGregor, Dion Strike and Clint Bambrick were released.
A south-westerly wind gusting to 32 km/hr challenged the riders all the way to the turnaround in Boonoonar Road.
Edwards and Athorn were the first to reach this point, followed by the other groups in order, except that Pollock and Harris had been overtaken by scratch and chopping block, which was not unexpected as they had 20km less km to cover.
Chopping block, which should have been doing best due to their larger number of riders, had already lost Keath, James and Beruldsen from their group.
The latter had a flat tyre not far from the start, which he dealt with in less than five minutes in order to ride with scratch as they came through.
Athorn and Edwards were working well together and were the first to turn at Nangiloc for the second lap.
Both were looking remarkably fresh, but they were now less than five minutes ahead of Gray, Hissey and Hicks, who were only a couple of minutes ahead of Nicholson, Lee, Jaensch, and Toole.
Hot on the heels of that group, the scratch group of Strike, Bambrick and McGregor turned for their second lap.
In the meantime, punctures and tough conditions had caused a number of riders to abandon the race.
Last to start on their second lap were Harris and Pollock, but they were still leading the race as they only had 30km still to ride while all the other riders had 48km to go.
Observers at the finish line saw three riders come into view in a sprint to the finish after 95 testing kilometres.
Strike put in a strong sprint but Bambrick, a known sprint champion, overtook Strike two meters from the line to take the 2021 Autumn Classic Title.
Second place went to Strike, and third to Stevens.
Results were as follows: first (and fastest time) – Clint Bambrick (Riverland CC), second – Dion Strike, third – Lee Stevens (RCC), fourth – Adam McGregor and fifth – Greg Toole. The first female was Donna Harris and group winners were Paul Hicks, Tom Athorn and Barry Pollock.
Tomorrow’s race is the Nash Lane 68km handicap road race at Belar Avenue/Fifteenth Street course where riders will cover six laps of the 11km circuit.