MELBOURNE, Australia—The Melbourne Grand Prix of Cyclocross (MELGPCX) opened up this season’s international UCI cyclocross race calendar over the weekend, with muddy racing between the Australia's top riders at a new venue in the rolling hills north of Melbourne.
Australia’s freshly crowned national champions, Peta Mullens (Focus/Attaquer) and Chris Jongewaard (Flanders/health.com.au), dominated the nation’s only international cyclocross event, holding onto the powerful form that earned them those green and gold stripes earlier this month.
It is the third year of the UCI classified C2 racing for MELGPCX but the first time it has been run at the State Motorcycle Complex in Broadford. The course uses some of the motorcycle race track but spends most of its time winding its way across the picturesque and grassy surrounds. As a purpose-built race venue, Broadford is perfectly suited to cyclocross and already widely regarded as a world-class venue for our sport.
"It is a very challenging course and it felt like we were climbing the whole race,” said five-time Australian cyclocross champion Jongewaard. “Sunday, especially, it turned on a lot of hard boggy sections. With the rain and the mud it just turned out perfectly really. It wasn’t great to be out there (in the rain), but they were real ’cross conditions and that’s what we want."
It took 1,100 poles and 7 kilometres of tape, along with countless volunteer hours, to create the track that sent riders sliding their way around muddy corners, putting the power down on the bitumen sections and dismounting at barriers and steps.
More than 200 competitors from around Australia took part each day in a big weekend of racing, gratefully supported by the Victoria state government through its significant sporting events funding programme.
The mornings were filled with races for everyone from kids on balance bikes to sprightly race-ready 70-year-olds. Then in the afternoon, it was time for the top riders in Australia battle it out in the Elite Women’s and Men’s races, where they were fighting not only for the win on the day but the rare opportunity to accrue valuable UCI points to try and make a mark on the official global rider rankings.
Australia may be a fledgling player in the world of cyclocross but ultimately the team that organises MELGPCX—the Sunbury Cycling Club—hopes to play a part in the globalisation of the European-based winter sport by bringing the world’s best to our shores.
"Since we started organising cyclocross races five years ago, we have been on a crazy roller coaster ride,” said Colin Bell, MELGPCX organiser and President of the Sunbury Cycling Club. “Early on we dreamed of hosting the Australian Championships, then an international race."
"Cyclocross continues to grow and grow in Australia, and for good reason; It is fun, exciting, spectator-friendly and inclusive. We dream now of bringing a World Cup to Australia "
Read on for reports from the two days of racing and a photo gallery from Ernesto Arrigada.
Day 1 - Saturday
On Day 1, it wasn’t long before the friendly rivalry between a former Australian champion, Rebecca Locke (Team WillyLocke), and the newly-minted one, Mullens, was re-ignited. The pair were neck-and-neck after the first lap of the Elite Women’s race, but then Locke’s bike started playing up. This allowed Mullens to stretch the gap enough that she could slip into preservation mode and make sure there was something in reserve if she needed it on the final lap.
"This kind of course is actually quite challenging to do five laps on and if you blow your door second lap, the fifth lap can hurt really bad," said the two-time Australian cyclocross champion.
Locke fought on to hold second. Claire Aubrey delivered an impressive third, while in the final stages of the race Jaye Buswell overtook last year’s national champion, April McDonough (Flanders/health.com.au), to take fourth.
In the Men’s Elite race there was a surprise early leader, with first-year Elite rider Nicholas Smith (Flanders/health.com.au) breaking away from the early front group. Ultimately, a powerful Jongewaard caught his young teammate and took the victory. However, he seemed just as excited, if not more, about Smith’s impressive second place.
"The future is here," said Jongewaard as he stood alongside his teammate on the podium.
Chris Aitken (Focus/Attaquer) finished third, while Ben Walkerden (Flanders/health.com.au) rolled in fourth and Garry Millburn (MAAP/Enve), unusually slipped away from the top steps of the podium to come in fifth.
Day 2 - Sunday
On Sunday the storm clouds started to gather as the Women’s Elite field was taking to the course. As the riders wound their way around the first lap toward the muddiest section, McDonough took to the front.
However, it wasn’t long before Mullens clicked into gear and charged to the head of the field, with Locke again in chase mode. It was a close battle out the front for most of the race, with just a small gap, but then it stretched as Locke slipped and lost momentum on a crucial corner with less than two laps of the five-lap race to go.
Mullens delivered her second win, with Locke again in second but this time it was Jaye Buswell third and Claire Aubrey fourth, while Fiona Morris (MAAP/Enve) slotted into fifth.
Not long after the Women’s race finished the rain set in, so the already muddy course got even slipperier as the Elite Men set off. Reveling in the slide-inducing wet conditions, Aitken and Millburn led the early charge through the worst of the mud, which was now riddled with deep and unpredictable puddles.
However, it wasn’t far into the seven-lap race when they were reeled back in and a lead group of five formed. Again, a powerful Jongewaard rode off the front while Millburn held on valiantly as long as he could. The Australian champion rode across the line first for the second day in a row. Millburn took second, Smith third, Aitken fourth and Ben Walkerden rounded out the top five.
The weekend races also counted as the final two rounds of the Mountain Bike Australia Cyclocross National Series, as while the race may be the opening race for the international season it closes the Australian one. Millburn and Locke took out the series wins, with Locke never straying from the top two steps of the podium all season.
"A lot of girls have stepped up to make it very competitive out there and I’ve really enjoyed the racing this year," said Locke. "I’ve had a couple of years in the wilderness so it is nice to be back."
Full results are below the photo gallery.