From Warragul to Whiteout

By Monique Hanley

The 2006 Mt Baw Baw Classic: from Warragul to Whiteout

A three-inch snow dump, rain, sleet and sub-zero temperatures greeted riders for the 6th annual Mt Baw Baw Classic on Saturday, aptly marking the start of the Victorian winter road racing season.  It was hard to imagine conditions ahead from the Warragul race start where the weather was mild with an occasional shower, so when Race Director Chris Beales announced to riders to prepare for extreme cold and snow many thought it was a cruel April Fools Day joke.  Overnight, the Mt Baw Baw tourist road had received three inches of snow which required clearing by Mt Baw Baw Resort staff before racing commenced.  Combined with Antarctic south westerly winds, heavy patches of rain and snow flurries, the race became a question of survival for the 126 starters.

There were many extraordinary efforts during the race, including Masters 2/3 category winner, Tom Crebbin, who defied the odds to make a back-to back win.  Undoubtedly the most notable effort in any racing category was found in the Masters 4 and above section where Ken Ford continued his amazing streak by claiming the win in another sprint finish to Ian Blackie.  Ford has now won every Masters prize since the race inception in 2001.  Canberra’s Michael Tolhurst was the standout rider in A grade who after bridging to a mid-race breakaway, climbed clear from St Kilda’s Ashley Hayat to surge up the final 6km.  Tolhurst was part of the inaugural Mt Baw Baw Classic in 2001, finishing 11th overall and since then has made the interstate journey three times to improve his results.  Until this year his best placing was back in 2003 with 4th place.

A grade

The A grade bunch were the first to roll out from Warragul’s West Gippsland Arts Centre, and even encountered a chance sun period through Glen Cromie before the temperature plummeted and the rain returned.  After the Vespers Hill KOM climb, led by Nick Walker of Brunswick, Tolhurst made the decision to get across to the break.  ‘It was all or nothing,’ he described after the race, ‘we had a group of three working together and just before the Toll Gate (the start of the final 6km ascent averaging 12%) I made my move.’  With race radio giving feedback on his time gap to the chase bunch, Tolhurst described the feeling as ‘horrible’, as the bunch closed in from 2min 30 at the toll gate to just 20 seconds by the finish.  The conditions deteriorated further with sleet and snow flurries greeting all riders at the mountain top, but Tolhurst dug deep to hold off the late charge led by Hawthorn’s Daniel Braunsteins.  The Classic had been a race Tolhurst always wanted to win, but given the conditions he was understandably uncertain on coming back to defend his title in 2007.  Spaced apart by 20 second intervals behind Braunsteins were Josh Wilson (Launceston) and William Ford (VIS).

Women

The women’s race start was combined with the Masters group, enabling the pack to largely remain together until the Vespers Hill climb.  From here, Latrobe Valley local Peta Mullens (Carnegie Caulfield) took hold of the women’s race, continuing solo until the Toll Gate and establishing a considerable lead.  But tragedy struck as her legs came unstuck on the steep ascent.  Forced to walk the steepest sections, she could only watch on as Carnegie Caulfield club-mates Helen Kelly and 16 year old Lisa Friend pinned back her lead and passed her in the final sections.  The win was an excellent result for Kelly who is in her final preparations for another racing season in Europe.  Mullens was able to cross the line in third position ahead of Bairnsdale and Riviera’s Simone Spykers.

B grade

An attack by Bradley Clark (Albury-Wodonga) and Adrian Jackson (Dirt Riders) at Rokeby, only 10km from the start, at first wasn’t given much respect by the B grade peloton.  But as the race progressed and conditions deteriorated, the Clark-Jackson alliance proved unstoppable.  Behind them, the chase was impeded by a six-rider fall on the descent outside of Jindivick which hospitalised two riders, but ahead of the bunch only Jarrod Harman from Mersey Valley Devonport was able to bridge across to the two escapees.  His presence was short-lived, as Clark and Jackson continued on their way with Clark claiming the KOM prize on Vespers Hill and going on to take out overall honours.  Jackson finished second, mountain biker Daryl Burns third and Brunswick rider Jordan Sutherland fourth.

C grade

The C grade bunch stayed together until a five-man break formed after Vespers Hill, whose prize was claimed by Leongatha’s Brett Franklin.  Franklin, along with good mate Mark Ferguson (Carnegie Caulfield) pushed ahead on the final climb, with Ferguson taking the win.  ‘It was just a case of riding at your own pace in these conditions‘, noted Ferguson afterwards, ‘but I really thought that Brett was going to take it out’.  Sutherland Shire rider Dion Blair finished third and Brunswick rider Paul Munro fourth.

Masters 2/3

The Masters 2/3 field allowed an early breakaway by Coburg’s Tom McDonough to work solo for the first 50km.  His effort was rewarded by the sprint and KOM prizes, but he was reeled in shortly after Vespers Hill by a small bunch.  Within this pack sat 2005 winner Tom Crebbin (Hawthorn), who saved his best for the final charge to repeat his effort and claim back-to-back honours.  The pace in the Masters field was high as they caught the C grade bunch ahead of them.  Aaron Field (Blackburn) was second in the Masters 2/3, followed by Paul Logan (Coburg) and Matt Colston (St Kilda).

Masters 4 and above

The Masters race once again proved to be a classic race with an early three man breakaway led by race favourites Ray Jarratt (Cobram Barooga), Ian Blackie (Ararat) and Ken Ford (Carnegie Caulfield).  By the start of the toll gate the pace had proved too taxing for Jarrat, but it was Blackie who led the charge up the final 6km with Ford hanging on for dear life.  It seemed that after finished second to Ford the past two years that 2006 would be the year for Blackie.  With the crowd cheering on, the pair rounded the bend into the carpark side by side, sprinting for the finish.  With both riders throwing everything for the line, it was Ford who managed to steal the fairytale from Blackie, crossing a heartbreaking ½ wheel in front of the Ararat rider.  Completing his own fairytale, Ford has now claimed every Masters prize for Mt Baw Baw – a staggering six year winning streak – and the worthy namesake of the Ken Ford Perpetual Masters Trophy.

Photos by Carl Brewer.

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