2017 Mt Baw Baw Classic

It was a week of perfect autumn weather. Gorgeous sun-bathed days and calm winds made for perfect riding conditions.  But it was also a week where I frequented the Bureau of Meteorology site on numerous occasions. Each time the report was the same: Sunday,  Mt Baw Baw, cold, rain, sleet and snow above 1200 meters.  Thunderstorms and weather warnings in place. I kept wishing for the change in weather conditions to pass early or arrive late but the Sunday forecast, no matter how often I looked at it, remained the same.

I frequented my local bike shop and stocked up on some wet weather gear for Sarah.  An under helmet beanie, a windproof head band, glove liners (I did not even know these existed!) and a semi-clear rain jacket for over her jersey. Knowing Sarah’s usual jersey-and-knicks-does-the-trick mindset, I was pretty sure she would not wear any of it, but I felt it was important to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared.

The day started early with a drive from our home to the country town of Warrugal. We arrived just in time for registration and jumped out of the car alongside a fellow club member, Craig, who proceeded to give Sarah a run-down of the event. The words replayed in my mind.. three tricky descents…you can go 100km/hr…the road will be wet..there will be leaves…the leaves will be slippery….Vespers Hill will be hard…there will definitely be snow..you will be exhausted by the time you hit the mountain..split the mountain into three stages..the middle stage has orange posts..there are twenty orange posts..count them..post letters if you need..put your brain into neutral..just get up the beast!

At the start line, the commissaire’s words were a little unusual. “We are not yet sure where the race will end due to the severe weather.  Maybe at the top of Baw Baw or maybe earlier! We will let you know as the race progresses.”

My son Scott had decided to come with us, and as we drove off to the feed station at Noojee, the radio station announced that there were severe weather warnings in place for the whole of Victoria. All Victorians were recommended to stay inside for the afternoon!

At Noojee, which was about 50km into the race, we watched each of the groups come through. Mens A, B and C had splintered into many groups, with large time differences within grades. Then Masters B came through, which had started after Women’s A.  Finally we saw the lead car from Women’s A. Both Scott and I grinned from one ear to the other as we spotted Sarah’s green helmet and socks come through behind the lead car, with no one else in sight! To my knowledge, Sarah’s pre-race plan did not include a solo breakaway, but she looked strong and appeared to be managing the cold and wet with aplomb.

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Sarah on the attack!

After watching the peloton come through some two minutes later, it was back into a long line of cars for us, all making our way towards Baw Baw. Slowly, some of the Women’s A riders began to drop off as we reached Vespers Hill. Nine hundred meters into the eight percent, four kilometer climb, Sarah was caught by the leading group of five riders, which included Lisen Hockings, Kate Perry, Justine Barrow, Shannon Malseed and Jemma Eastwood. With Lisen, the 2017 Oceania Road Race Champion, driving the pace at the front, Sarah, and soon after, Jemma, dropped off as the other four riders soon raced out of sight. Sarah was solo, but as riders began to catch her, she was about half way through the field, with riders strung out both in front and behind her.  Finally there was a small downhill and Sarah and one other managed to speed past the convoy of cars and join a group of three who then rode together towards Tanjil Bren, at the base of Baw Baw.

Occasionally, when the roads were less windy, we caught sight of two Women’s A riders just ahead.  Kirsty Deacon, who was riding in Sarah’s group of five, saw them too and determinedly set off to catch them; she disappeared out the front and our admiration for all these riders, braving both the weather and the aggressive race, went up a notch (if that was possible.)

After crossing Big Tree Creek, it was on to meet the beast itself.  Sarah’s group quickly splintered and soloed their way up the mountain, with Sarah at the back.  A Leongatha masters rider was rocking dangerously as both he and Sarah wrestled for both road and mountain.  Dangerously close, I thought they would knock each other out, and we held our breath as the Leongatha rider finally wriggled ahead. About one third of the way up one of the girls in front of Sarah popped and began posting letters both right and left of the road in an effort not to dismount.

Our in-car applause and esteem for all riders continued to mount as the rain turned to sleet.  The gradient was horrendous and the weather was a superb match. I was a little relieved when the sleet turned to snow. Any improvement in the conditions was better than none. In the last one kilometer Sarah pulled back one other rider from her group to pass through the finish line in ninth position and twenty-two minutes behind the race winner, Lisen Hocking, from Holden Cycling.  Lisen had broken away up the final climb and soloed to a comfortable victory, 49 seconds ahead of second place, Justine Barrow from Rush Women’s Team. Shannon Malseed, also from Holden, took third place honours a further minute back.

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Race winner Lisen Hockings. Photo: David Randall Photography

Congratulations to every rider who competed in the Mt Baw Baw Alpine Resort Classic Race.  You are all champions!

Women’s A

1. 90 Lisen HOCKINGS (St Kilda Cycling Club) 4h14:40

2. 86 Justine BARROW (Coburg Cycling Club) +49

3. 91 Shannon MALSEED (Portland Cycling Club) +1:49

Women’s B

1. 153 Julie NIXON (Albury Wodonga Panthers Cycling Club) 4h52:38

2. 155 Jarmila TYRRIL (Alpine Cycling Club) +3:01

3. 154 Madison PELZER (St Kilda Cycling Club) +11:45

Women’s C

1. 262 Michelle SCURR (Brunswick Cycling Club) 5h29:17

2. 261 Jenny GRIFFITHS (Alpine Cycling Club) +1:17

For full race results, please click here.

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It began to snow as the women hit the top of the mountain! Photo: Ernesto Arriagada.
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