- words by James Raison, all photos c/o Andy Rogers, Fame & Spear Photography
There’s no other race that’s revered quite like the Wallaroo Road Race on the South Australian calendar. It’s a true battle of attrition with the field gradually getting chewed down on windy chip-sealed highways and 17 km of gravel across two sectors. It’s a place feared by tubular tyres, hated by freshly washed skinsuits, and where plucky aluminium training wheels get called up to the big leagues as punctured carbon tubs get strewn along the Copper Coast.
All grades except for Cat 2 Women run the same 75.6 km course. The first 50 km are a highway battle against the power-sucking chipseal road surface and the Yorke Peninsula’s headwinds – mercifully mild for the 2020 edition. The race earns its Hell of the North moniker at the 50 km mark with a turn onto Tickera Alford Road and 10 km of gravel. This is where the major attrition begins as potholes, corrugations, and sharp rocks wage war against tyres and riders’ hands.
Riders get several kilometers of respite from the dirt but it’s by no means an easy section of the race as those who survived the gravel try and push their advantage over anyone who suffered a mechanical or was gapped. Chasers have to bridge quickly or risk the deficit expanding. The final 7 km of gravel is where most of the damage is done as the survivors of the first section are subjected to more punishment. It’s a downhill run from the gravel back onto the highway and a gently curving run into the flat finish.
HOW THE RACES WERE WON
Category 2 Women started their race early with a shortened 49 km course still featuring every metre of punishing gravel.
Unfortunately an early crash on the highway split the race and forced some abandonments on the way to the first gravel segment. The bunch was further worn down across the first dirt sector with a small lead selection of 10 making it across the second sector at the head of the race. Dirt expert and peoples’ champion Gemma Kernich (Butterfields Racing) spent plenty of time guiding the race across the gravel and back onto the highway.
Line honours went to Celia Cowan (Keystone Cycling) who out-sprinted Madeleine Steel (Butterfields Racing) and Annoushka Sath (Norwood CC). Having won at Round 1, Celia keeps her lead in the Maxima/SCODY General Classification.
Elite Men stayed tightly bunched early, but the relentless pace at the Tickera turnaround caused the field to begin falling apart, with major splits occurring at just 25km in! The first gravel sector saw ample rear wheel punctures as contenders for victory scrambled to wrench out their carbon tubs for trusty aluminium training wheels. Attrition blew all of the groups apart as the race spread out.
The lead group was whittled down to an elite selection with Tom Chapman, Cameron Scott (Cycling Australia Academy), Brendan Davids (Olivers Real Food Racing), Alex Porter (ACT Mens Track Endurance), and Justin Gassner (Tonsley Village) the first to exit the gravel. Other riders were lost from the lead bunch with a mixture of mechanicals and crashes claiming big names who could’ve further animated the final. A chase group was hotly pursuing with 10 km to go, led by Butterfields – Insurance Advisernet p/b VDR trying to bridge.
The final sprint would go to Gassner who edged out Porter on the line with Davids, Chapman and Scott coming through in the following seconds. Cam Ivory (Tonsley Village) would sprint from the following bunch for 6th ahead of Tristan Saunders (Butterfields – Insurance Advisernet p/b VDR).
Mens Masters 1 saw another relatively intact field exiting the gravel to contest a tight sprint finish. That grade did have an early break, with a group of three sneaking off the front during the first highway stretch. It would all come together and subsequently begin to fall apart on the gravel sectors but there was, nonetheless, a large bunch intact to fight out the end of the race.
Keystone Cycling drove the pace hard off the gravel, stringing out the bunch right on the verge of the slushy gravel where punctures kept claiming rider after rider up until the turn onto the highway and smooth tarmac.
A crash in the final meters disrupted the bunch but Graeme Moffett (Team Prochem p/b Focus and Cervelo) managed to hit the line first and edged out Matt Sparnon (USG Racing Team / Coffylosophy) and Cameron Spears (Tonsley Village). Sparnon retained his Maxima/SCODY Leader’s Jersey going into the Moonta Crit!
The Category 2 Mens field was tight for the vast majority of the race, and still intact exiting the gravel sector for the run to the finish line. Occasional moves were made on the early highway kilometers but with none sticking it would take some vitamin G to punt riders off the back and reduce the bunch. The Cat 2 Mens field is rich with large teams so there’s plenty of people ready to respond when riders do try and escape.
Mechanicals and splits caused the group to spread out but a group of 23 returned to sealed tarmac to contest the finish. Multiple teams were present at the front, each trying to set up for the upcoming sprint.
Powerhouse Tom Clarke (LLCC Pedla p/b GCC) put in a monster sprint to cross the line first but would be later relegated for line deviation which promoted solo rider Michael Wellman. Henry Sanders (Adelaide University CC) moved up to second and young gun Jaidyn Williss (Van D’am Racing Development) would end up on the third step. Sanders would take the Maxima/SCODY Leader’s Jersey into the following criterium.
The Elite Women waged a cagey race with the bunch remaining largely intact all the way until the final kilometers. The finish rate was remarkably high for this race with only two DNFs for the day, and 27 of the 33 finishers crossing the line within 17 seconds.
There were breaks, attacks, and counter-attacks throughout but none managed to stick. The ever-aggressive Cycling Australia women animated most of the race but were covered by Roxsolt Attaquer and Team Prochem who led the field off the final gravel sector. The solo riders in the bunch were also active in the pugilistic attack and counter-attack.
Bunch indecision was punished by an opportunistic attack from Sophie Edwards. The move was timed to perfection as she sprung out from the bunch as they exited the final gravel section and held a slender gap to the line for an emphatic victory. The podium was filled by her big name Cycling Australia teammates Annette Edmonson and Ashlee Ankudinoff as that team would fill six of the top 10 places, and secure the Team Copper Coast Cup for the weekend’s racing. Maeve Plouffe finished 5th, earning enough Series Points to retain her lead in the Maxima/SCODY General Classification.
Mens Masters 2 was the only race with a solo victor with Edwin Bohdan (ROKiT Racing) taking a sterling win by a full 49 seconds over series leader Barnaby Grant (Port Adelaide CC). It was the grade that most represented how hard this race can be with splintered groups and individuals fighting the conditions and trickling to the line over 15 minutes.
Ed Bohdan scampered away from a group of 8 (ish) with about 6 km remaining, roughly where the gravel road starts to descend towards Wallaroo. He was followed by the group he attacked, with some individuals caught in the void behind them and a sizeable chase group forming behind. That bunch had been swelling for kilometers as it hoovered up individuals and small groups along the gravel.
Bohdan crossed the line followed by enough daylight for a mild sunburn (extra impressive given the lateness of his attack) as the group behind geared up for a sprint. An unfortunate touch of wheels brought down some riders but Barnaby Grant held off Michael Davies (ROKiT Racing) for second spot. Grant kept his Maxima/SCODY Leader’s Jersey going into Sunday’s Crit.
MOONTA CRITERIUM WRITE UP TO COME.
All photos c/o Fame & Spear Photography.