What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about Melbourne Cup?
On a blistering hot day late in December 2012, when the mercury touched over 45 degrees, Melbourne was treated to the richest Criterium in Australian history, with the inaugural St Kilda Cycling Club (SKCC) Crit sprint champs.
The club offered up A$30,000 of prize money across Elite men and Women, A, B, C and D grades.
The racing across every grade was fast and furious, loaded with sprint primes (mid-race sprints), constant attacks and counter attacks and a couple of big crashes – everything that makes cycling exciting.
I raced in C grade and the temp read 44.2 degrees (at 11:15am), with an average speed of 44.2kmhr, which is faster than most other clubs’ A grade racing.
The main event of the day was the Elite men’s race, which was a 75 minutes crit in searing heat loaded with sprint primes worth $500 a go.
The Elite mens race had Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), Greg Henderson (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Mitch Docker (Orica-GreenEDGE), Baden Cooke (Orica-GreenEDGE), Koen de Kort (Shimano-Argos), Michael Matthews (Rabobank, moving to OGE), Matty Lloyd (Lampre-ISD), Glen O’Shea (World Omnium Champ), as well as stacked domestic pro teams like Drapac and Budget.
Henderson, without question the best lead-out man in the world, broke away with Pat Lane and gobbled up sprint prime after sprint prime in what was nearly the killer move, as ‘Hendo’ was going so hard he got within 13 seconds of catching the bunch.
Hendo eventually sat up and Drapac moved to the front and set up Tom Palmer for the win.
All in all the day was hailed a success across the board.
SKCC immediately established the Sprint Champs as the first big event of the summer cycling calendar in Australia, which is closely followed up by Bay Crits, Nationals, Herald Sun Tour and the Tour Down Under.
Fast forward to Dec 15th 2013 and SKCC have upped the ante again, with the Logie-Smith Lanyon Super Criterium and are offering 25k of prize money with A$8,250 dedicated to Women’s Elite, which is a massive step forward for women’s cycling in Australia.
The total prize money for placings in the women’s race will be A$5,500, which is equal to Elite men’s placing.
Much has been talked about promoting women’s cycling of late and you have to applaud SKCC for how they have constructed the day’s events and equality shown to women’s cycling.
The promotion of women’s cycling is a key agenda item for new UCI president Brian Cookson and the recent appointment of Tracey Gaudry, a long time SKCC associate, as Vice President is aimed at addressing that.
Just to give you some scale on pay differential – the winner of the Men’s Giro d’Italia received €90,000, while the winner of the women’s Giro received €450!
The lower grade fields last year had much larger numbers – upwards of 80-100 riders – and this caused a few unfortunate crashes, so in keeping riders’ safety front of mind the club has reduced the lower grade fields to a cap of 55 riders.
The unfortunate consequence is they have also removed the sprint primes which animate every race.
A balance between excitement and safety has to be taken and SKCC is about as good as it comes to considering a rider’s safety.
Despite the loss of the primes in the lower grades, you can expect serious fireworks around the ~1.0km circuit from the time C Grade women kick off at 7:30, as riders in every grade will push themselves right to the very limit to get themselves a top the podium on the biggest amateur Crit stage in the country.
Women’s elite (60 mins + three laps) kicks off at 11:30 and among the 65 riders will showcase some of best female riders in the country.
Current National Crit champ Kimberley Wells will line-up against powerhouse sprinter Nicole ‘Black Caviar’ Whitburn, Jo Hogan, Miranda Griffiths, Amy Bradley and a host of other top quality riders.
Five sprint primes worth A$400 each and A$5,500 paid from first-third will ensure there are plenty of attacks.
The Elite men’s field (which kicks off at 1pm) was looking strong, with the likes of patron saint Simon Gerrans, Melbourne’s adopted son Koen De Kort, young sprint sensation Caleb Ewen (recently signed to Orica-GreenEDGE), Matt Hayman (Sky) and Jon Cantwell (Saxo) already confirmed.
Then Baden Cooke (OGE) announced the Super Sprint would be his farewell race and the whole game changed.
Cooke will now be supported by OGE teammates Matt Goss, Michael Matthews, Brett Lancaster and Peter Weening.
Throw in Steele Von Hoff (Garmin Sharp), a bunch of national road series hitters – including Mark O’Brien (signed to HuonGenesys for 2014), Joel ‘SMAX’ Strachan (signed to Satalyst-Giant in 2014) and ex superbike rider Shannon Johnson (Charter Mason – who won Men’s A and then backed up and took out third in men’s Elite) – and you have close to the best riders Australia has to offer and a couple of international riders as well.
The event is free and open to the public and will be held at the famous White Street course in South Melbourne on Sunday 15th December from 7:30am.
The event will be supported by Soul Kitchen café and have noted commentators Matt Keenan and Scott McGory on hand to commentate.
This is an amazing day and is not to be missed. Whether you are a cycling nut, a passing enthusiast or interested in becoming more involved in cycling, this is the day for you.
Go to www.lslsupercrit.com.au for more details. Hope to see you there.
Until next time – clip in.