Paul Van Der Ploeg used his undeniable power in the sprint to take the win in Elite Men Round 1 of the 2015 National Cyclocross Series in Nerang today, in a race that many of those present described as the best CX race yet in Queensland.
Van Der Ploeg (Victoria) outsprinted national champion Chris Jongewaard (SA) and rising star Chris Aitken (NSW) after the trio fought a race-long battle.
In Elite Women, national champion Lisa Jacobs (Vic) was smoothness personified as she outlasted former national road champion and road World Cup winner Oenone Wood (NSW) in second, and national marathon mountain bike champion Melissa Anset (Vic) in third.
The Elite Mens race had the biggest and most competitive field of the day with 34 elite and two under-19s on the start line. Race organiser, Gold Coast local and three-time Tour De France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen took to the start line in Elite Men, despite only completing media commitments seconds before the gun went off.
McEwen took the holeshot off the line, but was quickly swallowed up by Jongewaard and Van Der Ploeg. Chris Aitken joined the two powerhouses at the front, and this group were clearly the strongest in the race.
Jongewaard and Van Der Ploeg had technical superiority over Aitken, as they bunnyhopped the barriers twice each lap, gaining a valuable second or two each time, but Aitken’s surging attacks in the leg-sapping grass sections kept the other two fully extended. A couple of times it seemed like Aitken might get the gap, but each time one of the other two was able to respond enough to close it down.
On the last lap, Jongewaard surged past Aitken at the barriers, and was first onto the Nerang velodrome to wind up for the sprint, but the power of Van Der Ploeg was too much.
The second group on the track comprised another veteran and former national champion in Allan Iacuone (Vic), Paul Redenbach (Vic), Garry Millburn (NSW) and Tom Chapman (SA). That group couldn’t be separated for most of the hour-long race, until finally Milburn and Redenbach were able to break away, and finish fourth and fifth.
In the support races, the outstanding ride was in the Masters mens race which was dominated by another top class Australian bike rider, former World Cup winning downhiller Michael Ronning. Ronning, from Queensland, still competes at the highest level in gravity enduro mountain biking events around Australia, despite racing in the 40-45 age group, and his bike-handling skills and his impressive fitness were both on display in a comfortable win.
Round 2 of the National Cyclocross Series stays in Queensland tomorrow, with the race to be held at Nundah criterium circuit. The Nerang circuit featured a “spiral of doom”, and a wall which only the very best could ride. The Nundah circuit will feature a creek crossing which will guarantee that every finishing line photo will be of a muddy rider.