BLUE MOUNTAINS CLASSIC
IF anybody doubted the ability of Switzerland's Thomas Wegmuller to win when the going is tough, they would have had such doubts laid to rest after he dominated the 120-kilometre Blue Mountains Classic near Sydney.
In a display of power he broke away from the field in the same place as Gary Sutton did last year and rode alone for much of the race, finishing well clear of his chasers.
The Blue Mountains Classic is the last major event which visiting internationals compete in during their month in Australia, coming a week after the Brisbane to Sydney race. It usually suffers from a depleted field, as many interstate and overseas riders have returned home after a tour which is mentally and physically tiring. This is unfortunate for the organisers as the race is demanding, over a hard, interesting course, with good sponsorship, and drawing the interest of the public in the small mountain townships through which it passes.
Conditions were ideal for fast riding on the flat road which comprises the first 25 kilometres, but the road swung left and after a few undulating kilo-metres reached the steep winding climb to Hawkesbury Panorama. This climb, with its hairpin bends and steep gradients, always splits the field and this year was no exception, with the field stringing out and riders climbing at their own pace, hoping to regroup on the downhill run.
The British, with a full team, went over the summit spread throughout the field, with Alan Gornall hanging on at the back. At the front Wegmuller rode clear with local rider Clayton Stevenson, and the strong attack saw riders like Ed Schurer, the Brisbane-Sydney winner, dropping off the bunch and finally retiring. Unlike the relatively flat Brisbane-Sydney race, the Blue Mountains course is a real test of a roadman, as is Grafton-Inverell, and Wegmuller showed again, as he had shown in the Grafton classic, that when the terrain is tough Schurer is no match for the Swiss.
Through the small mountain towns on the way back to the main highway at Springwood, Wegmuller and Stevenson worked well together, and at Spring-wood they had 40 seconds lead on the bunch, led by John Tonks, with Paul Curran, Dave Mann, Andy Paulin (USA), Steve Hodge (Australia) and Jan Koba (Switzerland) looking comfortable.
The bunch were not worried about chasing and Hodge said that at first they felt that they would catch the leaders as there was a lot of hard riding still to go. He confessed that as the race progressed and Wegmuller remained clear he realised they would not see the Swiss, who, from Hodge's experience of riding with him in Switzerland, likes racing alone.
Schurer regained the bunch but was to go off again on the steep climb of Bodington Hill, at 70 kilometres. Over this climb the leading duo had 1-30 lead, with Wegmuller signalling the young Australian through to take the summit sprint.
Near Leura the riders swung off the busy highway for a few kilometres, to take a twisty, hilly back road through Katoomba for the first time. On this tricky section Wegmuller left Stevenson, who did not have the strength to stay with the powerful Swiss, and the Australian retired before the finish.
A wonderful sight greeted the riders in the main street of Katoomba, where advertising barricades were holding back a crowd of a couple of thousand people, where they would finish after going to the turn at Mt Victoria and returning to Katoomba, the largest town in the mountains.
Soon after Katoomba, Curran and Swiss Andreas Gsell broke away to chase Wegmuller, although obviously Gsell was acting as watchdog for his team-mate. They picked up Stevenson, got to within 1-35 of Wegmuller, but were caught by th e bunch near Blackheath, with 35 kilometres remaining.
At the turn at Mt Victoria, the gap to Wegmuller was 2-30 with 95 kilometres covered. Gornall, Jonny Nilsen (Norway), and Australians Cobcroft and Oliver were well behind at the turn and were to finish nearly half an hour behind. As Wegmuller passed the 14 riders in the bunch, as he sped back to Katoomba, with the others still heading for the turn, he waved and gave them a smile knowing he had the race in his grasp. The bunch rolled along with laughing and talking among the riders,
now obviously more intent on the race for second place. With Paulin, Tony Palmer (USA), Hodge, Mann, Curran, Tonks and Koba still there it promised to be an interesting finish.
The route swung off the main highway two kilometres west of Katoomba and followed a circuitous route through outlying areas culminating in two hard climbs in the last three kilometres, with the climb up the main street to the finish really hard.
Wegmuller crossed the line to great applause 3-48 clear of Hodge. Hodge had broken clear of the bunch eight kilometres out and then one kilometre later Koba jumped clear with Allen Andersen of Sweden. Koba came in third, 23 seconds behind Hodge and just clear of Andersen. Norway's Atle Pederson was fifth and then Mann, who had ridden a good race for somebody who doesn't excel on hills, finished a length clear of Tonks. Paulin was eighth and Curran 13th, still in the prize-money, which went down to 20th.
It has been a fitting end to his Australian visit for Wegmuller, the outstanding rider of the internationals in Australia this year. Although he hadn't won Brisbane to Sydney, with its emphasis on criteriums, he had been the rider in the race who, along with Australia's Stephen Fairless, had demonstrated what attacking riding can achieve.
His fourth place in the Grafton to Inverell, which he very nearly won but for pulling his foot out at the finish, his second place in the tour only 30 seconds behind Schurer, and his victory in the tough Blue Mountains race was a record of which he was rightly proud. He and his team-mates had earned the holiday in Bali which they were looking forward to after leaving Australia.
For the English team their trip to Australia had been a success. This was possibly the best English team to visit Australia and manager Geoff Shergold was happy with the riders' performances, especially considering that the competition this year was the toughest ever.
Curran's win in the Grafton-Inverell race, the toughest one-day race in Australia, two stage wins by England in the Brisbane-Sydney race, including the hardest stage, and high placings in the hilly Blue Mountains race, was as good a record as any team.
1. Thomas Wegmuller (Switzerland)
2. Steve Hodge (Australia)
3. Jan Koba (Switzerland)
4. Allen Anderson (Sweden)
5. A. Pederson (Norway)
6. Dave Mann (GB)
7. John Tonks (GB)
13. Paul Curran (GB)