The Oliver’s Real Food Racing rider came into the race as a little-known South African mountain biker who had sent his resume to a number of teams before the event, angling for a guest spot but emerged as the name on everyone's lips. He was joined on top of the podium by women’s victor Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dream Team) who along with her team, dominated the northern NSW race.
He was joined on top of the podium by women’s victor Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dream Team) who along with her team, dominated the northern NSW race.
It was a triumphant return for the NRS event, Battle on the Border, re-launched as the Battle Recharge after Cyclone Debbie’s destruction forced the postponement of the event from earlier in the year.
Contrary to the flooding and wind that forced the cancellation of the event, the sun was out in an early taste of high summer, with the heat to become a major factor during the race.
High5 Dream Team and Isowhey Sports-SwissWellness got the race off to an expected start in the women’s and men’s race respectively. The strong squads dominated the 21km team time trial on Stage 1, with both opening up imposing gaps on their rivals - High5 taking one minute and 24 seconds over the course, while Isowhey Sports-SwissWellness managed one minute and 14-seconds.
This gave both control of their respective races going into the Stage 2 criterium and saw a pecking order established early. The women’s event was a restrained affair until the final laps, when an attack by team pursuit world champion Ashlee Ankudinoff (NSWIS-Sydney Uni) went off the front, marked by Emily Roper (High5 Dream Team).
Roper sat on Ankudinoff’s wheel and tried to use that saved energy to come off the wheel to round her in the sprint but it wasn’t enough to beat the powerful track star Ankudinoff, who saluted after the tight win. Roper did finish second and claimed the leader’s jersey off teammate Rebecca Wiasak, who led the bunch home seconds later for third.
The men’s criterium was a fast-run race with a seemingly never-ending series of attacks going free briefly before being brought back on the undulating course. The flow of attack and counter-attack was ended by the launching of Cameron Bayly (Isowhey Sports-SwissWellness) with six laps remaining, powering clear and catching a number of riders unaware that he had even escaped the main bunch. He kept a modest gap initially until the other teams began preparing for the sprint finish, pushing his lead out and looking assured to win coming into the final lap.
He duly won and saluted going over the finish, with Sascha Bondarenko-Edwards (Inform Tineli) also mistakenly celebrating after his second place finish, a result which continued the rider’s good form in recent racing. The win meant Bayly took the race lead into the first road stage of the Battle Recharge.
The women’s peloton tackled Stage 3 with an early morning start, thankfully meaning that they avoided the worst of the heat. The racing none the less looked affected by the high temperatures, the peloton rode at a sedate pace between the sprint points, with the main rivals to High 5 Dream Team having conceded the overall to the strength of the leading squad, concentrating instead on the sprint jersey battle between Macey Stewart (TIS Racing) and Ankudinoff.
A mid-race front puncture came at the worst possible point for Kennedy, after she had been leading the way on the Queen of the Mountain climb, and with dropped riders blocking the cars, it was a long time before Kennedy was serviced and back on the bike, but with the lack of pace in the peloton she was soon to return to the front of the race. It stayed together until the final climb, when Kennedy showed herself not to be overly fatigued by the chase back on, launching over the steepest part of the ascent and holding off Macey Stewart on the steep descent to the finish to take the win and the leader’s jersey.
The men’s Stage 3 will go down as one of the most memorable in the recent history of the NRS. Isowhey Sports-SwissWellness were in control of the general classification by a hefty margin going into the race and were expected to ride defensively as the mercury hit 35 degrees Celsius. Ice packs and chilled water were used constantly throughout the day.
An early break went, with all the major teams well represented in the 13-man group. This saw the peloton slacken off a bit and the break did the same, with a number of passengers in the move disrupting cooperation, particularly among the major teams. Brendon Davids made the most of the disharmony to launch an attack just after the first sprint point, catapulting away from an unconcerned breakaway with over 100km remaining on the stage.
Two riders drifted off the front of the breakaway soon after, with Kane Richards (McDonalds Down Under) and Oliver Smith (Cobra9 Intebuild Racing) going clear as they set the tempo on the climb and began to try and track down the lone figure of Davids. They found the challenge a hard one, however, the gap had shot out rapidly to two minutes back to the chasing pair, with a further four minutes back to chasing group, and another two minutes to the peloton with the race leader Bayly, putting Davids into the virtual lead on the road.
What followed continued to play into the hands of Davids, a depleted Isowhey Sports-SwissWellness wasn’t keen to take up sole responsibility for tracking down the move and nobody else wanted to take up the chase, so an uneasy semi-pace was maintained until the main climbs arrived again with 50km left to race. That was the launchpad for an attack of two riders apiece from Isowhey Sports-SwissWellness (Tim Roe and Jason Lea) and two Mobius Future Racing (Peter Livingstone and James Fouche), with the quartet cooperating well and hunting down the chasing pair of Richards and Smith, who had lost impetus out on the roads.
The injection of speed brought the gap to Davids down to five minutes, but it stayed at that advantage for some kilometres before things began going poorly for the chasing group. Livingstone punctured before rejoining and Roe blew up dramatically in the heat. Fouche struggled as well, Richards and Smith had no incentive to chase and it was left for Lea and Livingstone to chase down Davids.
Davids meanwhile, had clearly saved something in reserve for the finale and rather than being brought back by the chasers, he was re-establishing his gap, pushing out his lead over the final kilometres to win by six and a half minutes in one of the most emphatic wins in recent memory.
“After the sprint I instantly countered,” Davids said, “and instantly regretted it in the process! From there it was about 100km to the finish and I was hoping someone would bridge across, but at the same time I was trying to keep it steady to force a difficult chase from behind, with the plan being that once someone joined me they would be more tired and I could counter them later on in the race."
“For a while, I felt a bit negative as I thought the chase was going to come. On TV you always see the guys in the move dangle out there, but going into the last lap when I heard the gap was at four minutes I actually backed off a bit as it was a head wind for the first 25km of the lap, then I turned and we hit the rolling section which suits my riding style so I left it all out there. I went absolutely full gas for the next 10km and the gap went from four to six minutes, so I’m a little bit lost for words.”
Richards managed to take a great result for local team McDonald’s Down Under, sticking with Lea and Fouche up the final climb and sprinting to second with Lea third, but the day and the race lead went to Davids after his determined display.
Stage 4 proved to be a comparative procession for both the men and the women, with the general classification winner all but confirmed heading into the final stage. The women’s race remained together throughout the stage, with attacks being shut down by a High5 Dream Team that was keen to clamp down on any aggression.
The strategy paid off, a late attack by Kennedy again saw the prodigious climber take another stage win, followed by her High5 teammates Wiasak and Roper to take a clean sweep of the stage podium and the overall General Classification as well.
After the race, Kennedy was very satisfied with the result from the three days of competition.
"It’s been such a great weekend for the High5 Dream Team winning three out of four stages, general classification and team’s classification, we really can’t complain," she said.
“It was really hot yesterday, a bit of a shock to the system, and it started out pretty hot this morning but then cooled down a bit. It was also a bit windy, but that wasn’t too much of a factor out there today.”
The missed presence of the NRS leading team Holden Women’s Racing was felt throughout the race, with the general classification essentially wrapped up after the first stage and very negative riding over the remainder of race stifling attacking flair.
“The Holden Women’s Racing team isn’t here,” Kennedy said. "And they’re leading the overall team’s classification for the Subaru National Road Series so without them it was a little bit less competitive than usual, but there are some strong teams here and everyone was racing aggressively, so I’m really happy to take the win for the team.”
Macey Stewart ensured that the jerseys wouldn’t entirely be in the iron grip of High 5 Dream Team, winning the young rider’s classification and the sprint jersey.
The men’s finale was a more hotly contested affair. In a mirror of the Stage 3, there were a number of attacks when the flag dropped, however, riders found staying away difficult in the hot, windy weather, with Oliver’s Real Food Racing keeping a tight watch on proceedings.
Roe and Jesse Coyle (Mobius Future Racing) were the first to get away, and built up a lead of over two minutes to the chasing peloton. The duo were joined by a chase group of eight riders, and the break for the day was pegged mostly at that gap for the remainder of the stage.
With 15km to go Roe, Ryan Cavanagh (NSWIS) and Newbery (Mobius Future Racing) attacked, and would go on to fight out the finish, which was won by Roe in a close sprint. The peloton behind had been drastically reduced following another hot day in the saddle, but Oliver’s Real Food Racing had done enough by stage’s end to ensure that Davids ended the race in the overall lead by over five minutes to second-placed Lea and third-placed Richards.
In a race that will be remembered for its extreme heat conditions it was Brendon Davids who emerged as a name that will live in the NRS peloton’s memory for years to come, a cautionary tale of not letting your rivals off the leash.