Passing clouds were a rarity, and the blistering Aussie sun made for extremely hot (an average of 35°C across the weekend) final round of the 2014-15 Victorian Downhill Series presented by Nukeproof and powered by Chain Reaction Cycles at Mount Beauty.
This was the race riders were looking forward to, as it would be the most DH-specific track on the calendar this season and as riders just were as worried about keeping hydrated they were equally concerned with the dry, dusty and loose conditions of the track itself.
Team Mount Beauty put in the hard yards and created a mostly new track, and ensured that the season finale would go off with a bang. Riders had never seen anything like it; the track was almost totally natural, and featured man-made components only where necessary. Between off-camber, rock and steep G-out sections as well as the loose surface of the track in general, riders didn’t have time to think. This made the track terrifying at first, and a nightmare for anyone who hadn’t walked the track first to see what they’d be facing – it took at least a few runs to learn.
As riders slowly started figuring out the track, the fear factor eased (a little) and the fun set in. The coaches made comfortable shuttle rigs, and the slightly longer shuttle length while frustrating for some, was a welcome chance to catch a breather for others as they chipped away at practice runs.
As confidence levels picked up and riders started attacking the track more, it was interesting to watch the track change between runs. Compared to the previous round where there was one main race line that got severely blown out, the track at Beauty seemingly stayed the same as only a few corners suffered brake-bumps and the track as a whole established a few more ruts and got even more loose from the amount of traffic.
After practice ended on Sunday, spectators lined the lower half of the track as qualifying commenced and Elite Women took to the track. Kona Factory Team rider, Tegan Molloy, missed the final round of the series, making this race anyone’s for the taking. Red Hill Riders, Ellie Wale, posted a strong time of 4:19, 13 seconds clear of Amanda Hewetson (4:32), while Sarah Silverlock claimed 3rd with a 5:01 despite a few mishaps in her run.
Qualifying was tight over the U17’s, U19’s and Elite categories – the largest gap between the top three riders over the three categories was a fraction over 4 seconds. In U17’s, heavy-hitter Team Giant/YVC’s Baxter Maiwald posted a 3:32 to take 3rd, just 0.342 behind Ben Zwar also with a 3:32, while Pinner Designs Adam Oates’ smooth riding set the bar at 3:29 to take the top spot.
As for U19’s, Jack Lumb nabbed third with a 3:30, while Jackson White’s solid riding stole the top spot from Luke Street, both on 3:26 with just 0.176 between them.
Elite qualifying was intense, One Rocky Mountain Racing’s Olly Zwar snuck into 3rd ahead of heavyweights Giant Racing Australia’s Tim Eaton and Giant/YVC’s Aiden Varley with a 3:10, less than a second behind local legend and Giant/YVC racing’s Liam Panozzo. True to his form, Devinci Global Racing’s Dean Lucas burned through the course and lay down a 3:07, setting up the afternoon for some exciting racing.
A short time after qualifying ended, racing commenced for the rest of the categories. Novice saw some brave new riders take to the Beauty track, with Tom O’Halloran taking the win with a nice 4:46 over Tanner Keat (4:49) and Matt Fairway (4:55). It was fantastic to see these guys having a go at the hardest track on the season calendar.
After placing 2nd at the previous round, Hector Henriquez continued his strong form in the Super Masters to finish with a 4:09, just over 7 seconds ahead of Neil Street (4:17) and Richard Lumb (4:19).
With less than a second between the top two spots, Matt Wise and Nick Martin put on a great show in the Masters, Matt (3:43) edging Nick out by 0.895 (3:44), Bruce Hamley claimed 3rd with a 4:00 run.
Ben Davies and Jack Tattersall backed up their riding from the previous round, with another one-two finish, Ben with a 3:34 and Jack with a 3:36, while Mathieu Taris slotted comfortably into 3rd with a 3:42, leaving 15 seconds behind him to 4th place.
The Sport category had a tight race, with the previous round’s top three battling it out again this round. A fraction over 2 seconds separated the top three, with Luke Campbell (3:53) nabbing the top spot ahead of Josh Chapman (2:54) and Angus Macaulay (3:55).
In the U15’s, youngster Cooper Downey was finally able to translate his skillful riding into a win with a 4:05, while Louis Tancredi (4:05) was less than a bee’s sting behind, with a 0.036 gap between them. Harry Dott claimed the last spot on the podium comfortably with a 5:53. Notable name Oscar White (9:21) usually gives the top guys a run for their money, but had some issues in his run and settled for 4th.
Jed Jelly continued his dominance in the Expert Category, taking out a hat trick with a 3:34, just 0.661 ahead of Liam Thomas (3:35), while Callum Saxby (3:36) was only a second behind. Jed and Liam will be the ones to watch next season.
Attention was now back on the Elite Women as they came down for their race runs. Sarah Silverlock had a similar run to her qualifying run and posted a 5:02, Amanda Hewetson (4:36) had Sarah in her sights for the last part of her run, while Ellie Wale kept her composure from qualifying to finish 1st with a 4:17.
The U17’s were back on track; Baxter Maiwald (3:35) went a couple of seconds slower than his first run but it was enough to hold onto 3rd ahead of category leader One Rocky Racing’s Junior Development rider Darcy Coutts (3:36). Adam Oates asked the question in qualifying, and Ben Zwar answered; Ben (3:29) snuck in front of Adam (3:29) by 0.177 for the win.
There was a little bit of drama in the U19’s. S&J Cycles’s Lachlan Gibson took 3rd with a solid 3:30, while Luke Street (I could be wrong) came across the line with his chain off for a 3:29. Hayden Stead stepped up to take the win, a fraction over a second ahead of Luke with a 3:28.
Spectators flooded the lower section of the track to watch the Elite Men fight it out for the top spot. Aiden Varley put in another strong ride for 5th with a 3:14, not far behind Tom Wyatt in 4th on 3:13. Tim Eaton pedaled his way into the hot seat for a 3:08 with Liam Panozzo and Dean Lucas still to come. With only 1 point separating Dean and Liam coming into the final round, the series could go either way.
Liam stormed through the lower section of the track, and crossed the line with a blistering 3:06, pushing Tim back a spot. From here, there were a hesitant few seconds before Dean appeared in the chute, ripping a hole through the lower section of the track – he looked seriously fast. His time told a different story however, when he finished with a 3:12, good for 3rd and crowning Giant/YVC Racing’s Liam Panozzo the winner of the days race and the overall. Well done on a great season Liam.
With all riders noe over the finishing line, this marked an end of what has been a truly awesome 2014/15 Victorian Downhill Series. With the goal of this season being to ‘rebuild’ and attract more riders back to the sport and the Series, the response has looked very positive, and promising for future series’.
On behalf of all the competitors and the VDHS team, a big thanks goes out to the sponsors of the 2014/15 series, especially our presenting/international partners Chain Reaction Cycles, Nukeproof Bikes and High 5 Nutrition,. A huge thank you for joining us to regrow this, which we look to again be Australia’s premiere downhill series. We also can’t do anything with out the local partners Magneto Industries, Yarra Valley Cycles, Push Bike Shop, Dharco Clothing, Muc Off Cleaning Products, Cairns Mountain Bike Tours and Mountain Bikes Direct for helping to make the events the experience that they have been.
Bring on the 2015/16 season!