Trade wars be damned, the invitation to race in Chengdu’s Hurricane Criterium was just the ticket after a cold winter on the track here in Melbourne. Joined by Sydney style maven, Shaun MacWilliam and Hikari Media’s Connor McKenzie we travelled light for our first team visit to China.
We really didn’t know what to expect. Chengdu is a huge city that reflects everything about modern China and the Hurricane Criterium is in it’s early stages and growing rapidly.
The first thing we noticed on arrival at the University was how good the race circuit was - an amazing surface with technical elements, a punchy climb and a long super fast start/finish straight. The facilities and support for the riders were excellent and nothing was too much trouble to make our experience a good one.
Qualifying was split into 2 random heats. Hal and Ray pulled heat 1 out of the bag and headed for the line with 30 other riders. To say Ray has not had much luck in recent races overseas would be an understatement so we were all hoping things went his way as they lined up for the opening ceremony. There were speeches, more speeches and finally a tv soapy star in a cool shirt got the race underway.
The top 6 riders very quickly established a break and the only real issue was making sure everyone got through unscathed as they started lapping the back of the field. Unlike other fixed crits, lapped riders were not pulled from the circuit adding another element to the last few laps. In the end Ray took the win with Hal rolling over the line in second both securing a place in the final.
Conditions were perfect as Shaun took on the second heat. Bike racing can be a matter of pure luck and the cards fell Shaun’s way almost immediately. The first rider into the very first corner had seriously overcooked it and hit the outside barrier at speed. In a split second two riders got through before the bike cartwheeled across the rest of the field. It could have been a disaster but Shaun found the gap to survive and spent the next 14 1/2 laps dragging 2 other chasers to the line to qualify in 4th.
It was solid riding to get all 3 riders onto the start line for the final.
Travelling most places from Australia is a long way to go to race a bike in a 15 lap criterium and it’s a really long way home if things don’t go well so the tone was quiet as we arrived for the final.
On qualifying form and barring any crashes the race would come down to 6-8 riders and this group quickly established a solid break on the main field. Shaun and Hal were riding for Ray as the attacks from the other riders came early. Ten laps in 2 riders attacked hard in a move that eventually stuck. Ray tried to bridge the gap but regrouped with Hal in the chase group. Shaun had done a power of work early and took a lap or two to recover before coming back to the front for the final 2 laps to drive the lead out for Ray. The top 2 spots were sewn up but we had come for the podium and Shaun and Hal delivered Ray to 3rd place and the overall teams win.
We don’t get onto the podium too often so it’s important to savour the moment. Suffice to say we enjoyed this one.
Thanks to Hurricane Criterium for a great race and for the hospitality across the whole event and thanks to Engine 11 and Skingrowsback for all the support!!