Herald Sun Tour Stage 2 & 3
Bacchus Marsh Kermesse and Bacchus Marsh to Buninyong
High wind once again proved the greatest challenge to the field in the Herald Sun Tour, as the riders faced a double header in yesterday's split stage day beginning with a 44 km Kermesse at Bacchus Marsh, and wrapping up with a 82.4km road stage from Bacchus Marsh to Buninyong. Like in Friday's opening criterium, high winds contributed to hot tempers and aggressive riding as racers sought the best positions against the bluster.
Baden Cooke, a victim of the winds in Melbourne, dominated the Kermesse, taking the stage over Victorian Jamie Drew (Active For Life), and finishing 57 seconds up on David McKenzie (Active For Life), who did not make the winning breakaway. McKenize dropped to fifth place at 1:13 off the pace, his chance for top honors seeming to slip from his grasp. Cooke then finished among the leaders in the road stage, behind winner Jonas Ljungalbad (Malaysia Airlines) of Sweden, (who celebrated his first win as a professional) to hold onto the overall lead.
Friday's crash fest had Cooke nursing a "corked" hip and a swollen wrist; but despite that, the young Australian Tour de France star so dominated the Kermesse that not only did he catapult himself into the lead by 37 seconds from fellow Victorian Hilton Clarke (Ballarat*eureka), but he also took top honors in the sprint and the king of the mountains competitions.
In the afternoon's road stage, Cooke was again able to extend his lead from McKenzie, as once again the peloton was buffeted by strong side and head winds. It was the survival of the fittest as a group of 15 riders, including Cooke but not McKinzie or Clarke, broke away on the second lap near Ballarat. Cooke only had to mark his nearest rivals to hold onto the race lead, but nearly ran out of gas due to a near hunger bonk mid stage. "It was amazing, really," Cooke told local reporters, "when you race 260 km in Europe and you don't go hunger flat all day, and then do two stages which equal 120 km, and I go hunger flat. I think it may have been the cold weather and the fact that I've got jet lag that contributed." Cooke added: "It's always a danger on those split stages. It's so hard to eat anything in between."
The stage finished with a lap of the tough course used for this year's national road championships. Cooke said the hill climb there was deceptively hard: "I was on Macca's (McKenzie) wheel and he went and I couldn't go with him," he said. "It was only that Matt (Wilson) did a ball-biter of a turn halfway up and brought me to about 50m of him, and then I did an all-out effort to the top that I was able to get back on." The lead group splintered on the climb, and Sweden's Ljungalbad and Victorians Matt Wilson and Alan Iacuone were able to get off the front in the last five km.
Cooke, not known for his climbing, hopes he can hold onto the leader's yellow jersey by gaining precious time on the flatter stages before the tour hits the mountains. "If it keeps windy, I'm always good in the cross winds - I don't usually miss a break," he said.
Canadian Eric Wohlberg (Ballarat*eureka) is at third overall, 1:25 off the pace, followed by Iacuone (Active For Life) at 1:29.
Next, the racers face a mostly flat A 69 km kermesse of 30 laps of a 2.3 km circuit around Lake Weeroona in Bendigo.