Rob Walter won the first races of the 2005 season last weekend. In some ways it was a resumption of normal service for Rob : before his injury-ruined 2004 season, it had been a normal part of early-season life for him to dominate. The first stage of his comeback, in New Zealand, did not set the world on fire, but he has clearly taken another step up now.
The weekend was not a National League series, but still attracted a large number of interstate visitors, mostly from the ACT and South Australia; more than 50 contested the two elite races.
It started with the Victorian Middle Distance Championships at Creswick Diggings on the Saturday afternoon. M21 was dominated by the interstate visitors, who filled the first six places. Julian Dent led for much of the race, but lost 40 seconds at the 18th control of 20, leaving the door open for Walter to take the title by 24 seconds from recently-returned Grant Bluett. Dent was third, whilst one of the pre-race favourites, Dave Shepherd, surprisingly finished fifth.
Good home results were easier to find in W21. Natasha Key had caught Kathryn Ewels by 4. The Key-Ewels pairing was together almost until the end, Key breaking away over the last few controls to stretch her lead to two-and-a-half minutes. The battle for second was much closer, with Ewels holding off Allison by a single second.
Both junior classes were won comfortably: Jasmine Neve had six minutes in hand in W20, and Simon Uppill five minutes in M20.
Next day, a long-distance race was held on a reworked Nerrina. M21 quickly developed into a close race between Rob Walter and Grant Bluett, who had caught two minutes on Jim Oystein Nybraaten by 9. It was close most of the way, which meant that Bluett’s minute lost at 25, less than a kilometre from the end, was crucial. The gap was 50 seconds in the end. Nybraaten came third, showing his good form with his second top-four placing of the weekend, whilst Dave Shepherd again missed the placings.
There was nothing close about W21 as Jo Allison ran away with the event. She took the lead from the start, and by 9 her position was all but secure; both Natasha Key and Allison Jones lost four minutes there. That left Kathryn Ewels as the only one vaguely in touch, and a two-minute error at 15 ended her chances. The gap grew to six minutes in the end. Ewels held on for second, with Key third and Susanne Casanova fourth.
Outside the elite classes, Sunday was also the Victoria-South Australia Challenge. South Australia brought a real team (unlike Victoria last year) and provided a real contest. At one point it looked like the visitors might retain the Palmer Memorial Trophy with an 8-8 draw, but late finishers in W35 and M50 were enough to get the Victorians over the line, 10 classes to 6.