Leccardi claims third Hoppet
OVER 1000 competitors from 24 nations braved the strong winds and early morning fog to compete in the 25th running of the Kangaroo Hoppet on Saturday.
The weather conditions caused the 42km main event to be reduced to 34km and the 21km Birkebeiner was reduced to 17km for the safety of participants.
Switzerland’s Valerio Leccardi claimed his third Hoppet victory in six years while the first woman Maria Graefnings from Sweden added a second Hoppet title to her win from 2012.
Leccardi went to the lead of the main pack early on and pushed the pace and by the 5km mark only Watson was able to follow, with the rest of the pack spread out in ones and twos behind.
Sensing that Watson was also on his limit, Leccardi continued to put the hammer down and by the 12km mark had broken away as the solo leader.
Bellingham worked together with Australian U23 Team member Nick Montgomery but unable to bridge the gap to Watson switched off the pace and a pack of seven - eight skiers reformed, including the first women Graefnings
The men’s 34km podium was rounded out by 2014 Australian Winter Olympians Callum Watson from Sydney and Phillip Bellingham from Mt Beauty and on the women’s side Slovenian Winter Olympian Barbara Jezersek was the runner-up for the second year in a row, ahead of the first Australian Casey Wright from Launching Place.
With Leccardi and Watson off the front, the lead of the main pack changed frequently until finally, in the closing kilometres, Bellingham managed to kick away to take third place.
Both Bellingham and Wright live and work at the YMCA Howmans Gap Alpine Centre at Falls Creek during the winter, training at the Ski & Snowboard Australia National Team Training Centre.
Just three seconds separated fourth from seventh, with Montgomery edging out three-time Winter Olympian Anthony Evans, Andy Pohl from New Zealand and Graefnings.
The top women barely saw each other during the race. Graefnings had a mishap midrace, snapping off the tip off her pole, however she quickly received a replacement pole from four-time Hoppet winner Ben Derrick, who in turn received a pole from the crowd to ski on for 9th overall.
After Jezersek and Wright on the podium Lauren Fritz from the USA was fourth for the second year in a row, and 2015 Australian Junior XC Skier of the Year Xanthea Dewez from Wangaratta was fifth.
In the 14km Australian Birkebeiner it was neck and neck all the way between Kat Paul from Taggerty and Gabi Hawkins from Vaucluse.
As the 2015 Australian Sprint Champion, Paul may well have held on for a sprint victory anyway, unfortunately this wasn’t put to the test as Hawkins fell with 100m to go and third place went to Ellie Phillips.
In the men’s race Damon Morton from Marlo made it three wins in a row after a close race with Liam Burton from Jindabyne, with Seve de Campo from South Yarra third.
In the 7km Joey Hoppet the winners were Darcie Morton from Marlo and Jarrah Forrer from Mt Beauty.
The Kangaroo Hoppet was also the fifth event in the 2015 FIS Australia New Zealand Continental Cup (ANC). With three races in the series remaining Jezersek is well ahead in the women’s standings, 130 points ahead of Wright. The men’s ANC is much closer with Bellingham now just 16 points ahead of Watson. Full results are available via: www.hoppet.com.au
TOP SPOTS: Australia’s Callum Watson, 2nd, Switzerland’s Valerio Leccardi, 1st, and Australia’s Phillip Bellingham, 3rd, were too strong for the competition.
FINANCIAL HELP: (from left) Jarrah Forrer, Darcie Morton, Damon Morton, Katerina Paul, Casey Wright, Callum Watson, received the AGL Energy in Action $500 Scholarship from AGL Head of Hydro Simon Kelley. The scholarships are awarded to the first U18 and U14 in the 7km Joey Hoppet, the first U23 in the 21km and the first Australian’s through in the main event.