Lec­ca­rdi claims third Hop­pet

Mt Hotham Falls Creek - - FRONT PAGE -

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

PHOTO: Mike Top Shots

TOP SPOTS: Aus­tralia’s Cal­lum Wat­son, 2nd, Switzer­land’s Valerio Lec­ca­rdi, 1st, and Aus­tralia’s Phillip Belling­ham, 3rd, were too strong for the com­pe­ti­tion.

PHOTO: Chris Hock­ing

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.

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