XCR’16: Essendon wraps up Div 2 title at Tan Relays

It’s official: Athletics Essendon’s open men will return to the Premier Division of Athletics Victoria’s cross country and road racing series (XCR) in 2017 after wrapping up the Division 2 premiership with victory at Saturday’s Tan Relays.

In truth, the final race of the season was a mere formality for Essendon, which entered the day with an unassailable 24-point lead.

But with the team having been so dominant across the XCR’16 season, it was fitting it should close things out by claiming its seventh victory in the 10-race series.

Toby O’Brien (11min 45sec) and Tom Vernon (11:56) got the six-man outfit off to a flying start, posting personal best times for their laps of the famed 3.8km circuit around Melbourne’s Royal  Botanic Gardens to have the team sitting third, behind Ballarat and Old Xaverians, at the second change.

Asmelash Tesema (12:52) reeled in the early leaders but was unable to hold off the charge of Box Hill’s Michael Dowel, who moved into the lead and had opened up a sizeable gap heading into the fourth leg.

Jeremy Drake (12:30) cut the margin significantly before Charlie Blanch (12:29) stormed into the lead, leaving Mitchel Brown (11:15) to anchor the team to a comfortable win.

The winning time of 1hr 12min 47sec was exactly equal to that of sixth-placed Division 1 team Knox, showing Essendon will be more than capable of holding its own in the top tier next year, particularly with Olympic marathon representative Liam Adams set to come back into the fold.

It was a good day across the board for Essendon’s open men, with the Division 4 outfit of James Wrout, Lachlan Rayner, Adrian Phelan, Muse Tesema and Hayelom Dawit taking victory by more than three minutes in its five-leg event.

While the team finishes the season four points shy of ladder leaders Williamstown, it remains a good chance of receiving a discretionary promotion to Division 3 on the back of its strong season, which saw it win six of the 10 XCR’16 events.

Also enjoying a day out at the Tan were Essendon’s junior women, with the under 20 outfit of Sarah and Emilie Guy and Allison Rogers and the under 18 team of Emma Files, Katie Webb and Maddison Caulfield taking comfortable victories in their respective events.