Please be warned that the recount below is by far the most amount of words I have written in relation to time spent on the bike. But as one of the most exciting races I’ve competed in, I feel it worth it. And before I start – a massive than you and shout out for the Darwin Cycling Club and all the organisers for making this race happen. I turned up and had a blast. You guys did an amazing job setting everything up and really showcased competitive cycling in Darwin. Kudos
What better way to finish off my first two hard weeks of training with a criterium? After strength efforts, knocking about in bunch rides, yoga and targeted training under the tutelage of Matt King, I found myself lining up for the inaugural Mitchell St Mile race. And what a race it was.
The Mitchell St Mile is a foot race held on a closed circuit in the middle of Darwin, and for the past few years has attracted some of Australia’s best runners. This year, the Darwin Cycling Club announced that a criterium would be held before the running race, and that Arafura Fabrications would be laying down some serious prize money. 25 minutes and a lap in the men’s race would mean some serious speeds being hit right past a bunch of pubs followed by some squealing brakes into a u-turn before doing it all again.
Coming off a good block of training, I was feeling pretty confident. Far more confident than I’d normally be for that type of racing. The tight turns and the short duration initially put me off, but some good practise on Thursday night gave me quite a confidence boost – I knew I could hold a wheel and I was feeling strong. Nevertheless, I had tactics in mind leading into the event, and implemented them quickly.
20 odd riders lined up at 2pm, and with the very real threat of rain imminent, the bunch was looking a little nervous. I was nervous too, but shrugged it off by having a laugh… tactic one. With the sound of the gun, I put my head down to roll off with the bunch, but as soon as I had my right foot clipped into the pedal, I hit the gas. Hard. That was tactic two. I had no desire to be rolling around for 25 minutes with a bunch of big dudes who in all likely-hood could overpower me in a sprint finish. So I went out with the idea of unleashing constant attacks to try and break the field apart.
That first attack probably didn’t work, but I’m sure I caught some by surprise. I must have opened up a good 20m on the pack, but cooled it off when I saw former Australian Criterium Champion, Steve Rooney, bridging the gap. I couldn’t see behind him, but decided to sit up a little and roll the legs over… at 40km/h!
I took the first u-turn in pole position, and could see the field coming around behind me. Clearly, it was good to be close to the front on the corners on this course – those in the rearward positions would only be coming into the corner whilst the front guys could be attacking out of it.
I think it was about lap 3 that the damage really started to be done. After rounding the south turn and sitting on the front, I watched Chris Hanson drop about 60 million watts with no one willing to cover his attack.
The pursuit was on. I had no doubts that Chris would be the type of rider who could hold on for a win. But I was concerned about the size of the bunch. Bridging to Chris from the front of the pack would have brought everyone up with me. Not only that, the rain started to fall, and the turns became quite precarious.
Chris had a solid lead, perhaps 200-300m up the road, but I felt like I was doing all the work. Matt put in some short, strong turns, and a few others started to pull on the front as well, which gradually worked to both reduce the size of the peloton, and close the gap to Chris.
Hard braking in the wet required a lot of concentration, and everyone quickly learned to start braking before the rider in front, or risk a collision! At one point, coming into the south turn, we could hear the commentator calling out that Chris had had a near miss. And sure enough, we could see Chris hitting the start of the straight from an unusual position… but I was glad to see he’d remained upright.
I didn’t feel like I was red-lining, but I was certainly concerned I’d done too much work, and the bunch would completely reform. But it didn’t. With two laps to go, I started to tuck in more and allowed myself to drop back in the now much smaller bunch. Chris was now back in the fold and the pace felt to be dropping. On the bell lap, I rounded the turn in first place, but took it very wide so as to force someone else to the front.
The rain was awesome in both senses of the word. I loved how difficult the parcours had become, and the grit required to keep racing. But I could actually feel the extra weight of the water in my shoes, my socks were feeling uncomfortable and the sheer torrent of water produced as a rooster-tail from the rider in front was near blinding. I’m not quite sure how I managed to keep my sunglasses on, but was rather amused to hear that Steve Rooney had tried to rinse the grit out of his eyes with a water bottle, only to find it filled with Endura!
One mile left in the race and I could only sense about half a dozen riders remaining in the bunch. For perhaps the only straight in the race, I stayed off the lead, and allowed myself to recover somewhat. Lining up for the final u-turn, I’ll admit to being super excited. In front of me was Steve, Ryan Coppola, Matt and Chris, and I think only Phil Brownscombe and Sam Wood behind. Ryan entered first, followed by Chris and then Matt and myself cutting in sharp to overtake. Perhaps foolish, but I saw an opportunity to attack at that very moment, and yelled at Matt to get on my wheel.
Dropping almost 20 watts per kilo, I flew past Ryan, and found myself out the front of the race with a decent gap again. A quick look-back and I realised that no one had jumped on my wheel. Shit. I had time to look down at my power meter, and didn’t like my chances of holding 450-500 watts for the remaining 700m of the race. I dug my heels in anyway, and urged my legs to push on.
The inevitable catch came early. I glanced right to see Sam fly past with a bit of a gap before Steve went through with Matt immediately behind him and Chris also catching the draft. I had gambled too much and was unable to grab a wheel. And looking back down the road, could clearly see I would hang onto 5th place, so rolled over the line without a real sprint contest. Sam took the win, Matt in second, Chris was incredibly impressive for 3rd, and Steve Rooney demonstrated amazing experience to hold me over for 4th.
I’ve taken so much out of that race, but I’ll try and quickly summarise what I’ve learnt. Attacking off the front unpredictably works for me. I’m a much smaller rider than most, and can’t hold the highest speeds, but I can accelerate quickly. A relaxed, yet confident mindset will help me perform when conditions are tough – from the start line,
I wanted to dictate the racing as much as I could, and refused to get nervous.If I want to win a race, doing so much work on the front will not work in a criterium. It’s better to save my legs for a handful of efforts that really matter – be it the final sprint, an attack that gets me away, or simply bridging a gap in 1 second rather than 10. And finally, I reckon I can race!
The race in numbers:
Average Heart Rate: 175
Max Heart Rate: 191 (previously I’d only hit 190 on 2-3 occasions!)
Average Speed: 38.6km/h
Max Speed: 61.6km/h
Average Power: 246 Watts
Max Power: 1052 Watts (on my final attack, and only the second time I’ve gone over 1000)