National Road Race Part II

Starting at the back of the pack was a mistake for me. I was not confident enough about really rubbing shoulders, and basically didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. So my vague plan was to hang around the back, and stick with the peloton for a lap or two to get used to the racing. As the count down for the start began, something finally switched inside me. I was ready to have some fun and I think I cracked a smile – the anxiety immediately disappeared. And the start itself were a couple of actual guns – Redcoats with rifles had your ears ringing if you had you hands on your bars rather than around your head.

With about 120 riders taking off in a large bunch, those at the back, myself included, had a couple of extra moments to clip in and get rolling. I was expecting swearing, grunting and near misses, but that take off was smooth and fast. Very fast, in fact. From standing start, and essentially straight uphill, the pace was well over 40km/h whilst everyone was jostling for position. This is where I saw Adam Hansen bolt through from the back, and I decided to stay on his wheel for a while – a move I should have stuck with, as he weaved through any available space to move himself closer to the front. Instead, I hung back when he made a more daring move, and found myself settling into a fast rhythm. Riding in the big chain ring, my heart rate was already 185bpm before the first corner, only a kilometre or so from the start, and also before the gradient picked up.

Off the startline

But I stuck with it, and turning the corner and up towards Mt Buninyong, The peloton looked to still be as one, although somewhat strung out. It didn’t feel as though many were behind me, but I’m pretty sure several riders had been dropped already. I was feeling confident – I had looked down at my Garmin to see my heart rate so high, but it didn’t feel like a concern yet – I’d have time to recover on the descent. Up through the King of the Mountain Section of the course, the fans were really loud, but not so deafening as to not here some mates calling out my name in encouragement – I was most probably the smallest rider in the race, so I was sure to wear something obvious to stand out!

I still felt great, and was buoyed on by knowing I’d been spotted, and that I was hanging in there just fine. Up that climb, I was clearly not struggling as much as some others around me… At least my second mistake already, for when we turned left at the top of the climb and the course flattened out, the power with which those larger riders were required to maintain to get up the climb, they managed to maintain on the flat, and then downhill. And without being in the thick of the peloton, the only way I could keep up was to significantly increase the power I was holding on the up and apply it to the down.

Shelled like bar nuts. Myself and 4-5 other riders looked at each other as we could see the peloton drifting away. There was a big bunch that became single file towards the back, and we weren’t on it. I think we all put in a bit of a dig to catch on, and quickly formed a small group to try and maintain contact, but it was too little, too late. We were dropped. And for me, I think the fun was over.

When the course really started going downhill, us back runners were yoyoing our way to the start finish line, but could no longer see the bunch. I was hoping to get my heart rate back down to the 160s, when really I should have been sprinting with everything at the top of the climb to get up the road with the bunch. I wrongly assumed I’d get back on, or the peloton would slow somewhat for me to catch. And at one point, I felt like I was catching back on. At the end of the first lap, rounding Buninyong and onto the Midlands Highway, I could see the peloton up the hill, and I passed enough riders up the climb to give me the impression I was going to catch back on. But climbing even slower than last lap, I had little chance when the bunch were racing so fast down the other side.

Off the back, up the climb. Photo - Rob West

As a quick side note about the early fast pace, I should mention that everyone knew that this was going to happen. There was enough talk from riders and commentators alike, that I was well aware that the pace would be hot from the gun and that no one really wanted a breakaway to form in a hurry. I should have been better prepared for it, and assumed I would be able to recover on that first descent. Certainly a lesson learnt. If there are strong indications of how a race will unfold in the early kilometres of a long race – pay attention. Bickies spent then I almost definitely wouldn’t have gotten back, but I would have gained more experience staying in the bunch, and had a heap more fun.

Second time up the hill, I was still feeling good. But it now seemed more like a┬ásolo race, and it would just be a matter of time before I was eliminated. And gosh it was hot out. Well over 30 degrees, and super dry – I don’t know how much sweat I lost in the first laps as it all evaporated so quickly. The support you get from the crowds once you fall off the back is amazing too – everyone wants you to catch back on, but they all know the writings on the wall. I suspect about half the field had been eliminated within about 5 laps, but you can’t help but love a crowd yelling at the sag wagon, “leave him alone!”

lap-2

Another descent, but this time with more help, my tactic was now to sprint onto any wheel going downhill faster than me, and to some extent, this would work. But the riders around me with the power to make gains on the descent, did not have the power to weight to make gains on the ascent. Essentially, we were naturally uncooperative towards each other. I felt it a shame that I didn’t have a bunch of ten or so to ride it out with. And on lap three, I was really starting to hurt, with a much slower ascent.

On my fourth lap, the feed zone had opened up. Ewan did an awesome job directing me to ditch a bidon, and standing ready with another. Icy, cold water was just what I needed, and it really helped me up the hill. But I was riding at a very average pace now, and giving out some high fives, I had knew I had no hope of catching back on. I grabbed an icy pole of a spectator towards the top of the KOM, and could tell how cooked I was by how much I needed that sugary ice. Ditching the wrapper and feeling like I could stick it out for a few more laps, but I was riding considerably slower.

My last corner was a fast one – getting quite low and then powering out of the saddle to grab a wheel for the last downhill of the lap. The cold water and some blocs had done me well, and I thought I might try accelerating up the next climb. It wasn’t to be – in my most anti-climatic finish to a ride I can ever recall, a course marshall was holding up a red sign with a directional arrow – actually, I’m not sure there was an arrow, but that’s how I remember it. A red sign with a black arrow that first points at you, and then points off the course.

Hell Yeah Swan Yeah!

The race would go on, but I was eliminated. My race number, 3 by the way, was now redundant, and my timing chip was removed from my front, right fork. I found myself easing up the back streets, and then onto the course near the KOM to let my friends know I was done, and to spend the next three and a half hours as a spectator of what would be an exceptionally exciting race.

An hour of road nationals – Strava

It wasn’t quite the experience I was hoping for. I would have liked to have been in the race for more laps, but would would have preferred 3 full laps with the bunch than the 4 I rode mostly solo. Yet I still gained much out of the travel. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to race at a national level, but if I do, I’ll be better prepared. And regardless, I’m even more determined to ride faster than before.

What next? This time, I’m not actually sure. I’ll find something to enter, and I’ll likely train even harder for it. But there is nothing upcoming that I’m really set on. Perhaps the national mountain bike marathon champs in Townsville in April, and I’m pretty keen to place high in the overall at the Tour de Timor in September, but I don’t have anything that I am as yet fully committed to racing. I’m enjoying a bit of a holiday now, and have managed to crack some great PRs around Melbourne. I’m Adelaide bound in a couple of days to watch the Tour Down Under, and then back to Darwin. More tales soon enough.

P.P.

 

National Road Race Part I

To say that I was a little nervous would be a gross understatement. Yet on January 8, I still found myself signing on for the Australian National Road Race. With no expectations, but a lot of hopes, I started a race against the fastest in the country.

It all started out pretty benign, in September, when I undertook a training programme under Matt King, a former U23 National TT champ. At that stage, I was progressing rather quickly, although perhaps not from my strongest base, and Matt made the suggestion of entering road nats. Having very little confidence in myself, but happy with my improvements, I’d decided by early December that I’d give it a go. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Giro della Donna was a bit of a feeler event for road nats, and whilst it was no where near the same calibre, I expected the pace on the climbs to give me some indication of my form compared to others racing. Coming into that fondo well underdone, largely due to illness, I still managed to perform well enough to feel I could come good for January 8 with some more training.

I know that my result at nats was not outstanding. And I think I could do better if I raced it again next year. Having raced it once (some of it anyway), I’ve got a better idea of the physical preparation required to be more successful. My training up until nats had been solid – but it was difficult to tell if it would be enough, having little race experience coming into January. However, I think of more concern, something that will now be far easier, is the mental preparation.

I was a nervous wreck throughout most of December. Concentrating on anything else became quite difficult and I felt extremely selfish. And a lot of it was based around the more mundane aspects of the race – like making sure I had help in the feed zone, and being unsure about registering and when and how to warm up.

When I was 5 years old, I remember lining up for my first cross country running race. My older sisters were there and took me to the start against a lot of kids who would probably have been a year older. I don’t remember what I was scared of, exactly, but I was terrified and didn’t start that race. All the other kids ran off having a blast, whilst I watched on petrified. This time around it felt pretty similar, but I can recall going back to cross country running when I was 6, and the fun I had.

On Sunday morning, I got myself up, had a good breakfast and made my way up to the course. Fortunately an easy 5km roll from Kat and Rob’s place – friends who put me up for a couple of nights and came out to support on the day – I probably had it better than anyone else racing! In a side street of Buninyong, with the women’s road race buzzing around the course, I registered early for the elite men’s that afternoon, collecting race numbers and a transponder, with the Cycling Australia official noting that I’d come a long way to race. Whilst a lot of the professional riders may have recently travelled from Europe to contend the title, I would be the only entrant from the Northern Territory. Yes, I am Victorian born, and i’ve only been in the Territory a short time, but my racing has been concentrated in Darwin, and I’m glad to have “NT” listed next to my name.

At 11:30 or so, I’d signed on for the race. Some faces I recognised from Melbourne were signing on too, as well as all the faces you would regularly see in the World Tour races. I didn’t take a chance to talk to any of the pros – they all seemed so focused or were quietly talking to others – clearly out to make an impact on the race. But a few observations – Adam Hansen is larger than I expected, yet he still made that first climb look easy, and proved to be a good wheel to draft… I wished I’d stayed on it. Cam Meyer is exceptionally flexible and very attentive to the care of his bike – I stood in the shade behind him before the start as he carefully inspected his tyres. And many of the top riders were not afraid to start at the back of the pack and bully their way through to the front. Hansen, Meyer, Haas, Von Hoff, Gerrans and Ewan were all riders starting near the back with me.

 

Tad Busy

It’s been almost a month since my last post. I haven’t forgotten about the blog, I’ve just been distracted… by training for the National Road Race!

Okay, it hasn’t been a secret, but I have been very quiet for the last month or so. I’d been so heavily invested in training for what would be my biggest race to date, and anxiety levels so high, that I couldn’t bring myself to writing anything.

Well, that race is now over. We have a new national champion (not me, obviously), and I’ll have to look for something else to keep me occupied on the bike. I’ve been getting a whiff of someone fast popping up in Darwin – this could be the push I need to take it up a level.

Oh, and what about road nationals? Of course I’ll give you a break down of my race soon, and I’ll think it’ll be a short post – I managed just four laps of the course before I had fallen too far behind the peloton and was pulled out. I’m not disappointed, and I did take plenty out of it, but more of that soon.

At the moment I’m still in Melbourne, and soon off to Adelaide to watch the tour down under. And because I got so little riding in during the national’s race, I’m feeling very fresh to push some quick rides.

I’ll keep you posted.

P.P.