My first Vets race and why tactics are more important than speed

I am green. Very green. This colour not only represents my political slant, but also my status as a road bike racer. And it shows.

I finally took the plunge this weekend and entered the Vets Tonelli Handicap as a visitor. It was an interesting format for a first race, but proved to be extremely enjoyable. It was made even more enjoyable with the presence of fellow Fidi riders Stacey, John, Alwyn and Ashley (on a tandem).

The day started with me completely mishearing meet up information from Ash and accidentally heading out solo thinking Ash was ahead. Having not seen him til I hit the Old Fed turnoff, I figured all was lost and hoped to catch up with him at the start.

Upon arrival I entered myself in A1 Grade with Ian Downing, the only A rider I knew there and waited. And waited. And waited a little more. Various chats with different cycling friends at the start alleviated the boredom and provided valuable ‘who to look out for’ type information, but did nothing to ease my nerves. I knew I would finish at the pointy end of my grade, but was completely unsure of how it was going to unfold and if A1 would get the win.

Numerous trips up and down the Old Fed kept me warm in the icy breeze and helped pass the time, and soon enough, we were on. Turns out Downing opted for a single speed, as did one of his acquaintances, who I later found out was Graeme Allbon. They rode identically frames and wheeled carbon Felt frames with free wheels running about 53/17 and must have been absurdly light in that spec. I opted against appealing to the UCI on the grounds of illegal bikes and got on with it.

A1 was 9 strong at the outset and we put on a hefty pace on the first leg along Shingle Hill Way and back, averaging over 40kmh by the turn towards Lake George. The long gradual hills unhitched about half the group and it was left to Downing, Allbon, Stephen Blackburn and me to set the pace and chase down the other grades. I made sure I took my share of turns, even though I had been left on the front a couple of times a little longer than I would have liked and focussed simply on staying with the front and seeing how it would pan out on the hills. The wind was wreaking havoc with our pace line and a fairly steep echelon formed which made passing other groups slightly trickier with reduced space on the road.

Sadly, a short acceleration on each of the climbs in both directions left me wanting for outright power and they opened up a small gap which I was able to track down with some careful and disciplined pacing. Buoyed on by encouragement from Stacey and Ash, I plowed on still focussed on seeing how it play out.

On the final leg home from Lake George we passed the final of the front runners and I knew things were going to get tricky. Ash and his stoker Don were doing a fine job at this point managing to stay away from the chasing bunches except for us and was not too far behind. Coming up the climb out of Lake George, a surge was started and I pushed hard, only to see a gap of about 6 bike lengths open up between me and the leading trio. I was perplexed. I just had no top end power. I pushed as hard as I could and maintained the gap, but then something happened that I did not expect – the bunch slowed. Coming down the other side, I made contact with them again before the bridge and felt a little humbled. I joined in the go slow game and tried to position myself so that I could watch the tactics unfold and hopefully learn something. Sadly, this effort failed and I ended up on the front. The entire way home.

It was like track racing coming up the slope out of the valley with no one showing their hand and riding really, really slowly. Looking over shoulders and listening for attacks. No chat. No clue how it was going to play.

Enter Ash and Don. They caught us while we were going slow and went past at a decent pace. Someone, I think Downing,  yelled “watch the tandem, get on the wheel…”, so I accelerated and sat on their wheel and resumed play. I knew it was going to end in a bunch sprint and that it wasn’t going to end well for me, and so I agonised about potential plays I could make to try to alter the outcome. A couple of fleeting false attacks tried to force their hands but it was to no avail. I was very, very tempted to try my luck and attack with more than a kilometre to go and see if it would make a difference. With hindsight, I should have tried. I think I was still a little mentally beaten from being gapped earlier. With less than 500m to go, I had to push knowing I couldn’t afford a surprise into action sprint to the line. They went. I chased, but the gap opened up like their lead out man had just finished his job. I sat up and crossed the line 3 seconds later. In spite of the tactical slowdown, we averaged 38.3kmh and it felt like it.

So, yeah, on that course, I was beaten. Fair and square. I reconcile myself with the fact that I am currently on antibiotics for a throat infection, but know deep down that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the end. I might have kept up with the attacks a little more, but my ability to set up tactics and read others is lacking. Not unlike my ability to sprint. So, in the end I lacked tactics and speed. So much for the title of this blog, then.

So now, positions are open for a tactical coach and a sprint coach. Payment will be in beer, and not the generic kind. In the absence of these additions to my training regime, will I continue on? Damn straight. I’m hooked.

Sadly, I have no access to any pics relevant to the race in question, so I attached a stonker of me from Amy’s Ride earlier this year, just in case you forgot what we look like when the weather is decent.