2014 has been a year with some ups and downs, with the worst being sidelined from an NRS ride in the National Capital Tour due to a nagging knee injury which I didn’t manage too well. The Tour of Bright was still an outside chance once training recommenced in mid September. Training was then interrupted by a broken toe and a small accident on oil in the wet at the beginning of October, but I pushed on, knowing there were gains to be made in utilising the knowledge I had accumulated from numerous physio visits.
This was confirmed with a 2nd in Masters 3 in the ACT Road champs and another 2nd in the ACT Hillclimb Champs in a time that saw me 4th outright on the day. Finally, Honeysuckle Hammer was a last chance opportunity to get some hilly training in and to see how my form was shaping up. A 4th in A Grade finishing just behind a strong sprint from Charter Mason recruit Ben Hill confirmed things were looking as good as they could with a moderate build up and still developing muscles.
So, there we were. Headed for Bright with hopes of a top ten finish in Elite Mens B grade, which is essentially the same level as local club A grade, and complete ignorance of the roller coaster that was to follow. All I knew was that I was nervous as hell and expected to have to fight hard for top 10, with an outside chance of making top 5.
Day 1: The dreaded Time Trial. The course was a 13.5km flat run out towards Porepunkah and then up towards the hills before coming back down and back to the start. There was some serious gear present, which was highly intimidating, but I figured I would be OK provided I only lost about 30-40sec to the leaders. On a hastily thrown together roadie/ TT hybrid with dumped stem, aero bars and rear disc borrowed an hour before the race and not tested in anger, I approached the start knowing a lack of specific training might cost me. We got to start on a ramp, which was probably the coolest thing about the TT that day. But all that novelty had worn off 200m down the road when I realised I had only travelled the 200m and how hard it was to stay up at max effort for a long time. I settled into a groove and aimed to pick up the guy down the road. I caught him at about the 6km mark just after the turn and proceeded to push up the hill towards the second turn, gauging my time off other riders I recognised from before my roll away. I was well above 42kmh by the turn and to my horror was greeted by a mild cross head wind that would plague me to the finish. All said and done, I was 19:48 @ 41.2kmh with a 1:10 deficit to the leader. Not the start I had hoped for, but all I could manage in the circumstances.
Day 2: Tawonga Gap. The first of the hilltop finishes I was looking forward to. Today was a day to move up the order without damaging my legs too much. Most of the field were 10-15 years my junior and I knew their recovery would give them an edge over me, so I was looking to claw back as much time as possible while leaving something in reserve for the final assault. The course was an undulating 93km course with a few bumps along the way before turning up Tawonga Gap road to the finish 7km away. A good climb and a good length, even though the gradient wasn’t going to cause too many concerns for the better climbers.
The first 85kms was spent sitting in trying to stay safe and save the legs. There was a nasty touch of wheels at the 15km mark at about 45kmh, but the rider was the only one to fall. It sent shock waves through the peleton and made us all very nervous. Another mishap with a rider losing control while emptying his bottle before the climb (pfft) nearly saw me hit the ground as the rider he hit came across into me. Other than that, the break going for the sprint points kept the peleton at bay, with no one wanting to do much work to haul them in. After the final sprint, I made my way to the front of the group to position myself for the climb and got left on the front for a kilometre or so before the turn. I soft pedalled and braced for the attacks.
We turned the corner and hit the first switchback. Rain! I was still on the front with no one attacking. I decided to ride my tempo and see how it would unfold. Still no attacks. I was comfortable and just spinning away, leaving plenty in reserve for the jump. Nothing. Half way up a Vikings rider comes through for a soft attack and I cover it and close it down. Within a kilometre I am back on the front. Another Vikings attack, harder this time. I cover it and the same thing happens. A third attack comes and I choose to let it go a bit knowing I had blown the field apart with only about 9 riders left up front. I didn’t need to beat everyone. Just claw back time. The attack stayed static, not gaining any time at all but not coming back. 1km to go. Status quo. I am in a good position. Preserve, preserve. 500 to go. Still the same. We ride around the final corner with the finish line in sight and the leader is throwing his bike around and frantically looking back. Its 300m to go, and I figure I should have a dig at that since he was faltering. Sure enough, I passed him with ease and no one countered and I took the win.
Completely unexpected and more than I hoped to achieve on this campaign. I clawed back 12 seconds on the GC contenders and got myself within 58sec of the lead. I was soaked, stoked and not overly fatigued. A roll back down to Bright would be a perfect recovery spin and then it was roller and stretch time.
Day 3: Hotham – the decider. The formula was simple enough. Attack the climb and bring back 58 seconds. Hills are where things like this happened. The reality was different. I was expecting a battle, although the previous day had proved that the top contenders may not be too comfortable on longer steeper climbs. Or maybe they were sandbagging, leaving it all for today. The possibilities were endless and scary. The weather forecast was more than bleak and a recon run by some mates confirmed that it was nasty on the mountain. I slept appallingly. Different scenarios raced through my mind as I tossed and turned, torturing myself with plaguing doubts. Legs felt heavy, stomach churned and my head was a mess.
Awake at 5:30, I hear rain. Much rain. I looked at the radar and it was looking poor, with heavy showers predicted all morning. Further, conditions at the top of Hotham were far worse, with 45kmh gusts blowing, rain pouring and an apparent temp of -1. Now I was doubting riding any deep wheels as well and worrying about endless outcomes involving me crashing or bonking or puncturing or failing in my bid for a podium via any of the aforementioned disasters. Before too long, Cycling Victoria announce the stage is shortened to about 3kms past the end of the false flat but 5kms from the summit. This news brings equal parts relief and disappointment. I needed all the time and distance possible if I was to make any ground on the GC podium. The plan was to attack after the false flat up the final part of the climb. You know, just like the pros do. Everything is up in the air and I am as nervous as hell.
We arrive at the start and my mate Charlie receives an official caution for crossing the lines on the previous days stage. It is an unwelcome distraction, but we prepare for the off with more than a mental dark cloud over our heads. It is raining, the roads are very wet and slippery and there are 25kms to survive before the climb. As expected, a group of about 12 break away to claim sprint points. I don’t care. I chose to sit at the back and try to avoid the possible carnage, worrying about position and attack closer to Harrietville. It’s a nervous but speedy trip out to the climb and before long, I need to make a move.
The peleton strangely thins out to three riders wide, leaving an enormous corridor up the outside. Another rider takes the opportunity and moves to tow his team mate up to the front. Too late. I am on his wheel and his mate is on mine. I get a free ride to the front where no work is being done by anyone. Before long a group of two ease off the front and have about 6 bike lengths. I smoothly ease across to make it three and we begin to work a little bit together. This was no serious attack. No unnecessary energy was to be wasted. Tristan Dimmock of Team Mont sees the move and comes across to lend some extra energy to my plight and before long we have opened up a reasonable gap of 30sec or more. The peleton had sat up. It was falling into my lap! This is it. And all I wanted was to be at the front for the climb. Charlie told me later that the conversation in the peleton went a little like this:
Gc contender: Ah, guys. Do you realise that’s yesterdays stage winner up the road?
Peleton: So? When are you going to start chasing?
The top 2 went to the front, but neither pushed too hard to bring us back. Charlie then started taunting them, yelling out to his mate “that’s it, Gordo. That’s the winning move. They wont bring him back now!”. Still no reaction and a handy lead.
We hit the climb. I knew that in the break bunch ahead there were a mix of sprinters and possibly a couple in the top 20. I also knew that at the false flat, you need helpers. The equation was simple. Smash the first 10kms of the climb and try to bridge the gap between me and the leaders and hope I can finish in the top 5. I set a threshold tempo, leaving the top 3-4% for an extra effort if needed. The climb is long and I am busy maintaining pace. No time for food or drinks. Just go.
Passing the splintered riders, I get updates on time gaps to the leaders and know I am making ground. It’s a long and rewardless task until I finally catch a glimpse of the tail car going around some bends higher up the mountain. Before long I see the riders and the lead car. One last effort. I smashed the last couple of kms to make contact just before the false flat and sit on their wheels, sucking in some recovery before making the next move. Its falling into place. The only negative is that the rain becomes a lot heavier and its getting colder.
Before long, the riders, shocked by my arrival, realise the situation. Their hopes of a stage win were crumbling with a new rider joining, and he is a gc contender. Another Canberra rider, Rien, bargains with me: we will ride for you if you give us the stage win. I figure any assistance would be good right now, so I agree. But only with Rien. We push the pace together, and I end up working a bit more than I thought our bargain had negotiated, but I am comfortable. On the down hills, where I was scared of coming unstuck, they were particularly useful in keeping my pace up. We survive the flat, and I am getting confident. I know I have to lift the pace to be sure, so I push on the final climb, keeping Rien in tow. He sticks with me and reminds me of the deal. I am a man of my word. I wasn’t about to break the promise. 1km to go. The lead bunch is breaking. Riders are falling away and I am still on the front with Rien determined to stay on my wheel. 500m. Id have to be on the podium by now and GC is surely close. I am confident enough to not look back, but not certain. 100 to go and I ease up a little and gesture for Rien to get ready for the win. We cross the line together and congratulate each other.
Now the wait.
Others cross the line while I frantically try to put on some dry warm clothes from my bag in the lead car. Once drier, I look at twitter. Cycling Victoria have posted a pic of me waving Rien through for the finish and commented that I had taken GC. I am elated! Mission accomplished. At the start of the day, too many variables stopped me from seeing this as a viable outcome, but as the race unfolded, a tactical error and an intense effort secured the win. I have a stage win, 2nd place on stage, KOM points and GC in the bag. Way above expectations.
We ride down the mountain almost hypothermic and make our way into Bright through one last intense rain shower. Its beer time. Something I had been looking forward to all weekend. Presentations were at 3 and all the time leading up to them was spent talking with friends and reflecting on our individual battles and triumphs of the weekend. The Tour of Bright is a brilliant race, regardless of outcomes. I had a blast and made some great friends. The win was an added bonus. I am sure Mick will agree with this sentiment when we receive his report of his weekend. 😉
Confirmation of the win as I received it shivering and wet on Mt Hotham.
KOM comp podium complete with sprinters sized jersey.