I’ve had a number of requests for my thoughts and perceptions on racing in the National Road Race last weekend.  Although I try and not make this blog about me,  if you’re interested, here it is…

The first lap was very fast.  Everyone was nervous and wanted to maintain a good position in the peloton.   We started up the climb through the feed station at about 27km/hr.  I was spinning fast in my 19T and feeling comfortable, but knew this was a fast pace that had me a bit concerned.  Until we settled into it, I looked around and could hear quite a few guys panting for air.  There was a break that got away on the first lap that I had thought to join for a split second.   May as well go down in a blaze of glory!  However, my goal was to finish the race so I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea.  We reached 85km/hr on the decent but it felt like we were going 20km/hr with everyone at the same pace.     I was positioned in the top 1/3 and stayed that way through the whole lap.

The second lap had a guy up at the front setting a blistering fast pace up through the feedzone.   I heard some guys on their radios talking about it and immediately a Virgin Blue rider  (David Kemp) went to the front and controlled the tempo.  He had a teammate up the road so they wanted to set a false tempo.  This brought the pace back to a much more relaxed level and I drifted around the pack chatting to as many people as I could.  Very enjoyable – except for the pinch at the top of the hill and the false flat before the left turn to the decent.  When I was pre-riding the course at an easy pace I was going up the steep part of the climb at 13-15km/hr in my 26T.   The pack was riding 22-25km/hr at the same point and I was in my 21T.  Not too bad, but still a bit uncomfortable for a guy like me.  I usually use a powertap but didn’t opt for it on this day.  I usually know what wattage I’m pushing and I’m guessing it was between 350-450watts the whole 3km climb.

After a few more leisurely laps with the odd attack and acceleration, the feeling in the air was that the teams not represented in the break had had enough of the 5min gap and were gonna blow the race to pieces.   I saw a train coming by on the left hand side before the start/finish of Team Rapha Condor.  I knew I had to be at the front coming into the next climb because it’s gonna get nasty.  I was right -  I jumped on and was 4th wheel back.  We usually switched to little ring through the start/finish, but this time they all kept it in the 53T and drove it hard.   We approached the climb at 40km/hr and it didn’t slow a smidge.  I couldn’t believe we were traveling this fast up through a 5-6% hill.  Obviously no one slowed for a bottle as the pace was unreal.  The legs were really starting to get loaded up by the time we hit the corner onto the second part of the climb.  Luckily I had my front place in the peloton and I was able to drift back in the pack to recover before the decent started.    The group was blown to bits when I looked behind and some real formidable riders were out of the race.   I didn’t take a look to see what speed we were doing up the steep part of the climb, but I’m thinking about 30km/hr.

A lap or two later of this pace and my adductors started to cramp.    No excuses – I just wasn’t fit enough.  I didn’t train for this event nor was I light enough coming into it, so there were no grand expectations anyway (I just thought it would be fun to do for this blog).    I ended up getting dropped in the feedzone area and did a couple futile laps with a group that had already lost contact.  After a while my legs were cramping so bad that I decided to quit when I heard someone yell "co’mon guys…this isn’t the Audex!".  He had a point.

I had a great time though and don’t regret one minute of it.

A few notes:

1. Like I said before, the secret to doing these long hilly races is to spin for as long as you can until the real race starts.  When the race starts that’s when you can dig deep into those fast twitch muscles and get down to business.

2. Relax.  I noticed that most of the riders who were up at the front were the pro-continental teams and the guys who didn’t have much of a chance anyway.  They were fighting for wheels and making dodgy moves to get the best position possible – then 30seconds later a swarm would come by that would put them at the back again.  The real PROs just relaxed in the middle of the pack and you didn’t see them until the end.

3. All of the aggressive positioning and trash talk came from the amateurs.  The PROs were extremely nice and always let you have the wheel they were on if I needed it.  They knew that there was no rush and when the real racing started a guy like me wouldn’t be there anyway.

4. As an interesting side note, by looking at the start list and by recognizing names, the race consisted of the following make-up of riders (approximately)

10% Pro-Tour riders

30% Pro continental riders from other teams in the US or Europe

50% Pro continental riders from Australia (i.e Savings & Loans, Drapac, Virgin Blue, Praties, etc)

10% guys like me – club riders having a go

Thanks for reading