It was another great weekend to be a cyclist in Australia. The 111th Austral Wheelrace was held on Saturday night which is always exciting and a great evening out. I’m always in awe of the history behind many of these races in Australia as well as the caliber of the competitors. Watching it sure makes me want to get back on the track and give it a go. See some pictures of the evening here .
What I did give a go was the Oceania Championships on Sunday. Even though it’s a highly coveted title for Aussies and Kiwis I really didn’t take it too seriously leading into it. I rode 160km of hills the day before, I had a burger and fries for dinner, had a few beers at the Austral, didn’t do any bike maintenance until 6am on race day, etc. BIG rookie mistake. I should practice what I preach more often. Many of Australia’s best riders were there which was going to make the race extremely tough. It was held in the beautiful seaside town of Portarlington and consisted of 15 laps of a 10km course with a couple little climbs thrown in.
The first few laps of the race were at full throttle (as most of these races are). There was a tailwind section where we got up to 72km/hr which I was hanging on for dear life! On the backside of the course we were driving 51km/hr into the headwind. It didn’t take too many of these laps before many of the poorly positioned riders were shed out the back. At these speeds it doesn’t take much before someone drops a wheel, opens up a gap, and needs to expend so much energy to get back on that he simply cannot keep up. Not everyone can be near the front and it’s a fight to hold your position up there, so there’s bound to be a few who lose contact simply because of their position – not their fitness level. This is exactly why these races start out so quickly and then level off after 50km – to get rid of as many contenders as possible.
Even though there was attack after attack, I didn’t expect there to be any breakaways that would stick because of the constant headwind/tailwind nature of the course. I figured the combined energy of the group was so strong that there was no way that a small group could get away. I fully expected this race to come down to a sprint finish because of this. However, after the pace settled down to a more reasonable level a couple guys got away, and a couple more joined, a few more, and then before you knew it there was a group of about 15 who were working together and opening up a sizable gap. This is how it always happens. Since all the of the teams were represented in the break there was absolutely no chasing that was going to happen and all of the teams were up at the front rolling soft turns to make sure of it. Before I knew it, the break had 4 minutes on us.
This didn’t mean that the race was over or that it was going to be an easy roll to the finish line. There were constant attacks from riders trying to make it across the gap. Those moves were always covered by the teams and usually brought back, but in the end there was another group of five or so that got away. I had no interest in racing for 20th spot and was quite happy just to sit in and enjoy the ride.
In the last 5 laps I found my legs severely cramping – mainly the adductors. It was strange because they would cramp when things got a tough on the flats where I was at a very high cadence. The cramping would stop as soon as I put it in a bigger gear and put some power into the pedals (such as on the climbs). Good thing, because my race would have been over otherwise. I always find that the worst thing you can do when cramping is to stop pedaling. I find that I can usually pull out of it if I keep pedaling lightly no matter how bad the cramp is. I also try to vary the cadence and the pressure on the pedal to see if that helps. In this instance, slower and harder pedaling seemed to do the trick. The probable reason behind this is because I’ve been training Strength Endurance for the past 3 weeks and I’m not used to the high cadence motion that was demanded in many sections of this race. Speed (i.e high cadence with less torque on the pedals) will make much more use of the adductors. This is the conditioning that I don’t have at the moment which is why I ran into problems.
What causes cramping? There’s all sorts of theories out there and there are a couple different cases. The first case is my experience in this race. It simply comes down to the fact that I have had some time off racing and I’m not race fit yet (for this level and type of racing). Everyone always has the suggestions “did you have enough magnesium”, “you should try eating bananas”, “you should try my sports drink”, etc. I’m not going to make a bunch of scientific excuses for myself. I guarantee that I won’t be cramping in 2 months time without any changes to my diet. I’ll just be fitter and more accustomed to this type of racing and all will be good.
The other case is when you have an ongoing problem with camping no matter how fit you are. The theory is that muscle cramps are cause by dehydration and/or electrolyte imbalances. This theory makes sense – cramps usually occur when it is hot out, body fluids are at a low and therefore so are salt levels (a condition called hyponatremia) . Since athletes are always trying to avoid salty foods they could be very susceptible to hyponatremia. I had a couple of Olympic cyclists stay at my place for a month last year and one thing I noticed was that they put extra salt on absolutely everything they ate. This was their old-school way of preventing cramping which worked well for them. Research doesn’t always agree with this however. Read Joe Friel’s article for some interesting info on cramping.
Sorry, off on a tangent there. Back to the race.
In the end the lead break-away group stayed away and it came down to a sprint finish between them. I wasn’t there to watch the finish as I was dealing with my seized up legs back in the main peloton. Tommy Nankervis took the sprint for an impressive win on an extremely tough day. For any of you looking for an experience PRO rider who is capable of pulling out the goods in big races like these, you should definitely consider this guy. He is without a contract this upcoming season and would be a valuable addition to any team. I’ve only talked to him once but I can vouch that he’s a great guy and a fantastic rider.
The other guys on the podium were Danile Braunsteins (fresh back from Tour of Qatar ) as well as Nick Walker – brother of Pro Tour rider Will Walker. Watch out for both of these guys. They’re young, race savvy, extremely strong, and really good blokes.