Stage 1 – Hills, Hills, and More Hills
As usual A-Grade started out at 55-60km/hr with the early attacks coming from every direction. After the fourth or fifth attack there’s always a move that sticks and I’m always in two minds whether or not to go with it. Either spend 140km with a small break-away group and suffer like a dog, or wait and see if the peloton is going to chase it down at some point. In the end, it all depends on which prominent teams are in that break and who they have up there (teams will sometimes chase down their own riders if they’re not confident they can beat the others in that break).
I decided to wait and see what would happen closer to the middle of the race. At the 60km mark it was obvious that the peloton was not going to bring back the break. However, a strong group of 12 got away a few kms after the first KOM at Rosewhite who were on their way to bridging up to the break. When this group got far enough away to know it would stick I made the move to bridge up to them. Myself, a guy from FlyV, and one other slapped ourselves silly at 50km/hr for 15km trying to make our way up to them. We managed to catch them just before the 10km climb up towards Falls Creek. This group we caught clearly intended on catching the break that was still a minute up the road.
By the time we got to the final climb (Tawonga Gap – a 7.5km killer climb) we had caught some of the break-away bunch but there were still 5 or so up the road. My group of 15ish (with the main peloton a few minutes behind) hit Tawonga hard. The pace was insane going up the first km and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold it. I knew that if I kept a comfortable tempo I would start picking up some of the guys who red-lined and blew while trying to follow the moves. I’m glad I did because this is precisely what happened. I made it over Tawonga alone knowing that there were only a few riders in front of me.
The descent down Tawonga is notoriously dangerous. It’s a beautiful descent but every year you see serious crashes happen for one reason or another. As I was coming down the backside of Tawonga I saw 3 ambulances attending to crashes that looked quite nasty. It can never be anything but nasty when crashing at 70km/hr. Apparently one fellow had to be air-lifted out with a punctured lung and 3 broken vertebrae. Terrifying…
Seeing this is a good reminder not to take any risks beyond your ability. I made my way down Tawonga knowing that I had a group of guys breathing down my neck but ended up making my way to the finish line alone coming in at 8th place (with some serious cramps!). I was quite happy with that since I knew I did everything within my power to actually “race” instead of sitting idly in the peloton waiting for others to make their move (which I tend to do far too often).
Stage 2 – The Race Of Truth
Only a few hours after stage one you have to prepare for a 15.7km ITT. I would have preferred smashing my head against a brick wall at this point of the day. Not too many people have much left in the tank after a tough stage like the one in the morning.
There’s not time to do anything but have a quick shower, transform your bike into a TT bike, have a bite to eat, and then start warming up for an anticipated twenty-some minutes of solitary pain.
The Masters category is always the one to admire in the ITT. These guys are the ones who have the highest disposable income for the nicest TT machinery and they love to train for it. I couldn’t believe some of the outstanding times being posted by the Masters.
No comment on how I did on this stage ;-) I was glad to have it over with and to sit down for a few brewskies and a massive feed with friends. This is a big part of what this race weekend is all about.
Stage 3 – The Big Kahuna
If you’ve never ridden up Mt Hotham then I strongly recommend that you give it a go. It’s absolutely magnificent!
Photo by James Broadway – Winner of A Grade up Hotham Ben Dyball. Amazing!
Again, the A-Graders took off in a fury to the base of Mt Hotham eager to start the climb. After that initial intensity blew out my heavy legs I felt really good.
There’s a steep bit at the start of Mt Hotham called “The Meg”. It’s #3 on the course profile above. Since there’s KOM points at the top of this section as well as the fact that it’s extremely difficult, I knew that this is where there would be a split in the peloton. As the pace lifted I rode as hard as I could to make sure I wasn’t caught behind any riders leaving gaps. As we crested The Meg I looked behind me and noticed that there was a massive gap in the bunch and I was close to being on the tail end of it. The pace didn’t slow and I could see that the teams on the front were driving the pace to try to create as much damage as possible. If there’s a time to dig deep, this is it. I made my way up to the top half of the group (with much the peloton out the blown out the back) and hung on for dear life! I looked forward to the false flat section of the climb thinking I could get some rest. Unfortunately the pace was 45km/hr up this “flat” section (between #6 and #7 on course profile) and I it was one of the toughest parts of the climb.
It’s a spectacular view once you get above the tree-line on Mt Hotham. The view is unreal and it reminds me of riding up Mt Ventoux. When we hit #8 the pace lifted again and riders started to get popped one by one. I managed to hold on for a while longer before I started to go into the red zone. Once again, if you’re a mere mortal like me, if you go into the red for too long you’ll completely blow up and end up riding at 6km/hr for a few minutes until you recover. I always find it better to ride within myself up these massive mountains. A big 80kg guy like can’t possibly ride as fast as these sub 60kg guys up hills like this. I know my limits!
The GC winner of A Grade was Andrew Roe (Savings & Loans). Does anyone know if this is the same guy who was signed by Lance’s Trek-Livestrong team? I thought this was “Timothy Roe” but I’m not sure if that’s his brother or if he goes by two names.
In the end I didn’t manage to hold on to my top 10 result that I was gunning for after stage 2 (ended up with 17th on GC). No biggie – I was still very happy with how I did and didn’t have too many lofty expectations going into it. I had a fantastic weekend away with some great racing and met a lot of new people. That’s what it’s all about. Would I have done anything differently? Not a chance. I hope many of you had as great of a weekend as I did.
Now to prepare for the Scotty Peoples Memorial race next weekend. This is my kind of race. Exposed, crossiwinds, rolling hills, massive field. Nasty!