Under clearing skies the 2011 Melbourne to Warrnambool was never in danger of breaking of the course record. A strong head wind battered the riders all day with frequent showers making conditions difficult for riders of all levels.
The usual flurry of attacks early in search of sprint points and cash kept things interesting but it was the strong head wind that kept the group together until 3 or 4 riders rolled clear after the first feed station. With all the prizes being snapped up by this leading breakaway group, the peloton settled in for an easier ride, at times doing 20km/hr until after the second feed station at 150km.
After the second feed the race immediately changed direction into the crosswinds. Some nervous riders came crashing down and the peloton was split into several echelons. With a strong front group of 20 featuring most of the race favourites from Team Genesys, Search2Retain, Plan B and Budget Forklifts it was always going to be difficult for the riders behind to catch up.
This strong group kept a steady pace over the 2 main climbs at Camperdown allowing a few from the second group to tack on. This was the selection that would be contesting the finish and from about 45km to go the attacks started. Genesys was very active with Pat Shaw and Joel Pearson initiating many moves. Nathan Haas who’d had several mechanical issues didn’t appear to have his usual strength and was protecting his sprint ace Steel Von Hoff.
Every Genesys move was covered by a Search2Retain rider and vice versa. At 20km to go Shaw was clearly feeling the effects of his efforts, emptying his stomach several times. Genesys tactics appeared to be win alone or setup Von Hoff for the sprint. The man with the best legs was Pearson attacking at least a dozen times before breaking the groups spirit with a timely move 15km to go, Search2Retain rider Luke French glued to his wheel.
These two quickly moved out of sight and out of mind. Unfortunately I punctured with 5km to go and cannot report on how the sprint finish played out or how Haas managed to overhaul French for second place but it was surely a performance from a guy destined for great things next year with his new Pro Tour Team Garmin-Cervelo.
Pearson celebrated his victory up the finishing hill into Warrnambool with plenty of time, giving a similar victory salute to that of 2009. Now a 2 time winner of this prestigious race he helps Genesys to a one-two and the overall NRS Team Classification.
Congratulations to all that finished in difficult conditions.
[CT: I asked Joel Pearson to write a few words about his perspective of the race and here they are:]
After the small break got away in the opening kilometers my teammates and I decided not to be too aggressive and waited until the crosswinds to split the race apart.
Anthony Giacoppo (Genesys) ended up getting into the break which allowed us to relax and let it go. When the break came back we made a lefthand turn at about 160kms remaining and the the crosswinds split the race to pieces. I missed the front group but put in a big effort to ride solo across the gap. I tried to keep all the guys rolling well to make sure no one else came across but a couple managed to bridge to us over the KOM. After that there were flurries of attacks but nothing succeeded until Luke Fetch attacked. Fortunately I bridged across to him with 20km to go. He started to tire and I said to him, “just hang on, I won’t attack you” but he succumbed and cracked on one of the rolling climbs. For the final 10km’s I was riding solo and just tried to keep a solid rhythm without going too deep and blowing myself. I saw a small group coming from behind so I couldn’t relax until 500m to go when I started to celebrate!
1 Joel Pearson (Genesys Wealth Advisers) 7:24:14
2 Nathan Haas (Genesys Wealth Advisers) 0:00:13
3 Luke Fetch (Search2Retain) 0:00:15
4 Samuel Davis (Plan B Racing)
5 Steele Von Hoff (Genesys Wealth Advisers) 0:00:36
6 Luke Davison (Team Budget Forklifts)
7 Bradeley Hall (Plan B Racing)
8 Chris Jory (Bikebug.Com)
9 Brendan Johnston (Suzuki Trek)
10 Nicholas Mitchell (Wyndham City Council)