Tuesday, 19 November 2013

WCMCC Kewdale Criterium - A Grade :: 17th November, 2013

With just a week since the Tour of Margaret River and a hard week of training, my decision to race today was very much last minute. With most of the Unicorn-Specialized team down at a training camp in Busselton or, in the case of the Fox, taking a break from racing, I wasn't sure if I would be a sole representative of the team so I went with that expectation. Additionally, not having been able to get out for my usual Saturday morning ride, I jumped on the bike early this morning with Simon Verona to get some kilometres in for a warm up before heading to Kewdale for the event. This was probably not the best preparation for a race but at least I would get some race practise in.

As we approached the course on Hazelhurst St we noticed a significant amount of sand on the road and figured that there must have been some kind of roadworks take place and I spied Wayne Lally busy placing orange traffic cones on the corner of Hazelhurst and Valentine Streets. Apparently there had been an oil spill on the road that extended the entire segment of Valentine and Hazelhurst St that made up half of the Kewdale course. This would certainly present for some interesting racing as less than half the road width would be available for use on the back two corners.

Over at the registrations desk, the number of riders for the morning's event seemed to be significant (over 140 for the morning across the grades) and I spied a number of blue HCT kits floating around (including Simon) but no initial sign of any others in the new Unicorn-Specialized Santini kits (have I mentioned how comfortable the Santini SMS kits are? Superb!). I signed on and given I was only the 12th A grader to register, I waited to see who else would show up as my competition. I didn't have to wait long as Ed Hollands and a string of his compatriots arrived which would be the beginning of a significant swell in numbers for A grade taking the field out to 40+ riders.

Pat Hayburn also arrived having come home early from Busselton and had signed on to ride but changed his mind after seeing the sand obstacle on the back of the course. I certainly understood his decision not to take the risk with this race and as quickly as I had gained a team mate, I was back to riding solo again. I was more than happy to represent the team, but with significant numbers in EHBS, Total Travel and KHT and as well as a good showing for Man-Rider's Choice, Arbitrage and Glen Parkers (including Gary Wright back in the saddle), I would have my work cut out for me. HCT were four strong with Brett Stapleton, Mike Pardon, Martin Lowell and Simon Verona but there was no indication that they were teaming up as such - not this time at least. It seems the attraction of a larger purse had worked again with all the usual hitters lining up (except the notable absence of Sam Smith).

By the time we were released on course for a neutral lap controlled by Bob Addy who was sponsoring this Criterium event, we were down to 39 riders from potentially 45 so it seems Pat was not the only one unwilling to take the risk. It was still going to be a tight squeeze down the back of the course where only half the road could be used safely but would offer some opportunities to launch significant attacks into the slight wind that was now blowing from the north-north-east.

After a very sedate neutral lap, we approached the start/finish line for the first time and the pace picked up over 42km/h and that is where it stayed. As expected, an initial attack was forthcoming from Chris Glasby who would be out to prepare Eddy for a break attempt later in the race. I was not prepared to chase this down as I was on my own so I held off to see who would be prepared to ensure Chris didn't get away.As he was out on his own, it seemed that the field was prepared to let him go and have him burn himself out, but when a number of riders decided that Chris' break was enough to look to build on, I wanted to be a part of it and went with them.

This move didn't quite work out the way I wanted it to and as soon as I got through to the front of this group trying to bridge to Chris, the cohesion exploded and I was left out front to complete the chase with the others on my heels and the main group quickly getting back on theirs. We completed less than a full lap to get back to the home straight again before the next attack came. I don't recall exactly who it was that initiated this one but it seemed to trigger sporadic attempts to go with the initial rider and when I noticed Brett Stapleton and Vaughan Harvey wanting to be a part of it, I jumped on and bridged over with them. By the time we noticed that we actually had something we could build on, we had about 6-8 riders in the group when all of a sudden, the cohesion of the group exploded once again and I found myself, along with Vaughan, being the only ones interested in wanting to make something of the gap.

Without the cohesion of the other riders, it was only a matter of time before the break was pulled back to the main group which provided an opportunity for an immediate counter attack that was not significant but came from riders working for the stronger members of their teams. Again, there was no obvious effort from much of the field to cover this move and again, I found myself on the front pulling it back again. This was not going well. The plan to wear down the field had certainly worked and as we moved down the home stretch on Bradford St about a third of the way through the race, an attack came from Magnus with Doug hot on his heals. I had burnt too many matches at this stage of the race (a significant mistake) and while I attempted to go with it, the intensity of the move had me floundering and I found myself in no-man's land with one or two others who were also attempting to go with the move.

This left Magnus and Doug away on their own but I didn't think that this would be the move to win the race and I backed off to let the main field catch me and hopefully give myself enough time to recover and await for a move to bridge coming from the likes of Eddy (EHBS), Gary Wright (GP), Roger Knight (TTT) or even Brett Stapleton (HCT), whom had been unexpectedly invisible during the last lap or two. Unfortunately, any chance of recovery went out the window with a very strong attack launched by Eddy to bridge the gap to Magnus and Doug. Although not through lack of trying, I simply couldn't go with enough power to stick and I could only watch as Gary Wright and Ian Gregory latched on to Eddy's wheel and eventually joined the initial two up the road. I was somewhat surprised not to see Brett go with this move and after talking with him after the race, he had found himself well out of position and missed the move completely.

The gap at this stage was not a race winning gap and there was still the chance for the main field (of some 30+ riders) could work together to bring them back, but with no obvious effort to do so and the strength of the riders in the 5 man break, the chance to bridge rapidly disappeared after just a couple of laps and before long the break was no longer visible from the main group on the longer stretches of the course. We would not see them again.

So with the top five positions already sorted (unless a mechanical or other such misfortune influenced the result), the main field would be racing for the final three paying places. I had done a significant amount of work prior to the successful break getting away but I had had the chance to recover and take on some additional energy and fluid and this eventually kicked in giving me a little renewed strength to compete for these final places. The issue would be the riders that had been sitting in on the bunch and conserving their energy for the final kick.

There were no significant attacks coming from the field prior to being given "two to go" because most of the teams with numbers were being represented in the five man break so any of the earlier efforts from those team members were not likely to come until the last lap. I moved closer to the front as we received the "two to go" which would be incredibly important positioning given the confinements offered by the restricted corners on the back of the course. As we moved down Valentine Rd for the second last time, at least two riders including Brett Stapleton and Roger Knight, jumped into action up the left hand side of the field and as they rounded the corner into Hazelhurst St, they had put a small gap on the main field.

I was caught out of position against the kerb on the right side of the road and unable to move beyond the front to chase this move and could only hope that the main group would attempt to go with them and thin out the line at the front but this didn't happen and Brett and Roger managed to maintain their gap for the remainder of the race while any others were sucked back into the main field. On the last lap and once again on the back of the course, Chris Glasby had moved over to the other side of the line of sand and was able to freely attack up the left hand side of the road and successfully bridged over to Brett and Roger. By this time, Roger found the going a bit hard and dropped off pace but managed to hold onto 8th place as the group caught him just after he crossed the line.

Magnus had also found the going tough up in the five man break and had been dropped out the back but with such a significant gap between him and the main group, there was no issue with being caught and he retained fifth position with Eddy, Doug, Gary and Ian taking 1st to 4th respectively. Brett was able to hold off Chris' charge to take 6th and 7th respectively.

I managed to improve my position in the last lap and gained a number of places to sit 14th overall holding my position well enough during the final bunch sprint for the line. It was definitely a race for the teams with decent numbers riding for the previously mentioned teams making it difficult for unaligned riders. I was happy to be there for Unicorn-Specialized and while it might not have been my best effort tactically and know that I could probably have ridden a little smarter during the opening and closing laps, I was still able to finish with some strength in the sprint against some notable names.

Many thanks for reading. See you out there.

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