Monday, 25 November 2013

WCMCC Rockingham Criterium - A Grade :: 24th November, 2013

I love the Rockingham Criterium course. It's flat as a pan but still technical enough to keep things interesting. The roads are smooth and wide enough to take a reasonable sized peloton and when the wind blows, it can inflict some pretty serious suffering on smaller groups. I hadn't been down to the Rockingham course since March this year for the WCMCC Age Division Criterium Champs and was looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the course. As I was swinging by to pick up AP on the way down, I knew that I would have at least one team mate with me and we were pretty sure Pat would be making his way down also ... although we didn't know he was already on his way making the trek down on his Tarmac.

On the drive down the wind didn't seem too bad although it had picked up somewhat by the time we arrived. We'd also had a taste of rain through Kwinana but it didn't look like it had reached as far down as Rockingham as the road surface was still dry (if it did rain there, it evaporated pretty quickly). Temperature was perfect for racing so the only thing to be mindful of condition-wise would be how much the wind picked up while on course.

Numbers were down quite a bit on last weekend's Kewdale criterium with only half the registrations by comparison (20 in A grade) so places to keep out of any wind would be limited if the field stretched out or broke up. By the time we were released to start at 8:35am, the wind was a true sea breeze and was now enough to be a pretty annoying head wind as we made our way up the last half of the home straight. Down the back of the course, the wind was directly to our backs which forced the pace up significantly making the ride through the more technical bottom-end of the course a little more tricky when negotiating corners at between 45-50 km/h. Coming around the last sweeping bend of that end of the course would give the lead riders a face full of head wind and a tough ride up to the roundabout. This experience only worsened as the race went on either due to the wind picking up a bit or more likely because we were all getting a little more tired as each lap passed.

The first lap of the A grade race, while quick, was reasonably sedate and allowed most of us to get a bit of a rhythm going but this would soon get significantly disrupted as we entered the back of the course for the second time and the fun and games commenced. First signs seemed to come from Sam Smith with a bit of an effort to test the will of the main field and this was followed up with a couple of others and any attempts to break away were quickly covered by AP and Pat. Sam went again but this time with some vigour that this time seemed to catch AP and Pat out of position. I was well placed to cover this effort and latched onto Sam's wheel with a couple of others following on mine. While we did put a bit of a gap on the field, we were brought back again reasonably swiftly as we hit the head wind again.

Soon after we were brought back, splinter groups began to make moves off the front which ultimately separated the main field in half. As we moved through the roundabout, I noticed Sam was still with us in the back half of this split while his three team mates, Magnus, Martin and Joe Radisic (new to A grade after a number of wins in B grade) had been placed near the front during this phase and managed to get themselves in the break away half. With the gap having reached a critical point, Sam made a strong move to bridge over to the lead group. No one seemed interested to go with this move and I began to power up to make a chase but was squeezed on the corner leading onto Tesla Rd from Pickard Ave and had to touch the brakes enough to lose my momentum.

AP provides a little insight into how this panned out from his perspective:

"When I realised I was in a break without team mates, and there were 3 EHBS riders around, I stayed near the front so as not to get isolated if an attack materialised further splitting the group, but was careful stay out of the way of those working on the front. Uppers tried to encourage me to come through and help cement the break, but I explained that I had my sprinter in the main group and wanted the break to come back. No one had any issues with this, and just hovered off the front and let the guys get on with keeping the break motivated.

"What I did miss, was when Sam bridged across, and if I'd seen this, I would have taken some hard pulls to try keep him out of the mix. That was a missed opportunity."

As I picked up my pace again, I moved up along side Pat. He checked to see if I wanted to make a go of chasing the leaders down and closing the gap. I was all for it and moved to the front and picked up the pace (with the wind behind) hopeful that the rest of the group would follow suit and combine to bring the lead group back in touch. I moved through the dog-leg turns at the bottom of the course and signalled for others to come around to take a turn but immediately found that no one seemed to be keen. I ended up staying on the front for another lap before Pat gave up on waiting to see what others were prepared to do and came around to relieve me of the effort I had been putting in.

The lead group had not really put anything more into the gap they had on us so I was of the opinion that we could still bring them back, especially if we worked together into the wind and kept the power on down the back of the course. Pat was still keen to help out as was Ian Lyne from Total Travel Team with Greg Stoyles from KHT putting in turns. This seemed to be how things would pan out for the next few laps with a small amount of the gap being brought back and it was clear that unless everyone started working together, the leaders would stay away. Thankfully, the rest of the field began to work a single line rolling turns which certainly began to chip away a little more of the gap over the next few laps.

Unfortunately, something went pear-shaped a bit over the half way mark of the race. It may have been triggered by a bit of extra effort coming from Ian Lyne as we began to move through the dog-leg corners at the bottom of the course. I saw this as a move to potentially bridge the remainder of the gap solo so moved with it which also brought Greg Stoyles with us. As we rounded the left-hand sweeping bend on Smeaton Way, the fourth rider in the line had dropped our wheels and a gap opened up which before long had grown out to put the three of us in a separate chase group. I would've been happier to have Pat in this group to help out but Ian and Greg were keen to continue the intensity in the chase and by the time we reached the roundabout at the other end of Smeaton Way, we had put a good 40-50 metres on the rest of the group.

I was working well with Ian at this point who seemed to be as keen as I was to bridge over to the leaders and we rolled turns reasonably well with Greg coming through often enough to keep us above tempo, growing the gap on the last chase group and closing the gap even more on the leaders. We kept this momentum going for a number of laps and with about 35 minutes or so completed, we were agonisingly close to having closed the gap completely as we came onto Smeaton Way. After talking with a few others after the race, I was told that someone in the lead group had caught sight of us coming and that a Unicorn-Specialized kit was among us (I was apparently mistaken for Pat which must have put the shivers up them ;-) which triggered the lead group to step on the gas and prevent us from getting on.

Again from AP's perspective at this point of the race:

"At about the 35 minute mark, Sam started sending riders up the road to wear everyone else out chasing them down. I chased a few of these moves, as did Colin [Rose] and Roger [Knight] and after a couple of laps of this behaviour, the group came back together. Uppers did try and get a move off the front with Sam and me, but this didn't quite work and I had just pulled off a hard turn on the home straight to drop back into the wheels, when I looked back and saw I had a decent gap on the field.

"No one seemed interested in chasing, and at the 37 minute mark, I found myself off the front with a 7 minute + 2 lap effort left in the race. I still thought it was a long shot given the quality of riders that would be chasing, but figured it was worth the risk to try stay away."

This move by the lead group to keep us at bay seemed to have the desired affect because within a couple of laps, the lead group were out of sight as we turned onto Tesla Rd at which point we conceded defeat and acknowledged that we would not be able to catch them before the last lap. Greg and Ian were happy to ease up and ride tempo for the remainder of the race and while I was happy to get the chance to recover a little, I was not interested in letting the chase group catch us. We rolled slightly above tempo for the next lap when I spied a light-blue HCT clad rider attempting to bridge over to us. I moved to the front to try and pick up the pace but the pace at which Martin Lowell came across meant we would not hold him off and he joined us with just minutes before receiving the "two to go" (roughly four laps).

Ian and I were still doing quite a bit of work together to keep momentum going and as we received the "two to go" we found that we were the only two of the four of us interested in pulling turns on the front to keep the pace at or above average. So the games in this small group had begun. Personally, I tolerated this for the first of these last two laps but was not interested in spending too much energy dragging the others around for the last lap so I backed off knowing that there was no chance that the group chasing us would catch us.

I sat behind Greg for the first half of the last lap with Ian still on the front doing the majority of the work down the back of the course before he stepped on the gas as he moved through the dog-legs. I had the energy to go with this and came around Greg to latch onto Ian's wheel but as we moved through the long sweeping bend on Smeaton Way for the last time, Ian fatigued and could not keep the pace up any longer. I came around him, tentatively at first as I knew it was still to early to power into a sprint, so I held the pace knowing that I still had some extra power to jump either at the 200m to go or if Greg or Martin jumped first. I was certainly mindful that these two both had a strong sprint on them and that if either of them went, it would be a significant effort to go with them.

In the end, Greg was the one to jump with a strong kick that almost got the better of me but I was able to put the S-Works Tarmac SL4 into full sprint effect and kept his wheel until about 75 metres to go where I was able to put in a final kick to overcome his pace and cross the line just ahead of Greg with Martin close on his wheel. Ian had dropped off the pace a little and crossed a few seconds later.

As for the final result, AP tell's it in his words:

"In the end, I got just close enough to the line to think I had won when Matt Upton pushed his wheel in front and took a well thought out win. I heard that Sam and Roger rinsed themselves out on the last lap to close the gap giving their respective teammates a shot at the win."

So while the race did not go according to our plan, it was good to have had AP up the road in the break and to finish second against 4 EHBS riders and after such a strong effort on his own in blustery conditions is fantastic. I kick myself a bit for not being able to get across the initial gap with Sam to help out AP and again for not being able to close the gap when we got to within about 75 metres of the leaders, but this is racing and with a bit more training and experience I should be able to better handle these situations. So much to learn but in the end, I enjoyed being there for the team and representing Unicorn-Specialized once again.

It goes without saying at the moment that the S-Works Tarmac SL4 bikes provided to the team by Specialized perform incredibly well in a criterium situation as much as they did through the winter road race season. The bike's handling in tight situations and strong surging that comes with this type of racing is second to none and the team just wouldn't be the same without them. I can strongly recommend these incredibly competitive bikes to anyone considering a new purchase in the near future.

Many thanks for reading and see you out there soon.

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