Monday, 10 March 2014

WCMCC Age Division Criterium Championships :: 9th March, 2014

Last weekend was one weekend where the Unicorns came out to play. With the team having to choose between riding the State Criterium Championships at Technology Park and the WCMCC Age Division Criterium Championships at Rockingham, we were spread not only between age divisions, but also events. In the end, four of us opted for the WCMCC event while Andrew Patterson decided that he was a good chance for the Masters classification at the State Champs. Either way, we were all hopeful for good results and the start lists at each event certainly suggested we could all be amongst it. A good ocean of blue HCT jerseys adorning the backs of the ladies was also great to see and some very solid chances amongst them too.

Conditions for the morning were exceptional with clearing skies, perfect temperatures and a slight southerly that would likely not trouble us too much during the racing at Rockingham. I arrived in time to see the HCT women, dominant in numbers with all but three in the field wearing the HCT kit, lining up in front of the race referee and about to get under way with all age groups assembled in the one race group. This race was bound to provide some good results, and likely some internal friendly rivalry as well. From the pace that the ladies were setting, it was certainly evident that the intensity of the men's divisional races was going to be equally as hard. Although at one point, I do recall hearing Wayne having to remind them all that they were actually racing. I thought they were doing well, but perhaps Wayne was keen to see some attacking racing that would split the bunch up. I think the girls were more interested in a sprint finish than a hard break away and in the end, the race was won by an ever-strong Emma Gillard, followed closely by HCT's Conchita Brodalka and a hard working Jane Higgins from EHBS. These three were only separated by 0.01 of a second. A very close sprint finish indeed.

Our age groups (40-44 and 35-39 yo) were next on course but leading up to the roll call, I was surprised, and somewhat disappointed, not to have seen Sam Smith make an appearance. I was keen to have him in the race group as I was feeling good after last weekend's Pemberton Classic and a particularly difficult training week and wanted to look to both get Fox to the line for a win and to try and push my lead out to the very end and gain an additional podium for the team if possible. Sam is a particularly strong rider and could easily be considered the benchmark for Masters racing anywhere he goes and I was looking forward to having the chance to race against him in a slightly smaller group. Thankfully, he appeared just as Mel began calling names off the register which meant we had a full compliment of pre-registered riders. 14 in total amongst the two groups with 11 in the 40-44yo division. It was time for Fox and I to work as a team to take the race win and hopefully another podium place.

Total Travel WA were the only other team to field two riders. Fox and I would have to wait until the race was well under way to see if Sam had decided to work with anyone else to try for a result so I paid close attention to see if there was any kind of communication between Sam, Roger Knight and Mike Tapscott. I noted only occasional chit-chat so I don't believe there was any kind of arrangement between any riders other than those in the two teams. We would almost all be riding on our own merits for this one other than perhaps me trying to put some kind of lead-out effort in for Fox if I could still be around at the business end of the race.

My plan was simple. Look after Paul while sticking to Sam like glue. Sam was the key man in this race and I don't think anyone doubted it. He would be a tall order to cover if he decided to really put the rest of us in the box but I was confident that, this time, I could match him and go with everything he could throw at us. This should prevent Fox from having to chase everything himself and bring Sam back into the bunch. If the two of them went together in an attack that would look likely to work (which would be quite probable given their strengths), then I would have to go with them.

There was nothing amazingly cunning or insightful in this plan and was probably as simple as it gets. If any of this was to be required, I would have to wait for the race to unfold and take the rest as it came. The first lap could almost have been considered neutral which allowed us to settle in and start taking note of other riders and anticipate the first attack. It certainly wasn't going to come from me and I expected that the slow pace would eventually frustrate someone enough that they would step up the pace or hit the group with a hard attack to see who would be interested in going with and covering it.

Not surprisingly, this came from Sam almost immediately after crossing the start/finish line. I jumped on his wheel to cover the break attempt and we were joined quickly by Gary Jones, then Fox and finally the remainder of the field. These attacks continued fairly often through the first half of the race, most of which were initiated by Sam and true to the race plan, I tried to go with each one until finally, half way through the race, Sam let fly with a solid attack down the back of the course and caught me a little off guard while trying to recover a little.  Fox was on his wheel immediately and this presented the first attack with the two of them going together. Gary Jones was quick to follow and from previous in-race coaching from Pat Hayburn (throughout the Crit season), I knew that I would have to dig deep and get onto Gary's wheel if I wanted to be amongst this break.

I was following Mike Buytels at the time and was half-expecting him to jump too but when this didn't happen, I pulled out from his wheel and put in a solid effort to latch onto Gary's wheel and we worked across to Sam and Fox to create a small group of four. We would never see the main field again as Sam maintained a cracking pace which, I assume, was in an effort to see if he could shake us loose after spending the energy to get over to him and Paul. Thankfully, we were both able to hold on but the pace was relentless. Sam was obviously very keen to prevent anyone else from getting across and, while I was really feeling the pressure to keep up, we eventually lost sight of the main field on the long straight up the back of the course.

Initially I was in the hurt locker but I was able to maintain my reserves well. I drew from my training and Pat and Brad's words were ringing in my ears "don't do all the work and skip a turn if you need to". I stuck to this and would skip a turn in the rolling group of four allowing me to recover. I was surprised at how quickly I came good again even while the pace was well up over 40km/h. Before long, I was feeling more capable of keeping the pace. The group didn't seem to feel it necessary to attack each other now the main group had lost any chance of bringing us back. I'm not sure if it was obvious at this stage, but I had begun to fox my situation a little and continued to miss turns in order to save as much energy as I could for the finish.

Before long, we were given "two to go" and we maintained a steady pace that had been in line with the rest of our break effort but the attempts to obtain best position in the field started to take place. I started this about 3rd wheel with Sam and Gary ahead of me and Fox behind me. I was happy in the knowledge that Fox was behind me and had my wheel and worked to maintain this position until the final lap where I would look to move up a place and bring Paul to third wheel.

As we received the bell the pace immediately slowed and the games began as we all jostled for position. As we rode through the roundabout at the top of the course, I moved up a position but somehow managed to move a bit too quickly and ended up on the front. Paul had not moved with me and remained at fourth wheel. I was a little surprised by this but could understand him staying put as he has an incredible kick into his sprint and could easily take he other two by surprise when he needed to or if he was given the right opportunity. I tried a couple of times to shake Gary off my wheel and let him come around but he was playing it smart also and had no reason to come to the front. This put Sam at third wheel which was probably the box seat so once I resigned to staying on the front, I would maintain a watchful eye on him under my shoulder until we hit the last sweeping bend onto the home straight where I would attempt to execute my plan to allow Fox an open channel to the finish line.

As we came through the dog-leg corners at the bottom of the course, the positions hadn't changed. I maintained a close eye on Sam and awaited a possible early attack but it didn't seem to be coming and I could see he was watching me with just as much intent. I picked the pace back up well over 40km/h and still the others remained where they where. Paul was still glued to Sam's wheel but the group echeloned a little which was what I was hoping for as it would force Gary and Sam wide to try and come around me when I kicked allowing Paul onto my wheel where I could give him a short lead and an inside channel for a clear run to the finish. He would not have to come out wide to get around the other two. I held of my jump for as long as possible.

As we came out of the sweeping bend, I hit the gas while staying to the inside of the course. There is an odd bend that worked perfectly in our (Unicorn's) favour as it allowed me to move across slightly to open the channel for Paul to come through. He had reached my wheel when the other two went wide and I executed my move and Paul came flying through at a serious rate of knots. The other two were still trying to work their way around the outside of me but I maintained my power for as long as I could which, thankfully, was enough to hold both Gary and Sam off and I crossed the line just half a second behind Paul and only a fraction of a second ahead of Gary with Sam coming in just behind him.

It was a great result for Fox and I with a 1 and 2 finish being our target. I was very happy to have been able to not only pick the successful break, but also maintain pace with it as we worked away from the main field enough to put them out of the running. To finish the race off with such a strong finish, to me, is a sign that my training (and coaching from both Brad and Pat) is paying off. While it was a small group by comparison to earlier races this season, I feel it was certainly good practise for the up-coming road season and will put me in good stead for working with Paul and possibly picking up a supporting place or two during the season.

I must give credit to Sam, Gary and Paul for the amount of work they put in during the break. Sam was relentless and continued to maintain a solid pace that not only required us to keep up, but also to ensure that the break would succeed. Gary worked hard the entire time and deserved a place on the podium as much as anyone in that break group. Fox also worked hard and rode a smart race to ensure that he was in good position for the finish which he executed perfectly and was able to explode to the line.

In other races for the day, Chris and Pat were riding in the 45-49yo division. This was a race they seemed to be able to control for much of the duration with relentless attacks coming from the both of them. Phil Diesel worked like a hound to bring them back each time but when Chris and Pat managed to get away in the final laps with Pedro Turibaka, the pressure had gotten to the rest of the field and they were not able to bring the trio back. Chris and Pat worked hard to try and shake Pedro before the bell lap but he wasn't going to budge and managed to get himself into a good position for a final sprint to the line where he just had enough to come around Pat and pip Chris for the line by the closest of margins - 8/100's of a second!

But the biggest news of the day happened up at Technology Park in the State Titles where AP was able to out-sprint Chris Glasby to an incredible win to take the State Masters Criterium Championship. This is a result that AP has been working hard to achieve over the past couple of years and the team couldn't be happier for him. Additionally, Mike Freiberg is maintaining a solid return to form and took the silver medal in the Open Men's classification at the same event.

So all in all, a weekend of great results for the team to back up our efforts at the WCMCC Road Race Age Division Championships later last year. This should help put us all in good form ready to take on the 2014 road season.

Many thanks for reading and see you out there soon.

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