Tuesday, 6 May 2014

SWCC Tom Lowry Memorial Road Race - Collie :: May 4th, 2014

I would be riding the 2014 Tom Lowry Memorial road race as a first timer, but not the first time in Collie. I still have vivid memories of the nasty little hills just to the south of town that inflicted so much pain on riders, especially myself, in last year's Collie-Donnybrook Return. Thankfully this visit to Collie would see the course avoiding those longer hills in favour of shorter ones and would also find me a little stronger than I was back then. I was out of race practice but I have been spending good hours on the bike both solo and with team mates (and competitors), so I went into this race with a fair amount of confidence but goal #1 was to ensure I actually stayed with the race group for the duration and to make a solid effort for the team at the end if it came down to a bunch sprint finish.

The Fiery Red S-Works Tarmacs of Team Unicorn-Specialized would be five strong for the B grade race with AP coming down from A grade to help boost our numbers. Michael Freiberg would remain in A grade in Unicorn colours. We assembled prior to the race to go over the race plan before gathering with the rest of the B grade field at the start line. A grade men were let loose first with our group some 5 minutes behind them so very unlikely for the two pelotons to tangle up out on course later in the race.

Reports prior to arriving at Collie had suggested that the course was relatively flat and looking at the published course and elevation on the SWCC web site suggested that there was only some 55m elevation difference per lap. Riding the first of four laps revealed a pretty different story and post-race data suggested more like 200m elevation difference with the worst of the undulating hills on the approach back into Collie from the East.

AP launched a field tester up one of the small inclines on the road with no name running between Powerhouse Rd to the south and Gibbs Rd to the north. As expected, no one was going to offer AP the chance to get away on his own or in a small group and the field were all over him like Joseph's Techni-coloured Dreamcoat. It was pretty obvious after, that any attacks from stronger riders were not going to be allowed to succeed without dragging riders that would not offer assistance to the breakaway group.

There was nothing difficult about the course other than the few undulating hills on No-Name Rd and Gibbs Rd heading back to town so if attacks were going to come, it would likely be during the last lap and a half as the stronger riders moved their way to the front in attempts to control the race. For a non-hill climber, I was tolerating the climbs very well although the initial two climbs on Gibbs Rd during the last lap did have the legs working a little more than previous laps.

Surprisingly, the average pace for the entire race would not peak above 40km/h which would be indicative of only a few attempts to break being sat on and deflated like a whoopee cushion. Pat made an attempt to get away about half-way up No-Name Rd and was accompanied by Mike Reeves who appeared to be protecting his team mate, Matt Wardynec and allowed the break to be brought back. Another attempt from Pat and AP was made but again, the attempt was rapidly deflated by riders not willing to allow a break to succeed. The race would definitely be finishing in a bunch sprint.

The team had already agreed on our plan in the event of the race finishing in a bunch sprint but we probably didn't account for the down hill approach to the bridge just out of town and the speeds which riders would reach coming into the final bend at the bottom of Throssell St. In effect, the pace picked up significantly some 1500m out of town as the road descended past the playing fields and down to the bridge (the average pace for the last two kilometres was over 55km/h). This put the bunch into disarray and no lead out trains would be made. I was on and off the back of AP's wheel with riders dropping in and out consistently looking for best position. I really should have been more aggressive at this point.

As we crossed the bridge, I was back on AP's wheel but riders were now swarming up either side of the group and I had left my chance of getting on the wheel of one of these riders too late and I was forced to wait for a gap before riding out wide and around the right-hand side of the group. I managed to claw back some places and perhaps finished top ten but the race had already been won by SPR's Matt Wardynec with a very strong sprint to the line.

Unicorn-Specialized still managed to put 3 riders into the pointy end of the mix and we left Collie with the best placed team (best 3 placed riders) and AP finishing 5th overall. I crossed the line a handful of places behind AP and Chris Roberts not far behind me. Both Pat and Craig, who was in only his second race back from rehab, had put some solid work in during the entire 4 laps. Whilst, in the most part, we were able to ride to our plan, the finish was a mess across the board and any team planning a decent lead out would have it seriously thrown out as riders dodged around looking for best position to finish.

While I was disappointed with my sprint finish, being well out of position and not picking the surge for the line (Pat tried alerting me to it but did not hear his call), I was happy with the fact that I was able to be amongst it at the end with enough power and energy left to compete. 6 months ago, I probably would have struggled with that race so I am happy with the improvements I have made over the past 5-6 months.

Many thanks to my Unicorn-Specialized team mates for once again providing relentless support leading up to, during and after the race. Thanks also to Specialized, Hall Cycle Training (some very tough training programs over the past 5-6 months), Ride Advice Cyclery and all of our valued sponsors for their ongoing support.

Thanks also to you for reading and I look forward to seeing you out there.

Ride safely.

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