Sunday, 18 May 2014

WCMCC Herne Hill Road Race - A Grade :: 18th May, 2014

Having had my fill of summer criteriums, I was more than ready to switch back to road racing and get the winter season under way. The hope was that the training I had put in over summer had been enough to better deal with the demands of the longer version of the sport and to be more competitive within the peloton and maybe, just maybe, obtain some results for the team. With the Wandi event scheduled for two weeks ago cancelled due to course complications, this morning's Herne Hill event would be the season opener and with Collie being the only race I'd participated in since the UWCT Qualifier at Perry Lakes, I was more than ready to get stuck into things.

A gloomy morning and wet roads (although no rain was noticed during the race) greeted nearly 50 A grade riders all keen to make their mark on this season opener. Large rider numbers also swelled the B and C grade ranks including numerous HCT outfits adorning both first time riders and the HWCT ladies. EHBS were sporting good numbers with 7 registered riders in A grade whilst numerous other regular teams were showing numbers (3 - 5 riders) that would make for a very interesting race. Unicorn-Specialized fronted up with 5 of their best ready to take on the field and get the season off to a good start.

Talking with AP during our pre-race warm up, we figured there would likely be two ways that this race might unfold which would see my role in the race differ depending on how things went. The first outcome might be that no-one would be keen to let a break get away which would mean I would ride as a protected rider and conserve my energy for the final assault on the finish line. I started the race anticipating this outcome and would not offer any efforts to get away early and merely wait for the attacks to start and decide whether or not they should be covered. The second outcome would be that a break occurs at some stage during the race with at least one Unicorn rider involved and my role would switch to protecting their lead. I don't think anyone, save Brad Hall, would have anticipated how easily a 7 man break would form in the first lap!

I was more than happy to see AP drift away up the road but I didn't think that the group would let it happen so easily. AP said to me after the race that he didn't really feel that he "attacked" the field rather a few riders, including himself, looked across at each other and opted collectively put a bit of pressure on. Brad was quick to move from midway down the field to make the first attempt to bridge the gap with Matt Miller in hot pursuit. I'm not sure when it was that Chris Roberts got away (I didn't catch his move) but having two of our strong men in the break would put the team in a good position for the win.

From AP, "I strolled off the front almost from the gun after having a bit of a chat with Uppers (even invited him along) and was joined by Magnus when I was halfway up Lefroy. We pulled pretty strong after the turn onto Oakover [Rd] and nearing the corner to Campersic, could see riders coming. It wasn’t until we turned onto Campersic that I saw it was only a small chase group with Brad in it (didn’t notice Chris) so told Mag to ease up and we waited for them."

With two men in the break, it was an automatic role switch to begin protecting them. I immediately moved toward the front and sat in around 5th or 6th wheel and awaited the attacks to come, most likely from the EHBS team who had Magnus up the road and Sam, Glasby, Ed and Joe in the field. This combination, along with a few other riders known for their ability to attack relentlessly, would certainly make the task of protecting our riders in the break a rather daunting one so I wanted to try and be the antagonist and frustrate these riders to the point where they would give up trying to get across.

It wasn't far into the second lap that the attempts to bridge over to the break started, with the first one coming from Sam Smith. It was a reasonably strong move but one that neither Pat nor I would allow to get away unchecked and we grabbed his wheel to let him know that he would not be getting across to the break without dragging two more Unicorns with him.

Singo had been busy with his usual grinding at the front of the field and looked likely to settle there for the duration when he managed to find the uneven surface at the bridge on Lefroy Rd and pinch flatted his rear tyre forcing him out of the race temporarily to fix the damage and jump back in half a lap or so later.

In usual Smith/Glasby form, the counter from Chris came soon after the group brought Sam's first attempt back. Chris is a strong rider and when he attacks you have to be on his wheel in an instant to prevent him getting a significant gap on any chasers making it hard for them to pull him back. Thankfully, I was able to go with this anticipated counter and let him know the same intention as we afforded Sam.

If there is one thing I have learned about Chris Glasby is that he will never stop at just one attempt to get away from the bunch whether he is making the first move to leave the group behind or making an attempt to bridge over to a group already away. He held true to this again this morning and made an additional 2 attempts to shake the group and get over to the leaders who were now beginning to put some significant time into the group. I went after him each time and was surprised at how easily I was able to do so (training really has paid off). I would offer him no support and he knew it and each time we would sit up and allow the group to bring us back.

I figured that Chris would need time to recover a little, or at least I was hoping so as I wasn't sure how long I could keep this up. Chris disappeared back into the group and I happily sat back in the group a little (around 10th wheel) to recover but remaining attentive to any other possible attacks. There was some activity during this period which Pat managed to cover. The attempt did not appear to be as strong as the ones from Sam & Chris and I found myself going with it until Pat waved me off and I sat up in attempt to disrupt any chasers. As this was pulled back in, a strong move came from Ed Hollands. Singo was out of place to chase it, I looked to see if Pat was about and with no sign of him, I cursed at my hesitation and jumped after Ed. It took a bit out of me to catch him and Ed sat up when I did. I had one or two riders on my wheel and we formed a small group that was going nowhere in a hurry.

The small group was pulled back quickly and it sparked a counter from Doug Stewart. This attack caught me off guard a little and I looked to see if any others would chase it down. No obvious moves came so I jumped after Doug before he got too far away and he sat up as soon as he realised I was with him. This seemed to spark Glasby into action yet again with another flurry of pedalling to get away but seemingly with less intent and I covered it easily. A couple of other riders came around reasonably strongly and when I decided not to chase them, it became clear that this urked Chris a little as he looked over to me and asked whether I was reserving my chasing to him alone. While I wasn't reserving the honour just for him, Chris is a threat and an active rider and there is no way I would let him get away without a fight.

As I had hoped prior to the race, the attempts to chase down the leaders subsided after a solid hour of smothering them. A couple of efforts were made by Ian Lyne and Gary Wright but these were covered by a number of riders. I was still feeling quite good with more than half the race done and the constant surging in pace allowed the break to put over a minute into us with both Chris and AP still in the group. Matt Miller had found the going a little tough up front and had been dislodged from the lead group and collected by the main group.

Singo was still grinding away at or near the front of the main field and Pat had also moved up closer to the front by this stage. Other riders had also begun to move forward causing the pace to pick up slightly and with two laps to go we could see the break away group riding just in behind the C grade bunch. It was quite possible that with a concerted effort from the right riders, the gap to the leaders could be bridged so I moved closer to the front to work with Singo to ensure that a combined effort would find it hard to come together.

As we rounded the corner off Lefroy and onto Oakover, we were closing in on the C grade bunch ourselves and I noticed that it was swollen with numbers. Four A grade riders got away from our group and I opted to jump up and go after them in the hope that we could get around and clear of the combined A grade and C grade mayhem. While we were able to put a reasonable gap on the main field, it was evident that there were some tired legs in our small group and the pace didn't really lift enough to keep the group at bay.

I turned back and unfortunately noticed a rider clad in blue and white coming over. I knew that this would either be Sam or Chris and the main field were in hot pursuit. While I was hoping that C grade would have hindered the chase, it seemed to have the adverse effect of reducing the gap to the leaders. Sam seemed to realise this and as he caught us, he continued to attack forcing me to put some significant power down to try and go with him. I wasn't overly successful with this and there was a fleeting moment when it looked like he would get away but the main field were intent on chasing the stream of riders that were now strung out behind Sam and eventually everything came back together but the pace was being maintained.

As we approached the bell for the last lap, we could make out the white numbers on some riders ahead of us. Sam could see Magnus was one of these and I also noted that Brad and AP were not with them and must still be further up the road. I could not make out if Chris Roberts was one of these riders or whether he was with Brad and AP or somewhere in between. It was at this point that the main group was blown apart. Sam jumped away as we turned into Lefroy Rd and took a number of other riders who had fresher legs than mine, including Matt Upton and Ed Hollands. But I felt that while I had done as much as I could to give AP and Chris Roberts as good a chance as possible, my race was not over and I wanted to remain as close to the pointy end of the group as possible to finish things off.

While Sam and Uppers were not really brought back and continued to make inroads into the leaders, I could see that they would not be able to catch the two remaining riders in AP and Brad. AP took line honours just a second or two ahead of Brad and Sam crossed in 3rd place but with 21 seconds in deficit. Singo, Pat and I had done everything we could to afford AP those 21 seconds of space and I'm positive that it would not have been easy for him up front doing his part. It truly was one of the best team efforts I have been a part of since joining the Unicorn team.

I wanted to think that I had enough left to tough it out in the bunch sprint and I jumped after Doug as he scrambled up the inside of the front few riders in the remnants of the main field. I latched onto his wheel but exploded only metres after Doug did and the usual stream of riders came by and I was back into 35th place before I knew it. I still had a very strong feeling of satisfaction that I had done my part for the team and felt well rewarded when I learnt of AP's win.

Pat, Singo and Chris all finished mid-pack and were not able to take any more paying places with Chris finishing just one place outside but I think the same sense of satisfaction sat with them also. A good way to start the season and I hope we are able to continue with a strong presence as the season unfolds.

Many thanks to Specialized, Perth Cycle Centre/Hall Cycle Training, Ride Advice and all of our valued sponsors during this 2014 road race season and thanks to you for reading. Hope to see you out there soon.

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