With the Australian Open Road Championships in my own backyard of Ballarat, it was an opportunity to test myself against some of Australia's, and indeed the World's best cyclists. Being a local, there is a fair bit of pressure to perform as for many of my friends and workmates this is the only race they see me compete in all year. Its great that our sport has become familiar on the back pages of the paper, even my hairdresser was coming out for a look!
The day before the race was pretty low key: a quick spin in the morning with my girlfriend, a casual meeting with my search2retain teammates and coach (former World Jnr TT Champ and adopted Ballarat local) Josh Collingwood at a local cafe, before a relaxing dinner ("pasta again!" complains Jane my girlfriend) and a movie. Pretty boring really. It can be difficult sometimes to restrain yourself from wasting energy by mowing that lawn, cleaning that mess in the garage, but hopefully a day on the couch will reap benefits come race day.
After a quick blast on the ergo to open the pipes in preparation of a quick start to the race, and some breakfast (more pasta!), it was out to the course to meet my teammates at our feed station halfway up the climb. Search2retain had Neil Van der Ploeg and Cal Britten to support myself, with Paul Van der Ploeg representing Felt to also offer support on the road. These guys are all experienced international mountain bikers and so we were quietly confident that we could be part of this race. While stuffing my pockets with Balance Nutrition gels and my secret power foods (a couple of jelly beans and Mars Bars!!) before the race start, friends and family began to arrive. All hands were on deck: some were tuning into race radio, while others filled bidons with Coke and worked out where to stand, spread out along the road so none of us riders missed a bottle on what was brewing to be a hot and gusty day.
With a tailwind up the 4km climb, it was always going to be a fast first lap, but a record lap of 14mins was 1min faster than the previous best set last year. Anyone keen should trek out to Buningyong and attempt just 1 lap at this pace, just to get an impression for themselves, then contemplate doing another 15laps! It was no wonder I later heard reports that riders were shelled out the back on that 1st lap, with numbers in the vicinity of 450-500w being murmured in hushed tones. With the 16 strong Green Edge team driving the tempo, signs were ominous that today would be hard and fast. "At least we would be home for dinner at a reasonable hour," I thought. Early on I tried to sneak into a move off the front so as to give myself a buffer on the pro guys before they chose to turn on the gas and I succeeded in sneaking away with 2 motorbikes in the form of O'Grady and Bobridge. Knowing that the remaining Green Edge riders would be protecting our lead I was positive about this move, however it lasted less than a lap before the next attack countered.
With the exception of Cam Meyer flying away off the front solo for an extended period, the race behind him was typified by riders in turn surging up the climb with the wind at their backs, before regrouping in the crosswinds across the top of the course to assess the damage. It was relentless with no exaggeration. Matt Lloyd was certainly the main protagonist, with Richie Porte also inflicting much pain. Green Edge had so many cards to play that they just put a different rider up the road at every opportunity forcing the rest of us to chase. It was very much a battle of Green Edge Vs everyone else! Mark O'Brien had the strength to attack and get a gap late in the race and I also played my hand with 3-4 laps to go in the hope that the pro's might let a 'nobody' a bit of breathing space. Every lap this went on, but as the bell chimed for the final ascent it was gruppo compacto with some 20 riders from an original 165 left to battle it out.
Before the road even tilted upwards I noticed Richie Porte shifting down a few gears so I readied myself to react to his every twitch. He launched along with Matt Lloyd at the very base of the climb. I went with this move with what little I had left but those guys are just at another level and I blew to pieces after holding their wheel for only 500m. With that some riders bridged and went past me in a blur, while others suffered a similar fate, as I tried to compose myself to limit my loses in the vain hope that those in front would slow in a tactically game of cat and mouse. It was not to be however as the power of Simon Gerrans took the race up the road and I was left to ride the final half a lap with likes of Mick Rogers and Luke Roberts - not bad company, but I was already counting the little amateur errors I had made earlier in the day.... 2013 preparations had quietly begun :)
time: 4hrs 9mins
avg speed: 39kmh
max speed: 78kmh
avg hr: 154bpm
max hr: 187bpm
avg power: 338w
max power: 1224w
number of Mars Bars: 2