Only a few short weeks ago myself and Sam decided we needed to get some hills in the legs before the upcoming Tour of Bright. With Sammy leading the Victorian Road Series in B grade overall by half a point over Jay Philpots, we had a few hard hill sessions to do to try and get the legs accustomed to the pain ahead of defending the yellow jersey at the end of November.
In the preceding weeks before the tour, we managed to get in quite a few hard hitouts up in the Dandenongs, culminating in a couple of sub 15min 1-in-20, which we were happy with, and with a few cleanse days thrown in to try and drop a couple of kgs we were as ready as we could be for the onslaught of the Victorian Alps J
Stage 1 – Individual Time Trial
We all arrived up in Bright on the eve of the first stage, a 13.5km ITT which had a few technicalities in it such as a roundabout after 4km and another couple of very sharp turns before a final push up a slight uphill to the finish line. We were on pretty late in the afternoon so had a day of spinning the legs over and drinking coffee to prepare, but an hour beforehand we jumped on the trainers to warmup properly. Sam smashed out a cracking time of 19:24 after borrowing Bens TT bike and Cams skinsuit. I just missed out on breaking the 20min barrier by a few seconds but was pretty happy none the less given I just rode my normal road bike. Was happy to get a power threshold figure also as it was my first ride with my new Stages power meter :-)
Figure 2: Sam enjoying his time in yellow
At the end of day 1 Sam was nicely placed in the top 15 with me sitting around mid-pack, not a bad start to the weekend. Now for the hills!
Stage 2 – The Gaps Loop
Saturday morning produced another stunning day in Bright for our first road stage. Some nervous anticipation was shared over coffee a couple of hours before the starting gun, and Sam donned the yellow jersey for the first time this season. It was a perfect fit and we were hoping to have him hold onto it by the end of the afternoon.
Figure 3: All set for Stage 2 up Tawonga
We were set on our way by the commissaries at 10:15am, with a few km of neutral riding through the town centre of Bright, before the red flag was dropped and racing was on. Myself and Sam were at the front of the bunch and were in no hurry to accelerate the pace. It appeared that the sentiment was shared by the group as we rolled along at a nice tempo for the first 10km or so until we came upon the 500m sign for the first sprint of the day. Ben came to the front and put the foot down, however we weren’t keen on contesting the sprints, only focusing on protecting Sammy near the front and keeping out of trouble, while trying to preserve as much energy as possible for the final push up Tawonga.
Figure 4: Sam inside the last km of the Tawonga Gap climb
Given the relatively sedate pace for the first 40km or so, we were overtaken by Masters A which put the race into neutral for a few kms. At this point four guys got off the front and had opened up a few minutes gap ahead. The first climb of note was up Rosewhite gap, which wasn’t raced at a very quick pace, hence everyone got over it together. It wasn’t until we descended the other side and came out onto the valley highway that the pace eventually ramped right up in an attempt to pull back the break ahead. This was achieved a few kms short of the second sprint point of the day, which given it was not far to the start of the final climb didn’t have many serious contenders.
Figure 5: Is that a smile or a grimace?
As we approached the sharp right hand turn onto the Tawonga climb everyone shifted their chain onto the small chainring and their heads towards the rythym needed to endure the next 20+ minutes of pain as best they could. I held onto the lead bunch for the first couple of ks up the climb but then decided I’d better keep the HR under control or risk blowing up. Sam was looking strong and remained in contention up the front. Unfortunately I learnt afterwards, that just 1km from the summit finish, Sam crashed due to an overlapping wheel and came down hard. He managed to get back on and finish about a minute behind the eventual winner. At the end of stage 2 Sam was sitting inside the top 15 in GC where I had moved up from 35th to 24th
On Saturday evening however Sams knee swelled up so bad he had to go to the hospital and get painkillers. He was looking doubtful for a stage 3 start the next day!
Stage 3 – Mount Hotham
Stage 3 was probably the one that everyone feared the most. Although just under 60km in length, with a final 30km climb up Hotham and an overall vertical ascent of over 1650m, it was always going to be a test for everyone, particularly being the final stage of the tour.
Figure 6: And we’re off and riding on Stage 3
As predicted however, Sam was a non-starter due to his worsening knee, so unfortunately wasn’t even able to contend the final yellow jersey of the VRS. Ben also had to pull out of the final stage due to a foot injury. The race started again under neutral conditions with the lead car taking us down into the town and out towards Harrietville. As soon as the red flag was dropped the attacks happened. I wasn’t expecting this as I thought everyone would be happy enough to tap it out until we hit the climb, but it seemed that some guys were keen to get away early, either to contest the two sprints between the start and Harrietville, or to try and get a head start up Hotham. Either way, none of the ten or so attacks worked out, as the tour leaders took charge of the chase each time, not willing to let anyone get away today. At this point I was feeling quite good, and the legs felt up to the Hotham challenge ahead, or so I thought at the time :)
Figure 7: Battling the demons towards the top of Hotham
At Harrietville the climb starts in earnest, and can be divided into three, ten kilometre sections. Section one consists of an average gradient of 6.6%, but is punctuated by a 400m long section of 9% known as The Meg at the 5 kilometre point. In between is for good tempo riding, and the smart cyclist will ride efficiently, saving all their reserves for section 3. However, there was a KOM point at the top of the Meg, therefore as soon as we hit the 500m to go sign the pace lifted just enough to make me loose contact, and that was it, I was out the back within meters, as were maybe another 10-15 riders who were around me. Those of us who lost contact tried at times to stick together once we got over the Meg, however everyone was in a world of pain at this point and could only hold their own rhythm, hence it was a bit of everyone for themselves. Once we reached section two however, which is essentially a “false flat” of only 1.8%, there were maybe 6 or 7 of us together. I tried to get everyone to roll turns so we could work our way back up to the lead group, however either they were not too interested or just tired, as I tried to push on as hard as I could to close the gap. After a few kms I saw the convoy ahead and the flashing lights of the lead car, which gave me that extra energy to catch them back. Having got back on I went straight up towards the front, not only for the mental boost but also to try and give myself the best chance of holding on once the gradient went straight up again. However, as soon as we hit the start of section three I knew I was in trouble. All I could see around me were all of these young kids who were at least 20 years younger than me and probably 20kgs lighter also, just move away in front as I grappled with the gears to find a rhythm.
Section three has an average gradient of ‘only’ 4.9%, but is highlighted by some contrasting gradients. The initial ‘pinch’ is 7% for 750m, which is followed 2 kms later by CRB hill ( 10% for 1.1km), and later by Diamantina rise (9.7% for 850m) just before the finish. Between these are two wicked, short descents, where 75 kph is the norm, before the road heads skyward again.
Figure 8: Pete on his way to a PB up Hotham in Masters A
Over these last few kms I was suffering pretty bad, as I’m sure everyone around me was. I managed to pull a few riders back as I gradually got used to the pounding heart rate and growing lactic acid in the legs. With 400m to go I saw Ben shouting encouragement as I crested over the final part of the summit and picked up the pace to cross the line feeling both relieved yet regretful that it was all over. I was finally able to actually enjoy the stunning views on top of Hotham on such a beautiful sunny day as we rolled down to the village for a well deserved coke!
I ended up finishing the stage in 21st place, which moved me into 20th overall in GC, which I was delighted with, particularly as it automatically qualifies me for entry into next years tour, should the entry criteria remain the same as this year.
Figure 9: On top of Hotham, can’t believe we’re looking that fresh!
Overall it was a fantastic weekend of racing and a great way to finish off the road racing season for the team. Many thanks to the Alpine Cycling Club for putting on such a great event and to all of the volunteers who gave up their weekend to make it happen. Can’t wait to come back next year!
Full results from the weekend can be found at http://mobile.raceresult.com/details/index.php?page=4&eventid=21605&lang=en
Images courtesy of JXP Photography
~ Report By Keith Leonard