It has been a year since I last raced in Australia; a year during which I had forgotten how different it can be racing against people who race week in week out. People who race in a positive fashion without waiting for the other guy to do something before stamping out the embryonic attack… A few rides in the dry winds of Perth before the serious stuff started well enough to remind me of the joys of riding outside the sauna of Singapore; a chance to ride without gloves. However the first stage was definitely one to don mitts for – if only to preserve your hands should you end up on the Tarmac.
Stage 1 did not make this only a remote possibility. 1.3km laps of a tight street circuit with 150 men on bikes. Stretch the peloton and you have a 450m piece of elastic. If you weren’t at the front the only chance you had of seeing it was as it charged past in the opposite direction on the start finish straight. Everyone knew this and so it was a scrum to get to the front and as soon as the gun went the elastic snapped: front man at 60kmh last man still trying to clip in. Max heart rate. Shoes clipping curbs. Unlit corners. Sprawling riders. Broken bones. Shattered bikes. Relief: red flag and a chance to start tomorrow 🙂
Stage 2 was a hilly circuit around the town of Kalamamda. These roads were made for training and you could tell that the local riders had cut their teeth and chiseled their quads on these climbs. The pace was relentless and a 40kmh plus for the neutral section didn’t bode well. It was a fight to move forward and I had only brought a pen knife to the gun fight. Still I stayed with it long enough to realize that the attacks all came on the descents – take everyone to their limit on the climb and then smash them on the descent. One crash ahead of me going into a corner and I was separated from the peloton. With the cut in mind I carried on and churned out the laps picking up a few riders along the way. I finished in the most dehydrated state I have ever finished a race but I made the cut and was to start stage 3 the next day.
The ITT that was stage 3 was only a 20km loop around an island but it was to be a full day trip. Waiting hours for your start time with no proper chance to warm up just unsettled me and so by the time I rolled down the start ramp my heart was all over the place. This was not helped by nearly stacking it on a railway track after 2km. My 45 second man passed me after 10km and strangely this allowed me to find a rhythm and ride faster. I was disappointed to come in over 30 minutes but at least I wasn’t last!
Stage 4: Late after stage 3 we discovered that the bikes would not be returned until the start of the final stage. My warm up for the fast laps of Perry Lakes therefore consisted of changing my wheels. Hammering descents into bends at 70kmh revealed how cold I was + a sharp pull up and unclip at the back of a crash left the stiffness of my muscles in no doubt. I tried to use the cars to get back on but to no avail and the risk of more lasting injury made we give up the ghost. A DNF for me. I was in good company as about 70 riders also DNF’d. The final day of out trip was an exhibition Gran Fondo – a great route but an absolute smash as soon as the flag dropped as the NRS teams wanted to prize money! Still a nice ride and a decent enough finish. It was a privilege to be part of Team Direct Asia’s invite to this race. At the front there were world tour riders and the best talent in Australia. Even with the 35 hours of quality training these guys were getting a week it would be hard to be in their league. For an amateur who spends 40 plus hours a week at desk or in the air, it was just enough to suck their wheel for a while!
Words: Dave Cox
Images: Vincent Ang, Pete Bennett