After my dismal performance at the elite men’s open race, I probably should’ve learnt that I was either not on form, or I was not good enough to race against the top guys. Nevertheless, James convinced me to enter this race. In fact I think I entered off the back of my B grade win also. In high spirits and before my shocker at the open champs.
It was an open handicap race, and stood at 135km long. The loop was about 65km x 2 and then an additional 5km with a decent climb to the finish. A pretty formidable course.
About a week before the race I was starting to feel a little run down and started to get sick. Not a great start. I was meant to do an Individual Time Trial on the Saturday, in preparation for the Three Day Tour, but decided I’d not do that in hope that I’d recover for the 135km beast.
It was a very cold day, but I decided to go short sleeve and arm warmers. And leg warmers.
James and I were off limit group, the first group off, and it started very fast. I felt okay at this point. I was holding my own. James is way stronger than I am, so I was pretty pleased with myself.
In a handicap race, for those that haven't ridden one or know what one is, you start in waves. The idea being that you have enough of a headstart that you might be able to make it to the finish without being caught, or caught at the very end. Because you start in a bunch, it’s a bloody good strategy to all work together in your own little group.
The main goal for the limit wave, the first off, is to not get caught by anyone else. Or at least to stay away for as long as possible. For the scratch group, the last group off, the goal is to chase down all the other groups before the finish line. Within the scratch group in this race was the whole Drapac Pat’s Veg team, a group of very strong riders. They had a 30-minute handicap. 30 minutes over 135km was not going to be hard to pull back. The goal of every other group in between is a mixture of not getting caught, and catching the group ahead. Of course, tactics can vary. Some groups might realise they don't have the strength to stay away, so might ride easy until they are caught, and then work as a bigger group to catch up to the group ahead.
Anyway, we were going to work hard to not get caught. We were rolling turns pretty well, and I was holding numbers near to and above my limit. But like I said, I was feeling okay for the first 1-10km. After 10km, however, the pace started to feel a little difficult. My legs just seemed to stop working properly. Not in a usual fatigued manner, but just like they weren’t working properly. Like they were restricted. Maybe it was the illness?
I pushed on in the hope I could ride through it. By around the 15km mark, I think we’d dropped a couple of people in our group. As we hit the first real incline, it was here I knew I was in trouble. I was hanging on for dear life. Internally, I was convinced I was stronger than this. It wasn't a nice feeling not having the legs when I know I should be riding stronger.
I managed to get over the climb with the group, and then we descended through the thickest fog I’ve seen in a long time. A horror film would’ve been in their element filming in these conditions. We were flying down the hill at 70+km/h, through this thick fog, unable to see 20m ahead of you. When we spread out a bit, it was hard to see the red light of the guys at the front. It was not ideal. The only saving grace, was that it was pretty straight, with long sweeping corners, so nothing like the descent I crashed on.
After the descent I sat on the back of the group, not rolling turns, and tried to take on a load of food and water. I struggle to drink in the cold so I need to force it. My body just doesn’t seem to want it. So maybe it was dehydration that was holding me back.
I felt bad sitting on. You have to work together, and no one wants to drag dead weight around. So I pulled through a few more times. At the 40/45km mark—which I thought was near the end of the first lap—I decided I’d just admit defeat, pull off and roll slowly into the parking area. Bollocks to it. I wasn’t feeling it. There was nothing I could do physically and mentally I'd given up too.
My legs just felt like they were strangled. Like the juice just wasn’t there after a while. And they hadn’t been feeling great for a few rides up to this point. Training rides, indoor sessions, anything. I later discovered that my swap from the ugly saddle to nicer looking saddle, meant the saddle was too wide for me. After this race I decided to get back in touch with where i got my bike fitted Adaptive Human Performance, and have now gone back to my ugly but beneficial saddle now. Things are back on track and my legs felt instantly stronger. Amazing how these things can have such a huge effect.
Anyway, after I pulled off, even though I think I could’ve fought to hang in there, I did some quick numbers, and realised I’d messed up. Shit. I still had about 15-20km now to do on my own. They were very depressing kilometres.
When I was about 1km from the start finish. I finally see it. I heard a car beep from behind. It was an official’s car. It must be the group behind. It looked pretty big though, a huge strung out chasing peloton. What the… As they passed it was clear that scratch had caught everyone bar our group, with Cyrus Monk on the front. He's not stagiaire for Cannondale-Drapac (basically an apprentice for a World Tour team). I was shocked they'd caught everyone so quickly. I thought they'd do it maybe by 80km or something.
I pulled into the car park and started getting changed. It was very cold and foggy, so my kit was pretty wet. Nick, another mate from St Kilda, came up to me and we had a bit of a debrief. Apparently the scratch group caught them after about 35km or something. Ridiculous considering it’s meant to be handicapped so that it all comes together near the end, 100km later than it did for his group.
Anyway, terrible day for me, and my legs. But James crushed it. He and the limit group managed to stay away until about the 100km mark. With James managing to hold onto the scratch group right up to the last climb. Absolutely stellar performance!