(Photo credit: Heidi Lu Goodall)
Race date: 13/12/15
The St Kilda Cycling Club (SKCC), along with Shimano, host an annual Criterium called the Super Criterium. It's super because it's so much bigger than a normal crit. It's quite a spectacle. Hundreds of fans and cyclists flock to the usual course in South Melbourne to spend the day watching and/or partaking in this event.
Along with all the normal races, Grades A to D for men, and B & C for women, plus a mixed E grade, there was also two extra races: Elite women and Elite men. These races attract some of the top cyclists in Melbourne, Australia, and even some international stars. A regular at this event is Simon Gerrans, a winning of multiple Tour de France stages and has ridden in yellow (the leader's jersey) for numerous days. He's won the Tour Down Under, as well as Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Australian National Road Championships. His Palmares goes on. As well as Gerrans, Simon Clarke and Mitch Docker, his Orica-GreenEdge team mates, where in attendance, and Koen de Kort from Giant-Alpecin. So numerous World Tour Pros! The women boasted just as elite of a line up, including Valentina Scandolara and Chloe McConville of Orica-AIS, and Chloe Hosking of Wiggle-Honda.
The women's elite race was a fine affair, with numerous attacks throughout. Although the bunch managed to control these and the race ended in a bunch sprint, with Valentina Scandolara taking the win, and Chloe Hosking taking second.
The men's elite race followed in a similar vane, with many attacks going off the front yet again being controlled. The final run in was very much in the hands of the Budget Forklifts team, who managed to get a pretty impressive train going (a line of riders all from the same team) and delivered their sprinter, last year's winner, Scott Sunderland, to the win.
(Photo credit: Andy Smith)
The real race, though, was the D grade race. Why? Well, because I was in it of course.
There were a staggering 50 people in the field, which is a bloody lot of people when packed into a small space. Because of this, it felt quite messy in the peloton compared to the other weeks I'd raced. Not only that, but the course felt somewhat narrower due to banners, fences and the mass of people supporting. Added to this already packed feeling, B grade had a further 60 people. All of this helped create quite a bit of chaos. Especially when they were overtaking us—110 racers across a small road—and because of these increased field sizes, it took much longer for them all to get passed. This sounds a bit negative, however, I must stress, that it was an awesome feeling to have so many people watching, it felt very pro, like we were famous racers. This was especially so when my fan club (a few friends) were shouting my name each time I went passed.
The downside to much of the above was that there were crashes in almost every grade. Added to the increased number of racers, the importance of the event meant people were going for broke and taking more risks. Everyone that thought they had a chance, would go harder than perhaps they might've done. Risking a bit more for that moment of glory in front of a big crowd. Unfortunately there was a crash in our grade too, and one of my mates no less. I'll talk about that later—chronological order an' all, not that I'm following it, as our race was before the elite races...
I got my 5 seconds of fame by going on an attack, lasting just over a lap. I knew it wouldn't last, I just wanted some time out front to stretch the legs. My friend Keat actually went on to say "that attack you launched was actually quite vicious". I like the sound of that. Vicious. I hope it hurt the field as much as it hurt me, in fact I hope it hurt them more. I used some of the lessons I'd learnt from the previous week and waited for the guy on the front to tire, leading to a drop in pace. I then made my way to the front and jumped hard. I managed to get a good gap pretty quickly. I just put my head down and pushed as much power as I could, for as long as I could. I made my move on the first corner, and it wasn't until that same corner, one lap later, that I was caught.
When I was caught, one guy came passed me and said something like, "come on." I thought he had broken away also, and we were going to work together to stay away. I got onto his wheel, but decided to look behind and see what gap we had. It turned out we didn't have one. Although the field was rather stretched out, it was in contact. So I sat up and recovered.
I didn't really attack again. I did a turn on the front at one point, but mostly decided to hang back until I needed to work my way forward.
More chaos was about to ensue though. When we'd pretty much hit the 40 minute mark—D grade races go for 40 mins + 3 laps—B grade overtook us for the second time. Like I mentioned before, because there were 60 racers, it took an age for them to actually come passed. I actually lost my voice due to shouting at those in front, telling them to get left to allow B grade to overtake. No one seemed to want to move over... Why on earth I decided to take it upon myself to shout as loud as my vocal chords would allow, to try and encourage some movement, I don't know.
Anyway, as B grade started to make their way passed our group, just before the 3 laps to go sign was shown, our grade had to slow down, to let them passed. By the time they'd passed, we were onto our final 3 laps, and so our pace increased dramatically. This was a problem, because we were now travelling faster than B grade, and we weren't going to be let passed them. We should've been. No, instead the commissionaire decided that we should be neutralised until B grade got further ahead. This was a bad thing. Basically, it meant that because of a reduced speed, everyone now had a couple of laps to recover. All the hard work tiring people out during the race was now being undone. This had a knock-on affect. It meant more people would now be up for the sprint. Up for taking a bit of glory, to make a bit of history—a bit of history that is unlikely to remembered though. This therefore meant that more people would try to get to the front of the bunch for the last corner. You NEED to be at the front if you want any chance of winning the sprint.
So, we've now got probably a good 30 or more people all vying for good positioning. All trying to swing around the last corner, the tightest corner, near the front. Unfortunately, this is where things went tits up! I was on the inside line, so was in a great position. Keat, my friend, was just in front of me, a bit to the right. He was following a guy in front and all of a sudden I see his wheel moved in a direction it really did not want to be moving in. His wheel was trying to turn right. That's the wrong way, it wanted to be going left. But the wheel he was following had kicked his to the right. So, because he was riding one way, and his wheel the other, the laws of physics said "nah, bro". His wheel, and entire bike it seemed, was taken from under him and down he went. I managed to swerve out of the way and completely missed it. I looked back to see if I was clear, and to check on the damage, hoping it was going to be as clean of a crash as possible. I now had no chance of catching those in front. Part of me wanted to try, but I hesitated because my mate had just crashed. I either didn't react quickly enough, or I was out of the running anyway. I also wanted to go and help my mate. I couldn't just stop and just turn around—that would be dangerous—so I did another lap to get back to the crash site.
It wasn't a clean crash. I soon learnt that the guy in front had in fact swerved off his line and knocked Keat's front wheel to the right. Keat went down with force, and the guy behind went straight into his ribs. Wheel first. At 50km/h. Keat suffered some pretty serious injuries, a bit of road rash and some bike damage. Not a good day. And to make it all the more painful, as if it wasn't already, he was in a good position for the sprint, and hadn't been in as good of a position for a while. He's recovering well, but will be off the bike for five weeks. Which I'm sure he isn't too happy about.
I was both gutted my mate went down, and gutted I didn't get to really compete for the win. The race was mostly sketchy, and to be quite frank, most of the race was quite stressful—the support was awesome though. There will be no more races for me until next year now, but I'll be glad to see the numbers drop again. Unfortunately crashes are part of racing, I just hope I can avoid them for a while, if not ever...