The short version is that our goal going in was to get Simon as close to the top step as possible, with Luke and I aiming for reasonable placings as secondary goals. The end result was a 16th for Simon and DNF’s for both Luke and I. A poor tally, and one that came at a high cost.
The route they used for KW Classic should have been a great one, both for our strengths as well as general enjoyment of riding. It is a 12.5 km loop of rolling hills, with one moderately technical downhill near the start that can string the group out and one steepish power climb (Hawkesville Hill) 9km in that could break up the group as well. The finish line comes ~400m after the last turn and is a mild uphill. M3 would do this 5 times.
However, this great route was spoiled by poor roads. I can’t sugarcoat this; the road conditions were absolute rubbish in places. Quite a bit of poorly patched potholes, cracks, and a large number of rumble strips.
Competition wise, MGCC brought out the pack again, with 10 riders on the team in a field of 52. No other large teams in the mix, but all of the strong riders from each of them showed up – so it looked to be a good hard field to race against. Great conditions for a hard day in the saddle and I was pretty excited about it. With Simon as our main guy – our very loose tactics were to keep him near the front and have him involved in any breaks with the marked heavy hitters of MGCC or a couple of the strong riders from other teams. Otherwise, Luke and I were there to let Simon do as little work as possible until necessary.
However, the problem with MGCC bringing the pack out to party was twofold. 1) They couldn’t agree on a leader or several leaders and thus had no apparent strategy to help those people win, 2) Most of everyone else waited for MGCC to do something given their numbers. This led to one of the least animated races of the year. Can’t lie – it was a yawner for the first 3 laps. A non-MGCC loner would go off the front, everyone would let him sit there, and he’d get pulled back, repeat.
Something finally started to shape up near the end of lap 3 / beginning of lap 4. There were 2 off the front (non-MGCC) and soon after we started lap 4 one MGCC and riders from 2 other teams bridged up to join. Simon was in tight with the marked riders near the front of the pack, but this was starting to look dangerous with MGCC in there – I made the call that it needed to be marked. I can’t say this was a selfless move either – I liked the odds of a 6 man break. So I drilled it. One other guy grabbed my wheel and the bridge effort was on.
My power numbers say otherwise, but it felt like the hardest effort I’ve done in a long time to cross that gap and catch that last wheel. Once I caught there was no rest – we started rotating moderately well to extend our gap. I knew I was redlining, but I thought it was worth it. Solid break, solid effort, but not to be. A glance behind showed a fast chasing group behind. We were caught a bit before Hawkesville Hill and I was very happy to see that it was a much reduced group (8-9) with Simon in the mix. However, my day was done. For whatever reason, be it poor nutrition, heat, redlining for too long – my legs could not respond and grab a wheel.
As I went backwards, I was a little concerned as I couldn’t see Luke. This was strange as he was consistently up there with Simon. He was riding strong, so it didn’t make sense that he wasn’t with the group. I was hoping that I had just missed seeing him in my haze. My legs blown, I pulled myself (Did Not Finish) when I hit the finish line of the 4th lap. I had nothing to prove by finishing a solo lap – I just hoped that the race pulling apart somewhat due to the break at least helped Simon improve the odds.
Simon can fill you in on the chase and the last lap – but the front of the sprint was honestly a mix of guys who I wouldn’t have expected to be there. Minimal MGCC and Simon was unfortunately around 15-20 wheels back. My understanding is that he was in 3rd wheel coming into the final turn, but had spent energy catching up to two dangerous riders who had made a late move and that left him in a tough spot for that final 400m.
As I watched the finish – still no Luke. This is when I started getting more concerned. Sure enough, as I turn around from the fence and start walking to go find Simon, I hear Luke calling my name – from the Medic’s tent. His right side is torn up, and they’re starting to clean wounds and put the bandages on. The story, which he can give in more detail, is that he was tagging along in the chase group that was coming up to our break. He moved close to the yellow line at one point and hit a parallel crack in the road. Front wheel goes in, he goes over. This was a race crash, but in my view is something that could have happened outside a race just as easily as in a race environment – just very poor roads. The x-rays have come back clean and he’ll be sore for a while, and he needs a carbon repair to a small crack in his top tube, but if that’s all we’ll take it as that was a high speed event. Helmets save lives everyone.
So, back to where I started – Luke and I DNF’d, Simon finished 16th. My road race season comes to an end (travel commitments mean I can’t make the race in late August). I gained a lot of experience and earned upgrade points in 3 of the 4 races I entered. Seeing as my (admittedly low) goal coming in was to earn at least 1 upgrade point in my first full season racing, with a stretch goal of a podium – I’m actually happy with the season’s result. I learned that I enjoy the team tactics and working towards team goals, and am setting a goal of earning enough points next year to make the jump to M2, where there should be more team based goals by competing teams instead of a mass of individuals chasing absolutely everything.
Finally, I learned that I cannot stand to be pack fodder. I race both to do well and have fun – and there is zero fun just waiting in the pack for the final sprint. I would much rather be the guy trying to make a break work and take that low percentage chance at winning. If it works, it will be both rewarding as well as an amazing story, and if it doesn't - at least I've given it everything and had some fun while doing so. Hopefully another solid off-season of preparation will put my legs in better conditions to execute.
Simon and Luke have been incredible teammates and I wish I had the opportunity to race one more time with them in August. Simon is still on the path to an upgrade to M2 this year, so my guess is that it’ll be a couple seasons before I get to race with him again. Luke needs to heal up, but I’m hoping we’ll get to mix things up again on the M3 road next year.
Go team BCC!
War wound photos: