Battle on the Border - A first hand account from Tam Allenby, SUVelo Club Member and BoB competitor .............
Stage one from Point Danger to Mt Warning Summit (108km)
After successfully smashing out the tough 12 hour drive from Surry Hills to the Gold Coast the previous day, five of SUVelo’s finest- and Daniel Pinczewski- lined up on the start line pumped and ready for our 2013 NRS debut and some serious time in the hurt-locker. Absolutely perfect racing weather seemed to be on the cards and some big names were in attendance. Soon enough we were off and racing, with a long and nervous 14km neutral zone south down the Pacific Highway our first challenge.
After turning off towards Murwillumbah, the head commissaire dropped the flag and the proper racing began. As you would expect, the pace was on from the gun. Soon the bunch was strung out up a short climb, with heart rates rising and legs cranking. The winding and bumpy section that followed was a highlight, with 150 riders snaking their way downhill through the rainforest at ridiculous speeds. Coming into the sugar cane fields that provided the scenery for much of the race, the all-too-familiar sound of carbon and flesh hitting tarmac rang through the air. One of the official motorbikes for the race had sketchily zoomed up the inside shoulder, making its way halfway up the bunch before deciding to stall- bringing down 10 or more riders and launching one rider’s bicycle spectacularly into the air. Connor Hughes was one of the victims, bruising his ribs and painfully receiving another rider’s seat or pedal direct to the upper thigh.
Because of the nature of the crash, the race was again neutralised as the riders affected were allowed to catch back on. Next came the first major climb of the day, with KOM points up for grabs. The pace was tough but manageable, with Pat Sharpe and Luke Williams very well positioned near the pointy end of the bunch. A fast descent followed, during which I narrowly avoided crashing at 70km/h as a rider’s bottle jumped free of its cage and went under my front wheel. After climbing another short berg, the peloton reached the turnaround point, and we made our way at speed over the same climbs- but in reverse. Sharpie showed his attacking spirit yet again and broke away with 18 other riders, contesting the second sprint point prime for a solid 4th place.
With the peloton in hot pursuit of this very threatening move, the pace kicked up a notch. Soon the main bunch was split in two up the second KOM point of the day. I managed to stay with the first half of the split, with Tristan also making his way across the gap on the descent. Next, we turned off onto a dead and potholed road that led through the foothills towards the base of Mt Warning. As the pace picked up again leading towards the decisive point in the race, a short gravel section of roadworks proved to be my undoing. Just minutes after navigating it, the heartbreaking feeling of a ‘bouncy’ rear wheel, indicating a rapidly deflating tubular tyre, signaled the end of my race. My flat couldn’t have come at a worse time, with only 10km left to race. After attempting to catch back on with some help from our allies at Erdinger-Downer EDI, with SUVelo Directeur Sportif Tom Petty yelling at me from the passenger seat of their team car, I decided to cut my losses and conserve my energy for the coming days.
Tristan had managed to avoid flatting and laid down some serious watts to finish just out of the top 40, 3.5 minutes down on the stage winner Haig from Genesys, ahead of some big names in Aussie cycling. This was a seriously solid result, as most of the breakaway from earlier had stayed away up the climb, including the eventual winner. This sets Tristan up for a good placing in GC over the coming days. By the way, words cannot do justice to the ridiculousness of Mt Warning. The last 1.8 kilometres had sections nearing 30%.. absolute torture, with an added degree of difficulty due to the wet roads in the rainforest. I rolled in a further 6 minutes back, with Sharpie, Luke and Connor not far behind. Special mention must go to Connor, an absolute hardman. Struggling from the battering he had received from the crash at the start, he nonetheless carried on, avoiding elimination and keeping himself in the race for the coming days.
Looking forward to stage two.
Battle on the Border: Stage Two from Murwillumbah to Murwillumbah (134km)
Stage two took the peloton on a deceivingly hilly loop around the countryside near Murwillumbah. Looking at the course profile the night before, we had all (wrongly) assumed that stage two would be slightly easier than stage one. However, Tom Petty our outstanding DS, and a wise head on young shoulders, had told us on the start line that the big teams were planning to absolutely drill it from the gun, in order to eject those with sore legs and tired hearts out the back. And this, surprise surprise, was exactly what happened. As soon as the flag dropped after the neutral zone, the pace kicked up to 55 km/h, with the bunch surging dangerously through the sugar cane fields.
At the 18km mark, we hit the first hill of the day. Although it wasn’t long nor especially steep, the pace was fierce, with a few riders day’s ending rather early. After a quick descent and far too little time to catch one’s breath, we hit the first proper climb and KOM point of the day. As would be expected from a hubbard like me, I dropped my chain just as the gradient increased, losing my position but managing to fix the problem while rolling. Words cannot describe how painful this hill was; the peloton split into a number of groups and I went seriously deep to stay with the second group over the top, along with Tristan. The front and main bunch was around 15 seconds ahead, and probably the highlight of the day was Tristan and I leading the stragglers at serious pace to catch back on, through the convoy and onto the back of the peloton. Relief.
Luckily the course flattened out for the next 20 or so kilometres, although the pace most certainly did not. Tristan and I were able to sit in and conserve energy for the big hills that we could see looming on the horizon. A long downhill false-flat was the next major section, the peloton reaching huge speeds once again through the rainforest. After crossing a narrow bridge, the trend reversed, and a few kilometres of uphill false flat followed. Two short and sharp bergs were the next challenge, the second of which was the next KOM. The pace was manageable through this section, though we knew that it would pick up the second time around as part of the circuit.
After crossing these surprisingly steep climbs, it quickly became apparent that Tristan and I were running out of water. We had nobody for the feed zones, so after 15 minutes or so of tossing it up, we decided that I would go back to the Erdinger/Suvelo team car and grab a few bottles, as Tristan was placed higher on GC and couldn’t risk not catching back on. All the umm-ing and ahh-ing about heading back into the convoy nearly proved to be my undoing, as the pace unsurprisingly picked up again right as I drifted back. I was able to grab a couple of bottles from Tom, and received some words of encouragement as well (‘Go Uni’). Also felt like a real pro zooming back through the convoy, helpfully receiving a solid draft off the Drapac team car to eventually catch back on despite the rising pace.
The second lap of the circuit was much harder, with the Genesys boys on the front working to pull back a solo breakaway. As we hit the hills for the second time, I felt my left leg start to cramp- a worrying sign. Despite this, I was feeling quite reasonable, even following a small move off the front up the first climb which was quickly brought back. Tristan and I just managed to hang on up the third and final KOM, bridging a small gap on the descent to make it back to the bunch. 25 kilometres were left to race, and despite some small breakaways going off the front, it was clear a sprint finish was on the cards. Tristan, with big dreams of going head-to-head with the best sprinters in the country, attempted to make his way to the front of the bunch. The extremely rapid pace made this a rather difficult task, and with my cramping left leg, with right leg pulling up the slack, I sat in towards the back.
As you would expect, the final few kilometres were fast and intense, with the big teams assembling their sprint trains on the front. We both managed to hang with the front bunch and crossed the line exhausted but satisfied. Luke and Connor rolled in with the main grupetto of around 40 riders a few more minutes back, while Pat Sharpe had to abandon, suffering a knee injury from his incident with a car a week earlier. All in all, an extremely tough day in the peloton, with another good showing from the whole squad at our debut NRS tour.
Battle on the Border: Stage Three, Individual Time Trial (9.4km) and Stage Four, 40 Minute Criterium (cancelled)
Saturday was meant to be composed of two halves: a time trial in the morning, and a crit in the afternoon, with a long wait in between. We arrived at the racecourse in Murwillumbah bright and early, in order to sign on and warm up, with Connor the first to start a little after 10am. In the men’s NRS, we were unable to use TT bikes or aero bars, ensuring somewhat of a level playing field. However, aero helmets, disc wheels, shoe covers and skinsuits were all allowed, and would provide a decent advantage even over such a short course. Amongst the squad, we were lucky to have three aero helmets, which we duly shared.
Individual time trials aren’t exactly the most exciting thing to watch or read about, so I’ll keep it short. The course was basically pan flat through the cane fields, save for a slight rise at the very beginning, along with a few 90 degree corners that would’ve been easier to navigate with a course recon- which of course we didn’t do. Sitting way above your threshold for around 13 minutes isn’t the most fun in the world, especially on tired legs, but it was certainly a good learning experience. Still, everyone was fairly happy with their times, but both Tristan and I had made the easy mistake of going too hard at the start and not hard enough at the end. Luke showed his time trialling pedigree as a former U17 ITT National Champion with a solid xxth place; I came home in xxth place with Tristan and Connor in xxth and xxth respectively.
For the next five hours we attempted to recover as best as possible for the afternoon crit, taking on protein shakes and sandwiches, napping on the grass, and watching the other races, including a solid performance by the SUVelo women’s squad. After warming up again and downing the necessary quantities of caffeine needed to be ready for 40 minutes of pain, a nasty crash in the women’s NRS crit caused our event to be cancelled. Scheduling our event for 4pm meant that any delays in the preceding events would cut into ours, and as the clock neared 5 o’clock, the commissaires decided it was too dark to safely send 140 riders around the already sketchy course. Quietly I was relieved- crits aren’t exactly my strong point! So, we repacked the trailer and headed back to our luxury resort to prepare for what looked to be a hilly and grueling final stage.
Battle on the Border: Stage Five, Salt Village to Salt Village (100km)
The cancellation of Saturday’s criterium meant that we’d almost had a rest day, our only effort having been a short, 9.3km time trial that did little to increase our levels of fatigue. This was both good and bad; it meant that we all felt a bit fresher for the final road stage on Sunday, but also that the pace would probably be higher, as the whole peloton would be feeling the same. The course profile promised another difficult stage of rolling hills, climbing and fast sections through the cane fields and rainforest, while the relatively short distance of 100km would also keep the average speed blisteringly high.
After a yet another delayed start, we rolled out through the new development of Salt Village just before midday. Riding slowly through the neutral zone, I remember thinking that the stage finish would be a bit dodgy, due to the reasonably narrow roads, tight corners, roundabouts, and various other items of ‘street furniture’ that littered the final kilometres. I would prove to be at least partially correct by days end.
As always, as soon as the flag dropped the pace was on. The peloton headed inland over some poorly maintained roads, the constant potholes bouncing a steady supply of water bottles out of their cages and dangerously onto the road behind. After two short and sharp climbs, the bunch settled into a decent rhythm leading towards the first KOM point of the day. Ascending this first major climb was tough but manageable, with the peloton climbing at a more comfortable pace than the two stages before. Heading south through the forest, it was fairly easy to sit in and take a breather, in anticipation of the next two KOM points. Luke was positioning himself very well towards the front of the bunch, indicating that he had found his climbing legs on the final day of the tour.
I was also feeling quite good, and made sure to position myself somewhere in the first 1/3rd of the peloton over each major climb, in hopeful anticipation of a race-winning split. While the peloton did break up a bit over the next two KOM points, it was never for long; the climbs weren’t long or steep enough to create a race-winning gap, and the bunch kept coming back together on the descents and the valleys that followed. Luke was unlucky to get a puncture while climbing the last hill of the day, but there’s no doubt he would’ve tried his best to mix it up with the big teams at the end of the stage.
Despite a few small moves off the front in the final twenty kilometres, the bunch largely stayed together- another sprint finish lay ahead. Heading along the flat and dead roads next to the coast with a decent tailwind on our backs, the pace ramped up, with the big teams again assembling their sprint trains on the front. Yet again, Tristan positioned himself very well towards the front of the bunch, while I lost a fair few positions on a tight 90 degree turn back into Salt Village. Traveling at speeds upwards of 55 km/h, the peloton was strung out in single-file, with gaps constantly forming as riders struggled to hold on. A few wheels ahead of me, someone dropped the wheel, and I put my head down and drilled it to close the gap. As I soon painfully found out, never take your eyes off the road ahead, no matter how deep in the locker you are!
Just after flicking my elbow for the rider behind to come around, I caught a brief glimpse of the gutter that I was just about to slam into. According to Strava, I hit it at 57 km/h, with no time to brake or react; unfortunately there were no cameras around, but the riders behind would have seen me somersault through the air, landing first on my arse, back, elbows then head, before sliding along the tarmac and into the nature strip. Luckily I was able to get back up, despite my kit being torn to shreds and my helmet almost in two pieces. With adrenalin levels running high, I picked up my bike and got back on, but soon noticed the tyre had burst, the wheel was out of true, and the handlebars were severely out of line. After a quick wheel change from a very worried Tom, and a promise to the medical support that I would find them at the finish, I crossed the line very lucky to be in one piece, with only road rash and a badly bruised hip and elbow for my troubles. To sweeten the deal, I received the same time as the first bunch, as my crash was in the final kilometre.
Still, this was not the ideal way for me to end our first NRS tour; a later inspection revealed a large crack in my carbon frame, to go with my broken helmet and shredded kit- an expensive mistake to make! Nonetheless, as a squad we can be very proud of our efforts, with Connor, Luke, Tristan and I all managing to finish Battle on the Border and our first foray into the world of NRS stage racing. Special thanks of course must go to Tom, our excellent DS, but also our impromptu soigneur Sharpie, who helped out significantly after pulling out injured in stage two. Can’t wait to do it all again in two weeks time in Adelaide!
Full results for all stages can be found here: http://nationalroadseries.subaru.com.au/results/