Two scratchings from our 90km M1/2 race and a few additions meant we were off with around 10 starters. A few friendly faces and some unknowns in the field. I had not ridden the course before, but I'd heard it was undulating with a few pinches. As soon as we left the neutral zone we were informed about a KOM prize on the first lap, "at the top of the first hill". Right, so which hill would that be?! A very casual pace saw our group passed by a off-the-front-solo rider Pete Knight within the first 10kms. If the M3/4's had started 5mins behind us then we were on on a very casual pace!
One rider from Italo (who I didn't catch the name of, so I'll call him Ox) attacked up on of the first steep sections. I stuck on him as did all but one rider from St Kilda. The pace was kept on for a few more kms and up over the KOM which I didn't contest, Fraser Short took the KOM. The St Kilda rider was back with us as we entered lap 2 of the 4 laps we would be doing. Ox attacked as soon as we entered lap 2 which required a good 300-400m to chase down. Soon after the pace was down again so I attacked the bunch looking for break away companions to bridge across. One rider bridged, but that was enough to get chased down by the bunch. A few short surges on the KOM hill but relatively easy for the remainder of lap 2.
Lap 3 - showtime. At this point all the riders were still there and ticking away the kms, I'd tried to entice a few break aways but nobody was willing to commit. I decided to hit the bunch over and over for a few kms to see if I could form a break through attrition. First attack from the front resulted in the St Kilda rider going down, I didn't see or hear it, someone said he pulled a pedal to stop from crossing his front wheel with someone. We eased off but it looks like he wasn't going to be rejoining us. Attack two was up a long-drag and was quickly neutralised. Attack three was just as everyone was sitting up at the top of the hill. Attack four was out of the left corner. All these were from the front and finally started to string things out. All still together I was waiting for someone to counter attack and I was ready to jump on that and GO. Waiting... waiting... relatively easy again for the next few kms. Into Kyneton corner I attacked again from third wheel. It was flat with a tail wind. We were still 30kms from the finish, and the bunch finally gave up chasing me down and gave me some space. I kept watching for someone to bridge for the next 3kms, nobody moved. Time trial mode I knew I could hold a pace that was faster than the bunch had done the previous laps. Into lap 4 and I was still solo off the front with around 200m gap from the bunch. The bunch was out of sight, but I could now see the commissionaire car with one rider in front. Ox had launched his own attack to bridge across. He was a bigger unit than me so I kept on the gas up the next few hills and if he made it across I'd work with him to keep the bunch away.
Ox was within 20-30 seconds as I hit the base of the long drag climb on Pipers Creek Pastoria Rd. Over the top and into a headwind I'd opened up the gap to 'out of sight'. I knew at this point I was quicker up a hill than my chaser, so I may be able to hold him off to the end. Still a very long way home there was a few short downhills to rest on. Still out of sight it was PowerTap pacing and TT mode with only around 15kms to go. On the long drag back along Pipers Creek road to the final turn off I could see Ox, but he was still a good km behind. Right onto Chases Rd it was a welcome tailwind to the line. 1st place by over a minute to Ox, and 5 minutes to the rest of the bunch. Another championship title and a neat medal for the collection!
For non-locals, Northern Combine is made up of the following clubs: Brunswick, Coburg, Hawthorn, Italo-Australian, Melton, Northcote, Preston, St Kilda and Sunbury. A big thanks to the volunteers on the day and the regular Combine work-horses, Mel Humphreys-Grey, Luke McDonough, Peter Wykes, and everyone else who donates their time so we can race.