M1/2/3 had around 90 riders, about the same size field as last year. I wanted stage 1 over and done with so I could rip up the time trial (stage 2) in an attempt to defend last years win. Sunny skies, we rolled out of Bright under control. Masters is a mix of everything - A grade through to C grade, so there were a few nervous riders and sketchy bunch moves being made. As soon as racing was under way we were stretched out single file. I kept up the front to keep out of trouble. Any move off the front was quickly chased down. I wasn't going to spend any energy chasing things down this early on. The 6am'ers were contributing to the pace and had a few strong flat-landers in the group. 8km or so out of Ovens a 6am'er (Julian Paynter, I think) ripped up the inside of the bunch, I covered his move and sat on his wheel. I wasn't trying to go off the front, but just trying to save energy rather than waiting for the peloton to react with a fast acceleration. Next thing I know I'm in a break of four with a good 400m gap. Not exactly going to plan, well, not if I wanted to be fresh for the time trial. I rolled turns with the other three but we were caught about 1km after the Ovens turn off. If riders bridged across in small bunches it would have been a good position to be in, but it wasn't to be.
A counter move went right away... who'd have guessed!? I sat in and watched the guy go up the road. A few attempts at chasing were all pulled back as the chaser(s) ran out of steam. We then ticked over a few easy kms before the Rosewhite climb. I was up the front chatting to Kor about the race. Some guy on the front in Mt Beauty kit (so he was a local I'm assuming) then turns directly to me and says "Mate, the race is over, up the road, they'll win, I can't believe YOU are not chasing!". I'm confused, I have no idea who this guy is, and he doesn't know me. I laugh at him and keep chatting to Kor. He turns again and dished out some more babble. No idea why he is trying to talk it up - he was a small guy, so no doubt a climber who just wanted other people to chase. He gives up and takes off alone. So for the next few kms I mark his wheel and keep closing him down. He doesn't get anywhere and wasn't seen for the rest of the day. If you're going to talk shit during the race then at least have the legs to back it up.
Up Rosewhite the pace was gentle and steady. At one point an O2 rider beside me asks how many watts? My reply being "too many", watts and speed up a hill is all dependant on weight, so its of little relevance to anyone other than me. I have a chat to him and find out its Mr CyclingTips himself, Wade Wallace. I've followed his web site for a while, and know of him, but never met him. No better time for introductions than up a climb in a bunch of 90 riders! :) No major accelerations and the bunch was relatively intact over the top. We bombed the descent which split the bunch a little. By the time we reached the right turn towards Mt Beauty the bunch was still around 50-60 riders strong.
Usually at this point in the race there is a northerly on our backs and everyone taps out the kms until the Tawonga climb. Not today. The wind was ripping from the right and we were soon in the gutter as a few on the front drove hard. I was well positioned and only a few kms down the road the bunch had splinted. The lead group was down to 20 riders with one or two still up the road from the counter attack just after Ovens. Only when I knew the bunch had shattered did I start rolling turns, I was still trying to hold back for stage 2. We were soon out of sight, the peloton had shattered. Through the sprint points, through the feed zone, and onto the Tawonga climb!
I suffered a little early on up Tawonga and even said to Kor that I wasn't feeling the best. I soon worked my way into the climb and started tapping out a good tempo. James Broadway set the pace and I was happy to sit on his wheel. Before I knew it we were down to five riders in the front group. One rider still up the road - in our group there was Broadway, Jones, Wallace, Kor, and me. 2kms from the top we'd put some good gaps into everyone behind us. 2kms from the top Jones attacks and solos away. Had this been any other stage I'd have covered his move, but again saving all I could for the TT. He knew that too and may have used that to his advantage. Either way, it was a great move to watch. Four of us over the top the KOM points were not contested. I took 6 points (3rd in Tawonga KOM) but that was only because I was on the front. The plan was to bomb down with us four being faster than the two solo riders off the front, so we'd sweep them up before the finish. I lead down the first km or so, Kor swings through, then I sit back and let Wallace and Broadway through. The pace was on, sweeping bends, we were flying and were going to stay well clear of any chasers. Into one right hander I was on Broadway's wheel as we both leaned over - oh shit - oncoming car. We both swing wide to the left but I'm carrying more speed than Broadway and run out road of room. On the brakes to brush off some speed but at 60km/h I need more road. The rear skips out, I save it - then bang - I high side over into the ditch. Race over. I'm laying in a pool of blood, I know something is broken, and I know I'm not able to continue.
I'll leave the race report there for now - I wanted to cover the race report up until that point. It was an awesome day on the bike, my training for the event was perfect, and I'd have smoked the sprint for sure! :) The winner of the M1/2/3 was still 1 second slower than my stage winning time posted last year - so who knows, I may have been defending GC up Hotham? I'll give it a crack next year for sure.