Our race consisted of five Masters 1, 19 Masters 2 riders. A good mix of riders and a few I knew I had to keep an eye on. Three laps, 90kms, with a few short steep hills along the way. After all my 20km time trialling I didn't know how I'd hold up over that distance, but I'd give it my best shot. I'd had a win the day before at round four of the Masters TT series and the legs had recovered well.
As we roll out, a rider attacks up the road immediately. Nobody was happy with that, and he got nowhere fast. For the first 10kms there were a few moves but nothing that stuck. I had a chat to Reece Stevens (M2, St Kilda), he is in top form but had been having issues with mechanicals lately. Reece asked "So you're M1, racing M1s, I'm M2.... what happens if you and I get up the road?".... to which I replied.. "We **** SMASH them!". He laughed, but he also knew my game plan! :)
At around 12kms Matt Chessum (M2, CCCC) was on the attack with a few other riders. They were brought back within reach then went off the front again. At km 14 we reached the top of the steepest hills and Chessum and Shane Stiles (M2, Warrigal CC) were 100m off the front. We were on a slight descent back into the wind as Reece jumped from the bunch. I responded immediately as the bunch was napping. I let Reece know I was on his wheel we made it across to Chessum and Stiles. As Reece and I were bridging across, Lucas Renieis (M1, HCC) attempted to follow across solo but he soon pulled the pin and was absorbed back into the bunch.
So we had Chessum, Stiles, Reece, and me in the break and working hard to open up the gap from the chasing field. I've raced with Reece, he's a much better (and harder!) rider than I am, Chessum has been scoring podium results at the Masters TT races so I knew he was another powerhouse. I didn't know Stiles - but he soon earned my respect with some super strong turns and great team work. We rolled through the start/finish and it was good to see people on the side of the road watching the race. Onto lap two and we could see the chasing bunch within about 30-40 seconds behind. We'd all been swapping good turns and communicating well when either of us wanted to sit out a rotation to take in some food or a drink. Stiles knew the chasing bunch was looking like it'd come back and gets on the front and drives HARD. I thought I was on the limit as it was, but I soon reached a new limit! We were all pulling through when we could but Stiles really lifted the pace, and the other three of us responded in turn by working harder.
We'd pulled away from the bunch and kept it together on the climbs. We rode the climbs at a good tempo so we didn't spit anyone off the back. At km 45 we were at the top of the steepest climb and could see the bunch back within striking distance. They still had to slog it out up the hill that we had just crested so the time gap was actually more than it looked, over the top we kept rolling turns like clockwork.
Lap 2 done - we get the bell as we roll through the start/finish. I was feeling better than expected after 60kms only 30 to go! We were now pulling well clear of the chase group, no sight of them on a long stretch of road behind us on the way out of town. No rest though - we were cranking along and had lifted the pace to ensure the break kept away. Onto the hilly section and I told the others I wanted to see the three of them on the podium, and that I would not get involved in any finish line attacks/chase downs. I was M1 and wanted the three M2's to battle clean for the colours of their medals. I think they knew this already as I was doing everything I could to make this early forming break stick for the whole race.
10kms to go and we'd survived the final hills.... just as Reece's chain started to make funny noises. We all sat up and made sure his was with us - nop he's had another mechanical and had pulled over to the side to try and fix it. Now things get interesting, yet fall my way very nicely. Stiles didn't want to wait too long for Reece in the event we get caught by the chasing bunch so he kept on moving, fair call. Chessum had the same idea, they couldn't jeopardise their race only 10kms from home. I kept rolling with the two of them but was not going to pull any turns on the front to keep Reece from getting back on. I let them know it was their race to the line and I wasn't going to ruin Reece's chances for the M2 title. Stiles and Chessum acknowledged this and rolled turns together. I resigned myself to sitting on until either Reece got back to the three of us, or we could see the chasing bunch closing in. Reece put in a monster effort to pull himself back - chasing bunch still not in sight! So I rolled through and did what I could to keep the tempo up. Into the final 3kms and while Reece was back with us - he'd just put in a huge effort that would no doubt hurt his chances for the win. Regardless, it was Reece who started the attacks trying to shake the other two. I kept fourth wheel and stayed out of their games but still close enough to roll through and lift the tempo if they wanted to start the go-slow cat and mouse games. 2kms to go and Reece was hung out to dry on the front, poor bugger! Three or four attacks came to nothing as we roll past the 1km to go sign. As the start/finish came into sight I eased up. Chessum was third wheel and opened up a his sprint - Stiles responded and came over him. Reece was cooked and rolled in for third. A few meters behind I rolled across the line to take the Victorian Masters 1 State Road Racing Champion title for 2009!
In the wash up - what a day! The three guys I'd just shared that 75kms proved themselves to be some of the strongest and honest riders I've had the pleasure to race with. Swapping turns like clock work, perfect rotation changes, lifting the tempo when it was needed, you name it - all perfectly executed and fell into place on the day. Reece was the only unlucky one, I have no doubt the M2 finish would have played out differently had he not had to chase back to us - but, thats racing.