Three laps of Lancefield, 90kms, cool to cold, and a little damp. We've all done this loop so many times we could do it blindfolded. The prestige of 'Club Champion' these days is low - people shit-can it, people don't race it, club sponsors don't show/know, it isn't what it used to be. Regardless, the people behind the scenes at Hawthorn still ran a race, and a good one at that.
For the Elite/men A and B grade riders were combined. Lucas Renieris, Ben Douglas, Cam Clamp, Stu Vaughan, Cam Fraser, all sporing the HCC kit, four 6AMers, and a few others. After the neutral zone Vaughan signaled it was race time and a few people rolled turns. I rolled through to the front.... waited... waited... turning to see some 6AMers on my wheel not wanting to pull through. This is what I hate about scratch races. Tactics. So I attacked off the front. I had no intention of staying away, but I wasn't going to keep them out of the wind if they were not going to pull through. I soft pedaled soon after and was back in the bunch. Vaughan, Renieris, and Douglass, were soon up the front and driving the pace towards Cobaw. The bunch was small, but still big enough for a few people to sit on for the ride. At one point I rolled up the outside of the bunch to get closer to the front, calls of "ON THE LEFT ON THE LEFT" were yelled by someone to let the bunch know I was "attacking". It wasn't an attack, far from it. I stopped pedaling and rolled straight to the back of the bunch. I was heading up the front to pull a turn or two but rolled back with a smile on my face - scratch races are bizarre. Gus 'the Bus', a recent racing cycling convert from rowing, spent a few kms hanging off the front of the bunch. We were happy to use him as a pacing marker before he came back to us. Matt Marques (6AMers) was spotted up the front of the bunch forcing some pace before Dons Rd. I was trying to work out which of their group was the chosen/protected rider, I couldn't pick it.
Douglas pushed hard up the short Newham climb making life difficult for us early in the race. Renieris and Vaughan then gaped the bunch going up Rochford. I bridged across and made the catch just before the quick descent into Lancefield. The moves up the front meant the bunch had now split. Only seven of us in the front group now and a small chasing group trying to get back on. We started working turns and I was revving everyone up trying to keep the chasers away. The lead bunch after the first lap consisted of Vaughan, Clamp, Fraser, Douglas, Renieris, Murphy, and me. Still two laps to go we'd created ourselves a handicap race, most of us working turns to ensure our odds of 7:1 stuck to the end.
Two riders in the lead group were soon fading/foxing/whatever you want to call it. It can be hard to tell if someone is hanging on for an easy ride or if they're on the limit - after a few 'testing' moves it wasn't the latter, they were foxing. This is scratch race tactics, I understand it, but I still had a spray at them to see if they'd hit the front or attack. I was the prick yelling orders - I took it upon myself to voice what the other four riders would have been thinking too. Later in the race I made a point of letting the two recipients know that its not personal - if their tactic was to sit in and hope for a sprint, my tactic was to give them a hard time to see if they'd fire up and push their pedals harder.
By lap three we knew the seven of us would stay clear. The pace was dropping in a few sections but we had to be careful the chasers were not going to roll us in the last few kms. 20kms to go there were nerves and the pace was off. Everyone was now hitting the front not pulling big turns, but just putting themselves at the pointy end to cover any moves that would be made. I had a chat to Cam Clamp as we turned into the tail-wind at Newham. He wanted a sprint. I wanted someone to go clear with me over the top of Rochford and work turns with back into town. I told him I'd be going early to the line, and I'll still be going for the win, but if he stuck with me then we'd 1-2 it, order not important. We had an alliance! Vaughan had pulled a spoke in his rear wheel and was sitting on the back excluding himself from the racing, he didn't want to bomb the 80km/h+ descent with a dodgy wheel. The odds we now down to 6:1.
At the base of the Rochford climb Clamp was near the front, I ripped past and didn't look back. Clamp bridged and we both had 40-50m on the bunch. Renieris spotted the danger right away and charged across to us - dragging a few with him. Murphy soon hit the front and kept a pace that strung us out. The tail wind suited a bunch sprint, there was no chance at attacking the bunch once we'd hit the final downhill. I attacked solo and got away. By the top of the climb I had 50m or so. I'd been rolling off the front on the quick downhill and did the same again to open the gap more. 4kms to go, I was hanging 200-250m off the front of a chasing Renieris, Douglass, and Clamp.
55km/h. Head down. Riding with everything I had. I drew on everything. The tough family funeral we had last Wednesday in Ballarat, my work being a complete cluster fuck after a company take-over, everything and anything I could use to push the bike forward. Someone in a white ute was soon behind me tooting and yelling at me to get out of his way? His way? He's probably just driving into town to get the milk. The roads were signed with 'cycle race in progress' and I had a number on, so fuck you, fuck your milk, and go the fuck around, I'm racing here. I hit the turn to McMasters Lane with a good 5-6 seconds gap. I had enough time to sit up and take in the win, both arms up. That was everything. After a year of huge highs and big lows, this was a high. A lifetime memory created right there.
Big thanks to Laurie, Andy, Simon, corner marshals, Vincent for the great photos, and everyone else involved. Also to the other guys in the bunch for making the race what it was, tactical, frustrating, hard, and rewarding.
Elite/Men Results: (as I recall)
1. Shane Miller
2. Cam Clamp
3. Lucas Renieris
4. Ben Douglas
5. Kev Murphy
6. Cam Fraser