Saturday, 4 June 2011

Northern Combine: Hell of the West - 2011

The 'one day classic' of the Northern Combine road season. Run by Melton CC, the race is now a scratch race, and no longer finishes at the top of the epically steep berg that makes everyone switch cassettes for the day. This year featured 3km of dirt/gravel, a nasty side wind, and the epic berg ascent half way into the race. The actual location of Balliang is still somewhat of a mystery, with the GPS devices taking people a number of different ways, and dumping them somewhere within 10kms of the Balliang hall, making them stop on the side of the road and wait for a car with bikes mounted to go flying past at an authoritative-I-know-where-it-is 120km/h. We counted five or six GPS trusting victims as we made our way there.

A Grade got underway with 30 or so starters. In the pack were a mix of solo riders, NRS teams (John West, Search2Retain, LSDsports), and local teams (SoleDevotion, Bike Gallery, Fitzroy Revolution, Bikes Direct, Rapido, and Kosdown). A start line attack was instigated by a rider, the outcome of this move was outlined in the Road Race Flowchart I created the other day. A few km down the road Kos Samaras (Kosdown) goes solo up the road and dangles a few 100m off the front. More than 80kms from the finish line, nobody was too keen to spend energy chasing him down. Up over the first few hills, the 3km dirt section flew by..... literally... it flew by on our left.... the corner wasn't marshaled. Lindsay Tunbridge (Kosdown) drove the course before the race and knew we were lost. A bit of confusion hit the bunch as Samaras pulled up after hitting the main road. Yep, A Grade were off course, and a little confused.

Being up near the front I thought I'd take the initiative and organise a turn-around. We'd let Samaras get his 20 second advantage he had before we came to a halt, then we'd continue racing (and take the correct turn). Everyone ok with that? Yep.. no.. wait... we have a protest! A rider wasn't happy with giving Samaras back his 20 seconds advantage. I was busy being loud and trying to communicate to everyone what we'd do to correct the situation - but someone wasn't happy. I didn't quite get the reasoning but it was something to do with 20 seconds being different or harder now we turned back into a head wind. What? We had no time for a mediation session, I got fired up. Kos was up the road. So I called "race on", in words to that effect, and took off angry. We almost got a break going at that point too.... but we were all back together at the turn off to the dirt section. I passed the protesting rider on the dirt and let him know it wasn't my intention to piss anyone off, I just wanted to get back to racing, in the fairest way. All good, we were cool, and we were back on the (correct) course and racing.

Dirt section lived up to the hype, it was hell. Follow a wheel and hold on. The wind was coming from side on so there was no easy sit no matter where you were, and the rolling resistance of dirt isn't ideal. Nathan Elliott (Search2Retain) was chopped onto the shoulder... but he didn't stop there... he ventured out a good three meters ripping it agricultural style on 23mm tyres. We all thought he was heading for a front flip right into an Ambo ride home, but the wiley fox kept it upright, and somehow made it back to the road. Mad skills and a lot of luck! Then he had the nerve to hit the front and drive the speed..... and why not? It was his lucky day! We all suffered through with two or three riders getting dropped as we hit the safety of the bitumen.

The next 20kms were side-wind hell. A group of four getting away, one echelon chasing, and everyone at the back chewing their handlebars. It took the race smarts of two Kosdowners to start working a second echelon before things became a little easier on the legs (cheers guys!). We saw the front group of four split up and disband their breakaway efforts at the turn off the main road, 10kms before he main climb. The road leading to the climb was done at a pedestrian pace. A few riders making moves off the front, never far from view. One did manage to slip away, being caught well after the climb.

"The climb" was hell. But that isn't anything new, it's always hell. Elliott made it over first from the bunch, an LSDsports rider not far off, and I came rolling through on them both as we picked up the pace into the headwind. A Soul Devotion rider bridged across and we were soon on the 'other' side wind section of the course. This group of five should have been the break that stayed away. Not to be. A group of four or five were back on. The front bunch was now 10 riders at the 70km mark.

For the next 15kms it was attack, chase, bunch ride, repeat, frustrating as hell. A number of riders willing to attack, a number of riders willing to chase and sit. At one point I counter attacked myself twice just to make them chase over and over again. Elliott was active off the front a few times, along with a Trent Williams (Bikes Direct). Nothing staying away as the bunch looked like they wanted a sprint.

10kms to go people were dropping wheels mid bunch. Then they'd chase like mad when an acceleration went around them to close the gap. This happened three or four times and was putting everyone into the hurt box. 7km to go Elliott and I got off the front. No more hills, a tail wind after the next corner, and two riders who like a time trial. Perfect! We pulled some hefty turns as the bunch tried, once again, to pull us back. Luca Giacomin (Kodsown) bridged across to Elliott and I by himself but soon drifted back to the chasing bunch. The finish was now only 5kms up the road, the chase bunch drifting backwards at 100-150m and the gap was growing. At 1km to go we knew we had it.  A 1-2 in any order is a result we'd be happy with.... but we're both racers, so no gifts! No cat and mouse, we'd sprint from wherever we were. At 800m to go I was on the front, 300m out Elliott starts the charge, pulling beside me then 1/2 a length in front. Side by side drag race! I slowly pulled him back then pull away and took the win. 20kms earlier I was ripping suicide attacks thinking the day would end up in a bunch sprint, not knowing it'd end up in a two up TT smash session with a good mate, and the win! Happy days!

Finish line salute going up! (Pic by Peter O'Callaghan)

A Grade Results:
1. Shane Miller (HCC/Kosdown)
2. Nathan Elliott (Brunswick/Search2Retain)
3. Trent Williams (Bikes Direct)
4. Dean Sanfilippo (Brunswick)

Full results HERE

Andrew Blake has a huge set of photos from the race up on Flickr - Capturing almost every rider up the hill, and finishing line shots. Have a look at them, fantastic shots: HERE

Yep, happy days!


Luc said...

Geelong CC Rider, actually Bendigo CC, and also rides for BIKES DIRECT. Great write up, sounded like a tough day!!

GPLama said...

Cheers Luc! Updated. I'll put in his name when the results are out.