The Rapha race numbers were a clear winner. Rego was straight forward and the same as all the other years, sign in, head up the back to get your showbag full of lollies, then grab an apple or two on the way out. The weather was spot on for racing all weekend, apart from being ball freezing cold at the top of Hotham. The timing system and instant results were as magic as always, as long as you knew where to put the timing chip on your bike (no instructions), and you cross referenced the number on the chip against your race number (both different) on the TT timing sheet. TT times were correct, so of course that was the most important thing for the weekend for me... :)
Stage 1 - Rosewhite loop.
One exploding wheel heard 2kms into the race, every move being chased down, riders scrambling for position on the wrong side of the road - a typical start of the race towards the first sprint point. The first 30kms were fast. Nothing was getting away from a 100+ strong bunch that had 4-5 well represented teams. With no wind it should have been in everyones interest to stay together, never to dropping a wheel until the race really started at Tawonga, 86km. Not the case.
Somewhere around the 36km mark a bunch of 15 or so riders were allowed off the front, I was sitting not too far back from the front keeping an eye on the move. One or two riders pinged off the front and bridged across. The gap was soon out to 200-300m, a few strong turns by a handful of riders could have closed this, but didn't. I launched from the bunch with Andy Van Slobbe (HCC) - we were set upon by the 6amers team, they pulled us back and didn't roll through to keep the pace up. I had another go at getting across to the break, chased again, sat on again. A rider in Giant kit tried to encourage the bunch to roll turns but not enough riders were willing to assist the cause. With the TT in the afternoon, I wasn't going to spend all my energy pulling the bunch along if nobody else was helping, nor was I going to keep attacking those on my heels hoping I'd get clear. At this point I was fair pissed off, so went back to the bunch and sat in. Yep, I missed the move, I tried to do something about it, and failed. I had the same shit luck as ~85 other riders who watched the race for Tour GC slip away at only 36kms into the race.
A few minutes later we were slowed down by the commissars as we passed the B Grade bunch before the Rosewhite climb. With the break being a much smaller group they would have sailed straight past them at speed. They were now out of sight. Two or three crashes were heard up the climb. There is no reason these should happen, I can only put it down to the large numbers and wide ranging abilities that get crammed into the single MMAS123 race. "4 Minutes" was the call at the top of Rosewhite. With a number of big GC hitters in the break and no organised chase this was the nail in the coffin for any GC aspirations, for all of us.
So a change of race plans from there, I sat back in the bunch to the base of Tawonga and then shut off the legs to save them for the TT. I rolled across the finish 8 minutes down on GC but a lot higher up than I expected. I rode up Tawonga chatting to a few others and still came in 35th! This really isn't fair on those who were honestly racing up that final climb and came in lower - I think it is time ToB Masters racing to progress to Masters A/B/C categories, exactly what they have for Elite/U19, for future races. This will also help spread out the bunch sizes and keep things a little safer on the open roads we're on.
Up the front in the battle for GC, Ciaran Jones (Giant) took a well deserved win. Good to see a rider like Ciaran with his arms in the air.
Stage 2 - Wandiligong ITT.
With fresh legs after Stage 1, I wasn't aiming to climb back up the GC ladder. I wanted to win the TT. 34th ITT for the year and everything went to plan. 20:42. Fastest time in MMAS123 by 32 seconds. Alex Morgan (VIS) in A Grade pipped me for the unspoken race for time of the day by 4 seconds, I won't mention his Giro Selector helmet giving him a slight non AUS/NZ certified advantage. :)
Naylor (O2) had a good ride, also sporting a Giro Selector TT helmet (and how?), with 21:14 for 2nd place and Seiper (Elders) in 3rd with 21:20.
Top 10 MMAS123 TT Results
1 425 MILLER Shane 20:42.72 - 45.49 Hawthorn Cycling Club
2 497 NAYLOR Andrew 21:14.96 0:32.24 44.34 St Kilda Cycling Club Inc
3 467 SIEPER Allan 21:20.15 0:37.43 44.16 Canberra Cycling Club
4 402 GALLAGHER Michael 21:30.36 0:47.64 43.81 Carnegie Caulfield CC
5 487 MASON Damian 21:44.03 1:01.31 43.35 Nowra Velo Club
6 406 BLACKBURN Stephen 21:45.12 1:02.40 43.31 Canberra Cycling Club
7 404 JONES Ciaran 21:48.21 1:05.49 43.21 Carnegie Caulfield CC
8 407 LYSTER Tully 21:49.57 1:06.85 43.16 Wangaratta Cycling Club Inc
9 443 GARDNER Alex 21:57.54 1:14.82 42.90 Manly Warringah CC
10 403 KAH Danny 22:10.78 1:28.06 42.48 Carnegie Caulfield CC
I was told after Stage 3 that due to the TT start holder, Mr Butterfingers, letting riders jump their start by 1 second, 8 riders were given +10seconds to their TT times. Michael Gallagher being one of them. Unlucky, he missed the break on stage 1 and this cost him a podium position for stage 2.
Stage 3 - Mt Hotham, or, 3/4 of it.
Blue skies, sunshine, but a way too early start in the day meant the Hotham summit was still a refrigerator from an overnight cold blast (adverse conditions!). We were told the finish was now at the toll booth (46kms in), then we were told it was at the chain bay (not 46kms in!). A few people missed that second update, but I wasn't going to help spread the message - a flat run to the line should be an advantage for me.
Same as Stage 1 - Too many riders of all abilities taking it to the commissars and ripping up to the front on the wrong side of the road. In 2009 they were onto these jokers, Leigh 'Hollywood' being ejected from the race for only one infringement - This year riders had a get-out-of-jail-free pass all weekend...... The offenders were repeat offenders too, in team kit, sponsors kit, in kit representing a government sporting body, everyone saw them, everyone knew who they were. It really pissed off the rest of the bunch who were doing the right thing moving up only when gaps opened. Where the hell was the moto scout with his red card? If you're nudged over double whites for a few seconds, sure, this happens, but this wasn't the case.
At 10kms in, the O2 boys who were riding for Naylor (sitting 2nd on GC) all pulled over. Naylor had a flat. His shot at GC was looking to be over. The bunch speed dropped to 32km/h. O2 were back to the front in no time, minus one rider who'd given him a rear wheel since we didn't have the privilege of the SRAM motorbike or a spares car. Had he changed the tube himself it would have been his tour over.
At the fish farm 3km from Harrietville I rolled up to the front, rolled a turn or two, then put the hammer down. I was off the front and joined by the ever present Andy van Slobbe. I told him I wanted the sprint points (for shits and giggles more than anything else) so he let me roll across to collect those. In the wash up and count-back, this single sprint netted me 3rd overall in the Sprint King competition. With our 200m advantage we didn't get caught up in the bunch bottleneck as the road turned upwards. We sat up and latched onto the GC climbers as they stormed past. A select group of 15 was formed from 2kms onwards up the climb. A few popped at the Meg and a few just after it. Naylor was yo-yoing from the climbing bunch of 12 with Wade Wallace giving his all to support his team mate. The Canberra boys were setting the pace and allowed Michael Gallagher (VIS) and Alex Gardner to drift off the front. At the false flat I had a go at getting clear and across to them but after 1km the Canberra boys were on my wheel, and on a mission, taking their GC man to the line. The finish came a lot sooner than anyone really expected. With two riders up the road, and GC decided, it was a battle for the final podium position for the stage. 1km to go the pace lifted again. At 500m I jumped up towards the front. 250m to go and no sight of the finish I launched. Full gas around the corner, I was on the front and side-by-side with Ciaran Jones. We were met with a blocked road, some dodgy taped off area, and being told to go left. Chaos. We were sprinting but where the f'ck are we going!? I finally saw the timing mat and pointed towards it, just pipping Jones. There were people everywhere and no run-off area. At 50km/h+ this was crazy. People jumping everywhere out of our way telling us to slow down. How we didn't put a few people on their arses I don't know. I was both happy with the 3rd place and happy to have picked a line though the people in the madness. I hope there are finish line shots as I don't remember much of it.
Naylor had hung onto his 2nd spot on GC only to be told later someone had complained about his 'team assistance' to a race commissaire. Because of the wheel change and he was DSQ from the event. It was a shitty thing to have happen as a flat is just bad luck. The panic and chase back on was penalty enough. I saw him digging deep, I saw him crack, I saw him dig deeper and get back on. The Canberra boys were class and took the deserved win, but Naylor's ride was clearly deserving of the 2nd spot and maybe a $50 fine over getting tossed after the race?
After a standard Stage 1 it was a pretty good weekend from then on. I've not said anything in this post that wasn't echoed by others at the post race coffee stops during race debriefs with mates. There is a general consensus that ToB MMAS should be A/B/C in the future for better racing for everyone (yep, teams too!).
The TT win was the goal and I was happy to have nailed it. The 3rd on Stage 3, 3rd in the Sprint King, and $100 prize money all up was icing on the cake. I didn't get a chance to take it to the climbers on Stage 1 so it was good to battle with them on Stage 3 and be at the pointy end. Had the final 10kms up Hotham been in the race the GC list would have been given a real shake.
It is no secret that road racing plays second fiddle to TTing for me. After this weekend I did come away wanting more of this style of racing. The comradery when suffering up a climb with the 'select few' is something you have to experience. Words of encouragement shared, a helpful push and a shove to help someone dropping a wheel (disguised as getting them out of your way, of course), the sighs of relief when the pace backs off just a little as you're on the limit. A friend becoming an enemy in a split second, then back to a friend once the clock stops.
I'll add more photos as they come in over the next few days...... stay tuned.. Now I'm off to unpack the car!
Photos: Tons of pro'tographers there on the weekend. Shoot me my shots and I'll link people to your site.