Monday, 23 April 2012

Northern Combine: Hell of the West - 2012

This race needs no introduction. For me it is one of the highlights on the club road racing calendar each year. Even with the NRS and Open racing on elsewhere the grades filled in record time, catching many riders out. This year was my 4th Hell of the West. Balliang has always been a favourite location since my 2nd road race there back in 2006 (pre-blog race report here).

Around 26 riders made the A Grade cut. Sponsors/team riders were from Kosdown, Bike Gallery, BikeForce, John West, Sole-devoGiant/GiantVotion (guys, what are you called these days?), along with representation from clubs. The attacks started pretty early on, solo riders taking it to the teams trying to get off the front. It was pretty evident that nothing was going to get away. Regardless of what jersey you had on, the selection was going to be made on the climb up the 13.5% 1km long Glenmore Rd hill. There is no amount of team work that will get you up that beast.

We hit the dirt minus two riders (mechanical/punctures) and lost another within a few 100m on the dirt. Hell was living up to its name only 19km into the race. The lead car was kicking up dust, riders were smashing the big ring with their rear wheels skipping all over the road, a few gaps started to open up. I was somewhere mid pack and loving every bit. The pace slowed up on the final km of dirt allowing a few riders to rejoin the main bunch.

From where I sat in the bunch I could see Samaras and Welsh (both Kosdown) driving the bunch for the next 25kms to the base of the climb. It was a case of sit on, shut up, and enjoy the ride. Everyone was delivered to the base of the climb never having to hit the wind, and nobody was up the road. If you're a contender you're marked anyway, there is no hope you'll get away from the other hitters when the real race selection is dictated by the berg.

Fergus Sully (BikeGallery) attacked at the base of the climb and easily took the KOM points, if there were any. Next over in order was Brent Woodcock (SKCC), Nick Katsonis (Kosdown), Oliver Phillips (Brunswick), Deano Sanfilippo (John West), me, Shannon Johnson (Kosdown), Jason Laird (Kosdown), and Ben Douglass (BikeForce). Across the top I drove the pace to keep the gaps behind us open. I didn't want anyone getting back on. I was content to keep driving it myself, then Phillips rolled though to give me a breather, much appreciated! We swept up all lead riders except for Sully who took a few kms to pull back from his solo stomp. This group of eight was the selection. Three of us worked turns on the front to make it stick. The others enjoyed the ride.

The race had unfolded exactly like last year. The selection made at 60km into the race, leaving a few working turns and a few passengers. Time to start riding to our strengths, and mine is no secret. Not riding with others. So off I went.... and was chased down. Off I went again... and chased down. Off I went... you get the picture. Katsonis threw in a few attacks. Laird jumped up a short rise and was allowed 50m up the road for a few kms before Sanfilippo pulled him in with a nice burst on the front. Shortly after, Woodcock and I had a two-up break with 100m gap for a few km... again we were shut down by the always attentive bunch.

Trying to go solo. Photo by Michael McRitchie
There was good reason the selection was made up of these riders. There was no 'got in a lucky break' or bunch positioning advantage that can happen on a flat course. They'd all stomped over that climb, no drafting, and each of them had the legs and experience to win it. Here was my rider breakdown as I was on the attack and not causing too much damage. Well, no visible damage anyway. Katsonis, Phillips, and Sanfilippo all have good track smarts.... experienced at watching moves.. jumping on them... and have a good turn of speed. Douglass is a steam train that can shut anything down given a few crank turns to get his engine up to speed. Laird was a climber and had cooked himself for a few kms in a solo break. Woodcock was an unknown to me but motored along in the small break we had, we might be able to get away again?... Sully was a pocket rocket, best climber by far and also willing to throw in an attack. Johnson is unbeatable in a sprint, if the group stayed together we were racing for 2nd, he'd have us all for breakfast.

At 10km out my attacks were getting sorter and shorter. I had to apologise to a rider on my wheel when one of my jumps opened a gap and I had nothing to keep driving the pace, the legs were shot. I'd resigned myself to tapping it over on the front and watching them disappear up the road when the bunch kick to the line went. I went to the front to tap over a tempo that should keep everyone happy enough to sit on and sprint. Johnson should have covered from here. A few minutes went by then Sully attacks solo. Farrrrkkkk.... ouch... 15 seconds all-out and I was across to him.... the others still on my wheel. Tempo again. Rolling past the section where Elliott and I attacked last year for the win. Onto the final 3km long straight section of road. I dropped back to Johnson and told him I'd have one more shot, failing that I'd lead the bunch out with whatever I had left. At that moment Sully attacks again and I burn the final match I had to respond to that move rather than initiate my own. I get across, he spots me and slows, I launch off his wheel from there solo.

I took one look back and with the bunch hesitating I had to give it a shot. What I thought was 1km left to race was 2.5km. These would be the 3 of the longest minutes of the race. The Glenmore hill effort an hour earlier was tame compared to this. The finish line only came into sight at 1km to go. I still had a gap, the bunch was now single file and storming towards me. Almost impossible to explain how much thinking goes into this moment. If I could hurt myself a little more, now is when it counts. If this is the only race I win for the rest of the year, make it this one, it is the f'cking Hell of the West. 10kms ago I'd talked myself out of still being a contender in the race. Here I was out the front with less than 1km to go. Head down. Holding form. I've no idea where the energy was coming from but the power meter kept lifting. I slowly watched the specs in the distance turn into people.... then into a chequered flag waving... one last head check... it took everything out of me, I got it. Back to back Hell of the West wins. The finish line shots tell the story.

Some might say it is only a club race. Some might say we had the numbers and it was a sure thing. Read above, I'll disagree.

Full results here
Thanks to Rod and Jo Upton, Adam Katsonis, and Michael McRitchie for the photos.


Caboose said...

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner! WOOHHHOO! Great Report.

BamBam said...

Great Report. I felt like I was in the race. Dropped on the climb.
Well done. TT training helps.