The Hard Road
Part 6 – 2011, The Golden Age
2011 was a great year for a few professionals riding in Europe.Most notably our own Cadel Evans who won theTour De France, Phillipe Gilbert dominated the season and was almost unbeatable; and tucked away in lowly Australia a 40 year old working father of 3 climbed to the highest pinnacle of his sport and for, oh such a short period, saw there was no one above him….
After the mixed season of 2010, I started 2011 probably more determined than ever to unravel the mystery of how to win. I didn’t need to train harder or smarter, I was already doing that. But I did need to develop a race strategy that suited me and my strengths and weaknesses. I needed a race plan full stop. I can honestly say to this point I had never entered a race and asked myself, “OK, so how are we going to win today”. I just turned up and waited to see what would happen. This inevitably meant things hardly ever happened, because if you don’t know how you are going to win how the hell do you know when that time comes.
So we developed a plan. A bunch finish had to be the last resort. My goal in every race (except handicaps) was to work out when I was going up the road. The questions would be, do I respond to someone else’s attack, do I initiate my own, do I go early or late? The answers lay in my own form and condition, the nature of the road/terrain, who was racing, and the weather – factors such as crosswinds. I would apply this thought process to every race – local, State or National.
With the benefit of hindsight I can look back at the previous 5 years and know that, of course, this was the year it would all happen. But at the start of 2011 this was far from the truth. My theory was untested, and the nature of the race plan meant it was going to be bloody hard work. It meant I would often work harder and longer, but thr difference was that I would be dictating the race.
To make this plan work I had to address several weaknesses in my armoury. I could ride all day at a steady pace, which was great for time trials and handicaps, but crap for the stop/start nature of a scratch race. The ability to launch multiple attacks and respond in kind was something I had never trained for. So that year I worked on 1min to 5 min anaerobic to VO2 efforts, short steep hills in and out of the saddle. Less TT work, more crits, and being less predictable in local races.
Indeed my first win that year was a local scratch race on our longer criterium course, with Mark, Kev Poulton, and I the only real protagonists. With a few laps to go I attacked and gapped Kev. Mark had agreed not to chase but to force Kev to do the work. It worked. I rode solo to the finish. Looking back, it was a pretty low level event with only a couple of riders, one of whom was working for me.But the benefit was mental. It was literally the first time I had ever attacked on my own in any race. If you think about it as 5 years with 20+ races a year, that’s a pretty crap statistic.
This is obviously not the magic formula to race wins. Nine out of 10 times you’ll get caught or blow. But if you keep fronting up, and putting yourself into the game, eventually you will force the result. Remember my best ever sprint was 1250 watts (???) so this was the best option. Even if the break succeeded you still had to beat those in the break with you. I resolved that if I was beaten on the day, then it would be by a better rider and that would be fine by me.
So with the new plan in mind, the season’s goals were hatched. Bear in mind, I wasn’t racing necessarily to win. I’m not wired that way. I just wanted to compete at the highest level and have a chance to fight it out. The goals were States in Goulburn on a pretty tough course with lots of hills for once, the crit on a tight twisty car track, Calga again for TT, and Nationals at my favourite place of all – Ballarat. Another Canberra Tour, off to do the Battle on the Border at Tweed Heads in late May, and Tour of Bright in December to finish off the year.
By now Mark and I were also obsessed with aero. We started wearing skin suits in road races, running our deep rims whenever the wind would allow, and wearing booty covers and aero gloves. We rocked up to the State MMAS 3 road race looking like we were early for the Time trial,. Sure, we got our fair share of looks and funny remarks, but by the end of that race no one was laughing.
This was easily the fittest I had been, touching 360 in FTP, and the leanest at around 73kg. With both of us back in the same age group, the plan was pretty simple. “I’m going up the road so make sure you come across.”
I had worked out that Mark had a much better engine than me in the shorter, harder, efforts andwhile he could cover me I would struggle to get to him. So from that day, I always went first. The course was rolling for the first 60km then it turned nasty with a lot of climbing before a nice 10km flat run.
I attacked within the first 2km taking a couple of riders with me. They held us for a while, but the other riders weren’t working so we started to come back. When the bunch was about 100m behind, I went again dropping the other riders and taking another two with me. We got out to a lead of about 200m when Mark hit them, and amazingly they just let him go. He covered the distance across to us in short order and the 4 of us drove it hard.
The other two were either being cagey or not strong enough as they started to miss turns. I felt awesome I just drove the shit out of it. We lost number 4 as we turned for the hills and number 3 was a passenger by this stage. Mark was riding smarter than me and while he worked well, he was never on his limit.
We hit the climbs and suddenly it started to hurt. Mark came into his own, driving it at the front A few times I had to reel him in. I had cooked it and needed to control the pace to finish it off. By the time we descended into the final run home, I was toast. The third rider had agreed to take third so in my mind we just needed to bring it home. My mistake was not to tell Mark it was his race and we should just make sure we get 1,2. With about 2km to go he hit us. I should have let him go but I chased and burnt my last match. The cling-on said thanks very much and rolled me for an easy 2nd place.
This was another painful lesson., I had learned to control the effort but I lacked killer instinct and trusted too much. I was pretty pissed with Mark and made sure he knew it. I was happy to concede it had been his race not that I had any say in it anyway. But in the end all’s fair in a road race and while it was a bitter pill, it made me ready for the next one. We beat the bunch home by 6min by the way, so no more laughing…
Next day was the crit at the raceway. Mark was under strict instructions NOT to do that again. I really wanted to win this one and I was going to make it happen. The plan was similar – go up the road make it work, Mark was to defend me from behind and, if I failed, take the win.
This was my best race to date. I attacked repeatedly early until 3 of us forged a 15 sec gap. The nature of the track meant we could see the gap several times every lap ,so you could counter every chase. We simply kept the gap locked, and responded when necessary. Mark rode the perfect spoiler race, jumping on anyone who tried to come across. He tried himself a few times but they covered him and risked bringing them across. He knew his life would be over if that happened. The two in the break were not strong and sat on a lot. They promised me the win, which I had heard before, only yesterday…I attacked them on the last lap and rode to a 5 sec win with hands raised in my first road win at that level.
Mark won the road, I won the crit and I backed it up with a win in the TT a couple of months later. Mark didn’t race the TT or Nationals later in the year due the first of his severe back injuries.
Next up was Battle on the Border in Tweed Heads. A rare race for Masters in that it was a tour. Short TT, 2 road stages, and a crit over 4 days. We timed it to have a holiday with my brother and his family from Brisbane.Well, we raced and they went off and did shit. Riding Masters A was the hardest racing I had done. These guys had Masters teams, all with good solid A grade riders. This would be my first taste of team tactics and I didn’t have a team.
I got 3rd in the TT, only a few seconds down, but a break on stage 2 turned that on its head. I tried to go with it, but teammates jumped on me instantly. Unsure of what to do, I went back to the bunch.There were teams that missed out, but they couldn’t coordinate themselves to chase effectively. So now I was 4th with 1 and 2 out of reach. But a podium was still possible.
On the second road stage I must have gone up the road 6-7 times only to be pulled back every time,. I wasn’t always alone either, there were two of us trying constantly. Eventually they let him go but literally corralled me against the gutter to stop me launching attacks..
Down to 7th, and the crit to finish, a crazy technical course through a housing development with the longest stretch maybe 200m. I held onto 7th but was powerless against the power of the winning teams. I was strong, and rode well, but was out-muscled. This tour, combined with States, allowed me to relax in the knowledge that I was where I need to be and I was mixing it up at the front. Surely success wasn’t far away.
Back to Ballarat for Nationals. No Mark, so the TT was up for grabs. Peter was still MMAS 2 so maybe this was the year. I made the trip with good mate, Scott Butler, a prodigious talent but for various reasons,yet to unleash his best.
I was in good form in the TT pushing 370 watts through the SRM for 20km. I had lifted my saddle position from last year, looking for more power. The course was essentially flat with maybe a slight downhill out or false flat return but with a tailwind both legs were fast. I rode the best TT I had ridden to date, right on the money . Surely it was enough…..2nd by 25sec! WTF!! Andrew Patten, who improved his time by over 90 seconds from last year took the win with Scott taking bronze. But it was National silver, my best result to date.
Next up was the crit. I was pretty confident. I felt good on the bike, I honestly felt I could do anything. A mini disaster the night before blew the tubular on my rear 90,. There was no quick fix for tomorrow so had to borrow one of Scott’s rears. It looked a bit funny with a 90 on the front and 45 on the rear. What I didn’t do was check the cluster, I just assumed it had an 11 on it. Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups.
We hatched a plan to attack early and force a break. Masters bunches can be a bit funny. None of them really want to work together as I had found out in previous races to my cost, so we planned to capitalise on this. Scott lived up to his word and attacked literally in the first 100m. Shit! I was boxed in on the left, so nothing for it but onto the grass up the inside after him. Icovered him pretty quickly and drove it. There was one other attempt to come across, but we were gone.
As always, the SRM would play up at critical moments. No power, whatever, just race. I felt awesome, I honestly felt we could ride away. But Scott didn’t, share that. He was struggling and pulling shorter and shorter turns. With about 15 mins to go we saw a chase bunch of 6 coming across. I felt we could hold them off but Scott thought otherwise and dropped off.For about 10 secs I was in two minds – go or wait. There was maybe 10 mins to go…I sat up and made it a group of 8. It was a strong group with everyone working, but with two laps to go the gloves were off.
It was purely tactical from here.Go?Wait to sit?Or work? I felt strong and the finish was fast, so with the right wheel it was open to whoever got the best jump. For once I was calm ,I waited, picked the right wheels, and didn’t show my hand. With 200m to go and positioned on 4th wheel, I kicked first. Down the left, I ranged up on the leader desperately looking for another gear…Nope , not there.As we came to the line, he swerved just a fraction, which just pushed me to the barrier. Chance gone,another 2nd, withScott again coming home for a great thirdI would race the winner,Richard Allen,again many times – an awesome rider and sprinter.
Back at the hotel, I counted the rear cluster. A 12. One more tooth. It was my own fault, I should have checked.
With two 2nds, Scott was actually my biggest threat for the overall title. Andrew didn’t factor in the crit, so I had 3 points on him and a good result in the road would get me home. My job was simple. I had to be aggressive and make the race come to me, not allow others to dictate the result.
It was another awesome Ballarat day; – cold, rainy and windy. Dejavu anyone? This year, however, everything was on the line. I was focused and ready, fit, and in form.
We rolled off into the rain and wind.Vision was rubbish.There were smattered everal attacks on the first lap but none got away. I simply covered, but never as first responder. I rolled the dice a bit, chancing that everyone with fresh legs would be keen to keep it together early.
The rain had stopped by lap 2 and a rider had casually slipped off the front in the tail wind. He was maybe 100 m up the road.Instinctively ,I didn’t attack, but with Scott on the front I simply accelerated across to him. The bunch was doing nothing which made it easy, so I tapped him on the bum and said, “Let’s go”. Within minutes, we were out of sight. I couldn’t believe they just let us go.
Hammer down, we had to drive into the headwind and fly with the tailwind, but above all be consistent as I knew that once we were out of sight the bunch wouldn’t be. We got the lead out to 3 mins, which was about 2km at that speed. We were gone!!!
With 3 laps to go and SRM dead AGAIN,I had to measure my work rate. Remembering States, I rolled good turns but always stayed in control. My mate, however, had all the telltale body language of someone pushing big turns. I have to admit he was awesome. We worked together, kept it even, pulled even turns and neither of us missed a turn or played games until we knew we were safe.
Last lap. I still felt great. His turns had weakened and I knew exactly how he felt. We waited for the final run home, about 5km downwind. He went first. I covered then countered immediately. He caught me then went again. I covered, waited, then went again. With 1 km to go, he covered but didn’t regain the wheel. He was maybe 5 m behind. I can only assume he wanted a run up. With 300m to go, I didn’t want to wait. I went and didn’t look back, arse up head down, most likely the slowest sprint finish in history ! Lol. He never recovered the 5m. Over the line, the cross wind was so bad it was only a single-handed salute this time.
Oh my god!I had won the race and the overall title, 2 mins over the chasing bunch. It was the perfect race, the perfect week. It was a week where everything worked except the SRM..I wasn’t even tired, it was just pure joy.Wearing the jersey on top of the podium was an amazing feeling. Scott finished in the chasing pack, no doubt frustrated. He said they wound it up a few times but it would always breakdown within minutes as not everyone would pull their weight. A few weeks later he was diagnosed with glandular fever.
I’m realistic. There are, like, 10 categories in Masters. I wasn’t the best rider in the world, in Australia, or even in Victoria. But on that day ,in that week, of those who competed or could have, the top step was mine and I wasn’t giving it back. The trip home was somewhat surreal. I was ecstatic with the win but also had a sense of now what? I had worked for this for only a few years in reality and it was done. Would backing up to do it again be enough?
For the next few months I felt like I was walking/riding on clouds. Nothing mattered anymore, I even wore the jersey once in a local road race then had it mounted with the medals for posterity. The local season closed out with a bang, I set a new club record in the Hill climb of 15.51 at 384 watts. I set a PB in the time trial at 19.30 to win in Marks absence and narrowly lost to a certain Mr Carmelotti in the road race.
The season almost over I received some amazing news. Dean Clark of Torq Nutrition was adding to his already successful MTB team by adding a Team into the National Road Series for 2012. We all caught up at the Tour of Bright in December. This was not one of my better races, I had been on it for 11 months pretty much and with toilet replacement dramas at home I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone to a very distressed wife. I blew up on both mountain stages despite making the selection each time, the bunch road away from me on the two climbs as I could barely hold 320 watts. My only claim to fame is beating Jack Haig in the TT…admittingly it was his first ride on a TT bike. I like to think that pasting at the hands of his 40 year old teammate, inspired him to greatness over the following years.
Due to multiple requests I will write one more blog detailing my NRS endeavours and a brief report on future races before my retirement from State and National races.
Weekly Hours 10-14
Weekly kms 300-400
Typical weeks training Alternate peak phase
Tuesday Vo2 5 x 5min @112-120% FTP
Wednesday 2 hours endurance 70-75%ftp
Thursday VO2 intermittent efforts 5min @100% FTP then 10 by 30 sec @140% FTP THEN 5 MIN 100% FTP 5min recover repeat 2 times
Friday Recovery ride 30km
Saturday 3 hours endurance Mix up @65-120% FTP
Sunday Race day + 2 hours easy endurance
Club Championships results
Road Race 2nd
Time Trial 1st 19.30 PB
Hill climb 1stClub record 15.51
Road race 3rd
Time Trial 1st
Time trial 2nd
Road race 1st
Over all MAAS3 Champion of champions.
Part 7 EPILOGUE NRS and beyond