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The Hard Road – Part 1 – The Rookie

The Hard Road – Part 1 – The Rookie

The Hard Road – Part 1

(6 Years from Beginner to Masters Champion)

In thinking of stories to write that could inform and inspire riders like myself to succeed, I decided on my 6 year journey from D grade last place to MMAS3 National Champion of Champions. My hope is this story will provide future champions or just regular Masters Riders some insight into the path I followed and the mistakes and success I had in that time.

Part 1 2006 The Rookie

In 2006 I was 35 years old, 92kgs, unfit and very inactive. As a child, teenager and in my 20s I played the usual sports, cricket, soccer, bit of tennis, etc, I played at a better than average level, I could always run forever, enjoyed  middle distance athletics but in my last 5 years I had played no sport, no  exercise of any kind and the midriff was showing.

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I had always been interested in The Tour De France sucked along with the Lance Armstrong wave like everyone else but never really considered racing a bike, to be honest I didn’t even realise as a nonprofessional you could…One day I Nowra I remember seeing a couple of riders dressed in blue kit on “race bikes” by the side of the road as I drove past one day, got me thinking surely they must ride or race somewhere? So I began the search for information, does a club exist, where do they meet, do they train etc, I ended up in Bomaderry Cycles owned by the legendary Doug Holland. I had bought a bike from Doug before a few years ago for commuting.

A quick chat with Doug (long time secretary of the Nowa Velo club) he said they were racing next Sunday and to come out for a look. So I turned up that Sunday unsure of what to expect. About 20 riders of all shapes and sizes were there, they ran a few short handicap races around the 2km long course in the industrial estate. My initial thoughts were “Oh yea looks pretty easy…..” yea right how wrong I was. But I was hooked instantly everything about it screamed I had to give it a try how hard could it be right?

Now what? I had no knowledge no experience, no bike, no nothing. Where else did one go in 2006 in search of knowledge, the internet of course oh and eBay. The early budget wasn’t great so we wouldn’t be buying new for the first one. Carbon? Alloy? Steel? What size? What model? 10 speed? 9 speed? I had no idea!! I ended up selecting a 9 speed steel Super Prodigy Cervelo off eBay for $1500. My first helmet, shoes and cycling kit were all the lowest end of the range, it had a 12-23 cassette (relevant later) very basic alloy rims.

Now that I had the bike and the gear training, what the hell do you need to do training wise? A few books later revealed one thing that the smart ones write books that don’t actually tell you how to train, not day by day or week by week, vague generalisation that basically were designed to get you to buy their training programs so you pay them more money (Also relevant later). So I did the only thing I could think of, met the local bunch every morning and did what they did. Well it wasn’t every morning to start with (not fit enough for that). Started at once a week, the easiest ride just 60min recovery ride and my education in bunch riding began. Do this do that, don’t do that and never ever do that…. It took a while but it sunk in eventually. I remember my first attempt to ride the Thursday bunch, 45 min 30 km swap off or rolling turns, 38-36km/h I couldn’t roll turns just hung on the back, they rode in the same gear to control the pace so I’m spinning like crazy as well. Got to the final 500m and they took off for the sprint, and they just dropped me cold, just couldn’t believe how fast they went so quickly…my response to that pasting set the scene for the next 6 years to come, I had performed at a good level in every sport I had played until now and I had never been handed my arse so convincingly by what effectively we’re just a typical club bunch. As they rode off into the distance my demoralization was tempered by my determination that I would get to the point where they wouldn’t do that to me again. For any rider looking to improve I believe this point is critical, for every pasting I received in the years to come I resolved to come back more determined than ever so as not to have it happen again.

After a massive two weeks of riding I decided I was ready to tackle my first race. Surely I was fit enough by now. I rocked up with my Steel Cervelo my new Polar CAD 200 head unit and HR strap all worded up on my HR threshold ready to race. Today was scratch day 2 races of 6 laps about 15km. D grade was the lowest grade there was myself, and a coach with two of his young female charges 13 and 15 years old. Surely this wasn’t fair letting me race young girls….how will the girls cope with their drubbing at the hands of this 35 year old man…

That day would be etched into my brain for all eternity, we rolled off HR straight to 170 I was on the back going WTF, half a lap later about 1200 meters, boom out went the lights and the trio just road away, dropped cold by two young girls…..although in my defense they were both actually quite good riders in the Illawarra Academy etc but it still hurt. Similar to the training ride I was just so determined to avenge my humiliation I set my first ever cycling goal, don’t get dropped!!!!! As I finished all 6 laps I was literally the last rider to finish in all grades and they were ready to start the next race, I respectfully declined to do another one as I was completely stuffed and needed to lie down.

I continued to ease myself into the bunch rides, avoiding the super hard HOP on the Tuesday but ride 5 days a week every morning. The very next weekend it was the next race same format same girls…this time I lasted 3 laps then dropped, having never before seen my HR reach such high numbers surely I must be close to death….in my 4 th ever race riding off go with 3 other riders, 12 laps same course about 30km, we weren’t caught by the rest, I wasn’t dropped and I sprinted for the win. I think my riding partners were a bit kind to me but in such a short space of time I had gone from experiencing the worst feeling a bike rider can have to the best feeling you can have.

For the next 6 months I won 4 more times I went from go to block moving back through each grade and each bunch with every win finally being put in A grade on the eve of the club championship events. I was blessed with a cardio system that responded perfectly to the demands of cycling but cursed with progressing so fast through the bunches that I wasn’t really learning anything. My wins were based on brute force and no tactics. Training wise I was up to 4 bunch rides a week even giving the HOP a crack in bunch 2, around 3 months in I was determined to take on our local mountain, Cambewarra, 5.2km long average 8% gradient. Remember my rear cassette…12-23, let’s just say my first attempt ended within the first 500m😢Determined a visit to Doug’s and a 12-25 fitted we gave it another crack. To this day I don’t think I have been closer to God and not in a good way.27 incredibly painful minutes later I reached the top to wide grins from my much fitter and stronger club mates who clearly enjoyed to pain on my face.

Our club Championship events were a hill climb, time trial and road race. The hill climb came first, 6km at 7% gradient but pinches at 15%. Still carrying about 78kg and still riding the same bike, crap wheels, etc I was 5thout of 5 in the hill climb. Next was the Time trial 20km long and out and back course, at Kangaroo Valley I slapped on a set of Aerobars and came in 3rd behind future NRS rider Michael Troy and club legend Bruce Williams, the only rider in the club at stage with an actual time trial bike.

It was the only TT for the year and didn’t inspire me to do more that was still to come. The final championship race was the road race. At that time the Nowra club had some excellent riders, the likes of Kev Poulton, Adam Rourke, Robbie Williams, Jason Caldwell, Tim Adams, these guys had all been riding for years and a good level and when they all turned up to race it was pretty intimidating. The road race for the most part was pretty benign, it came down to a bunch finish and with absolutely nothing to lose I went early (a sign of poor judgment that would haunt me later) but on this occasion they all just watched me go….by the time they reacted it was too late over the line first, from dropped in D grade to Club champion in 9 months..

I can remember crossing the line to basically stunned silence as no one could believe with all the talent in the bunch this rank rookie had won the race. Little did I know that as great as the success would feel it set me up for a brutal 2007 as the reality of the grading system came home to roost.

Some footnotes to the year, I raced the local inter club series and picked up 2nd or 3rd place in the overall along with club mate Dave Morris again courtesy of some generous  handicapping as we were unknowns. I did upgrade my cycling kit a bit throughout the year, but the bike, shoes wheels helmet all stayed as budget best. I won 5 local races for the year having raced about 25 times.

One of my fondest memories of that year was in a local scratch race, the late Robbie Williams was racing then he must have been around 19 or 20, he attacked the bunch early and I napped to be right there and followed the wheel. A minute down the road I looked behind and we were gone… for the next 20 odd kms, Robbie clearly the stronger rider rode with me, helping the weaker rider to not blow but also allowing me to contribute, I have no doubt he could have ridden away without me and still won, but no he showed patience and consideration and rode unselfishly to keep the Rookie on the wheel. He dropped me cold with 2km to go lol but I was safe by then to get 2nd place. The race meant a lot to me then but later after Robbie’s tragic passing several years later it now has a special place in my heart.

For each year I will give a break down of my typical KMs ridden and weekly training and any Notable race performances

Weekly Hours 7-10

Weekly kms 200-250

Typical weeks training

Monday           off

Tuesday          Bunch ride 40km became HOP

Wednesday     Bunch ride 40km Became Mountain ride

Thursday         Bunch ride 40km swappio

Friday              Recovery ride 30km

Saturday          Bunch ride long 40-80km

Sunday            Race day 2 per month or 60 km endurance


4 local race wins mainly handicaps

3rd overall Interclub Series

A grade road race winner

In part 2 reality hits home with a thud as I come to grips with riding off scratch, and having no idea what I am doing or how to fix it. I buy my first power meter and enter a whole new world.

Pic 2 1

Picture of Damian Mason

Damian Mason

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