On Friday, Kylie and I loaded up the Kluger and hit the road for the 4 and a half hour cruise up north. We took the scenic Peats Ridge Road down direct to Wollombi to check out the Tourist drive and scenic surroundings.
Before leaving I put together a road trip playlist to make the hours on the road tick by. Top ten were as follows
1: Paradise City - Guns n Roses
2: Back from Cali - Slash featuring Myles Kennedy
3: Dude looks like a lady - Aerosmith
4: Kickstart my Heart - Motley Crue
5: Pour some Sugar on me - def Leppard
6: Nothing but a good time - Poison
7: Walk this way - Run DMC featuring Aerosmith
8: Gone Away - The offspring
9: Wanted Dead or Alive: Bon Jovi
10: Sweet child of mine - Guns n Roses
Ok, so I probably had a bit of a theme going on here, but it got me through the Sydney traffic, which after cruising at 125km/hr on the freeways, felt like a rat race.
Driving down into Wollombi we crossed an ancient bridge which, according to a plaque, stated that it was made by convict labour back in the 1800's. That was pretty cool.
The next thing I thought of, was, 'what do people do out here'? I mean, this is about 90 minutes from Newcastle and Sydney. Apart from farming, what do you do? I guess you could be retired, running/hiding from the law, or doing some shady undertakings. It was pretty remote to say the least.
During the week, I assisted Jason McAvoy and Garry James with some race recce intelligence in the form of some total BS about there being 200 metres of fireroad before hitting up tight twisty singletrack that climbed for 9km. This got them a little worried about start tactics and thoughts of crazy climbing conga lines. I also mentioned that there might be mountain lions out there also. It seemed funny at the time, but all I can think of now is that Jase will use his IT skills and hack into my blog and make it look different....
I also made two other predictions for the weekend. First one was that the race could be done in 2 hours and 31 minutes. The second one came after the Saturday morning road bunch ride where Andy Blair was riding 'like a man possessed' to quote Phil Liggett. After that ride, I logged onto centrebet and put $1000 on 'Manly Flair' for the win.
Guys, I am telling you.... SO much singletrack climbing out there!
We hooked up with the Radical Factory Team boys for a bit of course recce late friday arvo. We scouted the first bit all the way up to the KOM point. Seemed like 4% over 5km like the profile displayed. NOT! There were some cool 15% stem chewing gradients out there that would take a bit of sting out of the legs, and as we predicted, would pretty much be the initial selection point.
After regrouping at the bottom of the decent, we were amazed by these 3 train carriages covered in moss, totally in the middle of nowhere. There was a dog outside the nearby house and eerily enough, after saying hello to him, he just stared at me blankly. Not even a woof. Garry went for a look inside one of the carriages, not exactly sure what for though. Far off in the distance, we could hear some banjoes playing, a cold wind blew through, and we decided collectively to get the hell out of dodge. Pretty freaky!
We then drove back to Cessnock for the night, at the Cumberland Motel. This turned out to be a pretty cool spot. Not bad for $113. Huge rooms, plenty of room for all the associated crap that you take to a bike race.
'Dinner' - pretty close to Dog Spew - yes, I ate it.
After getting a decent night's sleep (for a race) I was up before the alarm, and we were soon on the road to Wollombi munching on banana bread for breakfast. Being a local Canberran I am pretty used to the cold, but it never gets easier. To say it was a bit fresh would be a slight understatement. Warm up was a relative term used for a process of going through the motions. For a fleeting moment, I thought of even racing in arm and leg warmers, but ultimately, I thought a cup of HTFU would be more appropriate.
At 8:10am, we were off. A totally stacked Elite men's field scampered to get out of the start chute and get the race on. With a fair bit of fireroad on offer for 4 or so km before the climb started, the pace was the usual up and down pace depending on who was on the front. as soon as we hit the steep climb, the fireworks started going off. Blairy and Trenton Day flexed their climbing muscles and were off. I looked around and could see Lewis, Morris, Hall, Hughes, Glennan, English, Fleming, Shippard, Jackson, and a few others. This was ok, pretty much who I expected to be there at this stage.
After the 3rd climb we were through the KOM point and in for some descending. We weren't let down. I hit 80.7km/hr fully tucked down a super awesome descent. as usual, these never last long enough, and you realise that it usually means another block of climbing. This next climb however, was not as steep as the initial climbs, and was more like a 4% true gradient. The pace was high, everyone was still there, and we were only 16km into the race.
There were a few interestingly marked corners where we had already blown through a wrong turn. A bit to do with race head, and a bit to do with ambiguity of signage. At around the 35km mark, I could sense Jason English starting to get a bit twitchy and got on his wheel. We saw a black arrow and took the left. To a dead end.... We called back to the group ' wrong way' and proceeded along the firetrail again. Again, about 5 minutes later English and Troy Glennan started to up the pace going up a slight rise.
I was sitting on Hall's wheel and noticed that the pace was starting to rise, and could feel no one sitting on my wheel. It was time to up the pace myself and get over to that train that was about to leave. Pretty soon, we had a gap, and it was not being brought back. A couple of minutes later we saw Blair and Day heading back towards us!! Oh yeah, this was the dual direction bit of road. A minute later, we had our 180 degree turn. Luckily this allowed us to see the pack that was still chasing hard. So Troy ramped the pace. After about the 46km mark, I was dangling a little off the back of English and Glennan having lost contact by about 50 metres and falling into no-mans land. However, I knew now that all of the climbing was complete, and worked hard for a minute or so to get back onto the wheels of the two motors in front of me.
After dropping back down to the lowlands beside the creek, we were now hauling at 40km/hr working as a group equally to keep the pace high. We hit a few of the creeks and were met with some freezing cold water that made the legs feel a little bit shorter!
Wheels of choice - ENVE deep dish carbon. #PRO white spokes
Now I could probably beat Glennan in a limbo contest and definitely beat English in a 'smooth legs' stand off, but today like most days, I was not beating them on the bike. Glennan attacked and I just worked hard to minimise the losses rolling in for 5th place. Andy Blair had taken the win from Trenton Day, with English and Glennan for 3rd and 4th respectively.
Drama unfolded 2 minutes after I crossed the line with a bunch of about 5 riders trying to hit the narrow entrance for the finish chute at the same time. Out of the cloud of dust, Andrew Hall led through Justin Morris whilst the others picked themselves up off the ground.
Magic 8 ball - what will be the time taken to finish this race?
Bit of a fast race going on here.