Every year I’m blown away by the outstanding job the Alpine Cycling Club does at hosting this event. They’re blessed with some beautiful terrain to hold a bike race through and I can’t think of many ways they could improve upon it. The weather was beautiful, everything started on time, the competition was fierce, presentation is always done very well, and best of all, results were posted on the web as soon you crossed the finish line.

Personally, I think that the great job that they do with the results makes the weekend so much more enjoyable. Half the fun in this race was coming back to the hotel, looking up  everyone’s standings, and figuring out what you need to do to win. There’s nothing like it and I would encourage every race organiser to dedicate some of the funds towards hiring a good timing company in lieu giving away more prize money. It makes the event so much better.

The other reason I love the Tour of Bright is because it attracts riders all the way from Adelaide to Brisbane. It’s always fun arriving on Friday afternoon and going for a spin while scoping out all the kits you’ve never seen before and eyeing up the unfamiliar competition. We’re like a bunch of dogs sniffing each other’s butts.

Stage 1

I think everyone was equally gutted on Saturday morning after waking up to thunderstorms and buckets of rain pouring down. I stood there looking out the window shaking my head thinking “Not again! Can’t we just have one pleasant weekend of cycling weather this season?”

Before I finished my second cup of coffee the clouds began to break and patches of blue sky opened up. Hot damn…that Alpine Cycling Club sure knows how to make things happen! I quickly put away my embrocation and lathered myself up in sunscreen. Don’t you love it when expectations go from rock bottom to sky high?

I was racing in Masters this year and could recognise only a few names from the startlist who I knew would be strong. Once we got rolling I started to figure out that there were many guys in this group who are capable of competing for a good A-Grade result. No one said this was going to be easy, but I suddenly realised how difficult this race was actually going to be.

The Masters 1/2/3 race was basically neutralised for most of stage 1. Not long after rolling along at 30km/hr C-Grade came flying by us chasing a breakaway. Straight after they passed us and the commissaries cars got between us, C-Grade slowed down again and we were unable to pass. It was a frustrating situation riding at 25km/hr but it was our own fault. We should have been racing instead of lazily letting C-Grade pass us.

Fortunately we were able to overtake C-Grade before Tawonga Gap and free to race again. I could see all the contenders move their way to the front and knew that entering the climb in the top 5 would be essential to staying with the lead group. Up until this point no one had flexed their muscle and who was on form was still a mystery.

We hit the Tawonga climb at a blistering pace and I knew that we couldn’t hold this tempo for the whole climb. I knew from experience that the pace would settle into something more reasonable, but the question was when. I needed to dig deep while waiting for a rhythm to be set and was beginning to redline at about 2km into the climb. Riders began to lose contact and a group of 11 formed that I was fortunately part of. The pace was much higher than I expected and I was fixated on that wheel in front of me. I was trying to hide my heaving breathing and survey the body language of the other riders to get a feel for their form. I snuck a glance over at the guy’s HR monitor beside me and it was showing only 161bmp and he wasn’t even breathing. I knew I was in over my head.

With 2km left the pace started to lift back to an uncomfortable level. Everyone except for me looked strong and I was doing my best to pretend to look the same. This was the longest 2km of my life. Time stood still and it took an eternity to make it to the 1km marker. Once we got to the final kilometer the attacks started to fly and I was put in the HURT BOX where they threw away the key. At 500m to go I tried one last effort to keep in the group and reached for the BIG RING. If I was going to make it I had to stand on the 53×21 and power over the top! When I put my left hand onto the shifter and tried to make the change – nothing happened. I had no strength in my left forearm to move the derailleur over!  CRACK. I was done. Game over. I rolled through in 11th place a broken man. I need Di2…

Photo courtesy of Ex Machina Racing

Photo courtesy of Ex Machina Racing

Joe Lewis winning the A-Grade stage

Photo courtesy of Ex Machina Racing

Stage 1 details on Strava

Stage 2

After lunch and a dip in the river I felt quite refreshed. Stage 1 wasn’t particularly hard until Tawonga Gap and I still had lots of spring left in my legs. I spent most of the afternooon looking a the previous years results and figuring out who in my group could time trial and what time I needed to aim for. Conditions were still perfect and there was almost no wind. To climb up in the GC I needed to do a good time trial. I knew very well that I wouldn’t be making up any time on Mt Hotham on Sunday.

I had a secret weapon for this TT. Masters racers are notorious for having the best TT gear on the planet and I needed to up the ante. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I rocked up and found out that I was far from having the best TT rig out there amongst my competitors. That meant I was actually going to have to RIDE a good TT.

There’s not much strategy in racing a short 15km time trial. You just go as hard as you can hold on. Hammer the climbs, get aero on the descents and recover. Through the whole thing I kept asking myself “are you going as hard as you can?”. I put in my biggest effort on the final descent with 2km to the finish. I hit 70km/hr and tried to hold it there for as long as I possibly could. Again, it was the longest 2km of my life. I came through the finish line with tunnel vision and heard the announcer say “21:58 – the second fastest time”.  I could barely muster a word for 5 minutes but I was happy. There were a couple better times put in after me, but I was satisfied with my effort. I had moved up in the GC.

Alex Morgan – 16yr old in B-Grade who had the best ITT time out of everyone at the ToB. This kid’s got talent!

Women’s A-Grade winner Vicki Whitelaw

Stage 2 ITT details on Strava

Stage 3

If I was going to win this race I needed to be aggressive and attack. There was no way I could keep up with the top climbers in this group where Mt Hotham gets steep. I had two choices: 1) Either sit in the group complaisantly and settle for a top ten finish or 2) I could attack early and hopefully make it to the top of Hotham with a small group while the GC contenders expected each other to chase.

The choice was obvious. My current 7th place was the same as 107th if I sat there and took whatever was served to me. Was I there to race or to finish?  I had nothing to lose.

I decided that I’d attack after the first sprint prime. There would be a lull in the pace where I could get away. Fortunately two others had the same idea and beat me to it. I bridged up to them gladly taking the man in second position, Stuart Morgan (Darren Lapthorne’s coach) with me. The four of us worked together and rode out of site from the bunch. One of our breakaway companions dropped off just before the ascent to Mt Hotham. It was Simon Knowles, Stuart and myself who were about to face a long, tough 30km climb together. If we stayed away with a gap of 40 seconds or more, we would end up 1st, 2nd and 3rd overall.

Photo courtesy of Ex Machina Racing

As we began to climb Hotham it was quickly apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to hold Stuart’s pace. I was going into the red far too early into this massive climb and had to let Stuart go on his own. I wasn’t sure if he would be able to hold that tempo either, so I placed my bets that he would crack later on after going too hard and we would catch him.

Simon and I worked together while trying to keep Stuart in sight. We could sometimes see him rounding the next corner through the trees. After a while we saw less and less of him until he was out of reach. Once we made it to the faux plat we tried to push the pace up gain. Two against one would surely catch Stuart on the flat.

At the end of the plateau we heard the commisaire on the loud speaker say “chase group of 10 riders 30 seconds behind, peloton at 5 minutes”. Damn. We will be caught and all that work for nothing. At least we had a crack…

Soon after the chasers came storming past us. We were working our guts out trying to maintain our pace while these guys came through like we were standing still. We caught onto the group, recovered, and waited for the real pain to begin.

Now my thoughts are getting dim. I keep thinking about Tim Krabbé’s book, The Rider. Voices are going through my head the same as he writes:

CRB Hill. I don’t know what CRB stands for, but I was thinking up a few choice meanings as we continued to ride at a ridiculous pace. C@#$ R&# Berg. I’m pushing nearly 400watts. I do the math in my head. That’s only 4.9watts/kilo. I’m 82kg. These guys are only 65kg. I eat a gel. The TORQ one with lots of caffeine.

We pass a group. The commisaire says on the loudspeaker “B Grade, please move left. Leaders passing on the right”. One rider yells back “We’re not B Grade, we’re A Grade!!!”. I look at him and he laughs.

KOM, 1km to go. The pace lifts. I slowly drift back and lose contact with this group of climbers still tapping away like it’s nothing. The commisaire announces “Lead rider 30 seconds ahead”. The pace lifts again. I’m pushing as hard as I can. I look at my power meter. The numbers displayed nearly crack me. I take my power meter off and put it in my back pocket.

Painted on the road “Go Miranda!”. Who’s Miranda? I saw her name painted on The Meg KOM as well. She must be a good climber. I don’t see my name painted anywhere.

I shift to my 26T and concede defeat. I want to hold onto a top 10 position so I push on. Only one more corner to go and then I’ll see the summit. It’s not long. I keep pushing as hard as I can.

I turn the corner. NO!!!  A descent and then another massive climb. I can’t believe I forgot about this one. Hotham, you are a bitch.

I’m riding alone. The sun is hot but the breeze is cool. I can see the lead group up ahead beginning to splinter with the attacks in the final kilometers. I should have dug deeper to hung on. Maybe the pace slowed and I could have done it. I should have been out training in the rain during this miserable winter. That’s what these guys did and they’re up there, I’m back here. Next year…

I was happy to make it to the top and nearly catch the last guy in that final select group. I still didn’t know who won until I bumped into Stuart after the finish line. I asked Stuart if he held it off,  and he nodded his head with a modest smile. It couldn’t have been won by a nicer guy with bigger balls. He had everything to lose but took the race by the horns and took both the stage wins and GC.

Stuart Morgan soloing to the finish up Mt Hotham

Photo courtesy of Ex Machina Racing

Stage 3 Mt Hotham details on Strava

I found some old photos of riders climbing Mt Hotham back in 1949. Check out this forum for more pics of these hardmen!