Look away now if you are only interested in dirt, mud and mountain biking. I have never blogged about a road race. Mostly because there is not usually much to write as they are short and somewhat formulaic, and as such it would usually go like this “Group ride, with a few failed breakaways with a bunch sprint finish.” Add to this, that I usually miss the important part of these races…The sprint finish. The Cunningham Classic in general is different, and this one (and I might be a little biased here) was A LOT different.

This was my 2nd Cunningham Classic, with my participation last year in the 30th running of the event, exceeding my expectations and leaving me looking forward to this year’s event as soon as I crossed the line. What I liked was climb up the range, the rarely flat terrain, even the fabled head and cross winds for which the Cunningham Classic is renowned, but most of all I liked the 96k distance. It certainly makes for tougher and more interesting racing than a criterium at the Nundahdome.

Like last year, Masters B was divided into 2 groups, each with around 50 riders. I was number 51. I was happy to see a couple of mates in my group, first timer Dillon Price, and Sean Dench, who knows how I race, and we figured we might be able to make a breakaway work with 10k or so to go. The main aim would be to keep my nose out of the wind and not chase down every break.

On the start line in Gatton, the conditions for the 31st edition of the Cunningham Classic were looking ideal, a bright sunny day, around 18 degrees, and only a slight breeze. However, I knew from my experience last year that the wind conditions in Gatton were usually calmer than over the range.

Cunningham Classic Course

Master B1 had race start of 9:30 and we casually rolled off with a neutral zone until we were safely on the main road. It was not long after being released, that a solo rider made a break, the race had started already. Sean edged toward the front, and I followed figuring that I’d try stick close to him and we’d see what panned out. The solo rider was quickly brought back to the bunch without too much effort. Then a 2 man break went, and almost out of habit, I jumped after them. For me it was a half arsed effort to try and encourage a bit of a chase from the main group, but, it was at this point I realised that there was still more than 90K to go, and it not likely to be a race winning move to go this early with unknown riders, so I was happy when we were caught quite quickly by the bunch.

I dropped back to find Sean and tell him to “reign me in”, but before I could talk to him, he was off the front chasing down a lone rider (Damien Stacy). I went after them and the breakaway group was formed with just under 90k to go. We worked well together and it was not long before the Moto told us we had a 30s break, and it started to feel so real. Just like watching the TDF on TV.

We were getting updates from the Moto and our lead was extending until we were told there was a 2 man chase closing in. We continued to work, hoping to make the KOM with just the 3 of us, however we were only part way up the first part of the climb when Jon Hobson and Luke Stenner caught us. We were now 5, but were working well together on the climb, and especially across the flattish area before the real KOM. We had a gentlemen’s agreement that it was every man for himself at the KOM, but that we would regroup after that for headwinds which we knew would destroy us if we broke into smaller groups.

[pull_quote_right]Jon got the KOM fairly easily, but we regrouped for the run though to the New England Highway. We shared turns into the wind, but there were signs of some cracks forming in the group.[/pull_quote_right]

When we turned on the New England Highway the Moto informed us that Luke, Jon and Damien had sat up. Jon and I quickly discussed our options, and decided our best bet was to continue. The combination of road surface and headwind with just the 2 of us made for some tough going. Somehow I won the “Most Impressive” jersey in 2012 and decided that my best option of winning anything this year was to try for it again. Jon and I worked well together in to the crosswind, with me spending as much time on the front as I could. Eventually we were joined by another 2 riders, Jamie Smart and Tim Barnard (I think). The 4 of us tried to form an echelon as best as 4 riders can. Just before the turn off the highway at Allora we were caught by a bunch of 6-8 riders.

Jon, Jamie and Tim sought the refuge of the bunch, but I kept to my target of chasing the MI jersey and rode in a way that many would think insane. I never missed a turn on the front, and even filled in the gaps as riders struggled to take their turns. It was already the case that out of the 10 or so riders in the group, only perhaps 5 were really driving. Updates from the Moto were a fairly constant 1min 30secs, but I wanted to make sure we stayed ahead. I was about 4th wheel when we turned at Allora, and was quite miffed when the 3 riders ahead of me started to look at each other to see who was going to do the work. Anyone who knows how I ride, knows that this kind of carry on drives me wild, and true to style, and in keeping with pursuit of the MI jersey, I went to the front. Things continued in this vein, with me trying to spend as much time on the front as I could handle. On the gentle rises, I was feeling strong relative to the bunch, often riding off the front and soft pedalling back to the group. I did this 3 or 4 times, and I was on the front with about 10k to go when Jamie tried to breakaway with another rider .Somehow I managed to go with them.

[quote_box_right]Everything from here is a blur…[/quote_box_right]

We worked a few turns each until it was just Jamie and I. Another couple of turns each, and I think we were caught by more riders, but to be honest, I didn’t look back to know for sure. Next climb, I pedalled away again, but this time I pushed hard on the descent. I quickly established a gap, and with about 6km to go it was ITT time.

Anthony Zahra - Cunningham Classic

I only glanced over my shoulder a couple of times, and I seemed to be holding the gap, I pedalled every downhill, I started to recognise landmarks from last year, and my Garmin told me I was getting close. 5K, 4k, 3k, then in front of me was what looked like the left hand turn in to the main street that had caught me out last year, but it seemed too soon, so I yelled to the traffic controller, and thankfully he confirmed that I had to turn left. I turned in to the main street and pedalled like my life depended on it, the final straight seemed longer than I remembered it, but then I saw the 200m to go sign, and I sprinted as best I could after 96k, and somehow after being in a break for nearly 90k I crossed the line in 1st, about 200m ahead of the sprint for 2nd.

A big thanks to the Kangaroo Point Cycling Club and officials. Thanks to the Dillon and his father, Malcolm, for spending the day to drive Dillon’s car so we had a way to get home. Thanks also to ESI Sports Photography for the pics. The burgers and chips at the Horse & Jockey Hotel really hit the spot while we waited for the presentations. It was also mission accomplished on the Most Impressive jersey too, so I really could not have hoped for a better ride.

Anthony Zahra

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Anthony spent much of his childhood riding and “messing around” on bikes with his brother. After roughly a 10 year hiatus, Anthony’s love of cycling was rekindled as a way to get fit. After doing his first cross country mountain bike race in a 2 person team roughly 7 years ago, he was hooked. This was followed by racing 24hr enduros in teams, then solo, 6, 8 and 12hr races. He eventually progressed (some say regressed) to riding almost exclusively Single Speed MTB and undertaking his first 24hr solo race on his beloved single speed. Most weekends Anthony can also be found racing local criteriums, road races and the odd time trial. Weekdays he can be found commuting to and from work, rain hail or shine, and is a strong advocate for cycling rights on the road and the use of the bicycle for transport. Anthony rides a variety of differnet bikes including an Azzurri Forza Di2.