QRTS Round 1 Wrap Up
There is nothing like entering a new challenge blissfully ambivalent to the perils that lie in wait. With a few old hands in the team, some of the upcoming suffering was known, but what lay in wait for the rest of us uninitiated would have caused some quiet introspection. Such was the occasion last Saturday when our newly formed team, Cobra9 Intebuild Racing entered the fray in the highly regarded Queensland Road Team Series.
All the members representing the team in the first round in Toowoomba had experienced high level racing over the past few years and understood what suffering and persistence is required to meet personal goals and team success. However, the QRTS separates itself from this racing by virtue of featuring some of Australia’s most elite NRS teams combined with a constant quality of rider across the ranks. The parcours also favour hard racing where nothing is won without sheer suffering. The first round kicking off in the windswept and undulating terrain of Toowoomba would prove to be an exceptional baptism of fire.
Saturday Race 1. 118km Road Race Merigandan
After some quick briefing from our experienced team mechanic Pete regarding the danger of crosswinds at the first corner, we set off to navigate two laps of the Meringandan course. Each lap with some long flat stretches building up to the KOM point half way around near Haden. Once the flag dropped, the racing was furious. The first few kilometres to the early right hander was benefited by an eager tail wind. This proved dangerous as we rounded the first corner with riders heading off into the tundra after overshooting the bend. The 90 degree turn also proved to be our first encounter over the weekend with the dreaded crosswinds which blew the race to bits. The peleton immediately strung out into a long singular line with frantic riders sticking it in the gutter trying to get any benefit of draft from the wandering line of the rider in front. After 15 kilometres of brutal crosswinds, the peleton under the impetus of the ever present Budget Forklifts team, broke into pieces. The average speed for the stage at this point was 50 kph. After teasing away a select group of riders from the pointy end of the race a slightly more survivable pace was set by the main bunch seeking to limit the lead of the break away.
As often happens in a tiring bunch, riders seeking shelter from the ubiquitous cross winds tire, and fall into casual error. On this occasion, a touch of wheels sent a large portion of the surviving main bunch into the bitumen. This moment proved to be the tipping point of the race. Many of us behind the crash had to spend the next few kilometres chasing furiously to regain the main group. Those that failed to do so had their race ended cruelly after less then a quarter of the distance travelled.
The remainder of the main bunch then staid themselves for 100 kilometres of swapping off, forming echelons and generally surviving. On a day when every corner provided challenges from the wind direction, one small lapse in concentration would often generate many kilometres of leg sapping recovery after exposing yourself to the windward side of the bunch for too long.
On the second lap is was obvious that the escape group were too strong and would not be caught. With generous team points to 30th place on offer, the main group had plenty of impetus to remain hard at work. By this time, we still had 5 of our 6 Cobra9 Intebuild team riders in the main group. The size of the bunch had whittled down to around thirty so this was a very pleasing sight for us as we rounded the course for the second time.
From that point on, more and more riders began to drop from the clutches of the bunch and with a sense of inevitability, I also managed to separate myself from the main group after going back for water and never recovering the return to the group. I waved goodbye to the bunch and set to work on making my way to the finish. From that point forward, we formed a small but useful group of riders making our way back to the finish hoping to snaffle some lesser placings and points.
Up front, the Budget Forklift’s team worked over the break and won the day with a huge sprint up the finishing straight from Alex Wohler. Hadleigh and Adam from Cobra9 Intebuild came in with the main bunch and grabbed some good points and pride in what was the hardest day of racing most of us had ever experienced. Rupert, Dugald and myself also finished in the top 45 on a day where half the field failed to finish. The ride of the day from Cobra9 Intebuild would have to been Hadleigh who suffered early in the stage but pushed on and finished the race with a vigorous kick to the line for 22nd place.
Our sixth Team member Tom suffering badly from the flu was held up in the crash and called it a day after one lap. His condition worsened and he was forced to abandon the round the following morning.
Sunday Race 2. 99km Road Race Mt Tyson
None of us had heard of Mt Tyson prior to the stage, but none us of will forget it in a hurry. The cross winds of yesterday intensified in the barren open surrounds of the western downs and the road surface resembled the face of the moon. Everyone’s legs felt sore from yesterday’s exploits, but the adrenaline of knowing what was coming staved off complacency. After a quick caffeine fix and spin, the starting line awaited.
Unlike yesterday, not too many stories of glory would emerge for our team today. I have never experience conditions like those in this race. The crosswinds howled, the gravel and pot holed road lunged up at you from the hidden reaches of the rider in front. Weary cyclists hugged the gutter and grass in scenes reminiscent of the one day classics in Belgium. Whilst still in the neutral zone, the race had to be halted due to the scale of punctures within the first 2 kilometres. I suffered a puncture to my rear wheel in the neutral zone and sought a spare from our team car. After jumping back on, I arrived back to the peleton at the most rearward position imaginable, just in time for the road to to turn, and the crosswinds to wreak havoc.
The pace from Data#3, GPM, and Budget Forklifts up the front exploded the peleton immediately into small fractured bunches of 6-10 riders each. The smart and experienced riders would form an echelon and get on with the job of surviving. Back at the tail of the field, level heads would not prevail and the early stages of the race were purely a sequence of trying to bridge to the next rider as the one directly in front pulled the pin and sat up. Eventually myself, Adam and Hadleigh found a group like-minded riders and formed a small group. Rupert and Dugald had better positioned themselves and emerged in a group up the road doing likewise. Cars swept around bunches trying to provided neutral service to an unending supply of riders with wheels held aloft, the soft rubber on the rims ending their riders hopes of a good finish and salvaging some pride for the round.
This pursuit of the group in front persisted for one lap and it quickly became evident that we had no chance of getting back on to the main bunch. After the first lap of three, our group was two and half minutes off the main bunch and heading in the wrong direction. With the criterium in the afternoon, eagerness gave way to common sense and the pace came off. The goal again was to make it too the finish and save the legs. After completing 2 of the 3 laps, we were pulled mercifully from the course to act as spectators to the remaining 40 odd riders still smashing themselves to bits.
Josh Prete from Budget Forklifts won in an impressive solo break with a small group a few minutes behind. Our sole surviving rider Rupert managed to stay in the third bunch on the road and pick up points for an deserved 25th placing. His tale of suffering was inspiration to us all. He had dropped off the pack multiple times on the final lap only to fight his way back to the group.
Race 3 Sunday. 45 minute + 3 laps Criterium Glenvale, Toowoomba
By Sunday afternoon we were all a little shattered. The wind and warmth of the weekend had started to wear a little. We all knew that we only had a 45 minute window of pain left for the weekend. It is always a little hard to pick yourself up and race twice in the same day however, the splendid Toowoomba criterium circuit and smooth hot mix soon peaked our interest. Despite warnings from the old hands over the course of the weekend regarding getting too far back in the bunch, as a team we still found ourselves often towards the back of the pack when racing kicked off. Again in the crit, this would prove to be the and with the typical outcomes.
The pace off the gun was strong and the open circuit created tricky sections where the wind direction would shift through the course of a hairpin turn. As a consequence, the favoured side of the road would switch to the windy section within seconds. This made for very tight and technical cornering. It also meant that holding a line and not budging from your position required nerves of steel and confidence in your bike handling. After 15 minutes of pace at the front, the inevitable gaps began to appear in the main bunch where riders had let the wheel go. All of a sudden you would look up from the wheel in front and see a 20 metre gap where before there was an unbroken line. Chasing down the gaps is fatiguing and being further back in the field meant chasing gaps regularly.
By the halfway mark, half the field were out of the race. About 5 separate bunches remained trying to either bridge or stay away from the riders around them. Our compact bunch worked well until a few minutes remaining when the front runners began to close in on us and we were ushered off the track. Of all the racing on the weekend, this result was probably the most personally disappointing result because my legs were there, but the strategy was found wanting. Unless you can get in that front 20-30 riders from the gun, your race pretty much ends there.
The Criterium was won by Jesse Kerrison in a brutal display of power. Jesse had put down some serious watts in the morning race and backed it up nicely in the afternoon. Over the weekend, Team Budget Forklifts were the big winners but there was some excellent results down the lists from the local squads as well.
Overall we had a wonderful weekend racing and bonding as a team. We are looking forward to round 2 where our Time Trialling strengths will hopefully hold us in good stead. We have learned some very valuable lessons in Toowoomba but more importantly, we feel like we belong. Riders who had questioned their strength found they had it when it counted. No one let anyone else down and we rode hard for each other. We also shared plenty of laughs and kept it relaxed. We all work full time, raise families and love our riding. We plan on keeping it that way.
Big thanks to our sponsors as well. Intebuild, 4Shaw, Land Partners, The Power Station Cafe Co, Mocopan, Wurkstand, GC Bike Fit and Seight.
Nathan White: Cobra9 Intebuild Racing Team
www.cobra9.com.au For the Ultimate in Custom Carbon Orthotics.