Saturday, November 19, 2011

Benchmark Series

The Benchmark Series has become the next best thing behind Southland in terms of exposure for our NZ riders…go through the list of winners and see how many have become pro or thereabouts. This series started the teams racing in NZ and the level road cycling has grown massively. I think it’s awesome and hope it continues for years to come.

A few days before the first round in August I got a call up to from Master James Canny to see if I wanted to join the L&M Group Cycling Team, I agreed and this race was my 2nd race back after my 6 month retirement. In Nelson I got my beans! I was 19th and going backwards, I headed home knowing by the time Round 2 rolled around I would need to be firing.

I felt better coming into the second round, the goods were in the legs to pull of a much better ride. The course in Timaru suited me and with 30km to go the hammer went down and a group formed with Paul Odlin, Tom Hubbard, James Early and myself, the last 5km was pretty brutal and we just managed to hold off a fast chasing bunch. Tom Hubbard slipped away to win by 10secs from Early and myself in 3rd, a hard day and happy with a podium. After that race I had my eyes on an overall podium spot and with 2 rounds to go and my race form definitely more coming than going the team knew it could be done.

Round 3 in Cust, cold, wet and a day I’d rather be eating a warm steak and cheese pie but there was a race to do……don’t worry, the pie came later! An early break went with quite a few hitters which wasn’t the perfect start but our team captain Joe Chapman kept calm and said on the way home through the Gorge that the muck would go down and a small group will slip away with about 40km to go and sure enough it did. Joe launched me across part of the way and I finished it off to join a strong group that slowly picked off the riders that were dropped from the lead group. I got 2nd in our bunch sprint and got 9th on the line and gained a few valuable points on a few of the top overall contenders who missed the move. This result moved into 4th on the table and only 10 points off Tom Hubbard.

Round 4 had the making for a hard race and quite tactical. A group including Joe and Tom Francis got away heading into Cust not long after the start, there were no real overall contenders in there but I really wanted to be in there so kept near the action just incase another slipped away. Greg Taylor who joined us for the last 2 rounds was quite active going through Rangiora so I started sifting near the front for action to start, a few k’s later it was on! Myself along with Greg and one other rode off the front in chase of the lead groups, it was a mammoth effort but we got there just before Ashley Gorge. Greg couldn’t quite make it on but he did an awesome effort in helping me get across (good early brownie points with the team Greg!). When we joined there was another group up the road containing Paul Odlin, Jason Christie, Robin Reid and Chris Nicholson. Joe and Tom made sure we caught them and set me up to ride across to them up Summer Hill then from there it was all action till the top of German road where the same 4 slipped away with myself. We were away and fighting it out for the win but Odlin was too strong and took out the win solo and I rolled in 5th, happy and quite exhausted!

This weekend it was the final days work for the series, I got 2nd thanks to my brilliant L&M Group team mates. The first round of this series was our first ride together, after 4 Benchmark rounds and Southland we are starting to get a good sense of how each other operates as a rider and who’s capable of what. Some can get results and some are willing to put themselves on the line to help get a result. It can only get stronger!

Congrats to Sam on his series win, he’s a deserving winner and a rider with a lot of potential to go a long way in the sport. Thanks to everyone who helped out during the series, races don’t happen without the support from people who are willing to put up their own time to help our sport grow.

The last few months have flown by, no idea why anyone would want to ‘hang up their wheels’ when there’s so much out there to nudge at…. then again, maybe the break has proven to be a good thing. I’ll be planning an early get away from work on Friday to join the bumper to bumper convoy up to Taupo….hoping for a day like last year to burn out the last of the ice left in me from Southland. Big thanks to Tom’s parents for having us at their ‘caravan park’.

This will round off the first part of my season with a good break until the next set of races. December will be all about consolidating, focusing on some of the aspects of my race and enjoying the lead up to Christmas.

For those of you heading up to Taupo next weekend go hard and drive safe!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tour of Southland

Southland. An absolute legend of a race in NZ cycling, and one which I needed to complete to shed away some demons which have haunted me since my first attempt where I failed to finish the first stage. Having come straight from the Melbourne heat that year into piercing sideways hail I didn’t have the fondest of memories to work on!

My goals for the tour were simple – finish. Well maybe that goal in itself can’t really be labelled as simple when it’s Southland we are talking about!

The next goal was to create some action and achieve a podium, to let other riders know I’m someone to watch and someone they don’t want to give too much freedom to.

Happy to report that I achieved all three, I finished, despite a few moments where really I could think of nothing worse than continuing, I got the podium spot, not for a stage but instead as number three in the King of the Mountain points where our team featured also on the top step with Joe Chapman taking the honours, and I created some action, leading out solo at the bottom of the crown range...while it didn’t result in a stage win it did reflect the way I like to race, pinning it and taking opportunities.

The overall result was never going to be flash, read back on my blogs for the ‘hanging the wheels up’ one where last December I decided there were other things I wanted to do, that continued for a good 6 months before the wheels in the spare room started calling me again. I had a good 12 week build up coming into Southland...but 12 weeks of training around work hours doesn’t really cut it with the big fellas who ride all day every day!

After the first two days I was pretty annoyed with myself, I was a bit nervous and getting pushed round, I just couldn’t fight hard enough to hold my position, this isn’t my idea of being ‘in’ the race. I was completely wondering why I had bothered with turning up at the start line and when I spoke with Bex on Tuesday night she was pretty insistent that I needed to man-up, chuck back a can or two of concrete and start racing like I know how to race, instead of getting rammed by others.

Wednesday was a different day, I started to feel my riding style coming out and by the end of the day I was excited to be racing, because on Monday and Tuesday I didn’t consider myself part of the Tour..I was a pack filler and I don’t like that.

Thursday will be remembered for a long time in my little book of good rides. We had a team plan, I even told Bex what the plan was the night before and as the stage progresses she was blown away by how it worked out exactly how I said it would! Joe, Aaron and myself rode aggressive from the gun and we all got in the break that stayed out pretty much all day.

Our breakaway group had some big hitters, guys who win big races overseas and guys I read about each week on the internet, so my reaction was to watch them and wait for them to attack. 15km from the finish and with a fast chasing main bunch I wasn’t sure what to do but I got away in another break with Macauley, Avery, Tivers and Lovegrove, over the next few k’s I started to think the stage win was possible.

We hit the last climb with 5k to go before the Crown Range, my legs felt pretty awesome so I didn’t bother changing to an easier gear I accelerated through for my turn to realise about 30 seconds later I was on my own and charging up that hill solo towards Crown Range. I couldn’t really believe it was me fanging along solo in the biggest stage of the tour. I was eventually caught by young Josh with 2km to go but all I had to focus on was doing my own ride and not losing too much time, I ended up finishing 8th, a 1 minute down from Josh.

I gained a lot of confidence out of this stage, I’ve never backed myself over a big distance and I’ve always looked at the pro’s as unbeatable riders and almost too scared to attack them but I guess they could by just as tired as me?

Friday was painful, my legs were like bricks with no chance of warming up in the cutting southland cold. It was a stage I probably want to wipe from my memory....survival!

By Saturday for the last two stages I felt great again and could walk without too much pain. With the TT cancelled due to snow it left just one last chance to hammer the legs. Joe had an impressive stage and sprinted home to 2nd, I was happy to finish....rolling over that line felt great! If you had told me then that I would be heading out for a big night and not home until 3.30am there is no way I would have believed it...turns out there’s always more in the tank!

I was proud to be part of the L&M Creation Signs Team – a great bunch of guys lead by Joe Chapman who is an impressive and respected cyclist. Legend to come away with the KOM Classification jersey along with a stage podium. Young track superstar Aaron Gate pulled a podium spot too on the very fast stage 3. Sam and “Rookie” Tom had solid Tours as well and Lee had a tough few days in the race and I know he will turn up next year ready to rumble. A few of us had days where we too happy with themselves but I think in a tour like Southland so many things can happen, the best riders have bad days as well and to finish is a good result down there. Finishing last is better than pulling the pin..something I’ve learnt a lot about over the last few years!

Now that race is over it’s time to think about what’s coming up, my next race is the final round of the Benchmark Series down in Oxford near Christchurch. Over the series I’ve slowly crept up the rankings and now sit 4th overall just one point off 3rd so I’m going into that firing!

So for now it’s all about the road, good times while I test myself in a new domain after a couple of years of solid mountain biking. With a mountain bike arriving this week though I hope to have some time to get out and pull a few skids and rail some berms..I do miss it!

A huge thankyou to the team sponsors and everyone else who chipped in during the week to make the tour successful and especially James parents for their lovely hospitality during the tour, the dinners each night were pretty awesome and I'm sure the rest of the team will agree! The chocolate sauce pudding goes down as my favourite, I'll be back next year for that.

See you out there, remember to use that little bit extra in the tank when you most need it!