Battle on the Border

While many Ironman finishers had their feet and calorie intakes up, “Tomsey” had (inadvertently) entered a cycling stage race scheduled for a few weeks after Port Mac.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a multi stage bike race…23 years to be exact. I gave the sport away after not being able to “make it” as a youngster and enjoyed life plus other sports and finally returned to cycling/triathlon in my early 30’s. 10 years on I’m enjoying the camaraderie, the fun, the p#sstake amongst our training groups and most of all the time spent with like minded people.

Earlier this year while out laying a base for IM training I was riding with a mate who turned to cycling a couple of years ago. One thing lead to another and I joined a cycle club and a Masters cycling team…still had to tell my wife!

Battle on The Border entries opened and our DS spoke of having a weekend away, a couple of beers and doing a few kilometres in the Tweed Hinterland. Sounds great, I though. I paid up and didn’t take notice of the date…rookie mistake, 2 weeks after IM Australia.

We had hired a house at Kingscliff for the weekend, taken a few days off work and drove down over the border Wednesday night, splendid house broken into 4 different areas with 4 bedrooms and massive media room with Austar and a bar fridge, magic for the Giro, we started to question if we really had to do this bike race!

Wednesday night was a late one with a sleep in Thursday morning. After a late brekkie we hit the road for a bit of shake down and iron out any bike problems…all good. The last of the team arrived after lunch and it was time to chill for a bit before registration and briefing. Our team was slightly down in numbers with 4 in Master B and 3 in Master C.

Friday dawned wet, not ideal for playing in the hills with high speed descends but never-the-less it was going to be a fun filled day. We sat and watched other grades head off while we warmed up…anticipating the unknown.

Day 1 85.6km Road Race - Masters B finally rolled out with a field just over 90 strong, we were neutralised until the edge of town and then the speed went up. I hadn’t ridden in a big group for quite a while and with 90 in the field it was tough moving forward through the peloton, but race plans were to be on the front of the group on the first climb…with heavy legs it was needed; and as the climb went on I was slowly relegated back as the climbers came to the fore…top of climb with a sigh of relief, downhill and caught the main bunch and moved through it again. Second climb, the same as the first! My weakness as a cyclist is my weight but on the downhills it works in my favour. I caught the main peloton again and moved to the front, by this time there were 3 or 4 away. There were a few of us who were working hard trying to pull back the break and on the KOM climb I was spent, spat out the back again…not liking this cycling bit I thought to myself!

Another fast descent and I was with the bunch only to get dropped again on the last climb of the day…and they were out of sight. A small chase group formed and working hard we were slowly pulling back the main group but shredding numbers from our chase group. As we pulled onto the old Pacific Highway at Murwillumbah we were around 300-400m back with the commissaire sitting in behind. We had a few cars between us and the main bunch and didn’t see the bunch turn. The commissaire followed us and didn’t realise we were going the wrong way until about a k down the road. After a quick discussion we were turned around…started the chase again crossing the line 5:04 down. After a number of debates where we were initially to be placed on the back of the main bunch; we ended up being placed with the 2:16 group…better than 5:04 but we all thought about 40-50 seconds would have been fair!!

Day 2 Stage 2, 9.3km ITT – I ride a Shiv, I was told Tri Shivs weren’t UCI compliant so I borrowed a TT bike off a mate…how many Tri Shivs did I see being ridden? Heaps! Anyway, nothing out of the ordinary for a short TT, not much to see through the cane fields and I didn’t catch anyone and no-one caught me. 13:35 with an average of just over 41k/h, winner did 12:50, there’s some fast old dudes out there!

Day 2 Stage 3, 30 minute + 2 laps crit (reduced to 25 + 2) - Speed was on from the get go. The course isn’t your usual crit style with a 200m section averaging 7%, not hard to guess where the pressure was applied each lap. With 4 of us from the team starting we lost 1 from the early speed leaving only 3. With control of the race being wide open I moved to the front for a couple of laps mid way through, nothing much happening, with 5 to go I again went to the front and held my line pushing hard but keeping it tight, just as we approach the bell both my team mates went passed with 2 others, I sat 5th wheel with our sprinter 2nd. As we turned onto the short sharp hill with about 400m to go our sprinter Tim hit and hit hard, he formed a gap, I rolled up the hill and then down to the line to watch him take the win, great team work that actually played out in our favour. A few happy boys and an even happier DS, we took the Green Jersey and we had a reason to celebrate, DS even bought us a few beers. I had another 6 seconds added to my time, just over 3 minute down on GC. Pretty happy with the days result.

Day 3 Stage 4 77km Road Race – the plan was to protect the Green Jersey as best we could with 2 sprints on offer. With the plan laid out we took the first sprint, now it was time to get Timmy over the hills! The first climb; “Moon Rising” had me looking for help, Timmy was just up the road and I pushed up to him to give him a hand. Over the climb we moved back up to the main peloton, I went to the front and tried to keep the pace steady for Tim to recover before the next sprint which was only a few kilometres after the next 2 climbs. The first of the climbs on Burringbar Range we got over and then chased the main group, the second took a bit more effort but we bridged it before town. I again tried to slow things up and it worked for a while but with about 2k to the sprint the speed went back up, Tim was sitting OK and as the sprint started I became on observer! Tim was second and doing a mental count we knew he had it, time to focus on the finish now. Although the legs were starting to feel it with no rest after Port I felt pretty confident of a decent finish. I got over the last KOM with a splintered group, we descended well and reformed, the group was smaller with around 50 in it, not many people wanted to do any work and it was left up to a few of us to push the pace. As we approached the flats of Bogangar the pace lifted, about 8km to go and more people were showing interest trying to move forward for a better position. We turned onto Casuarina Way and approached the 1st roundabout, the pace was well above 40 and we were battling for our wheel, another roundabout and a bloke holding his line went straight through the garden in the centre with a horrendous noise coming from his bike, lucky to stay upright! I had a team mate with me and as we approached the last round about to turn into Salt Village he took the lead and I sat top 10, we had seen a couple of crashes on the 2nd last turn earlier in the day and were a bit concerned with the surface, my team mate got swamped and was pushed back into 5th, I kept my place in the line and finished 10th, same time given.

Reflecting back on the weekend I had a fantastic time. The buzz of riding closely with others, chasing wheels, helping team mates, it was amazing. Having not done any major road races since the early 90’s I was nervous and apprehensive…mainly because of the climbing and attacks but also because of the potential for falls, but it worked out pretty well. The idea of Teams in master grades I think is a genius as it brings a bunch of (old) blokes together chasing a common goal while having a great time, and that, I guess, is the essence of life. Can’t believe how quick some older blokes are…but something to work towards I guess.