Race date: 10/02/16
The big 10. It doesn’t sound like a very high number, and I could’ve sworn I’d raced more than that, but looking back over the last 9, it appears that I haven’t. So 10 it is.
I went into this race feeling a little bit fatigued, again, however, this time I felt a bit stronger than usual. I think my legs are either getting better conditioned and therefore the fatigue feels lesser, or my brain is just ignoring it now and normalising this feeling… Either way, and I'm leaning to the latter, I felt like I had an okay chance of finishing. I say that because the last time I raced here—'here' being the Hawthorn Cycling Club (HCC) criteriums, although it's not actually in Hawthorn—I had to pull out due to my lower back aching too much. It was also my first and only time racing this course. So, needless to say, my priority was to simply finish this time!
The HCC crit takes place on a closed loop called 'The Teardrop', so called because of its shape (see below; the blue bit). It features a short but fairly steep hill climb into the finish line. The loop is about 0.9km, so you have to deal with the hill on numerous occasions. Also, just before the hill is a really sharp corner, we’re talking 45 degrees. So if you’re not in a good position going around that corner, the bunch gets spread out and you have a lot of work to do to catch up. The corner also stops you from carrying any sort of speed into the hill, making it that much harder. I swear my heart rate hits 180 every time I go up it!
All this makes the circuit a much more technical and difficult one compared to most others in Melbourne, and it's because of that that I find it the most interesting. The race itself goes on for 25 mins + 3 laps.
We started with a couple of controlled laps. Nice and easy. Get the legs warm. Then, as the race marshals pulled off to the side, you could see everyone looking around like lost children, making sure it was okay to go. Or perhaps trying to make sure they were in a good position. You get this with D grade, a lot of us are new to racing, and unsure of the different etiquettes different clubs might have. That's how I feel anyway... Until the hammer goes down, then it's all out war!
Before going into this race, my strategy was to sit in the bunch and conserve my energy, however my plans always go awry and after about 5 or so minutes I was getting restless. The pace didn’t seem fast enough to wear anyone out, so I decided it was time to encourage a faster and more aggressive race (I always regret going this, I just can't help myself). I went up the outside and launched off the front. I didn’t really think I’d last very long, but nobody really chased me down.
I ended up sat out on my own for 2 or 3 laps. It kind of feels like being stranded on a dessert island. Everyone can see you over there struggling, but they won't come and rescue you, not just yet. They allow you to starve a bit first. Hoping you'll just die on your own accord. Dark I know. After a few laps on my own, I was hurting quite a bit, and as I had no help I figured I should probably sit up and let the bunch sweep me up. There was no way I could last out there on my own.
My heart rate was way into the higher 180s, and my lungs could stretch no further to accumulate enough oxygen to eradicate the debt I’d just caused. I think I was seeing spots too. I probably did one lap too many on the front trying to get clear. Anyway, I had enough legs left to sit at the back of the bunch and catch my breath.
SPOILER ALERT: It must’ve been at this point, my point of exhaustion and being near the back, that a breakaway got clear. I didn’t see them go, and the bunch didn't seem to speed up. My memory is pretty hazy at this point, but that's what I recall.
Once my heart rate dropped back down to manageable numbers, I made my way back towards the front. I didn’t see a break, although I wasn’t looking for one, so I assumed the pace was good for now. Had I known there was a break, I might have done some work on the front to pull them back. Or tried to bridge the gap. Anyway, in my mind the pace was was just enough to hurt the legs a little bit, maybe cause others a bit of pain, but slow enough that I wouldn’t go back into the red zone.
What happens in these local crits, which I’ve mentioned before if you’ve been following my posts, is that two grades race at the same time. When one grade needs to get passed, the slower grade tends to be neutralised and slows down. So, on this occasion a guy in B grade had broken away and was passing us, so we slowed. Then a minute or so later the rest of B grade passed, so we slowed again. This is perfect conditions for a breakaway to get further away and stay away. They can continue full gas whilst we’re neutralised, and they can continue full gas when the other grade passes, because there are fewer of them.
That was the last time B grade passed us, and so the race was back on. For some reason I thought the race was 20 minutes long + 3 laps, so when my timer hit 21 mins I turned to the guy next to me and asked how long the race was. He said “4 minutes” however what I heard was: “40 minutes”, my heart sank and I shouted back “40 minutes! Are you fucking kidding me!” I don’t think I could handle another 20 minutes, I was a bit tired… He looked confused and then confirmed that we had “4 minutes to go, then 3 laps,” this time I’d worked out what he was saying. This was much better news. I was feeling tired, but good enough for a few more laps.
When 3 laps to go board finally went up, a guy jumped off the front. Damn it. A lap earlier than I wanted to go, but I decided to follow him anyway. We managed to stay away for a full lap and then on the hill coming into the bell lap, we were caught by a few others. The bunch was fairly split at this point, and I was knackered. I was pretty pissed at myself, as I felt I’d gone too early and now was wrecked! After I pulled a few people up the hill, they went passed me. Thankfully, I managed to jump on the back wheel of a really big guy—tall not fat—going down the other side. Lots of protection from the wind.
Coming onto the back straight, I could see maybe 3 people up ahead, those that had just gone passed me at the top of the hill. I stuck on the tall guy’s wheel, and he had the cheek of saying “can you pull a turn,” to which I replied,”NO! I just pulled you up that bloody hill.” However he slowed down so I thought, YOLO, I'll have to catch these guys ahead. I sighed and then forged on ahead. It was the last lap, I’d leave it all out there, on the road!
I don’t think the big guy could hold my wheel, I can’t really remember. But I came into the last corner with the guys in front having just cornered it. I flew round with a good amount of speed, touching the side. It was close, but I was still upright. Success. It was now or never. I went for as big of a sprint as I could. Pure anabolic juices flowing through my blood and muscles, with a bit of adrenalin thrown in for good measure. I don’t know where it came from to be honest, as I was absolutely drained of all energy, but I flew up that hill. I passed every single person in my grade climbing up it. Now I just needed to keep it up to the finish. Hang on and I’ve got the win!
I did manage to hang on, however, as I crossed the line I heard someone shout “big sprint for 4th.”
I had literally put everything I had into that, so it took me a while to catch my breath. I came off the road and stood, maybe wobbled, for a while, feeling totally sick. My heart was pounding and I was struggling to regain a normal level of breathing. I felt sick for a good 10 minutes. I'm not even joking. Finally I started to come to and went to the desk to ask how I’d find out how I did. Was I 1st or 4th, I needed to know! The lady on the desk said to hang around to see if my name was called out. So I hung around and continued to feel sick.
After they set the women’s race off, my name was called out first, which meant I was in fact 4th. Ah well. I finished, and I could take a lot from it. Main thing being, keep a bloody eye on the race!