The Blayney to Bathurst cyclosportive was my first proper race outside of Sydney’s usual club races. I was also aiming at the Tour of Canberra initially planned to be in early May, but it got cancelled. The Blayney race was then my only chance to see if that training plan was working. In the last two weeks I was starting to reap the benefits of the 3 Peaks ride I did in March, and the peaking protocol of reducing training volume while maintaining some intensity helped with reducing fatigue.
We drove to Bathurst with Jeremy on Saturday with the usual pre event indulgence in bakery goods (Any excuse is good to stuff myself with bread based goodies anyway). After watching the criterium at the Bathurst race track, we rode to the only major climb of the course as a reconnaissance exercise and prepare the legs for the next day. The long course that we picked is 110km of rolling terrain with only 1 hill of significance after 82km. Unfortunately the only food we could find at the track were hot dogs, but it still better than going on an empty stomach – maybe…
We pushed the pace on the flat towards the hill until it got quite uncomfortable, but I prefer getting the dust off the legs the day before rather than on race day. I’m glad we did that recco as the climb is quite deceiving. It starts at a reasonable gradient, kicks up a bit then goes down. You need to keep something in the tank as the next short section is a false flat followed by a steeper gradient. Learning all this before helped with pacing on the next day.
On race day I knew it was serious when classical music was playing out of the KMD van. (KMD is a team made of the stronger riders within our bigger cycling club. They do many of these out of town big races). The oil shining on Deano’s legs also confirmed that everyone was putting that extra effort into their preparation.
I rushed to the start line when the announcer advised us to do so, as I wanted to be in the first third of the peloton in case there was an early split. I looked at some Strava entries from the last two years and it looked like the hammer went down a few minutes only into the race. My race plan was real simple: stick to the main bunch as long as I can and see what happens, and don’t draft too far back in the group.
I’ve ridden for much longer than 3h before, but I was curious to see how I would go for that period of time in a race situation. There were 150 riders in the fastest group waiting nervously for the start. After only a few k’s I heard shouting, the sound of handlebars getting entangled, the sound of carbon shattering and the dull thumps of flesh hitting the bitumen. Along with the smell of burnt rubber these crash sounds would become a far too common occurrence. The mixed level of experience, nerves and too many people trying to squeeze into a single lane after using the whole road contributed to it. That created some scary moments when the bunch was taking up the whole two lanes, going down at 60-70km/h with incoming traffic. There were at least four crashes involving many riders but I managed to stay up. A guy was even flown out by helicopter after crashing on his face at over 80km/h…
Once into it
The pace in the first moments of the race was high, but not as crazy as what I was anticipating because some of the riders riding at the national level were doing the longer 160km course. It was manageable for me anyway in the relative comfort of the peloton, not doing any work in the wind. I tried to keep an eye on the kit colour of the KMD guys doing the work at the front to guess how far back in the group I was. If I couldn’t see any of them it meant that I was too far and managed to move up the sea of constantly moving riders.
Riding for that long surrounded by riders takes its toll on concentration, especially when you get tired. I ensured I had plenty of gels to keep the sugar levels high and stay focused the best I could. The rough surface made my hands numb at some point, adding some challenge to get used to my new Di2 levers. I even managed to eat a Clif bar at some point, after climbing a short rise with half of it in each cheek gasping for air, hamster style. Getting close to the 80km mark I was still feeling ok despite doing a few efforts up the hills to stick with the bunch.
The last kilometres
The previous day’s recco ride showed that there was a single lane bridge after a left hander not far before the start of the main climb. I tried to move up the group, anticipating potential problems to come. The problems did come when a rider crashed on the bridge, acting as a massive bottle neck where most of the 110km riders and a few 160km riders that we caught tried to get into the bridge. I just managed to stay upright, rode passed a few confused souls and jumped on somebody else’s wheel to rejoin the main group without using all my energy.
Then shortly after I could feel the nerves ramping up in the peloton, sensing something might come. And once more, just after seeing the 5km sign for the KOM, a massive crash happened blocking the whole road. I sprinted to try to join the front group after walking around the carnage, went in the red too long too early and couldn’t make contact. Jeremy did the same but his stronger kick brought him closer to the bunch despite having ridden about 3h in the last month due to a dodgy knee.
By then I lost some motivation knowing I wasn’t with the main bunch anymore and decided to keep a little in the bank for the false flat back to Bathurst. I was climbing next to Justin from the club at some point, getting to the top within a few secs of each other. I felt really small next to him standing on his bike, probably carrying an extra 30kg of hulk compared to me.
After the fast descent I managed to bridge to a group of riders at the bottom of the descent with Justin The Locomotive doing lots of work at the front pulling all these tired riders back home. Jeremy was caught in no man’s land in front and tagged along when he saw us coming. The bunch then stuck together, going around corners at a sensible speed until we reached the Bathurst race track. We all came around the last corner together and then a few guys at the front made a last effort and sprinted to the line. If I knew that 5 secs would have made a big difference in the positions I think I would have given that extra 10% in the last 500m… Overall I’m really happy about this first experience and that the club as a whole got great results. Alex from KMD finished second overall and his teammates also finished very strongly. We regrouped for a chat around the pits, ate our body weight in hot cross buns and eventually went back home tired, but happy with the weekend.