Thursday, April 26, 2012

Race Report - Hell of the West 2012

Appropriately gloomy and misty conditions met riders who managed to get an entry into this year's Hell of the West. 

D'alfonso, Duggan and Mills of TDR had managed to score entries into B, C and D grade respectively. D'alfonso rode well in B, with his last minute attack only swept up by a charging peloton about 500 m from the line. Mills rode well to finish with the bunch, and is getting stronger race after race. It's Duggan's turn to write a race report, so here goes... 

My prepartation that morning was hopeless. No breakfast. Slept in. Arrived late. No warm-up. Not enough food in the pockets. This was not looking good...

Nervous and already hungry...

A smaller bunch of only 20 riders comprised C grade. Lots of familiar faces in the crowd, with the standout being Glynn Matthey who had presumably dropped down from A-grade purely due to the steepness of the climb. 

Speaking of, the 13.5% climb is stuff of legend. With a 23T on the back, I was worried. Everyone had gotten into me about how hard the climb is. Peter Wilkie said he had a 23T on last year and almost died. Everyone at the club said I would need a bigger cassette. Sean "The Man" Hurley said only pussy's ride more than 23T. I left it on... 

The race started at a fairly leisurely pace with an early attack from Col Bell (SCC) and Matthey (CCC) shut down by some overly nervous SKCC riders. Up the first decent pinch, Michael Sparke (BWK) attacked and gapped the bunch by about 30 m. I jumped across quickly at the top of the climb only to have the usual suspects close the gap to us. 

Everyone on high alert. Too early to attack. 

A few rollers later and we're nearing the gravel section. We were warned before the race that the road had been graded. I had physically licked my lips. I was looking forward to testing the cyclocross skills of the grade, being reasonably confident in the dirt myself. 

Such a great race

We turn the corner and traverse the 10 cm piles of gravel pushed up on the entry. This is going to be sketchy! Heck yeah! I click up a couple and turn on the gas. Didn't look back but given how much I was sliding around the road, gaps had to be opening. 

Having a dip

Half-way through the gravel section I fly by Kosdown's own Luca Giacomin, who'd just suffered a puncture. I give him a hoot and keep trucking. 

Gaps opening...

More gaps...

Matthey in the wrong group! (for the break)

Kohler and Howard well off the back. They did well to get back on.


Onto the blacktop once again, I finally take a look around to see a small group chasing working reasonably well together. I sit up, take a drink and jump on the back to see if I can help make this stick. The group is comprised of 3 SKCC, Sparke, and Bell. A notable abscence: Matthey. The 6 man group stayed away for a few more kms before being reeled in by the remnants of the group containing the human freight-train. 

Once the fragments were back together, everyone began to accept the fact that the race was probably going to be decided on the hill/wall. Just as I'd began to accept this myself, Preben Kohler and another rider jumped off the front past myself and Matthey and established a healthy lead. Content to let them cook, Matthey and myself with a couple other riders rode tempo, content to keep them in sight. 

When another SKCC rider bridged the gap to the escapees and then blew-up, Mark Howard (SKCC) came to the front for the second time during the race and initiated a chase. A few minutes later they were back in the fold and once again Matthey was on the front tapping out the kms.

Finally, the hill. Under wise advice from Sparke, they both move to the front to allow slipping back through the pack when the pressure rose. I was on Rob Merkel's wheel and had planned on following that wheel as long as I could, knowing Merkel is a pretty good climber. 

Holy. Crap. That's Steep... 

I just tried to be as smooth as possible on the climb, being out of the saddle 80% of the time. Sitting down on the steeper sections just meant doing wheelie's up the hill, which while impressive, is pretty scary at 95% effort...

3 riders ahead of me. We were all riding decently steadily.

Howard who'd hit the hill pretty visciously at the start was flagging audidably and going backwards. A large groan made me look over to him on the steepest part of a switchback to see him veer off the road. In a moment of panic he jumped out of the saddle and pedalled as hard as he could, presumably in an effort to get back on the black stuff. It resulted in an over the handlebar adventure with a rest on the gravel thrown in for good measure. I thought to myself, I'm in love this race...

Merkel, Rosch and Duggan follow the SRAM rider over first. 

Matthey in the box...

Bell smashing it with Sparke and Kohler close behind.

Howard climbing the remainder of the hill after his offroad adventure.

4 riders crest the hill and look at each other. Michael Rousch (SKCC), Merkel and myself immediately put the gas on and start working with each other to head up the road. The other rider drops off. We put in equal turns and really work well together to the next corner. Looking around there's about 4 riders chasing about 600 m back. 

We continue to work for another few kms before seeing that the group had swollen to about 8 and quickly realised we were being left out to cook. We agreed to soft pedal and recover before we were quickly shut down by a rampaging Matthey who was putting us out of our misery. 

Right - it's going to be a sprint finish. Matthey moves to the front. Stays there for the next 15 kms...

Sitting in the wheels. Drinking my last bit of water. I can feel the hunger wall coming on. Such shit preparation... 

The sprint finish was a fairly straight-forward affair. I wanted to make sure I had a decent wheel to follow, and Howard was on a wheel behind me somewhere after I'd seen him almost write himself and the peloton off at Newham last year. 

I jumped and managed to sprint well enough with fading legs to hold off the fast finishing Howard and Rousch. Kohler 4th.   

My first, and probably last, win of the season. Looking forward to B-grade and eating my bar tape just to stay in the peloton for the remainder of the season.

The highlight of the day was the wry smile on Matthey's face as Howard proceeded to tell us of how happy he was with his 2nd placing after falling off on the hill, and completing a full "6 minute effort" on the front earlier on in the race. 

"6 minutes, you say?" - Matthey

Props go to TDR's friend James Dunn for winning the B-grade bunch kick, and Shane Miller for a killer ride to win off the front of the A-grade bunch. Miller wrote an excellent race report which you can read here. 

Top day. Pity it was such a still day and it came down to a sprint. It would have been a much different story if we'd had some cross-winds. I'm looking forward to the Tour of the South West this weekend and some serious gutter action. 

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