For the first Northern Combine road race of the season, Mother Nature had turned on the goods; glorious sunshine and just a little wind. With another baby due in a few weeks, this would be my only road race for the season, and a slot in C Grade with Captain Duggan had me a little nervous. Since finishing up track racing a few months back the fitness had declined noticeably, and the quality of bikes, kits and legs assembled at the start line had even Duggan concerned.
We rolled out, and in usual style for the first race of the season the pace was hardly more than walking. I started to get worried that D Grade would catch us. But inevitably a few guys got impatient and tore off around the outside, Duggan included. I got stuck behind a wheel, and before I knew it I was in last wheel. I thought back to my last C Grade race, also held out here at Pastoria, when I was unceremoniously dumped out the back of the bunch on the flat. Damn, I wasn't gonna let that happen again, and moved my way up to join Duggan in the front third of the bunch.
We spent the rest of the race pretty close to one another, and never too far away from the action. The first ascent up Bald Hill was reasonably calm. A few small attacks, including one from Brunswick junior James Payne, had been brought back without too much fuss. A full-on team attack came on the small pinch a few kilometers into the 2nd lap, as three of the Boomchika lads flew from the rear and put the hammer down on the short climb. Thankfully I was sitting about 4th wheel when this happened, and concentrated on staying calm as a few blokes went past me. Had I been at the back, there's a fair chance I may have popped right there.
But nothing was really getting away, as the bunch eased into the headwind on the back of the course. Second time up Bald Hill and the pace was noticeably hotter. I could hear Atkins (from the fine blog http://cyclingracingcoffee.blogspot.com.au/) next to me breathing heavily. As we crested, I counted about 14 guys in front of me. I turned around to check out the damage, and it was just ones and twos all over the road. A few guys latched back on during the descent, and so it was down to about 20 riders for the last of three laps.
I didn't see how, but a Bike Gallery guy had got off the front, and had a few hundred metres gap. As we approached the small pinch where the Boomchika lads had attacked on the 2nd lap, I was near the back of the bunch and so moved up to the front to cover any moves. The Freedom Machine rider, who I think was the same guy that smashed the St Kilda D Grade crit a few weeks back in a two-man breakaway that held off the chasing bunch for the best part of 40 minutes, was putting the hammer down. I put in a few big ones and followed him off the front of the bunch as we descended the other side. He was about 20 metres in front of me, with the bunch another 30 or so metres further back. I considered going on the attack, but thought better of it, and sat up to wait for the bunch.
So we now had Bike Gallery out front by a few hundred metres on his own, with The Freedom Machine in no-mans land and the bunch happy to let them dangle out in the slight head wind with 15km or so to go. That was until Duggan had had enough. I was still near the front, about 5th wheel, when the Duggan steam-train came past shouting something about legs. He went to the front, put his head down, and started to bring the two boys back. It was single file as Duggan put the hurt on. Soon, he was off the front by 30m, Boonen style. I was clearly failing in my role as Terpstra trying to hold his wheel.
We took the final left hander, and it was job done by Duggan with the race all back together. There's a small climb just before you get to the Bald Hill climb proper, and Payne, who must be all of 50kg, attacked here and strung the bunch out. I moved up past Duggan, but I was hurting. As we got to the final climb of Bald Hill I was in about 8th wheel, with Duggan not far behind me. One last effort, I told myself. Payne attacked again, with two guys trying to go with him. I tried to follow them, and moved past a few guys into 4th on the road. They were pulling away from me slightly, but I wanted to put distance into the bigger guys behind before the final descent to the line.
I could feel one guy on my wheel, but was pretty sure we had put a gap into the main bunch. The guys in front were getting away. Barely more then 200m left, and I was starting to die. A slow, inevitable death, as my legs gave up. 50m to the descent, and a group of 6, including Duggan, came past me. I should have caught a wheel, but I was gone. Super effort by Duggan to haul his sprinters frame up that hill, after doing a mountain of work earlier that lap.
I was stuck in no mans land on the the descent to the finish. One or two guys out front, a group of about 6 chasing them, then me on my own and another 6 or so 50m back. I tried, but couldn't make up any ground, and got caught by one or two riders in the final 50m.
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Duggan got up for fourth, and I rolled in just outside the top ten. Top day, capped off by a few brews at the pub for presentations and a pie from the fabulous Kyneton bakery.