The sixth and final round of the Benchmark Homes Elite Series was held at the Farringdon Subdivision just out of Rolleston, incorporating a team time trial and the iconic ‘Hell of the South’ road race. After a solid performance in round five, I went into the final round as the series leader but on equal points with Tom Hubbard while Joe Chapman was only one point behind. Being only week before my big target for season the Melbourne to Warrnambool, I was feeling very confident about my form heading into the race.
Held on a relatively flat circuit out around the Selwyn District, the 127km course was animated by the inclusion of a 1.7km long gravel section that we covered three times on each of the three laps around Leeston. There was also a fourth 1.3km gravel section that we tackled on the run back to Farringdon. A strong field including pro tour ride Hayden Roulston, Olympians Shane Archbold and March Ryan and returning professionals Dan Barry and James Williamson added further spice to the event.
The opening 8km team time trial was an absolute shocker for my Benchmark Homes team, with our management staff not being aware of a last minute change allowing teams of eight riders instead of the inital five. Starting with three riders less than most of our opposition, we were further disadvantaged by dropping one rider early yet somehow we still managed third place, only three seconds off second plance and nineteen seconds off the winners, H&J’s Outdoor World from Invercargill. I was pretty annoyed, but on the positive side my legs had felt mint.
The road race started off fast, but given the flat profile and long straight roads it was pretty hard for any move to establish a gap before the first gravel section at forty kilometres into the race. I had pre-ridden both sections in the lead up to the race and thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect. As was the case last year however, the section received a bit of last minute attention from the local council grader and what was originally a relatively hard packed and fast section was now a thick, deep and loose stretch of large, heavy gravel. The peloton immediately blew apart, with punctures, crashes and riders generally just struggling technically through the challenging surface. As we came off the first gravel section, it was select group left at the front.
Elite Series Round 6 Finish
While the peloton did partially re-group around twenty kilometres later, the winning break formed soon after following a period of continuous attacks. I had been pretty active and found myself in the move with Ryan, Williamson, Chapman, Jason Allen, Dylan Kennett, Cam Karwowski, my team mate Hamish Schreurs and a couple of others. The group were all keen to work together and we steadily pulled away from the peloton. After another lap it became pretty obvious we would not be caught. My legs were good and I was feeling confident of my chances but unfortunately Chapman was keener to mark me for the series than contest the win.I comfortably beat him in a sprint at the finish to secure the series win, but this was only for sixth place, while ahead Marc Ryan won the race solo from Kennett and Allen.
At the end of the day, I was stoked to win the Benchmark Series for the second time, capping off a really enjoyable campaign with the team. It was disappointing to finish the race not feeling I had really tested my form but at least I had felt great in the few hard periods of the race. Good signs heading into the Melbourne to Warrnambool. Sam