5:30am Monday: Less than 24 hours after our big effort in the final stage of the NZ Cycle Classic. Vinky and I are up at insane o-clock to catch a red-eye flight from Wellington to Melbourne for the next big race, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
8am Monday (Aus time): We arrive at Melbourne airport. The temperature is hot. It is still early in the morning and the mercury is already rising above thirty. I start to have flashbacks to my awful experience in the heat at last years Sun Tour. This is far from ideal.
The smooth tarmac of Beach Road.
A couple of hours later and we are out for a recovery spin along Melbourne’s Beach Road, which has got to be one of the most popular training roads in the world. My legs are feeling pretty tired and heavy, but all I can think about is how uncomfortably warm it is. I long to be back in my airconditioned hotel room.
Sun Tour Prologue on Melbourne’s Southbank
Rolling out of the start house for the Prologue. – Photo Cam Watt
Wednesday Evening: Following a grand team presentation in Federation Square, the Sun Tour is under way. It opens with a short and sharp 2.5km prologue starting just behind Fed square and finishing along Southbank. The course is a mixture of narrow cyclepaths and tight corners finishing right in front of the bars and resteraunts on what is usually a pedestrian packed walkway. The location is amazing and the crowds incredible. My legs on the day were suprisingly good, my cornering skills not-so-suprisingly average. Fast on the straights yet slow around the corners I finished around ten seconds down on the winner, my compatriate Jack Bauer of the Garmin team.
Cunningham Pier, Stage One Start
The Wonderful Rapha Coffee Truck
Thurday Morning: Geelong. The first road stage of the tour starts from Cunningham Pier. The sun is already out in full strength, it’s going to be a hot hot day on the road to Ballarat.
After a looong neutral, I put myself in the very first breakaway of the race, probably thanks to a deliciously strong free coffee I was served from the Rapha truck that morning. Unfortunately that breakaway was pulled back a couple of kilometers later and the break of the day went soon after. The stage ran largely to script. The steep cat 1 climb of the day turned out to be a non-event however the crosswind across the top caught a few teams out including us. This meant I got to spend a bit of time on the front chasing a dangerout group of GC contenters just ahead. Lucklily I was in good company, as United Health Care and Cannondale had also missed the move.
I lacked the horsepower on the final climb (actually I think it was more a case of the heat finally getting to me) and I slid back to the second group on the road. Up ahead the main contenders all finished together, including our main men Vinky and Tim Roe.
Chasing on Stage Two – JXP Photography
Friday: “Thats the race gone right there” fellow kiwi and Cannondale Pro rider George Bennett says to me. A large (17 rider) group has just disappeared up the road early in today’s 165km stage from Ballarat to Bendigo with a distinct lack of Budget Forklifts riders present. Sammy Witmitz and I are quickly to the front and beginning the chase as the break eases out to a minute and a half lead. Garmin are disagreeing with our tactic however. According to them, Green Edge have also missed the move and we should let them do the work. This comes as quite a relief to me and as the pace of the peloton turns right off, I pull over for a piss stop and head back to the team car for a chat to team manager Cam.
With the roads so narrow and twisty, the com cars and team cars are having a hard time identifying exactly what numbers and riders are in the break. Cam instructs me to do a quick head count as I head back up through the bunch. I only spot four Green Edge riders, indicating that they infact have not missed the move and instead have two riders present. Even worse is when I realize one of those riders is pre-race hot favourite Simon Clarke. The gap has blown out to five minutes as Team Budget Forklifts reassamble at the front of the peloton. This is far from ideal.
As temperatures on the road head north of fourty degrees our team slowly begins pegging back the gap to the front. A determined team effort, assisted by the Rapha-Condor who join in after fourty kilometers sees us gradually reduce the deficit, second by second. It is not easy going though, the road to Bendigo is continuously up and down and the heat opressive.
Stage Two – Photo JXP Photography
With less than a couple of kilometers reamaining to the major obstacle of the day, the Cat 1, twenty minute ascent of Mt Alexander I pull off after a big turn at the front. The tank is now completely empty for me and I know I won’t be pulling back into the paceline. I’ve still got a bit of work to do though, with another thirty kilometers to go after the climb and a time cut to avoid. Luckily I find team mate Josh Prete and some of the Rapha boys for company. Up ahead Tim has made contact with the majority of the early breakaway and is back in the race. Three riders would stay away however with Clarke winning the stage from Cameron Wurf and wonder-kid Jack Haig. The reminants of the peloton/break finish a minute down.
New Team Wheels, thanks to Subaru Toowong
Saturday: Temperatures forecast today are so hot that they have decided to move the race start forward an hour to 9:30am. Unfortunately I miss my free coffee this morning with the Rapha truck being absent. They had been barred from serving free coffee as it was unfair to race sponsor SRAM who were selling coffee, go figure. Luckily todays stage from the picturesque Mitchelton Winery to Nagambie was to be far more controlled than previous days with the new yellow jersey Clarke and his team content to let an early break establish a lead before bringing them back in the final kilometers for a big bunch sprint.
Former team mate and alround great guy Jack Anderson was present in that move, doing enough to pull on the green sprint ace jersey at the stage end. Meanwhile my Budget Forklifts team mate Kristian Juel was feeling a bit left out of the action and decided to bridge a two minute gap to join the riders at the front. I was enjoying a much cruisier day in the middle of the peloton, even if the temperature was well exceeding my comfort zone. Young SA fast man Robert-John McCarthy won the stage in the end over some much more fancied rivals.
Tools of the Trade. Our Cervelo lineup for the tour.
2:00pm Sunday: I’m kitted up and ready to ride at the race start, the summit of Arthurs Seat. Motivation is sky high today, thanks to lower temperatures and the presence of gale force winds. Depite the three consecutive asecents of the tough climb we are currently waiting on top of, I am raring to race. Tim is within strinking distance of the race leaders and I can sense that race order may yet be turned on its head in the crosswinds. Unfortunately there is a nasty rumor floating around riders that we aren’t going to be racing today and shortly after Cam sends us a text to confirm – “Stage Cancelled – So Sorry.”
Despite no immediate fire risk in the area, with emergency services being diverted to bush fires elsewhere in the stage, the risk of holding the race is just too great. Especially true with the thousands of expected specators on the hill. The call was made my the Police Comissioner of Victoria and there was little the race organiser could do. Such a shame and a massive anti-climax to what was shaping up to be an epic stage.
7am Tuesday: Back in Christchurch and back to my desk at SKOPE Industries. Its only a brief stopover at home however with the Oceania Champs coming up quick in Toowoomba, Australia.