Round five of the NRS, The Santos North West Tour took place last week with the towns of Narrabri and Coonabarabran in the North West of New South Wales playing host to the race. It was certainly no easy task getting there with two flights, first to Brisbane and then onward to Newcastle being followed by what seemed like an eternity spent in the team van. This particular race had attracted some pretty negative press the year previous for poor traffic management and lack of road closures however there were certainly no issues in this year’s edition. It was a well run event and in particular I think the organisers should be commended on their choice to allow time trial bikes in the opening TT stage. I was pumped to finally get a chance to get my Cervelo P5 out for an NRS round.
The race kicked off with an 8.5km time trial in Narrabri on a flat and fast, out and back course. The organisers were on a tight schedule, with both a large men’s and a women’s field to run through and an afternoon criterium on the cards too and so riders were sent off at relatively close 30sec intervals. I had a solid warm up and was feeling great out on the course but had the misfortune of catching the rider in front of me (and soon after the rider in front of him) right at the turn around costing me a handful of precious seconds. I finished in a time 10min50seconds that put me finish in sixth place on the stage. My time was only three seconds off second place although disappoint was placated by the fact that even without the hold up, I wouldn’t have touched the winning time of Genesys (and definitely future pro-tour) rider Jack Haig who posted a smoking fast 10min36.
My Cervelo P5 – finally seeing some daylight in the North West Tour
Stage Two was a short and fast 33km Criterium around the streets of Narrabri, made even shorter after a big crash brought the race to a stop for a period of time around ten kilometres in. With the fastest sprinter in the field, 19 year old Jesse Kerrison on our team , our tactics were simple and after a one lap lead out from Jack Anderson and myself, Jesse won the stage with meters to spare, a great result for Budget Forklifts.
Stage Three was 105km from Bingara to Narrabri. With a couple of tough climbs, the first of which was less than 15km into the stage, it promised to be a tough and decisive stage. Unfortunately a crash at the summit of the final climb of the day saw the race leader Jack Haig come down hard, along with fellow NRS protagonist Neil Van Der Ploeg. The race was neutralised while Jack got a bike change and in that period the majority of dropped riders were able to rejoin. Once the racing resumed, two riders, Cam Bayly and Craig Evers made a late attack that saw Cam win the stage and take the yellow jersey by a handful of seconds.
Switching to stage winning mode for Jesse and sensing the danger of the move up the road, our team had taken up the chase behind but frustratingly we received no help from the other teams. Further adding to the day’s disappointment, I found myself on my backside in the final kilometre. There was a decent crash at the front of the pack among the sprinters and despite having heard it in plenty of time and slowed right down before I reached the crash scene, I found myself being pummelled from behind with tremendous force. One of the visiting Kenyan riders must have had his head down, oblivious to the crash ahead and steamed into me at full speed. Luckily there was no major damage done, although I winded myself pretty well, taking my handlebars square to my chest and bruised my tailbone nicely, leading a fair it of discomfort for the remainder of the tour.
Stage Four was the queen stage of the tour, a 126km stage finishing at the Siding Spring Observatory, the summit of a fifteen kilometre climb. Still licking my wounds from the day before and with five solid climbers on our team I was on break away duties for the stage. It was my team mate Karl Evans who eventually put himself in the move of the day, with my fellow kiwi Darcy Ellerm-Norton for company. The pair reached a maximum advantage of around two minutes while behind the yellow jersey team of Search to Retain along with Genesys had settled into the chase.
The pair was caught with around forty kilometres still remaining and again I went on the attack, eventually getting a gap with two other riders for company. With the Genesys team having to do most of the work behind, I was motivated to make them chase for as long and hard as possible and it wasn’t until the lower slopes of the final climb that the move was re-absorbed by a drastically depleted bunch. From here I allowed myself to cruise to the top while up ahead the climbers did battle. At the finish it was Nathan Earle who took yet another hilltop victory, while my team mate Jack Anderson had a great ride to finish close behind in third. The entire Budget Forklifts team were impressive and we had four riders in the top ten on the stage.
The fifth and final stage was a relatively flat, 135km trip from Coonabarabran to Gunnedah. Any change in general classification was very unlikely and so our team objectives were for Jesse to take the sprint classification jersey and also to win the stage. The first objective was met when Jesse comfortably won the intermediate sprint prime at the midway point of the race following a full team lead-out. Jack took second in the prime while I was third, guaranteeing Jesse his third green jersey in the NRS.
Having given up over five minutes on the general classification on the previous stage, I found myself with a bit more freedom than usual and managed to place myself in several promising moves throughout the day before forcing the winning break with around thirty kilometres remaining. The group grew to nine riders with most teams represented and we gained a maximum advantage of a minute on the long headwind run into the finish. With the fastest sprinter in the race on our team, the safest tactic would probably have been to ride for a bunch kick, however I appreciate the faith my team mates put in me by not chasing and allowing my group to stay away.
Unfortunately I made a complete mess of the finish. Despite feeling super strong all day I failed to see the danger when two riders snuck off the front in the final kilometre. I was then left to do all the chasing myself and while I attempted to time my run such that I would catch the pair as Iopened my sprint this tactic failed miserably as I both failed to close the gap or win the sprint for third either. Jordan Payne from Racing Kangaroos crossed the line in first place.
Christchurch training roads in June
The North West Tour turned out to be a relatively successful race for Budget Forklifts with a stage win, the green sprinters jersey and four riders in the top eleven on GC, placing us second in the teams classification also. With the disappointment of stage one and stage five plus my crash on stage two, I would have to say it wasn’t the most enjoyable race for me.
Luckily it is over six weeks until my next race, the Tour of Gippsland, which allows me plenty of time to relax and refocus. Training will no doubt be challenging over that period with the cold of winter setting in here in Christchurch. After sunny and warm days at North West, arriving home to zero degree temperatures and snow was quite depressing although with the Tour de France kicking off this weekend I’m sure I won’t be short of motivation. I am also lucky enough to have just recieved a new frame from our awesome bike sponsors Cervelo. I can’t wait to throw a leg over the S5 aero frame, it looks superfast standing still!