Last week took me to Queensland and Round Three of the Australian National Road Series the Tour of Toowoomba. For my un-educated New Zealand friends, Toowoomba is a small city, located at the top of the Great Dividing Range, a couple of hours inland from Brisbane. Being a ‘sister city’ to Wanganui seems quite appropriate, with a similar climate and similar potential for strong wind. Fortunately for me, temperatures throughout the week were warm and sunny, a welcome change to the rain and hail that had arrived in Christchurch just as I was leaving on Monday.
The presence of one, particularly nasty ascent of Mount Bunya and its sustained 14%+ gradients meant this was never going to be a tour well suited to me. I took on more of a domestique role for the week as well as providing some horsepower for the team time trial on Stage Three. Budget Forklifts went into the tour with three strong climbers in Jack Anderson, Mico Cupitt and Karl Evans, with the latter two having ridden high on the general classification in the previous year. Joining us was the Tasmanian duo of Peter Loft and Luke Ockerby providing plenty of power for the flatter sections. Teams of six was a welcome variation from the usual eight rider squads for NRS tours with the smaller teams making for both more dynamic racing and much easier race logistics in my opinion.
Our team struck some bad luck as the race unfolded when both Karl and Mico struggled and lost time on Stage One and then both crashed in different incidences on Stage Two. Mico went down hard and was taken off to hospital and while Karl soldiered on, our team’s chances for the ascent of Bunyawere firmly heaped on Jack.
Budget Forklifts Set Up
The opening stage had been a fairly straightforward affair and while brief periods of cross winds threatened to blow the tour open it was still a large peloton intact as we roared into the Highfields. Will Walker of Drapac snuck off the front in the closing kilometres to take a classy win by a handful of seconds, particularly impressive as he had spent a large amount of time off the front solo during the stage.
Stage Two was the queen stage, featuring the aforementioned Mt Bunya. Drapac set about defending the jersey, establishing a hard tempo on the front of the peloton. While an early break away was allowed up the road it was kept within arm’s length and never looked likely to succeed. With Drapacdoing the bulk of the work on the front, the Genesys team and their array of formidable climbers got an easy ride right to the base of the final climb. It was therefore no surprise to that the classy trio of Earle, Haig and Dyball wreaked havoc on the field as soon as the road pointed upwards, taking first, second and fourth at the finish with another team mate Crawford close behind. Lofty and Ocky rode strongly to put Jack in a good position nearing the climb and he had a solid but not super ride finishing up 15th on the stage about a minute and a half down on the leaders. Behind, I found the gradients far too tough, crossing another minute later.
Stage Three on Saturday morning was a 27km Team Time Trial in Greenmount, a stage that our team had been looking forward to all week. With only five riders however, I think we were severely disadvantaged and a wrong turn by Ocky at the midway point definitely did not help out chances. We finished third on the stage, over a minute behind Genesys (who had now taken the top four spots on GC) and an agonising twelve seconds off Drapac.
Budget Forklifts TTT – Photo Veloshotz.com
By Saturday afternoon the wind had really picked up and with some tired legs in the peloton, the 113km Stage Four from Greenmount to the Toowoomba criterium circuit was shaping up to be a decisive one. I was in my element in the strong crosswinds, but it was Jack who was really stomping, putting himself in a strong breakaway with Hucker from Drapac and Elliot from Target- Trek for company. Jack won every sprint and KOM on the road to Toowoomba and although their move was looking strong their chances were thwarted as several of the smaller teams took up the chase, hopeful of a stage victory to redeem their tour.
The break was caught with around ten kilometres to go and a bunch sprint was looking likely. An initial move by Drapac’s Lapthorne looked dangerous but it was a later move by his team mate Sulzberger that was the winning move. He hit out up a climb within the final kilometres and I was quick to sense the danger and jump across to him. Grenda of Polygon and Talibot of Racing Kangaroos joined us over the top of the climb and the four of us entered the criterium circuit with a small gap over the main field. Grenda hit out hard and I hesitated, looking for Sulzberger who I considered the strongest in our group to close the gap. Sulzberger instead eased up and while I tried in vain to chase back up to Grenda, he was well and truly gone, taking the win comfortably. While this was a disappointing finish for me personally, Jack’s efforts on the stage had netted him both the Sprint Aceand Most Aggressive Rider jersey and given our team a new goal going into the final stage to keep the jersey on his shoulders.
The final stage was a 50km Criterium around Queen’s Park in central Toowoomba. It was a tough rectangular circuit with a long uphill drag leading into the home straight and strong winds that were particularly difficult down the back straight, forcing the field hard in the gutter. Our team’sstrategy was to get up the road and absorb the two intermediate sprint points if possible but also put Jack in a good position to contest them if necessary.
While there were plenty of attacks throughout the stage, the bunch was moving along quickly and so it was a hard task to stay away for long. As a result the bunch stayed largely intact throughout the stage. Unfortunately Jack was feeling the effects of a hard couple of days racing and narrowly lost the two intermediate sprints to his rivals although taking third in the first sprint kept him in the running. Ocky put himself in a very promising looking move in the final laps, but it all came together nearing the line and it was Van Der Ploeg who took the stage win and the jersey from Jack in the final dash to the line.
At the end of the day, it was a disappointing tour for the team with Jack’s 7th place on GC and our 3rd in the TTT the sole results on paper behind a Genesys whitewash. Mico crashing out was a big loss for our team and I do honestly believe that had the race unfolded differently we would have been in a much stronger position. Simply put the roll of the dice didn’t go our way. There were definitely a few lessons learnt and we will be a better team thanks to the experience.
Personally, my tour was solid but unspectacular. I eventually finishing in 14th place after my losses on Bunya. Next on the programme for me is the Tour of Adelaide in only a few weeks and I look forward to being back on terrain that is much more suited to me.