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2007 New Zealand National Road Championships
On Saturday (January 13th) I raced in the New Zealand Elite Nationals. The course was a half hour drive from my home and was run on roads that I regularly include on my training rides.
In all honesty I was quite relaxed leading up to the event. I knew my physical capabilities and the limitations they would place on my performance. I didn't expect much. The fact that I would be racing the country's best and, in one case, one of the best sprinters in the world, hadn't quite sunk in yet.
However, the nerves started to build the day before. Opening the Dominion Posts' sports section compounded this with a significant amount of press coverage on the event, a two page spread that would rival the coverage of a Super 14 rugby match. Names like; Julian Dean, Heath Blackgrove, Gordon McCauley, Tim Gudsell, Jeremy Vennell and others dotted the page. It was a whose who of the big guns of New Zealand cycling. Sh!t! I thought to myself...... My liaise fair attitude towards the event turned to one of self doubt. Mentally I was beating myself before I'd even slipped into my Lycra's. I was setting myself up for failure.
My emotions changed once again on Saturday morning. Local roads. Being a member of the local club's team. Riding in their colours. Local supporters. Racing against the top New Zealand riders in the world. Plus a few tunes from Eminem, MUSE and Aerosmith. A nervous anticipation crept over me and I was no longer thinking of failure but rather of means to prolong my survival.
The course was a difficult one, with three ascents of the demanding 'Blue Mountain Road' climb on a 25km loop and 5 ascents of the 'Wallaceville' climb on a 17km loop. Total 160km. It was predicted that major splits would occur on the Blue Mountains climb. At 2.7km the road rose to just under 300m and with an average gradient of 8.1% the climb required a rider of my ability to be at max every time we went up, this in order to just stay with the group. The second smaller loop was predicted to slowly grind the remaining riders down with one main climb and several sections of rolling road.
The start was fast with Gordon McCauley putting in his customary early attack....a theatrical trailer for what was going to happen later on....The pace settled as everyone prepared for the first ascent of the Blue Mountain Road. The pace was smooth but fast. 20kph. The fastest I normally go was 16kph....on a good day......my heart rate climbed......95%.......96%......97%.....98%.....99%.......99%......100%.....100%.....101%..... 102%.....103%......2 hairpins to go.....and I held on.......recovered and life was good......
On the flats the pace went up again, hitting 65kph, the further back in the bunch you were the more difficult it was to keep up with the strength sapping concertina of accelerations and decelerations moving through the peloton. At least at a local race you know the hurt is only going to be on for a few minutes at a time as few people are able to keep the constant attacks going. Here it was continuous.
This time we hit the base of Blue Mountains at pace, my heart rate was already at 95% and climbing as fast as the road, although one flattened out before the other!! I was climbing next to Julian Dean, here was I riding at maximum, there was Julian looking cool, calm and collected.....and he's a sprinter!!!!! Needless to say I wasn't riding next to him for very long as he snaked his way to the front of the bunch with a calm, effortless finesse.
Slowly I dropped from the front of the bunch.....to the back....to off the back....and there was bugger all i could do about it! It was comforting to see several others in the same predicament, including New Zealand track pursuiter Hayden Godfrey slipping off the back....he would be useful in the chase I thought to myself! Having been in this situation before I thought it best not to let him drop behind too far, just to make the jump onto his wheel at the top a little easier....but also to relieve a bit of stress off my already screaming body!
At the top a bunch formed. There were five of us together with a further five, ten seconds up the road and the main bunch a further 45 seconds beyond. It was going to be a long chase! The chase took ten minutes and we were on! After a few minutes recovering I moved to the front end of the bunch, just far enough back so that I didn't have to to any work.
Soon the pace lifted as we approached the descent, most people seemed to want the front, understandably! I think I went down about fifth or sixth wheel. Touching over 70kph the pace didn't let up as we hit the flats, we were constantly and consistently between 55 and 60kph. I was on the rivet on the flats, with only a 12 sprocket I can't power along much above 55kph and even then only for a short period of time....I'd been to my physical limit going up and was pretty much at it on the flats......we were spread out in a pace line wheel on wheel on wheel....
Luckily as we approach Blue Mountains for the last time the pace eased but my heart rate was still at 95%....this would be a tough one! I managed to stay in contact until about a third of the way up but then I started to loose ground only to be encouraged and cheered on by the local crowed. I managed to dig into the trusty 'Suitcase of Courage" (I had to use it at least once Guy!) and regain contact, but I couldn't hang on. I had picked up a small fridge (mini-bar size) and had begun to slow......But boy did I look good doing it! A smooth pedal stroke, an emotionless face, relaxed and steady upper body...... I was told later that I looked like I was cruising..... little did they know that my lungs were screaming out for more air, my legs felt like lead and my heart was about to explode out of my chest at 207 beats per minute!!!! Who cares? I looked good!
My race was pretty much down hill from there. I got in a group at the top, this time six of us, all familiar faces from the last lap..... Flat roads.... smooth surface.....nice tempo.....and TWAG! A spoke failed. I hit the brakes, put my hand stopped and removed my front wheel only to see one of the chase cars drive straight past - Ba$tar*s!
Julian Dean is a very worthy winner of the jersey. He is regarded as one of the best lead out men in the business, looking after Thor Hushovd in the final kilometres of a flat stage. At least now he might stand out a bit more at the Tour de France!
My key stats from the day:
Total Distance I Raced: 75.2km
Average Speed: 38.5kph
Max Speed: 71.6kph
Average Heart Rate: 183bpm
Max Heart Rate: 207bpm
Time above 200bpm: 7:00mins
Time above 190bpm: 30:00mins
Time above 180bpm: 31:45mins
So, I guess it was a pretty tough race then.
Andrew MacFARLANE DNF. Over and Out.