Thursday, February 13, 2014

Suntour wrap up

When I woke sunday morning for the final stage of the 2014 suntour I was a little edgy to say the least. Perhaps the biggest day of my cycling career was ahead of me where I had the opportunity to fight for my first tour win as a professional. Just 8 seconds stood between my good mate Simon Clarke and the race lead with the emerging super talent in australian cycling jack Haig a mere 2 seconds adrift of me. All was set for mouth watering showdown on the queens stage of the oldest stage race in the country where we would fittingly finish atop the mythical climb of arther's seat on melbourne's mornington peninsula. The three of us all believed we had the firepower to win and also knew that we all stood a good chance of being beaten. It was a special feeling knowing I had the chance to finally be apart of such and enthralling battle where at days end there was only going to be one winner. I simply wanted the flag to drop and get stuck into it. I was as excited as the spectators to know what the final outcome was going to be. Alas just 30minutes before the start the stage was cancelled due to safety concerns surrounding potential bush fires in the area. At first when Nathan Hass told me the news I thought he was joking but quickly leant it was a fact and that was that. I am pleased the organisers made a definitive decision and stood behind it as it was without a doubt the only decision to make. At the end of the day it is just a bike race and to threaten the safety of hundreds, if not thousands of people when you consider the spectators, the simple and only decision was to cancell the final stage of the race.

So instead of doing battle atop arthers seat it merely became the site for the presentations. Sure it was an anti climax to such an exciting day of racing but I did not dwell for one second on what might have been and simply set about enjoying the podium ceremony with all the guys. I was awarded the most aggressive rider for the 2014 race which was a huge honour for me as I hold a special spot for this prize category. I love nothing more than going on the attack in bike races so to be recognised for this with the award always spurs me on to do it again and again and also is nice to feel some appreciation from the race for my contribution to spicing things up a bit! The other great thing about the award was it was sponsored by Subaru whom I am an ambassador for so was nice to hopefully show them why they made a good choice investing a little in me! Following individual trip to the stage I had the honour of getting up there for the GC podium with jack and simon. The spraying of the champagne is always a ritual for such a presentation and my good mate simon took great delight in blasting the bottle of bubble square into my eyes leaving me blinded for a few minutes, he well and truly got me a beauty there much to his amusement! There were definitely no sour grapes standing up on stage, I was very happy for simon and know he was happy for me. Knowing that your rivals respect you as much as you respect them is something I value very highly and this is definitely something simon, jack and I all shared for each other. In reality if you had told me before the start of stage 1 that I would finish 2nd on GC I would have taken it and run as quickly home as I could, I was very satisfied with my and my Cannondale boys work for the week.   

I was really honoured to be on this podium for reasons other than my personal achievement. The 3 riders I feel represent the beauty of the development and evolution of the sport in the country of the past few years. Atop the podium stood the local hero in simon clarke. 7th in the world championships last year in italy and developing rapidly and methodically from a right hand helper to the likes of simon gerrans and into a leader in his own right. When I missed a crucial split of stage 1 that greenedge created and my team mates so brilliantly shut down simon was furious with me and I was furious with myself. Simon knew had I been in it we probably would have had the chemistry to make it stick and I knew that I had put my boys in an incredibly difficult position to chase it down which I never want to do to my team mates. Simon said to me that night at dinner "don't you dare miss the next opportunity" and I said to myself I would not let my team mates down again. I knew and simon had a good inclination that the two of us would be apart of a decisive move in the race, as history will now show, that's exactly what happened on the stage from ballarat to bendigo. Simon definitely turned up to the race in the best condition of all in the race and was always going to be a factor. In the end I am pleased that the strongest rider won the race. Not only was he the strongest but also the smartest so there was no more deserving winner. Simon has progressed perfectly during his career and at 27 now looks set to really rise to being one of the best in the business. Simon's arrival at this level has come from nothing less than hard hard methodical yakka. By his own admission simon has to work extremely hard to be at his best and is a great example for work ethic and sacrifices required to make it to the top of the sport. Also what a great story for a local victorian lad to win the states most prestigious bike race on roads he rides everyday for training. Its a fairytale that makes young victorian kids riding around on those same roads believe that one day they can become professional cyclists and dream of winning the herald suntour. Without a doubt he is the perfect role model and I have to give a Big big pat on the back to my mate simon.

Jack haig is the emerging talent in the sport in this country. He is being likened in so many ways to cadel and rightly so. Its important that people remember there will never be another Cadel and that Jack is Jack but certainly I saw many reasons why australia should be pretty excited about this young fella in the future. At just 20 years of age his made me look like the grandpa on the podium and rightly so, 10 years his senior is huge so I am happy I atleast kept him one position behind me. In all reality jack was perhaps the best climber for the final stage and could very easily have finished on the top step, again we will never know but regardless 3rd was still a huge result for jack and also one he went out and made happen for himself. I was so impressed with the way he committed to the breakaway surviving with simon and I on the road to bendigo. He saw an opportunity to go tow to toe with two guys I am pretty sure he respects and was not in anyway intimidated or scared to fail and that was rewarded. He simply rode himself into the ground that day until he could do no more than simply try and survive in our slipstream for the final km's into the finish. He really emptied his young tank which simon and I appreciated and respected and consequently had no problems with giving him what could have been seen as a free ride to the finish that day. That's far from the reality of the situation and we were very happy he managed to stayed hitched onto us all the way to the finish line in his home town of bendigo, it was a great story. Jack is the whole package, he showed us in that stage he can climb with the best, is perhaps one of the better decenders in the peleton, and is not afraid to commit on the flat windy roads that many would believe don't favour his tall skinny frame. He definitely has it all there and its exciting to see what he will do in the years to come. By now I am pretty sure I've made it pretty clear that it was real honour for me to be sandwiched between these to gentlemen on the final podium of the 2014 herald suntour.

As for myself, well I feel like deserved to be there aswell. After missing the move on stage one I owed it to my team mates and all the team staff whom have put so much work into me to be in a position to fight for the title. I need to make it very clear that had Mattias, Junior matty mohoric, and george not committed on stage one I would never have even had the chance to fight for the title, simple as that!! They literally saved the tour for me chasing greenedge down on the wind swept plains running into ballarat so that's perhaps the most significant moment in the entire bike race for me. Boivin the next day laid all the foundations in the initial breakaway by driving the pace all day long to ensure we had enough of a gap at the bottom of the decisive climb so I could lay the knockout blow with simon and jack. Its the first time I really believed in myself that I could make something happen that day and it was really special feeling to have boivin who let's not forget could have won that stage aswell, sacrifice all his energy for me to have a crack at success so a huge thanks to him. It was really a special feeling to be able to look all the boys in the eye and know that I had shown them why they did all this work for me. They knew I appreciated them and I knew that they appreciated what I had done with the chance they gave me. That's one of those special moments that you get to enjoy as apart of a team sport. I definitely felt my teams and also my own contribution warranted me being on that final podium, we as a team earnt that. It was our second race together after TDU and was also fantastic to see how much we had progressed as a unit. When all was said and done with the race the results sheets saw us finish 3rd in the teams classification, 3rd in the KOM jersey with bettiol, 2nd on stage 2, 2nd on GC and also the most combative prize for the tour. Was a huge step forward for our young cannondale pro cycling team here in aus and a step forward that I was extremely proud to be apart of. Those fews days racing around melbourne were days that will definitely go down as some of the most enjoyable and significant in my cycling career.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Breaking away again, stage 2 suntour

It seems a good kick up the backside does me wonders in a bike race. After almost single handedly ruining the race for my team yesterday I woke up this morning determined to show them I was sorry and that I wanted to be apart of the action. Yesterday I had tried to be cagey and save energy in the group which when racing in aus doesn't always work. Infact whenever I have performed well in aus I have always adopted the attack is the best form of defence policy! So today that was my plan, don't miss a dangerous breakaway!

As expected from the gun riders shot out of the bunch like fire cracker's. Most significantly the 2 simons, clarke and gerrans were very active so I was pretty sure it was a day for the breakaway. So I joined in and was immediately in a dangerous move. Nobody seemed to want to work with me so we of course got brought back, no worries will keep trying. At this point our kiwi climbing ace george bennett came to me and said greenedge are wanting a guy up there and then sending gerrans of clarke accross. George's tactical nous is pretty impressive so I always trust his advice so I stayed alert for this. The attacks kept going and the ferocity with which garmin chased got less and less so the rubber band was stretching!!

I was now super alert to georges advice and then I saw the move going. Mitch docker from greenedge attacked and I immediately got boivin to chase after him so we were in the same boat. They were now up the road and then sure enough simon clarke bolted from the pack and I was hot on his heels. George had read it perfectly. The group swelled a little and we were now setting sail to a 3minute lead and while this is not much I knew that there was a very good chance the peleton would not see us again all day.

Up in the break we worked OK. Docker and Boivin did the bulk of the work and I kept rolling through regularly with a handfull of others. Quite a few spent the day sitting on but that didn't bother me, both jack haig and simon clarke were chipping in and they were the riders I knew would play a big part in the race on mt alexander. As we approached this pivotal kom 50km from the finish we still had a minute and I knew we had a big big chance now. My plan all day was pretty simple, get to the 5km moderate to hard climb with some sort of advantage and then open the throttle. That was if anybody did make it accross to us then I would only be strong riders and that would increase our chances of the breakaway making it to the finish. So onto the final 3km and the hard part of mt alexander!

I immediately took the head of the field. Boivin had burried himself for me and it was now time for me to show him why. I quickly checked my srm which had ticked over the 3hr mark and my average power was only 240watts. Beauty in thought to myself, I did this power for almost 14hrs last thursday so I was as fresh as a daisy! It was time to open the throttle. I set a tempo to thin out the group and wait for simon clarke and jack haig to attack. Sure enough it came a couple of km's from the top so I just upped the anti a bit to ride back to them. The group was now down to 5 so I though bugger you lot if your going to attack me and slow down I will keep the pace going and keep some sting in your legs. Soon it was down to 4 and 200m from the top they attacked again for the kom points and I figured I am doing 430-450watts they are not going to far so I will just stay in my comfort zone and save my legs to ride them back across the top. Simon knew what I was up to and over the top he told the boys to wait which made it even easier for me to get back on, thanks pal!! As soon as I got back on I went straight back to the front and drilled it on the false flat accross the top of the mountain. This is always a spot where everyone is looking for a breather and I knew we could take some quick time out of what was left of the peleton. The tempo also dislodged another from the group and it w as finally the riders I had expected, Clarke, haig and Me! Onto the decent!!

Jack haig is a local bendigo boy and this next decent we needed to drop like stones. We had opened the gap from 38seconds on the climb to 1min over the top so we needed to keep it rolling. Jack being local took the bull by the horns on the decent and simon and I literally put our lives in his hands! We flew down this twisty narrow road having no idea where we were going except following the boy in blue ahead of us. Finally with a sigh of relief we hit the bottom. It was time for the hardest 35km 3man TTT we had ever ridden.

When we heard garmin had only 3 riders left to chase it was music to our ears, it was now man against man, 3 on 3, perfect. This inspired us and we really dropped the hammer! We were working extremely well together doing even pulls and to give you an idea I was pulling at between 400-460 watts for 20 second periods so I knew while kept this up behind they needed 600 watts to close us down and for anybody that's not easy. At 15km we 1:30sec and if you follow the great phil liggits's tried and trusted formula around 1min per 10km is about the most a peleton can chase down on the run to the line. Under normal circumstances we were still no more than an even chance but in reality we had a greater than normal chance as it was not an entire peleton chasing us and merely a few guys. At 10km to we knew we had it. 19 year old jack haig had ridden himself into the ground to make this break work and was now having to stay in the wheels. This did not bother simon and I as we knew he had committed and without him we would not have survived. Jack haig is going to be a big player in the peleton in years to come so remember that name.

Inside 10km to go and we knew we were home and hosed. We agreed to work full gas together until the final couple of hundred meters and the best sprinter would win. Simon and I charged on and jack hung on for grim death. At 200m to go Simon kicked like and absolute Mule and I had no chance of going after him let alone trying to sprint past him. Simon really deserved the win today and I am very pleased for him and even happier the responsibility is on him and his team to control the bike race for tomorrow.

So what a day. It was capped of with second most aggressive rider award after the one I won at TDU. This one was a little more special as its sponsored by Subaru and as a Subaru ambassador I was happy to win the prize they sponsor. I earnt my first podium place for Cannondale since I joined the team in 2011 so again that's a nice little box to tick off. Just need to knuckle down now and see if I can finish one better in the future!  

Today's race data:

Distance: 160km
Ave Power: 303 watts
Ave heart rate: 160BPM
Max Power: 1060watts
Max Heart Rate: 194BPM
Kcal Burnt: 4350

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Stage 1 suntour

Today was an absolute hum dinga of a stage! There was Just 115km on the menu for today but when a fresh peleton faces such a short stage its always absolute chaos. Oh off course through in australian race conditions of dead undulating twisting turning roads and a constant breeze threatening to decimate the peleton at any km between the km 0 and the finish. The suntour has become synonymous with a first stage breakaway deciding the tour. This year we had a prologue in the legs so a sort of pecking order had been already established so I was pretty curious as to how the stage would pan out. Surprisingly a regular 1st stage of a tour breakaway formed very early in the day. Not only was this great in as much as you could seek some refuge in the bunch for a little longer but our sole Italiano on the roster her in aus, Alberto the beast Bettiol was one of the 3  escapee's!

This was fantastic to see from a team perspective. In TDU we had been largely un sited in the race so was so great to see the young guys attacking from the gun. The boys had been training hard in melbourne since TDU and today we definately saw a different cannondale pro cycling team in the bunch. By days end alberto had wrapped up the most combative prize and also the sprint classification and will wear that jersey in stage 2 tomorrow. So 2 trips to the podium for him today which was so great to see and he definitely had an extra spring in his step at the hotel this evening. In just his second race as a professional it certainly bodes well for an exciting future for the young italian.

Back in the bunch Matty Junior Mohoric and Mattias Motorbike Krisek were keeping geoge, boivin and I in the perfect position. The stage was always going to blow apart one way or another on a steep short 1km climb 40km from the finish. As we hit the climb the boys had positioned us perfectly. The bunch seemed happy to cruise up the climb and keep the group together which at the time seemed like a very courteous thing to do, YEAH RIGHT! Green edge had strategically blocked the road with there team and at the top we found out the hard just why they had done that!!

As we crested the climb and the crosswind awaiting us kicked in WHACK, pre race favourite Simon Gerrans hit the gas with his boys and the peleton exploded!! I thought I was in a good posi but unless you basically beside them when you go you not in a good position. Sure enough I went to follow and riders one by one ahead of me got dropped and I was forced to grit the teeth and chase down greenedge's assault solo. Our kiwi climbing ace george bennett had tacked onto the back but was severely outnumbered so I knew I needed to get myself there. I actually rode accross pretty well and was closing fast and just as I got to george I had a brain melt and forgot to think which I seem to always do on the first stage of every stage! George gave me the wheel in front and I decided to seek refuge for a little breather instead of simply riding up to the front and joining in with the greenedge boys. Unfortunately as I seeked refuge so did my legs which were screaming at me for chasing down this split and simply decide to have a breather!
What happened next was something I am not so proud off. I almost single handedly ruined the race for the team! George letting me in and my simultaneous leg explosion dropped us both from them front group meaning we had nobody in the lead group. Well that's not true as alberto was still up the road however green edge quickly gobbled them up and he was now getting a free ride and by not assisting in the work to maintain the front groups charge hopefully discouraging them from continuing the pace making. So I took stock, I realised I no longer had the power to ride back to the front group but also knew I needed to get into that group again somehow! I looked behind and saw the days life savers clad in green a few hundred m's down the road driving the bunch toward us. They saw we were dropped and immediately got on the front of what was now the second group and were driving the pace. They gobbled us up and now all the other teams not in the front contributed some men and I knew we would be ok, well I believed that for a few km's but then realised if I was on the limit then for certain so were those chasing, the race was in the balance.

At this point George took the bull by the horns and said "c'mon mate let's go and give em a hand and shut it down". George knew the longer greenedge dangled out there the more they would believe they would survive so when you get close you need to shut it down asap. Krizek and Matty had done an huge effort and now seemed to get a 2nd wind when george and I chimed in. They were truly life savers. Boivin was also safely in the group and saving his legs for the sprint and for the first day this trip to aus we really were functioning as a team, it was awesome to see. Eventually we rejoined on a hard punchy climb and as expected Krizek and matty slammed it into reverse and went out the back, they had given there all for us. Boivin, George and I were back in the front group so the day had been saved, I was so appreciative and while you never need to look to far to see why this is the ultimate team sport you always realise how special our sport is in moments like that. Boivin went back for water as he knew he was freshest from sitting in again illustrating his thought of his team mates. Bettiol was up the road and now with us and instead of dreaming of a stage win now sacrificed himself riding in the wind next to garmin controlling the peleton to ensure we were perfectly positioned to avoid missing any more crucial splits. Bettiol's work proved crucial in giving boivin a chance to sprint for the win and while he came up short today 7th was a great result and shows that his condition is riding and capped of a great team day for the Cannondale Pro Cycling team.

So I did my best to ruin the day for the boys and my team mates saved me and with it the day for the team. George and I are still in the race for the overall and boivin is growing in confidence for the bunch sprints. The suntour can always be turned on its head at any moment and todays stage was a shark kick in the back side to remind you of exactly that! Looking forward to getting stuck back into it in the morning!


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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Suntour kickoff

The suntour kicked off today with a snazy little 2.5km prologue. Normally I am pretty excited about stages like today but my excitement quickly evaporated when I saw the technical corners throughout the short course. The course was definately designed perfectly for spectators and to limit road closures as it quite literally was along the foot path. All bar a few hundred meters of the race track literally could not have fitted more than 2 bikes side by side so the crowd were able to get as close as possible. There was never a point on the course that you were more than a stones through from the rowing sheds beside the yarra so I felt right at home. Through in the final 500m or so along the popular southbank boardwalk and it was a great showcase of melbourne and southbank.  

So for such a short prologue you do so much preparation and then its over in a blink of an eye. Its a day like today I always revert to my tried and trusted rowing routines as the level of intensity and time of effort is so similar. Although today was only 3min it resembled a 1000m effort in the rowing boat which I have done millions of in my time. Today we raced at 7pm at night so I made sure I did a solid 2hr hit out this morning. My second race of the day always was my best when rowing so with the late start I adopted the same approach. Then its of to the start for some recon of the course and then around 1hr before the start you can finally start your warmup. By days end I had ridden 4hrs 10min and 3minute race so its a lot of rolling around for such a short blast.

I knew I was feeling quite good today as I couldn't wait to get on the ergo to start warming up. When you are delaying your warmup you know its going to be a tuff day but today I was champing at the bit to board my machine. So 1hr before I finally got aboard and all felt good. My warm up intervals felt easy so I rolled to the start full of optimism, well optimistic I could go fast in a straight line atleast. The corners were always going to knock me around but I just hoped I could go fast enough on the straights to not be embarrassed. I had pulled out all stops to improve this by inviting my mate dave daffy reynolds along to pass on his V8 super car cornering knowledge and I am certain his presence turned horrible to pretty average cornera!

My race plan was simple. Start as hard as possible for 10 seconds, I hit 980watts, then gradually get into my race rhythm over the next 30 seconds of 500-550 watts. Then hit the first corner where I knew I would go around it like a grandma and sprint full gas out off it to get back up to speed. Settle back into my rhythm until I hit the next technical corner which I made an absolute barry crocker out off with around 1.5km to go and then have to sprint full gas to get back up to speed. Settle back into my race rhythm again which by now felt like all out effort until I hit 1km to go then build up for the as much as I could for the finish. In the end I did 3:08 which was 8 seconds off the winner and good enough for 21th place and 3rd in the tassie cup. Just where I left of from in TDU. I am pretty happy with that as I am always terrible on such technical course so was a nice feeling to not loose to much time and be amongst action. All in all I think 3:08 is a good oman as my birthday is the 3rd of august so 3:08 so fingers crossed in some way this is a good sign for the days ahead!

Race Data

Time  3:08
Ave Power  505watts
Heart rate average  176.5
Speed ave  47.5kmph
cadence ave  90.3

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