Okay, here is my Tour of Coleraine race report -- finally!!
The Tour of Coleraine was last weekend. Its a three stage race: two on Saturday and one on Sunday. Coleraine is a town about 500km from Adelaide, just inside the Victorian border and south of the Grampians.
Stage 1: 94km road stage
After an epic pasta feast on Friday night (cooked by 'Magic Man' Merlin and Lachie), we awoke to a very damp looking Saturday morning. To add to the fun, there were 50km/h winds forecast for the area. Fun times were definitely ahead.
There were just over 50 of us at the C-grade start line. We received an interesting pre-race briefing: "Okay C-grade. Every year you guys crash on this stage. This year, try not doing that." Hmmm.
The stage started with a fairly long climb out of town, but this was done under control behind the lead car. So we rode at a nice steady pace. At the top of the hill the flag went up, and we were racing.
Remember that race briefing? Yeah. Literally two minutes into the stage and BANG! Six guys on the ground, bikes in the air. Swear words all around. Me riding on the dirt to avoid the carnage. Okay, well that was our crash out of the way, I suppose.
The group came back together again, and things felt pretty easy. I was feeling optimistic.
We hit the base of the first K.O.M. at about 15 kms elapsed distance. Here was my thought process: Okay they are going pretty quick. Surely they will let up soon. I'm drifting back. Okay now they are going faster. Oh shit!!!
About five of us found ourselves off the back already! We hammered it after the top of the climb and managed to get back on. All good.
So the next few short and sharp climbs repeated this process, until I found myself well and truly off the back of the lead group. I was in a pretty fast chase group, and then they really put the hammer down and I was out the back of that group too.
I caught up with an A-grader who had been dropped on the first climb of the day, and we chatted for a while. He was apparently off to Belgium in a week's time to race kermesses, and much preferred a good hearty cross wind to anything resembling a hill.
The last chase group on the course finally caught up to me, and we worked together for a while over the second KOM, but there were only three of us together at the top. There was a nasty section of roaring crosswind and horizontal rain, and one of the guys fell off the back. Two of us remained.
We worked together most of the rest of the way, including over the final KOM. I did lose him by accident in the last couple of kms. I finished in about 3 hrs, an unknown amount of time behind the lead group (short story: the time keeping was very unreliable, to say the least).
Stage 2: 36 km (20 lap) criterium
After finishing so far down in the first stage, I decided it was time to act like a non-contender and make a doomed, suicidal, move.
We did one practice lap of the criterium course, and when the flag went down, I attacked as hard as I could. After two corners I glanced back: a gap! Of course, I had no chance at all, but I was off the front.
After one lap I was still clear, and then a rider broke clear of the field and came across to me -- the guy in the yellow jersey. It was at this point that my legs said 'Um, sorry, we're done', and I exploded spectacularly, just managing to latch onto the very rear end of the field as it came streaming past.
I sat there at the back, grovelling. Every five laps there were intermediate sprints for time bonuses. So on lap nine, the pace really ramped up, and without even realising it, I suddenly had a bit of a gap in front of me, and it wasn't getting any smaller! Oh crap.
I was in the offthebackistan again. I rode solo for another three or four laps before the field lapped me and I got pulled off the course. That's okay. In the criterium, any riders that get pulled off just receive the same time as the slowest finisher.
I was pretty disappointed that I was dropped, but thoroughly enjoyed my two minutes of idiocy off the front.
Stage 3: 71 km road stage
Just 71 kms and it would all be over! Unfortunately that's all I could think of on the start line.
The stage started again with a neutralised climb out of town, and then we were on our own. This time, there were no crashes. We started off on a long, straight stretch of highway, with bit of a crosswind.
I found myself towards the back end of the field again, and decided I'd go take a look up front, just to see what it was like. I moved up, using another rider for a bit of a draft on the way. I managed to slot into fifth wheel -- it felt like a nice place to be!! I felt much more at home towards the pointier end of the pack.
One thing I noticed. The guy in the yellow jersey had four or five teammates, and they were all sitting around him. Seriously. It felt like USPS controlling the Tour de France. Later on, I was told that they were an A-grade team in Melbourne... so at least I know why the pace was so hardcore the day beforehand.
My time near the front ended when someone attacked, and sure enough, one of the teammates jumped after him. The pack kind of swarmed around me and I drifted towards my rightful place at the back.
At about 30 kms in, we negotiated a fast descent, which was followed a few kilometres later by the first KOM of the day. It was like a wall. You can probably guess what happened next.
I won't go into the details of the rest of the stage. But suffice to say, it seemed long, boring, and painful. I finished a long way back, and that was it. I finished.
The good bits
I had a really good weekend away with six mates. We talked about pretty much nothing but racing, and watched Tour de France DVDs over ridiculous amounts of food. Great stuff.
The course was fantastic. Although there was the occasional foray onto main roads, the bulk of the racing was done on sealed, single lane, back roads. We could use the full width of the road (we didn't have a choice -- they were literally one car wide) and the scenery really was beautiful.
The criterium course was also great -- it was a six turn layout, but the turns were very wide and there was no need to stop pedalling at any point when you could use the full width of the completely closed circuit.
I learned that my form is not anywhere near where it was a couple of months ago. This was confirmed from the power data. I think this is due to a few things -- but I think recent lack of motivation has played a big factor. The simple fact is that I need a bit of break. So with that, I decided to take two weeks off the bike. I'm one week in already, and its been very refreshing!
I'm not sure if I'll be back for Coleraine next year, but I now know this: you must be in very good form to be competitive in this race, even just in C-grade. Because A-grade is really an elite level competition, the 'regular' A-graders filter down into B and C grade. And although A-grade is the only official teams competition, both B and C grade appeared to have strong teams controlling the race.
Thanks for reading -- there may not be any race reports in the near future, but you will hear from me eventually!
(PS: Photos thanks to Andrew Crowe and Tom Altree)