The Masters cycling road race season started a few weeks ago but today was my first race for the new season. As I’m still refusing to get myself a car, it was also a good chance to get plenty of kilometres in my legs as the course was out at Chidlow, about 50km away from my house. It’s a bit of an uphill ride to get out there but the 9.30am start gave me plenty of time to leave early and take it easy getting out there.
Chong is not allowed to ride masters until he grows up more and he had an early lunch appointment anyway but he also felt like getting an early ride in so he rode with me as far as Mundaring.
I got to the race course in plenty of time to nominate, get my numbers pinned on, try to warm up in the sun and finally line up behind the A-graders.
I did a handful of masters races last year and, being a pretty inexperienced racer, I took the view that I was there to learn so I joined a few attacks, got into a few breakaways and generally got a feel for how the racing worked. I reckon I’m one of the stronger riders in B grade so I thought it was finally time to put my learning into practice and made it my goal to win the race. It’s a pretty fair indication of the paucity of my tactical astuteness that I instead came home last.
The race was six 11-kilometre laps and the first lap went well enough. It’s usually a bit of a warm-up lap. A few riders will stretch their legs but a break is never really on the cards. I’m getting better at riding with a racing bunch and had no problems staying near the front where I could see what was going on and decide whether there were any attacks worth joining. At the end of the first lap, I was riding on the wheel of a bloke called Paul, who I got into a breakaway with last year, when he started to pick up the pace so I thought I might as well follow him. We ended up in a group of four and worked pretty hard to try to make the break work. In hindsight, it was the most serious breakaway attempt of the day. My legs started hurting pretty quickly and it was quite clear that there was no way I would have been able to keep that effort up for even a couple of laps. I can’t recall how long it took for us to get caught but two things should have been clear to me: I didn’t have the legs to stay in a long break, and the chasers were going to be pretty effective today.
I decided to settle into the bunch and stayed near the front, taking a few turns to lead but trying not to do too much work. A few times, I thought I was just riding the bunch over to one or two riders who had gone up the road when I would turn around and find I had left the bunch behind and was in danger of joining the breakaway, something I didn’t really want to do.
Eventually, half-way through the third lap, I thought I had been setting a steady tempo on the front when I turned around to find the rest of the bunch had decided to have a rest and I was miles ahead of them. With more than half the race left, I should have soft-pedalled and waited for them. Instead, for no good reason at all, I decided to go flat out and see how long it would take them to catch me. I hoped that maybe I could wear out the chasers to create a few chances to escape later in the race. I was out of sight for a short while and managed to stay away for more than half a lap but I think the only person I wore out was me.
It was soon pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be winning this race. There was a small rise not too far from the finish line and I could tell already that I wouldn’t have the strength to stay with the bunch when they attacked it hard in the final lap. I decided to just try and sit in and see if I couldn’t just keep up at the end.
With about a lap and a half to go, there were two riders a little way up the road when one of the guys who had been involved in some of the earlier attacks sidled up next to me and told me that when the current break was caught, “we are going to go nuts”. I nodded back to him and really hoped that when he said we, he meant him and his posse because if he meant me and him, he was going to be bitterly disappointed.
I ended up sitting down the back of the bunch for a while feeling sorry for myself but on the last lap I felt like I had a little energy left so went up the front to have a look. My go nuts man was off up the road by himself so I thought as I’m definitely not going to be winning, perhaps I can help someone else to beat the bunch. I rode over to him and we had a pretty decent crack at it. A third guy joined us but we couldn’t stay away and got caught just before that small climb I mentioned earlier. Sure enough, I couldn’t stay with the group and was even passed by a guy with hairy legs wearing shorts. The shame. I finished alone.
Luckily the ride home was mainly downhill but I couldn’t rest up as I was meeting a friend to go to the rugby and I seemed to be running late. I was completely shattered by the time I got home and could barely struggle down the road to Perth Oval to watch the Western Force lose a lead in the last five minutes yet again. On the plus side, I am two out of two days riding in the People’s Grand Tour and have 250km under my belt for the weekend.