After a long week at work I was pretty tired and the horrible weather on Friday night made the idea of staying in bed much more appealing than waking at 6:15am on a Saturday but I woke with the alarm and after an espresso I loaded up the car and headed to pick up the others. Mike and Andy both looked how I felt: heavy eyelids and a look of apprehension.
We traveled up to Whangaui in the Falcon. The traffic at this time of the morning was non-existent and Friday’s rain and wind had given way to clear blue skies and views of the snow-capped Tauruas.
A few hours later we passed through Whanganui and arrived at the race course to find a very technical descent (with a railway crossing in the middle) followed by a punchy 1km climb about 2km before the finish line. The technical descent added to my apprehension but I liked the idea of a half-descent climb within a stones throw of the finish and I made a mental note to get to the front of the bunch for the descent.
We registered and were issued the most amazing race numbers: they were thick, heavy material with hand-written numbers and were so wide that they wrapped around to the front of the jersey! No digital timing tags here.
We had plenty of time so we jumped back in the car and drove the course: A flat start, fast downhill, then a bit lumpy before heading back on State Highway 3 with two decent climbs before turning off the main road into the technical descent, 1km climb, and flat to the finishline. In B grade I’d have to do 4 laps of this course for a total of 90km, Mike and Andy in A grade would have to do 5 laps for a total of 112km.
I was riding the wide Velocity A23 wheels with DT Swiss hubs – these aren’t as fast as carbon race wheels but the road-holding and amazing feel of these wheels has made them my favorites to ride.
I found the pace from the start to be comfortable so I stayed near the front and lapped out in the thought that a break would form. One guy made repeated attacks off the front but wasn’t able to make anything stick and no one wanted to go with him.
I had no problems on the two climbs on SH3 and each lap I made sure to be near the front of the group for the descents. The descent over the train tracks was a lot of fun with great traction in the corners and I found myself really looking forward to this descent on each lap, plus it put me in a good position for the 1km climb which followed. The climb was steep enough to suit my strengths and was too long for the powerful riders to take advantage.
Any New Zealand race isn’t complete without interference from the local livestock and on lap 3 we were stopped by the cows crossing the road on their way to milking. A couple of lucky guys who had been dropped on the climb managed to get back on and no one seems to complain about having a rest for a couple of minutes.
On the final lap Kerry jumped clear on the first climb. I let him go and expected the bunch to work together to bring him back, but this wasn’t the case and he quickly left us behind. On the second climb I upped the pace hoping to split the bunch or have someone go with me, but near the top I glanced back to see I was 50 meters off the front of the bunch and alone. Figuring I’d get caught on the flat section I sat up and went back to the bunch.
The pace was reasonably quick along the flat section into the descent and I entered it in first wheel. This put me in a good position at the base of the final climb and a group of three of us broke clear of the group. We worked well together over the top of the climb and managed to catch Kerry with about 600m to go. Going into the final straight I was in last wheel which was the perfect position. It was a head wind combined with a slightly uphill finishline and I knew I had to wait and go late. Two of the guys infront bumped together quite hard and I didn’t want to crash so when they bumped together for a second time I jumped to the right side of the road and went early for the sprint. I went too early though and could only muster 3rd.
In the A grade Joe Cooper solo’d off the front and finished with about 1 min over the remnants of the bunch.
Andy had a stunning sprint through the bunch which was reminiscent of Robbie McEwen’s darting and diving and managed to finish 4th for the sprint and 5th overall – an awesome job considering the quality of the field. Mike rolled in a minute behind the front bunch for 11th place of the 25 strong field.
We loaded up the car and after prize giving headed for a kebab at Jabies in Bulls to spend the prize money. We talked trash the whole drive home and by the time I’d dropped the boys off, unloaded the car and jumped in the shower it was 9:45pm – certainly a long day!
This was the first time any of us had done the Whanganui GP and it was a really well organized event with great marshals – many thanks to Wanganui Cycling for putting on such a great day!