Parramatta Cycling Club’s annual Bent Crank Handicap commemorates a mid-race crash at Oakville in 1994, which dramatically bent club member Steve McGarrity’s crankarm into a curved bow.
The 2018 edition attracted a field of over 60 participants; an impressive turnout for a club handicap. Perhaps, like me, they were keen to spice up their regular racing schedule. Every now and then, it’s fun to race without complicated tactics. In a handicap, everyone in your group simply rides hard, rolling turns at their limit, until your group either reaches the front of the race or gets caught by the groups behind. It’s equitable – everybody hurts the same.
Compared to the deplorable weather at my last race at West Head, Oakville served up relatively mild, though still crisp conditions for the Bent Crank Handicap. The first weekend of winter delivered a cold southerly wind. Thankfully, the absence of rain, and the ambient 17°C temperature, ensured riders would quickly warm up once they started racing.
Prior to race start, however, we were forced to wait in the chilly Oakville Public School carpark as the handicapper divided up the field. It’s a tough job giving a fair handicap to over 60 riders in a short amount of time. Nevertheless, despite a few tongue-in-cheek protests, and a little confusion about start times, we were soon rolling off the start line for an hour of suffering.
Rolling out – Lap 1
The race consisted of five laps of the Oakville circuit; a total of about 35 kilometres. I was placed in a group of around twelve B Grade riders including Parramatta clubmates Peter Jeffers, Jason Tran, Mike Ellis and Chris Uebergang, along with Pelotone Sports coach Emir Mujčinović.
I wasn’t sure of the time gaps ahead of and behind us. All I knew was that there would be about three or four groups ahead of us, and two or three behind us. As it turns out, we started about 7 minutes behind the Limit group and 5 minutes ahead of Scratch. In any event, regardless of time gaps the tactic would still be the same: as a group, ride as hard as you can from the gun.
Some of my group members didn’t receive that memo until halfway up the first climb of Hanckel Road. They sat at the back, failing to rotate forwards to share the workload. A stern explanation from Peter Jeffers about the basic premise of handicap racing soon encouraged the group to work together, save for one rider in a Waratahs jersey, who didn’t touch the wind for the entire race.
The trickiest corner at Oakville is a 90-degree downhill left-hander at the bottom of the circuit. It’s a fast, sharp corner. Before entering, riders can set up wide on the far right-hand side of Saunders Road, but, when exiting, they are restricted by traffic cones to one side of Smith Road.
On Lap 1, I led the group into that corner, putting my weight through my outside (right) foot, as per textbook cornering technique. Unfortunately, and not for the first time, upon exit my right foot seized up with cramp.
I had recently adjusted the cleat position on my right shoe, pointing my toes more sharply inwards. This, combined with overtightening, may have caused the cramp. I freewheeled for a few seconds to loosen my Boa dial, drifting to the back of the bunch. Thankfully, after loosening my shoe, the cramping disappeared for the rest of the race.
Brutal tempo – Laps 2-4
During the middle laps of the Bent Crank Handicap, two riders in my group emerged as the strongest.
The first was Chris Uebergang (Parramatta CC). Every time he went to the front, he put two bikelengths into the rest us, such was the difference in speed between him and the rest of the group. We’d scramble, strung out in single file, to close the gap and hold his wheel. The other strongman was Emir Mujčinović (Pelotone Sports), an Ironman competitor and former Olympic canoeist. With his massive aerobic engine, only he, and perhaps one other rider (from Marconi CC), appeared comfortable with Uebergang’s pace. Together, they set a brutal tempo at the front of the bunch.
The rest of us rolled through as often as we could. For me, those middle laps followed a consistent pattern. I’d pull as hard as I could on the uphill section – my favoured terrain – until the big boys took over, after which I’d barely manage to hang on along the flat and downhill sections. Towards the end of Lap 4, most riders in my group had stopped rolling through at all. We were just holding on to the strong men.
With those riders doing the lion’s share of the work, our group was shedding people all the time. In the midst of your suffering, it’s an encouraging sign when you’re catching and passing earlier groups as if they’re standing still.
Despite the fierce pace, we didn’t appear to be approaching the front of the race. With two laps to go, the timekeeper gave us a gap of 4 minutes from the front of the race. At the bell, the gap was still 3 minutes.
Final lap – Lap 5
A gap that large would be insurmountable on the final lap. However, I told the group to keep working as hard as we could, aiming for as highly-placed a finish as possible.
Hanging on for the final
As per usual, I did a turn on the steepest part of Hanckel Road, before the usual suspects rolled through and left me hanging on for dear life. At the top of the hill, I glanced back to assess the race situation. Scratch was still nowhere to be seen. We weren’t going to catch the front of the race, but we also weren’t at risk of being caught from behind. It would still be worth trying to place highly in my group. With that in mind, I focused on resting up for the final sprint.
By that stage, our group was down to about ten riders. With the big engines working all the way downhill, I took the bottom corner in sixth wheel – an acceptable position.
An opportunistic attack
All of a sudden, the pace let up. The big engines started freewheeling at the front, trying to coax others to come around and lead out the sprint. As the group bunched up together, I thought about attacking – and I went for it. I punched it hard up the left hand side. It was a gamble – a do-or-die effort with about one kilometre to go. I had sensed a moment of hesitation and hope the element of surprise would give me just enough of a gap to hold on to the finish. This was no pre-planned tactic; it was a split-second decision in the spur of the moment. Some would call it “race instinct”.
Unfortunately, my instinct was wrong. I turned the last corner in the lead, but after a few more pedalstrokes, I was caught. As we headed up the finishing straight, I sat in second wheel to recover, but it was all in vain. The sprint opened up on the right hand side. I went to follow, but my legs had nothing left, and I could only watch as the remnants of my group contested the sprint. Watch my video commentary of the final kilometre below.
Video commentary – Final KM
As it turns out, there had been
nine seven riders ahead of our group. Harry McKay took our bunch sprint for 8th. Deservedly, Uebergang crept into 10th place, earning a little prize money to reward his strong performance.
One of the earlier bunches had survived to contest the win. Young gun Josh Wooldridge (Parramatta CC) claimed the top step, with Jarome Foote in second and Kevin Young (Parramatta CC) in third. A strong ride by them to hold off the rest of the field!
My Strava activity can be found here. I came away from the race with a few thoughts:
- Perhaps the Cancellara-like late solo attack is not the best option . I should consider being more patient and waiting for the sprint.
- In order to perform better in hour-long handicaps like the Bent Crank, I need to train my threshold power.
- I felt relatively strong when going uphill, but struggled to hold on during the flat and downhill sections. The question is, should I focus on maximising my strong point (climbing), or on ironing out my weaknesses (flat roads and descents)? The race courses around Sydney are all flatter than I’d like, so I am leaning towards the latter.
Feature photo by Darryn Avery.
What were your thoughts about the Bent Crank Handicap 2018? Let us know in the comments below.