Pedro Gomez (Randwick Botany CC) took the win in a crash-marred sprint at the end of a cold and wet morning’s racing.
Mother’s Day saw the running of Round 2 of the KOM Financial Advice West Head Road Race, and the miserable weather tempted many riders to stay home for a hot breakfast in bed. Those who did may have been glad about their decision, as a delayed start time sentenced competitors to thirty extra minutes of shivering in the rain. Note to self: lycra cycling kit is designed for pedalling in, not for standing around in a freezing carpark.
Despite the awful conditions, my philosophy is that if I’ve signed up for a race, I’m committed. So, that morning, come rain, hail or shine, as long as the race wasn’t cancelled, I would be at the start line.
Ironically, I almost didn’t make it to the start. Having decided I’d had enough of standing in the rain (us skinny riders particularly miss out on the benefits of insulation), I went for a short spin up the road to warm up. On the way back, I hadn’t counted on the traffic marshalls closing the road to allow one of the earlier racing waves to pass. Thankfully, I managed to sprint back to the starting line just in time for my B-Grade wave to roll out.
The race: no breaks and bad sensations
This was the first time I’d raced three laps at West Head. In my previous outings, I’d only ever raced for two laps. Usually, I’d aim to be aggressive on a hilly course like West Head, but this time, wary of the extra distance (66 kilometres instead of 44) and my lack of recent training, my plan was to sit in and follow moves until the last lap.
There were about 15 starters in my race. A few riders tried moves throughout, including SUVelo’s Nelson Ashton. The wearer of the red KOM Financial Advice Leader’s Jersey looked to be the strongest, attacking solo off the front on more than one occasion. Even I attempted an attack at one stage, but once I saw that nobody was coming with me, I shut it down and went back to the bunch. With a 35km/hr block headwind all the way back from the turnaround, a solo breakaway would be doomed to failure. In any case, no-one was able to gain more than a hundred metres on the bunch at any point in the race.
During the second lap, the repeated climbs started to take their toll on my legs. Each pedalstroke felt heavy, and I found myself barely hanging on to the back of the bunch. From that point on, any thought of an attack disappeared from my mind. My tactic was now just to hang on to the finish, and hope to win in a small bunch sprint.
Despite some late attacks from a Northern Suburbs CC rider, the bunch entered the last kilometre more or less intact. The final kilometre of West Head features a sharp 200-metre climb at 8% gradient, a U-turn at the top, followed by a descent straight back down the hill and a slight rise over the final 200 metres to the finish. I started the final climb among the first five riders, and maintained good positioning around the U-turn.
I began to feel confident about the sprint as I kept myself just behind the front of the bunch, sheltered from the wind . With 400 metres to go, riders started to nudge past me, trying to improve their position. However, everyone knew it was still a tad too early, and the front riders fanned out across the road. Content to stay hidden for just a few more seconds, I drifted back just behind this row of frontrunners, looking for the right opportunity to launch my sprint from behind.
I spied a gap on the far left hand edge of the road, in the road shoulder. It was narrow, and I’d risk getting pinched off the road, but it was my best chance. I readied myself to launch for the sprint…
…just as the rider in front of me, in black Attaquer kit, came down suddenly. CRASH. His all-black bike bounced up in the air, cutting across my line of travel. I hadn’t any time to react, and as I passed him, I braced for the worst, expecting his bike to catch my wheels and send me flying to the pavement.
Thankfully, I somehow managed to avoid hitting the fallen rider and his bike. His bike must have just bounced out of my way. I had narrowly escaped injury, but in that split second, my race was over – I had lost too much momentum avoiding the crash, and the front of the bunch sprinted into the distance. “That was close,” I exclaimed aloud.
I’m thankful to have finished the race unscathed, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed – not so much that I didn’t win the sprint; but more that I didn’t have the opportunity to contest it. That was my fault – I had gambled on starting my sprint from a few wheels back, and that carries the risk of getting caught behind crashes. This year, I’ve started 8 races, and still haven’t contested a sprint in any of them. Hopefully, I’ll learn from my mistakes, and my time will come.
Pedro Gomez took the sprint by a bike-length from a Central Coast CC rider, with a young Manly Warringah CC rider completing the podium. A big congratulations to them for placing in some of the most awful conditions Sydney can throw at a bike race. Special thanks go to the volunteers from Manly Warringah CC who made the race happen, especially the traffic marshalls who gave up their Sunday morning to stand in the cold and rain. Chapeau to all of you.
Despite the abysmal weather, despite the late start, despite bad legs, almost crashing, and failing to contest the sprint – I still had a lot of fun at the KOM Financial Advice West Head Road Race, and I hope to be back soon!