June 12, 2013

2013 Northern Suburbs Three Day Tour

The Northern Suburbs Three Day Tour is arguably the jewel in the crown of the Northern Combine road racing season. Raced over four stages in and around rural towns north west of Melbourne the Tour features three road stages and an individual time trial.

The Tour was held over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and I was lucky enough to score an entry to race in D grade. But given I’d only done one road race and two criteriums before the Tour, I really didn’t know what to expect.

Before the Tour

I remember following the Three Day Tour on Twitter last year and thinking to myself “I want to do that, to see what stage racing is like”. So when entries opened, I jumped at the chance … only to find out that I’d been waitlisted due to most of the places being filled by Northern Combine volunteers.

I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be racing in the Tour and, to be honest, pretty much forgot about it. That was until a week and a half before it started.

“Good morning, we have found a spot for you in the 3 day tour”, read the brief email.

An icy morning in Lancefield before stage 1.

An icy morning in Lancefield before stage 1.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to take the spot — I hadn’t really prepared for it, physically or mentally, and my enthusiasm had dwindled since I first put my entry in. But, figuring I’d kick myself if I didn’t take the opportunity, I replied in the affirmative. And then the stress began. In the week or so between committing to racing the Tour and taking the start line on stage 1 I must have thought about pulling out at least 20 times.

Coming into the race I debated whether it was worth setting myself some goals. Would a top 10 finish overall be realistic? Or would I be better off just aiming to finish? In the end I decided to play it by ear and to try not to finish last. I also told myself that if I could somehow managed to finish inside the top 10 overall and, to be extra bold, finish a stage inside the top five, I would have exceeded expectations.

Yep, it was cold.

Did I mention it was cold?

Here’s how the Tour unfolded.

Stage 1

Route: Lancefield, Cobaw, Newham and Rochford loop x 2
Distance: 59.6km
Time:
 1 hour 40 minutes
Average speed: 35.8km/h

It was near freezing in Lancefield on Saturday morning as I pinned my numbers on and prepared for the 60km-long first stage. Someone on Twitter had dubbed it the Frostbite Tour and I wasn’t about to argue.

I’d checked out the course profile the night before and I knew there were two notable climbs, neither of them particularly long or steep. My plan was simply to stay with the bunch as long as I could, to stay out of trouble and to stay upright.

The race was neutral as we rolled out of Lancefield and with the pace being positively friendly for probably the first 10km I kept asking myself “are we still in the neutral zone?”

But things started to heat up around halfway through the first 30km-long lap and I found myself on the front of the bunch for a little while. I was keen to do my share of the work but after two turns I decided I’d have to adopt a more selfish approach. I let myself drift back through the field and watched as a few attacks were made and inevitably reeled back in.

Going  for a quick warm-up before the opening stage.

Going for a quick warm-up before the opening stage.

Despite the easy start to the race, I actually found the first lap to be harder than the second. Perhaps I was still getting warmed up on lap 1, or perhaps I just played it smarter on the second lap, sitting out of the wind.

That said, there were definitely times where I felt like I wasn’t far off my limit, just trying to hold on with the bunch. The pace seemed remarkably inconsistent with the bunch slowing then surging its way around the course. On many occasions I found myself lulled into a false sense of security as the pace slowed, only to be going full gas to catch back on when the bunch surged forward. And this was when I was near the front of the group too.

I remember in the closing kilometres of the race someone moving well across the double white lines (strictly forbidden) to attack which struck me as pretty dumb. It was a bit of an omen of things to come.

With the second lap feeling a little easier I decided to try and be as close to the front as I could coming into the final corner and the sprint for the line. As the pace increased and the finish line approached, the field spread right out across the full width of the road. I remembered D grade commissaire Lisa Hocking telling us explicitly that this wouldn’t be allowed so I decided not to pull out and risk being disqualified.

An exhausted Shannon Johnson is supported by commissaire Lisa Hocking just after Shannon won stage 1 in men's A grade.

Shannon Johnson after winning stage 1 in men’s A grade, supported by commissaire Lisa Hocking.

Not only were there riders all over the road but there was plenty of jostling and pushing among those just ahead of me. I saw two guys bash wheels quite firmly and I still can’t believe no-one came off. And then there was the guy to my left who had been squeezed off the road and onto the grass at 55km/h and was heading straight for the side of a bridge. To his credit, he didn’t panic, picking the best line back onto the road before rolling on unscathed.

That was enough for me to decide that it wasn’t worth fighting my way any closer to the front. Whether I could even have placed any higher I’m not sure but it definitely wasn’t worth the risk to find out.

In the end I finished in the bunch in 13th place with the same time as the winner of the stage, Trent McCamley. I was very happy with the result and very glad to have stayed out of trouble on a sketchy finish.

Position on stage 1: 13th
Position overall after stage 1: 13th (8 seconds behind the leader due to bonus seconds awarded for the win)

Click here to see my Strava file from stage 1.

Stage 2

Route: One way up Kyneton-Metcalfe Road (ITT)
Distance: 6.5km
Time: 
11 minutes 00 seconds
Average speed: 36.8km/h

After the sketchy finish to the previous day’s stage I was looking forward to being on the road by myself, against the clock. That enthusiasm disappeared roughly 200m after the start.

Rolling out of the startline I pushed straight into a freezing cold headwind which never really let up for the duration of the TT. I couldn’t really complain about the wind though — everyone was in the same boat — but it made it hard to find a rhythm. The fact that the course had a few rollers didn’t help either.

Another freezing morning at the Frostbite Tour.

Another freezing morning at the Frostbite Tour.

It wasn’t long until I was pushing along as hard as I could, and it didn’t feel fast enough. Sure enough, a little over halfway through the 6.5km I heard a whooshing sound behind me and Chris Anderson, who had started 30 seconds after me, was flying by. I wasn’t hugely worried as I knew he was super-strong on the flats (and would go on to finish 2nd on the stage) and so I just concentrated on pushing as hard as I could to the line.

In the end I finished the stage in 20th position (out of about 35). Certainly not my finest performance but I’ve always known that I need to get stronger on flatter and rolling roads. I hadn’t opted for TT bars or an aero helmet and I’m not sure how much of a difference they would have made anyway. A few seconds maybe? I’m better off spending more time out on Beach Road, working on my top-end speed I reckon.

Gus Gollings (C grade) rocking the aero helmet before his ITT.

Gus Gollings (C grade) rocking the aero helmet before his ITT.

Position on stage 2: 13th
Overall position after stage 2:
15th (1:03 behind the leader)

Click here to see my Strava file from stage 2.

Stage 3

Route: Kyneton, Metcalfe, Redesdale, Metcalfe, Kyneton
Distance: 84.5km
Time:
2 hours 36 minutes
Average speed: 33.3km/h

It had been freezing in Kyneton when I rocked up at the start of the day for stage 2 and it didn’t seem any warmer as we waited for stage 3 to begin at around noon. My legs were starting to feel the first signs of fatigue and with a long (by D grade standards) and hilly stage remaining in the day, I was feeling rather anxious.

Waiting nervously for the start of stage 3 with Marcus.

Waiting nervously for the start of stage 3 with Marcus. (Image: Sharon Ridgway)

I mustn’t have been the only one feeling slightly fatigued as the race started at an extremely leisurely pace and it wasn’t until about 15km in that things started to heat up. This was probably due to very few people being willing to work at the front (me included) and it was left to Chris Anderson (the one who overtook me in the ITT) to pull everyone along.

In the 85km race Chris must have sat on the front for at least 30km. No exaggeration. It was an incredible display of strength and there were more than a few occasions where he’d strung things out forcing many of us (me included) to hang on for dear life.

My plan for stage 3 was to sit in for as long as possible and to see how I went on each of the five noteworthy climbs on the stage. At the top of the first few I found myself near the front of the field, having passed a bunch of riders, and this pattern continued throughout the day. I felt far more comfortable when the road went up for any length of time than I did when we were punching up short rises and when the road was flat.

Exhausted but satisfied after  finishing stage 3.

Exhausted but satisfied after finishing stage 3. (Image: Sharon Ridgway)

There were several occasions where I must have been just a minute or two from popping, and that was on the flatter sections. I found myself wishing that there were more longer climbs to give myself a chance to rest and recover, as strange as that sounds. It was a bit of a physical and emotional rollercoaster but every time the going got tough I somehow managed to hold on. And when the climbs would roll around, I’d draw some confidence from the fact that I was able to stay near the front of the bunch.

My eQuipo tranQuilo teammate Marcus Nyeholt started to edge away from the field just before the penultimate climb, dragging Nick Liau and Trent McCamley with him. As we hit that penultimate climb I found myself at the very front of the field and as we crested the hill it was left to me to do the chasing. I sat up for a second, to catch my breath, and a couple of riders surged past, so I jumped on.

When we hit the final climb — a climb I remembered from my first ever bike race — I was in second wheel, behind Lachlan Stevens. He pushed hard up the hill and I did everything I could just to hold his wheel. The climb proper was only probably a kilometre or so long but with a steep ramp just before the end it proved decisive.

Marcus (left) lunges for the line just ahead of Trent McCamley. Lucky Marcus wasn't any further to the right!

Marcus lunges for the line just ahead of Trent. Lucky Marcus wasn’t any further to the right! (Image: Sharon Ridgway)

I crested the hill on Lachlan’s wheel and it seemed as if we’d opened up a bit of a gap with only a handful of us making the split. With only 10km left in the stage Lachlan led a full-gas effort in an attempt to maintain the gap we’d created and, hopefully, catch the group of three up the road.

As the kilometres ticked down our chase group was whittled down to four and I was giving it everything just to stay in touch. I did a couple of brief turns up the front but paid for them both. I simply didn’t have the strength to roll through from that point on — instead I just held on to the wheel in front and hoped the finish line would come soon.

I crossed the line in 7th place, having just held on to the back of our chase group which finished 49 seconds behind the breakaway. I was stoked to learn that Marcus had won the stage, beating Trent McCamley (winner of stage 1) in the lunge for the line (see photo above).

Marcus (left) post-race with Chris Anderson in the background.

A very happy Marcus (left) post-race with Chris Anderson in the background.

In the end we’d finished 1:30 ahead of the main bunch with four riders between our chase group and the main field. That time gap meant I’d jumped a whole bunch of places in the general classification, going from 15th to 6th with one stage remaining. Best of all, the result gave me some confidence coming into the hilly final stage of the Three Day Tour.

Position on stage 3: 7th
Overall position after stage 3: 6th (1:49 behind the leader)

Click here to see my Strava file from stage 3.

Stage 4

Route: Kyneton-Pastoria loop x 2
Distance: 40.8km
Time:
 1 hour 17 minutes
Average speed: 31.6km/h

Driving back up to Kyneton the next morning (Monday morning) we were met with a thick band of fog that didn’t seem to bode well for our chances of starting on time. After some deliberation the commissaires decided to delay the races by an hour to allow the fog to burn off which gave me a chance to sit in the car and warm-up — it was yet another near-freezing day.

All  grades were delayed and shortened on stage 4 due to heavy fog.

All grades were delayed and shortened on stage 4 due to heavy fog.

By the time the race got started we’d learned that we’d only be doing two laps of the Kyneton-Pastoria loop, reducing the race from 60km to 40km. I assumed this would make the racing more aggressive more quickly, but the opening kilometres seemed to suggest otherwise.

With their teammate Trent McCamley in the leader’s yellow jersey, three Sunbury riders sat at the front of the bunch and controlled the tempo. Most of the first 20km-long lap was spent at below 30km/h and nobody really seemed to mind. But it wouldn’t stay easy for long.

The bunch surged its way up several of the short rises on the course and when it came time to face the Bald Hill climb — 2.4km at 4.6% — the pace was well and truly on. Lachlan Stevens (KOM classification leader) and a bunch of others pushed ahead in search of the KOM points while I tried my best just to stay with the bunch.

Awaiting the start of the final stage with C grade just ahead of us.

Awaiting the start of the final stage with C grade just ahead of us.

From the top of the climb it was downhill and across the finish line to end the first lap. The group bunched back up as we made the left turn to start the second lap and unlike the first time around, the pace was definitely on.

Several times I found myself at my limit trying to keep up with the bunch as it surged up some rise. And on several occasions I found myself on the outside of the bunch, my face being buffeted by a reasonably strong crosswind. My plan was to stay near the front — but not on the front — until the final climb and then see what happened. But after being smashed the first time we climbed Bald Hill I wasn’t feeling hopeful at all.

As we flew down the descent towards the start of the climb I made a conscious effort to get as close to the front as I could. If nothing else, it would give me room to drop back if I struggled on the climb, while still finishing in the main bunch (hopefully). But as the climb progressed riders start to drop away.

Nick Liau had pushed on ahead in search of the KOM points, which he won, and as the KOM line approached I was neck and neck with Lachlan Stevens at the head of the bunch. I gave it one last surge and pipped him on the line for 2nd.

This is where it really start to hurt.

This is where it really start to hurt.

As we crested the hill and started the descent I managed to pass Nick who looked like he’d run out of legs. And as we rounded the final corners of the race with the finish line dead ahead I was leading the race, driving for the line with absolutely everything I had.

I knew that Lachlan and Nick were right behind me and for a split second I thought about sitting up, letting one of the come through, jumping on their wheel then trying to sprint for the win. But it seemed like a risky move, particularly with the bunch closing down on us.

I kept the hammer down as the line approached but I was pipped by Lachlan and Ee Wee just before the line. I wasn’t terribly disappointed — I’d climbed well, I’d given it all I had to maintain my lead on the run in to the line, and I’d managed to snaffle 3rd place. Best of all, the result meant I’d finished the Three Day Tour in 6th position on the general classification. Utterly stoked.

Position on stage 4: 3rd
Final position: 6th (1:40 behind the winner)

Click here to see my Strava file from stage 4.

Final thoughts

I came into the Three Day Tour feeling unprepared and unsure of how I’d go in D grade. I left feeling like I can mix it up with the stronger climbers in D grade and having learned a hell of a lot about racing and about myself as a cyclist. I learned something from the time trial that I probably already knew: that I need to work on my my strength on the flatter and rolling roads if I’m going to be a more rounded and more competitive cyclist.

I was extremely happy (and surprised!) to have made the split on stage 3 and finish 7th. And to have come away with a podium position on stage 4 was extremely satisfying. That podium position scored me $20 and my little lunge to get 2nd on the 2nd KOM on stage 4 also netted me $20.

The two KOM points I got from that effort were enough to tie me for 3rd place in the D grade KOM competition (behind Lachlan and Nick) and because I finished highest on GC out of those of us who got two points, I got the chocolates.

KOM/QOM classification winners.

KOM/QOM classification winners.

Perhaps most satisfying of all was the fact that I not only achieved but smashed my best-case-scenario goals for the weekend. As you might remember I’d been aiming, optimistically, for a top-five finish and 10th overall, and I’d managed a 3rd place and 6th overall. Who knows what might have happened if the TT had have been up Mt. Macedon rather than on a flatter, shorter course.

Congratulations to the winners in all grades and particularly to Trent McCamley, Nick Liau and my eQuipo tranQuilo teammate Marcus Nyeholt for taking out the top three spots in the D grade general classification.

General classification winners, from left to right: James Butler (men's A), Felicity Wardlaw (women's A), Mathew Gray (men's B), Elizabeth Doueal (women's B), Hugh Peck (men's C), Kimberly Wepasnick (women's C) and Trent McCamley (men's D).

General classification winners, from left to right: James Butler (men’s A), Felicity Wardlaw (women’s A), Mathew Gray (men’s B), Elizabeth Doueal (women’s B), Hugh Peck (men’s C), Kimberly Wepasnick (women’s C) and Trent McCamley (men’s D).

Thanks to the guys in D grade that were so friendly during the races and who came up and had a chat. And thanks to everyone else from the various grades that came and said hi across the long weekend. And finally, a big thank you to the folks at the Northern Combine, the commissaires and all the volunteers for what was a well-organised and very enjoyable Three Day Tour.

Thanks for reading!

Click here to see the full results from all grades in the Three Day Tour. For more from the Three Day Tour check out Verita Stewart’s report from women’s B grade and Marcus Nyeholt’s report from the men’s D grade podium.

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13 Comments

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  1. VK / Dec 26 2013

    Just stumbled across this post and I am glad that at least someone saw what happened to me towards the end of Stage 1.. (there was the guy to my left who had been squeezed off the road and onto the grass at 55km/h and was heading straight for the side of a bridge..)

    I don’t think anyone ever believed me on the recount of that cyclocross moment. What a ride! Phew!

  2. Jin / Jun 18 2013

    Good job, Matt!

    I guess the breakaway you were in with Lachlan and Nick in the 4th stage sort of resembled the one Simon Gerrans in with Fabian Cancellara in the 2012 Milan San Remo, where Fabian pulled all the way to the finish in fear that the gap might diminish if he let Simon Gerrans pull instead, which resulted him being outsprinted by Simon in the final meters.

    You are a much stronger in climbing than you are in sprinting, why not tried to drop them in the climb?

    • Matt / Jun 18 2013

      Haha, thanks Jin! I can assure you I was going full gas up the climb already. I didn’t have any more in the legs for a breakaway attempt!

  3. Stryder Tanjil Aris / Jun 13 2013

    Great effort Matt!
    Sounds like you had a bunch of fun

  4. Brent / Jun 13 2013

    Pretty good write up.
    I think you underestimate yourself a bit. After seeing your very decent times up mt Baw Baw and the like i would be amazed if you do not progress 1 or 2 grades higher if you race more often. Mind you if you cannot ride the flats well its hard to get winning results and climbing strength won’t be so obvious. We are not as strong out my way as your northern combine that’s obvious but you would not have been riding our d grade. B grade for sure.
    As to large groups sprinting in close quarters. Well you got to want to do it. I don’t bother myself. If i finish with a big group i content myself with that. I have a job and skin to protect and some people always push the boundaries as you saw.

  5. Ankush / Jun 13 2013

    It is difficult to write articulately about a race in which you participate but you have managed to pull it off. Great write-up which definitely gave me the overall feel of the race and your great performances. Chapeau sir!

  6. Marcus / Jun 12 2013

    Nice recap! I’ll get mine up on the eQ site later this week, was a very interesting experience riding for GC positions on the Sunday instead of just thinking about a race win. Changed how I rode because I had to make up so much ground… a very interesting learning experience!

  7. Brendan Edwards / Jun 12 2013

    Many congratulations on a fine effort

  8. Nic Newby / Jun 12 2013

    Great write up Matt, and fantastic results in the Tour. I was looking at your Strava each day across the holiday to see the data and how you faired. Good work !

  9. Nick Liau / Jun 12 2013

    Another awesome writeup, Matt! Not only had I run out of legs after that last climb on the 4th stage, but I only had the bottom 7 cogs on my cassette working. (Excuses, excuses!)

    • Matt / Jun 12 2013

      Oh wow, great effort then! Congrats on a terrific weekend Nick, you smashed it. :)

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