Written by Adrian “Bird Man” Vandenbergh
At 8km, after the first crosswind selection, 2 Sunbury riders (easily identified by their blue kit) leaped off the front. The remaining 6-8 Sunbury riders soft-pedalled and slowed the peleton to about ~25km/h. I asked one of them if that “was it then, do the rest of us just have a casual Sunday ride?!” “Nah mate, they’ll never stay away, it’s too windy…” “Of course he’d say that”, I grunted.
The two riders extended their lead to maybe 1km as we turned into the headwind, and several attempts to coordinate the non-Sunbury riders failed. “Go around them 74, go around!” Yep, at about 20km mark, one by one we squeezed around the right, and I was the 5th or 6th rider through. Thinking that’d be enough to reel in the break I shouted “righto lads” and was satisfied with the enthusiastic affirmative responses.
The end of the first lap sees a couple of short hills, where I found myself inevitably excited and on the front. A Sunbury guy on my wheel double checked I knew it was the first lap, and enquired why I was hitting it so hard. My response was curt, at best “Cos the c*nts up the road are benefiting while the c*nts back here joke around!” It was clearly an overreaction as I heard no more on the issue!
Cresting the hill I was surprised to see I had 150-200m gap on the group. Stop joking around! I figured it was up to me to make my luck, maybe a break COULD stick, and for about 15mins/10km I oscillated between blowing a gasket and opting to wait for the bunch / reinvigorating and chasing hard / seeing the 2-man break get further away / realising they were a bit slower on the incline. Long and the short of it, after an emotional and physical rollercoaster, I latched on the back of the break, shouting “F*ck, you fellas are hard to catch!” (Maybe a bit too much swearing? Ed – yes, perhaps a little.)
They were glad I’d bridged, as they were starting to hurt, and we still had ~50km to go. The talk was good, the track turns were tight, we sheltered John on the hills and he repaid in-kind on the flat. Soon it was 25km to go, we had a bit of a feed and re-commitment, and we were going to have this one!! In the last lap, after the final downwind section, into the cross wind, where John was struggling hard. I asked Sam, what should we do?
S: “Nah he’s cooked mate”
A: “OK, but we’ve gotta hit this last 10kms hard cos if the peleton get a sniff, they’ll have us in no time”
S: “Done deal”
Exhausted/excited, we touched wheels hard coming onto the main road for the last time, which could have spelled disaster had he not been such a good cyclo-crosser and veteran bike handler. The two of us shared the work fairly evenly for the next 5km along the rolling terrain and into the wind. At 5km to go I thought he was playing silly buggers, taking longer to come through each time, and I was getting impatient – it’s too early for antics! Leading by example, I came around sooner than I was due, and amped up maybe 5% more for the incline.
When I realised that he wasn’t strategising, just plain stuffed, I kicked hard again and gapped him. There was only Bald Hill to crest and 2km downhill/flat to the finish, I had 100m, 200m, then 300m on him. I was so excited I nearly put myself into the red, because trying to keep calm is hard when you could very soon be achieving one of your season goals! Descending to the line, I probably had more than 500m gap, MAN I WAS PUMPED (and wow did I hit a dirty great pothole trying to observe his chase – oops!)
Back at the ranch, it was handshakes and high fives all-round. One of the greatest races I’ve been in / out of! John came in 4th after all – Francis (another Hawthorn rider) had been chasing us solo for more than a lap, and passed John on the hill. Bottle of bubbles, glass Trophy and envelope of cash (already spent!) I was one pretty happy chappy.