Written by Adrian “Bird Man” Vandenbergh
The 2011 Tour of Bright was deemed so important that Huggy and Sala missed the Geelong Corporate Time Trial – this had me intrigued enough to find out more. It is a 3 day, 3 stage race steeped in history and the course itself is also pretty steep. With a keen focus on two wheels this year, I was determined not to let any fun-runs get in my way.
Stage 1: 13km Individual Time Trial
Cruising around Bright was a delight on a sunny Friday lunchtime and after checking out the start ramp, I headed back to the house for a sandwich and le nap. I knew my carb loading must be perfect and complete an hour before the start, heeding Kippo’s advice to avoid in-race regurgitation. So the alarm was set and two delicious ANZAC biscuits followed. After some pro warming up, I was ready to unveil the weapon of MAS destruction at T minus 15 min. I headed up the road to keep the legs warm, and I couldn’t have timed my run to the line any better – jumping the queue as there was only one rider out before me!! Respecting Ferra’s tactical nous, I set off to catch the rider in front and instantly felt that gut wrench. At the roundabout I had managed to gain a few seconds (by my calculations at least), but on the side road, rising gently uphill to a U-Turn, I swapped position and found myself closer to the rider behind. This fella sensed the weakness of an injured lamb/stuffed duck, and had me covered by the time we were back to the main road. I limped home, trying with the remainder of my strength not to resurface the road in spew. To this end I was successful, though to the detriment of my time, coming in at 21:22.86, 48th and 1:50 off the pace. So, after my 2ndever ITT, I can stand by a previous statement – “What B.S! TTs can <<mange le dick>>”. I also re calibrated the on-boarding of food – at least 1.5 hours or 2 before high intensity workouts!
Stage 2: 93km Bright – Rosewhite – Tawonga
The next day saw a very gentlemanly start time of 10:55, the day ahead featuring 2 climbs- Rosewhite and Tawonga Gap. I’ve never raced in a field this large (83), and due to my perfect timing I was the last bugger to roll up for briefing. This meant a bit of meandering to get to the front as we rolled out of town, just in time to see a bloke fire ze missile as soon as the flag dropped. My unbridled enthusiasm had me out the front trying to encourage a cohesive chase before the first sprint (relatively early at 10km). Some wise words had me calmed a while, much appreciated and happy to let the sprinters get on with what they do best. The rest of the journey to the Happy Valley turnoff was uneventful bar the jostling for position mixed with a general reluctance to work at the front. Sensing this disorganised rabble, Foggy made a jump as soon as we turned right, and it was great to see him draw a gap more than 500m for the next several kilometres. After a few undulations in the road, the gap had diminished and he was welcomed back into the fold. What happened next I can’t be sure: there were a few accelerations followed by long periods of slackness in the bunch, and it felt like Punt Rd. Somehow the lights went green and I rubber-banded a fella behind me. Once. Twice. Three strikes and I was OUT. At a curve in the road, the wind came from our left and I hit the gas. “Caution to the wind!” I said. Silly bugger.
I wanted to break away but there were still 5km before the climb. I wanted to break away but keep my legs for the grind. I wanted to break away… which I did anyway.
I had probably maxed the gap to about 750m (the peloton a collection of dots on the rearward horizon – or maybe my eyes were deprived of blood?). The commissaire car even came around, which is a good sign: lead car, moi, commissaire, peloton. Touché. A bit of encouragement from a trailing B Grader got me even more revved up, but I probably needed more like a 1km head start – these blokes could climb!! At 500m to the KOM I though I had the points in the bag before ‘whoosh’ ‘vroom’ ‘zing’ ah fekkit. I really had to keep my wits to stay with the bullet train descending to the Kiewa Valley. Fortunately for me, most of the group got back together and it wasn’t until halfway to Tawonga that 2 small groups (initially 2 then 3 chasers) got away. I’m not sure how much advantage they had at the base of the final climb as I was well embedded in the bunch in a “get home” kind of mode. What made the climb interesting for me was mixing it with a collection of elite A graders who had just returned from the extra ~30km out-and-back to Bogong. They clearly weren’t vying for position and were even managing some conversation! I didn’t try to stay with my bunch, rather selecting a tempo I knew I could sustain to the top, keeping the legs “ok” for the next day. After a good final kilometre and some crazy mathematics by the timing chips, I came across the line “with 4 others” (I only saw one!?) in equal 18th and a time of 2:45:47. This had me just outside the top 20 on GC at the end of day 2!
Stage 3: 55km Mt Hotham Ascent
For many, this was the big kahuna, the one to watch, the tell-all, the man-mouse separator. For me it meant “just one more stage to go”. Hotham is by far my favourite climb, given the emotional behaviour of some of the inclines, the view of the summit all along the middle section, and the crazy descents just when you think you’ve made it. But for some reason I had a thought on the start line “if you only ride your tubular wheels on race day, one day you’ll get a flat in a race! A flat today would mean a lucky DNF and spare the legs the hassle…” Thankfully I snapped out of it and to the contrary, I resolved to start riding the tubs more often- I now have quite a blingtastic commuter. Again, the sprinters got away just when the flag dropped at the town limits, and the rest of the bunch was rather happy with that- it seemed like a regular latté lap to Harrietville. From there, where the road goes left and UP, Huggy’s words stuck with me for the first km “I would try to push that extra bit to stay with the lead bunch to the false flat”. Geez I tried, I really did, but holding 3rd wheel for the first 1km had me well into the red. I’m ashamed to say I called the next bloke through, and over the following 3km saw another 20 or so riders go by. Eventually, it seemed most were settling into a groove and were letting this Steve Guy, a 56kg whippet, chase the lead car around the bends. Tackling the MEG (400m at 9%), I could really feel the heat of the day on my whole body, and it was a struggle to keep the others in sight. From there to the false flat though, I managed to reel in a handful of riders and harangue them to chase the front groups. It was to little avail as they didn’t like the cut of my pace-jib, and it wasn’t until I caught one of the Route 33 riders, Richie, that the two of us made an earnest effort. It was probably only 50m in it when the road leveled, but it took us more than a kilometre to latch back on. Well worth it and a good time to refuel over the next 8 km and size up the opposition – the group had about 15 riders and I wasn’t sure how many up the road, probably just the whippet. So I knew if I could keep with it as long as possible I should make it in the top 20!! The next challenge was at the gate house (7% for 750m) and I was surprised that I could keep with the same guys that had left me for dead out of Harrietville. The descent just before CRB Hill (10%, 1.1 km) gave me enough momentum to swing past the front runners, leading to a 2 second window of optimism before I had to face reality – I was just not going to keep with them to the summit. The road became a battle ground for survival, and I can’t remember who I passed or who passed me. I do, however, remember letting a young’n pace me to the final descent before Diamantina (850m @ 9.7%) where I lost contact but still had a keen eye behind to make sure I wasn’t getting caught. Given the emotional journey, the summit was actually an anti-climax and I was told to descend to the village. A few oxygen depleted conversations was all I could manage before rolling back to town. It wasn’t until I got back to the house where Rob told me the good news: I came in 12th position that day (2:12:03), taking me right up the chart to 13th overall!!
So from 48th on Day 1, to 18th/22nd on Day 2, I was happy & surprised with my result on Day 3 to be sitting juuuust outside the top 10 on Tour of Bright’s Masters C General Classification! This was my first stage race event and I’m already looking forward to next year (?!) Thanks heaps to Rob, Penny, Lukas, Dave and Lisa for making it more than just a bike weekend – my favourite part of Australia combined with great food, great weather, great company and a just a hint of vélo. Yes, I would deem this event too important to miss!