Gran Fondo World Series Perth Qualifier 2016 – 55-59’s race report

The UWCT roadshow came to town this weekend. With Perth hosting the world championships this September, the 5th iteration of the local qualifying event took on a whole new dimension. The prospect of getting to race for a rainbow jersey without even having to leave town has seen lots of locals heading to the hills over summer. The SPR training rides have been amongst the biggest the club has seen. A large contingent of interstate & overseas visitors also flocked to Perth, with over 1000 cyclists lining up for Friday’s time trial and / or Sunday’s road race.

Elizabeth quay GFWS Perth FB page
Elizabeth Quay – photo courtesty of GFWS Perth facebook page

SPR colours flew proudly and prominently on both days. According to El Prez over 10% of entries were from our club. A few were racing in other colours but green & white was seen prominently in all age groups. It was fantastic to get so much encouragement from supporters all along the route, especially but not exclusively at Mundaring.

The road race took in 3 hills with a total of 1,400 metres of climbing.  Female riders and old blokes like me (55 yo +)  started at Lightning Park (118km) with the rest starting 27km further back at Elizabeth Quay.

Unfortunately, the organisers had neglected to consider either port-a-loos or a key to the change rooms, so it was boys to the left, girls to the right in the bush prior to the 6.30 starting gun.

toilet Lightning Park
‘The toilets, Lightning Park. Photo courtesy of Cathi Dixon’

The early stages of most races are usually a bit messy, with a bit of nervous jostling for positions & wheels and only a few prepared to do any work. Our group’s first 20 km was actually incident free, perhaps because we had access to both lanes of the freeway, a relatively small pack (103 registrants), and maybe, sadly, because of the relatively genteel nature that comes with our sadly deteriorating testosterone levels? We negotiated the U-turn off the freeway without casualties and made our way up Military Road to the foothills, where the real race was about to begin.

I was nervous about the sharp right at the bottom of Ridge Road and had manoeuvred myself up to the front of the peloton, managing to take the turn comfortably in the safety of 4th wheel. The first steep section of the climb saw a lot of riders churn pass me but I held a steady tempo and managed to reel most of them back before we veered left onto the Zig-Zag track. An old train track, its gentle 2% gradient was a pleasure to climb and I found myself emerging at the top with a group of about ten riders, only 20 seconds behind the leading bunch of five. We continued to climb solidly up to Kalamunda and some strong work on the descent to Aldesyne Road saw us catch the leaders just before the next rise.  The pace up the 2nd climb of the day to the Camel Farm pushed me at times but I managed to hang on and enjoyed the fast descent into Mundaring Weir still at the pointy end of the race.

Laurensia on the Zig Zag Damien Wyer
Laurensia on the Zig Zag Track. Picture courtesy of Damien Wyer – This Photographic Life
Mark Edmiston Damien Wyer
Mark Edminston on the Zig Zag Track. Picture courtesy of Damien Wyer – This Photographic Life
Bonner up the zig zag Damien Wyer this photographic life v2
Mike Bonner on the Zig Zag Track. Picture courtesy of Damien Wyer – This Photographic Life

Enjoy it while it lasts!

The 7.4 km rise out of the weir only averages 3% but there is a short section at the bottom of 7 – 10% and it was here that Mike Bonner chose to see if he could get rid of some of the wannabes. About 8 riders survived his kick but I, unfortunately, was spat out. It was looking like a long, lonely climb till I glanced behind and was cheered by the familiar sight of Stuart Gee only a few metres away. He looked strong and quickly took over and started dragging me up the hill. I did a few turns but Stu did the bulk of the work, unflappable, like a machine, it made it so much easier to keep up the pace with someone like Stu to help out. A 3rd rider caught us only to sit on the back and take the free ride, a bit annoying but nothing one could do about it.

Getting fluids at the feeding station at Mundaring was a priority for me as it was already quite warm and I had been on the limit for most of the climbs.  There was an enormous line of keen volunteers from SPR dangling bottles but unfortunately a slight downhill gradient meant that most of us approached the station way too quickly, it was a big relief to get a bottle on the 2nd attempt and I was very grateful that there were so many to choose from.

We crossed the highway and tackled the rollers on Stoneville Road. Our group swelled to six courtesy of one rider who had bridged thru Mundaring town as well as a couple of casualties who had fallen off the leading bunch. A Peel rider enthusiastically encouraged and cajoled us into working together and we managed a fast but smooth, consistent roll right through to and down Toodjay Road, continuing along the Reid Highway in the same vein. We picked up a few more stragglers, lost a couple and passed a couple of sad individuals fixing punctures.  At this stage we hadn’t seen the leaders for some time and I wasn’t sure how many were ahead of us but thought, for the first time, that maybe a top ten position was in the offing?

Turning off Reid Highway onto the Mitchell Freeway saw us 15 km from the finishing line at Elizabeth Quay. We were now, unfortunately, heading straight into a headwind, it was starting to get hot and our bodies were tired. There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm to drive from the front so it was a pretty slow slog home. Forcing the pace at this stage was, in fact, pretty pointless, as we had a clear road ahead & behind us so it made sense to ease off a little. I had finished the last of my water but sucked a gel in the hope it would give me a bit of energy for the finish.

Cycling is a nasty, nasty sport. As I looked around at the group I realised that my best buddies for the last hour and a half were now my mortal enemies (apart, of course, from Stu). We had all worked really closely together to get us in such a good position – but now it was every man for himself.

I was feeling pretty good, but was realistic about my chances in a sprint – some of the guys had tree trunks instead of legs and I accelerate about as quickly as a Pilbara iron ore train. I decided to attack as we passed in front of Parliament House but was, not surprisingly, reeled in pretty quickly by most but not all the group. I settled back into the pack and five of us headed down the off ramp towards the finish. I had slotted into 5th wheel, a mistake, unfortunately, as when the heat was put on just before we tackled the left then the right hand turn into the final straight I was too far back and despite my best effort, couldn’t match the others and finished 5th out of the five.

The sprint for 4th place, 55 - 60yo's
“the sprint for 4th place – 55 – 59 yo’s”’ – Photo courtesy of Mish Ferguson

As it turned out, only three riders had crossed the line before us, meaning we had sprinted for 4th spot so, despite fading at the end, I had still managed to finish in 8th place – pretty stoked with this, especially packaged with my 5th in the time trial two days previously.

Michael Bonner had, not surprisingly, been really strong in the hills and had done the lion’s share of the work in the segments I was with him. He was rewarded for his efforts with 3rd position, a fantastic result. Unfortunately Stu struggled with cramps over the last 30 km but still held on to 9th position – three SPR riders in the top 10, sensational work team.

There were many other great results amongst the club, most Queen Amanda Nabi with top spot in the TT and 2nd place in the road race, Davina also podiumed with a 2nd in her road race and lots & lots of riders qualified.

It was a great weekend of cycling for me.  The planets aligned in all respects  – the training had been perfectly directed (thanks heaps, Brad Hall @ exercise institute ), I felt strong on both days, survived the turns in the TT and positioned myself well at most of the critical points in the road race. Most importantly, I was lucky enough to avoid punctures, mechanicals and crashes. I was buoyed by the strong support by SPR members spread all along the route on both days – really appreciated, thanks heaps to you all.

Others, unfortunately, were not as lucky as I was. It was heart-breaking to hear of so many strong riders who had spent months of intensive training not making the cut. There were way too many punctures (rumours of tacks, though I am yet to speak to anyone who actually saw one on the road or pulled one out of their tyres???), dropped chains in the TT, a few crashes (fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, none too bad) and some riders just had a bad day.  Racing can be cruel.

For the rest of us who got lucky, bring on September!

2 thoughts on “Gran Fondo World Series Perth Qualifier 2016 – 55-59’s race report”

  1. Another compelling piece of literature, Jim. Congratulations on your two top 10 performances over the three days. May I add my thanks to the many SPR supporters out on the day; the rest of our peleton certainly knew all our christian names (and some surnames) by the end of the race. Looking forward to September and lots of training rides through winter.

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