The UCI World Championships were recently held in Aalborg in northern Denmark from Thursday September 3 to Sunday September 6 and a contingent of seven from the Rouleurs was on hand for the event. Gary Boylan, Sarah Duffield, Simon Hood, Anke Hoskins, Thomas O’Neil, Peter Wilshaw and myself made the trip over to compete in one or more of the following events – the time trail, teams relay and the road race. Full results for the event are available here and my summary of the event will cover the lead up and M50-54 road race only.
It was decided in the Johnson family to combine a slightly late 50th birthday present with a slightly early 25th wedding anniversary present, meaning that Vanessa and I took off sans children (thanks Mum and Dad) the week before the event. We spent of couple of days acclimatising in Copenhagen and learned how a city of almost 2 million people can survive with most of the population riding bikes. The dedicated bike lanes, unbelievably courteous car drivers and fairly flat terrain make riding the most common form of transport. I met up with Simon for a ride up the coast on the Monday after arriving and did another solo ride on Tuesday. Lycra and helmet clad riders certainly looked out of place with daily commuters dressed in their work gear.
Out for coffee in the National Kit
We drove up to Aalborg on Wednesday and immediately began familiarising ourselves with the circuit and the general area. I was a bit tired from sight-seeing earlier in the week so gave the opening ceremony and TT a miss, preferring to kick back in Aalborg. On the Friday morning, a few of the Australian contingent got together and organised an easy group ride in full uniform. This was quite a highlight as 15 of us rolled out onto the course for a quick recce, then headed back into town for coffee. Wemanaged to turn many local heads (most of them middle aged men) and had to pose for several photos. We then reconvened in town for the team relay, which involved 3 laps for each rider around a 1.8 km street circuit. Some over-zealous officiating saw several riders sent out at incorrect times, and as a result, 5 of the 6 Australian teams were disqualified (including SPR International), along with the Danish team that crossed the line first. Let’s hope this will be better organised next year in Perth.
All that was now left was the road race – 164 km, mostly in open country, with 1330 m of climbing on rolling hills. All eyes were on the weather before the event and Aalborg received over 50 mm of rain on Saturday. Thankfully this cleared overnight and a clear sunny Sunday greeted us. Unfortunately the 30 km/h northerly winds that blew the rain away stayed on and this added an extra hazard to the ride. It meant that the first 15 km would be a tail wind, the next 120 km with some tail and mainly cross winds and the last 30 km pretty much into the wind
The 50-54 Age Group Start
In the 50-54 age group there were 226 entrants and 203 actual starters. We were herded together in the starting pens and at 9.40 am off we went. The first 5 km was chaotic. A couple of riders at the back went down on the first bend and the 2 km neutral section was done at over 40 km/h. When the flag went down, the pace immediately stepped up and carnage resulted. With everyone trying to get position there was a bit of argy bargy and I had 5 riders come down in front of me. One was right next to Simon but he managed to stay safe. Over half the field lost time here trying to get around the mess and this resulted in several early splits. Once everything settled down, I found myself in a group of about 30, including Simon and 4 other Australians. There were several half-hearted attempts to start a roll through but mostly riders were there to hang on. The Australian boys, a couple of Danes, two English riders, a Norwegian, two Canadians, an Italian and a Dutchman seemed to be doing most of the work and we soon had a good pace and began reeling in some of those dropped from the front group.
About 50 km in, we started picking up a lot of English guys from the younger age groups and this surprised me. Given the status of the event, there were some riders who’d struggle to hold wheel in Main 2 and I asked one the English guys in our group why this was happening. He said that the qualifying race had over 5000 entrants and hence there were many riders in the top 25% who shouldn’t have been there. He then remarked that at least we wouldn’t finish last!! However, further into the ride the slower riders were causing all sorts of issues. Some were riding three abreast on narrow roads and when we went past, most of them seemed not to care and wouldn’t move over. In one incident, a rider swerved out in front of me as we went passed and nearly took me out. My Italian mate in the group came up and asked if I was OK and we spent the next 10 minutes roundly abusing the English. During the rest of the race we gave plenty of warning to overtake and those that didn’t move were told in no uncertain terms to move. Those who’ve heard my tirades on Main 1 rides will know what I mean.
Around 80 km the course got interesting. Between here and 125 km there were several short, sharp climbs that called for attacks. On the first of these a Kiwi rider who we’d picked up andI decided to stretch the legs and opened up a gap. However, on reaching the top we were greeted by a big headwind and decided very quickly to retreat to the bunch. On the last of the climbs the Dutch rider and I got away, only to find the same issue with the winds. We tried for a few kms to stay out until he said that it was too hard with just the 2 of us, so again we sat up. From 110 km onwards there were several little attacks to keep everyone honest and we starting dropping some of the original group, as well as picking up more in our age group from the front. I had no idea where we were placed overall and just kept working with the group.
Onwards we went, and with each arrival into a new village we were greeted with cheering locals. Some farmers had decorated hay bales for the ride and the Danes in the group were getting plenty of support. It was a fantastic atmosphere to ride in and I seemed to forget that I’d covered plenty of kms and that the legs weren’t feeling too bad. More attacks and shorts pinches followed until about 150 km. Simon fell off the back with a couple of others and we were down to 15 when the advance party for the 55-59 breakaway group came past with 10 km to go. Once the lead group of 3 went through we backed off the pace to give them a clear run to the line. There were no complaints in our group when this happened and this meant we’d have a final sprint to the line for group honours. Having done the relay on Friday I knew where would be a good point to attack from and got a good position as the pace quickened again. At 1 km to go my Italian mate made the jump and I got in behind him. I couldn’t pull him back on the final rise and with the last 200 m downhill to the finish, I was confident I wouldn’t be caught by the others. I happily crossed the line as I’d realised I’d safely completed the race. I then caught up with Vanessa, who seemed just as relieved. We then watched others come across the line, including the sprint for the women’s race, which was quite exciting. Then it was off to get a chicken pasta feed and swap war stories with those in other groups.
After the race
I still had no idea where I’d finished and rode back to the hotel to get ready for the post race drinks. When I switched on the I-pad I was greeted by many facebook messages telling me of the results and was quite overwhelmed by the support from everyone who was following the race from around the world. In the end I came in 72nd and Simon finished 100th. In hindsight if the group didn’t slow for the 55-59 riders, we may have caught more riders, but overall I was pretty happy with the result. I’m certainly keen to ride in these races again and this means more training to qualify. Bring on Perth 2016.
Finally I’d like to say thanks to the many people who’ve helped to get me to here. Toby and Jono have been brilliant with setting out programs and ensuring my motivation stayed high through the depths of winter. To those too numerous to mention who would accompany me on extra work before and after Sunday hills sessions, thank you very much and also to everyone in SPR who encouraged and supported me on other rides. A special mention to my three children, who I completely avoided when any of them came down with colds over winter (they reassured me that they understood why I was doing it). Finally thanks to Vanessa. I know she has enjoyed becoming part of SPR this year and this has made life easier with training. However, her biggest effort over the time was the day before the race, when she navigated the first 90 km of the course as I drove it, using only instructions provided in Danish. All she needed was google translate to get the words for left and right and we were away. I could not have achieved what I did without her and for this I am forever grateful.