My sleep was as crap as every other nights sleep. To qualify, the beds are good and it’s nice and quiet, I just can’t sleep properly. The other thing is that the rooms are very warm and there’s no way to manage the temperature. I just opened my windows at night to let some cool air in.
Start time for my age group was 9:40am so there wasn’t much time to get ready seeing as I’d left a lot of things till this morning. I looked at my back tyre and knew deep down that it was likely to let me down today as the gash slowly (or quite possibly, quickly) filled up with road debris. Eventually something would push its way through the tube and I would be a casualty rather than a competitor. Luckily, my good friend Athol at my local bike shop told me to take one of the tyres I’d replaced when I put the new ones on as a backup. Thanks Ath! So I changed the tyre got everything ready, ate breakfast and stepped out of the hotel into a beautiful sunny morning.
While the forecast showed very little chance of rain, it was blowing a good 20+ km/hr from the North which meant a fast start, lots of cross winds throughout the course and a headwind in the final section back to town. While I have many weak points in my cycling, I think the wind is my biggest. It was going to be a day for the big, strong boys and hopefully I’d be riding right behind them.
The start area was humming with riders and spectators but it was well organised and I quickly found my age group and a spot amongst the world’s aspiring amateur road racers. The conditions really were excellent given yesterday’s weather. Time ticked by and we moved forward each time another group got started. Age groups were starting 10 minutes apart with the youngest going off first, no doubt to minimise too much cross-pollination out on the road. There were 227 riders in my age group and I would consider finishing in the top half a good outcome.
We were told in no uncertain terms that there would be a 2 km neutral zone after the start gun and a car would guide us out at 30 km/hr and this car was not to be passed. I wondered if it would actually be like that given that all my previous experiences of low speed, controlled neutral zones were 45km/hr smash fests. This was the UCI Worlds I told myself, it’ll be done properly.
The gun went and off we all shot. After a couple of tight corners, I guessed there were at least 150 riders ahead of me. I was sure there was only about 50 in front of me at the start line…. The other thing I noticed was that we were going very fast. A quick glance down at the Garmin showed 53 km/hr. FFS, we’d only just clocked 1 km and already I was chewing my handlebars, praying that some bozo didn’t fall in front of me and take me out. Only 164 km of this shit to go. And we’re still in the neutralised zone.
It didn’t take long for the crashes to start and start they did. Multiple guys going down on top of each other at 50+ k’s. Nice.
After about 15 k’s of this, things actually settled down a bit. No doubt the strong riders broke away and weaker ones dropped off, left gaps that nobody could close and everyone settled into groups they they could cope with. It was apparent pretty quickly that there were a couple of guys both strong enough and willing to ride at the front for extended periods. Happy to say they were Aussies and I shared turns with them.
As you’re riding along with a bunch, you get to know the riders, their names (printed on the race numbers) and their riding habits. Two very interesting guys were Belgian, one named Stanny and the other, Guy. Each time we got to a hill, these two would power up the hill, making sure they kept in contact with the group. Fair enough, we were all doing much the same thing. We rolled along like this, most of the work being done by a Swedish guy and an Aussie named Alessandro, no doubt of Italian decent. Every now and then, the Aussies would get a roll going with the poms and it would go round a few times before somebody refused to go to the front and just stopped in the line a few riders back. It then turned to shit and went back to just a few guys working. I did a few turns but was overtaken fairly quickly by riders who were obviously unimpressed by my speed. There was a decent climb at one point which split everything up and a fast group from behind came through just over the crest, picking us up and leaving the slower climbers behind.
I found myself with about half a dozen guys that had been with me all the way along with the odd rider we’d pick up who’d dropped off a group further up the road. There were stragglers all along the course in the final 60km, peddling squares and just limping along. I felt pretty bad for them but I could tell I wasn’t actually all that far from feeling the same way. I’d been eating and drinking properly but there was a real lack of conditioning over that distance and at that intensity and I could feel it in the legs.
All through the middle of the race, there were a couple of guys that just looked fragile and kept leaving gaps in the cross wind sections but every so often I’d look around to see who was still here and there they’d be. An English chap named Ged that we’d picked up provided a welcome input of power and along with Stanny the Belgian and myself, we pulled the pack along for a good while. Another fast group came from behind at the bottom of a hill and only Ged was able to stay with them. Good for him.
Now it was me, the two Belgies, a few poms, a Dane and a very slim Turkish fellow with “EPO Power” on the back of his jersey. It occurred to me that up till this point, Guy the Belgian had not had his nose in the wind for a single second. Not even once. Each time he got anywhere near the front and was in danger of actually doing a few watts for the group, he would pull left and wave those behind him through. After doing some turns at the front with an English guy named Bruce, I decided it was time for Guy to feel the wind and so I pulled left and motioned Guy through. “No! C’est impossible!” came the response. Stanny declared that he had done plenty of work, which he had. I said “you may have done some work, but this f’er here has done NOTHING! Do some f’n work you f’er” now pointing my finger at Guy’s head. Nope, he wasn’t having any of it. I should have gone and pushed him off his bike. Bruce came to the front again and rode away on a hill. Good for him. I just wished I could get rid of the anchors, I just didn’t have the strength and they were very good a holding wheels like mine.
As another big fast bunch came past, I jumped on and as we made a hard right onto a wide highway, the guy in front of me left a gap and so I tried to ride over it. I couldn’t close it and then found riders coming past me that I was unable to latch onto, including my previous companions. Nice. So, with about 25km to go and nobody with or behind me, I set off at a pace I thought I could manage to the finish. It struck me that I hadn’t seen some of the really strong Aussie guys that I’d been with in the first half of the race. They must have been behind me but I couldn’t see how they’d not managed to keep up with my bunch, they were very strong riders. But then, other guys who were not even as strong as me, were minutes up the road in the comfort of a bunch getting pulled along faster than they deserved. Maybe I was the same.
It really was a beautiful day and there were people all along the roadsides sitting in chairs clapping you as you rode past. I decided to forget the whole time thing and just enjoy being here. I waved to everyone, especially the kids and it made me feel privileged and happy to be there.
I rode the last few kms into town and got my phone out so I could record the final metres down through the finish line. No sprinting. A few seconds weren’t going to mean anything. And it was over. 4 hours and 50 minutes.
I spoke with a few Aussies near the finish and we exchanged stories. It was sunny, festive and I’d accomplished what I set out to do. Can’t ask for more than that. I headed back to the hotel to freshen up and meet my friends back down at the finish area. I was keen to know how they’d gone.
De-salted, I walked gingerly back and as I went past the presentation area, I could hear Advance Australia Fair! Rounding the stage, I saw an Aussie guy on the top step with the rainbow jersey on. Wow! An Aussie had won. I caught his name over the commentary, Stephen Fairless. I went up to him as he came off stage and congratulated him. We had a bit of a chat and he recounted how the race went for him. He broke away with about seven others not long after the start but they were caught a bit later by the main group after which the two Danish riders attacked. He though he’d better go with them and so rode across to make it three. They stayed away and he hit them hard after the final corner to take the win by 1 second. Amazing. I could only wonder at the power guys like Stephen could put out over 4+ hours. It was like hearing about another world. I was very happy for him, especially when I found out later that he’d come second last year.
I met with Rich, Ben, Monique and two English guys, James and Ian at an Irish pub called The Harp nearby and the drinks and stories started to flow. It really couldn’t have gone any better. Rich struggled with cramps during the race so he was a bit disappointed but he still beat my time by ten minutes. Ben did very well at 4 hours 25 minutes. We were all safe and sound and had done our best. I had finished in 106th place so I’d made it into the first half, just. I noted with some chagrin that Guy the bludger from Belgium had finished 6 minutes in front of me. I also noted that the Aussies that had done the bulk of the work in the first half of the race finished between 5 and 7 minutes behind me. There is no justice.
I enjoyed the post-race euphoria 😉 and thought happily about my upcoming adventures in Norway. No races, no requirements, no registration, just beautiful scenery and weather permitting, some glorious rides around Stavanager.