I’d started racing at the end of the club road racing season. There were other CA / CVic road races I could have gone in, like Stratford to Dargo and the Tour of Bright, but I was considering these too late to prepare for mentally. As the clubs turned to crit racing I figured I may as well give it a go, though I was wary that in the absence of hills I might get left behind! On October 12 I turned up to the National Boulevard in Campbellfield to race the crits organised by Coburg CC.
During the preceding week I’d been chided for suggesting I should enter D grade – I’d obviously gotten a bit faster since the D grade Combine races. My LBS even said ‘there is no honour for you in winning D grade.’ I explained my history on the day but got placed in D Grade anyway.
The race felt like it was over before it began, with about a dozen laps the 1.8km circuit. I was near the front the whole race, then attacked on the second last run up the slightly rising back straight. I made this move too early and after leading up the back straight on the last lap, the guys who would ultimately contest the finish rode past me. I finished in sixth or seventh place. I had mixed feelings about the experience. Few of the guys attacked but they’d all work to shut down anyone else’s attempt. On the other hand The average speed for the race was just a shade under 38kph. I was told later this was fast for a D Grade race so I felt pleased that I was in the mix until the end.
The next week I went back and asked to race C Grade, explaining that whilst I hadn’t got a podium place the previous week I’d been at the front and attacking until the end. I got the OK and started a grade up. The pace was faster and the race’s average speed was just under 39kph. I stayed with the bunch then managed to power past a few on the final straight for what I think was a top ten finish. Multiple grades had overlapped at the end of the race with lots of shouting and jeering between the groups. It was impossible to tell where exactly I had finished, but I was content with the effort.
This style of racing wasn’t going to be the type most suited to my strengths, but I wasn’t doing any harm by taking it on. In fact I felt it was strengthening my abilities across the board. Throughout this period I continued to climb faster too.
As much as I enjoyed racing crits I wished there were club road races I could enter, which I’d be more suited too. Then I realised that this option existed for me (as an over 35) in veterans racing. In early November I purchased a vets racing licence with Northern Cycling, and on November 10 we headed out to Lancefield for my first vets race.
I got a few raised eyebrows due to my youthful appearance, with more than a couple of people saying, ‘you know you have to be over 35?’ Just as I had done with the Combine road races I reconnoitred the course earlier in the week and I had a mind as to where I might attempt a break.
I was placed in C grade, and as the group rolled out slowly I found myself sitting on the front. A fortnight earlier I’d started using a power meter and it paid for itself on this race. Heading westward down the north side of the course I figured I should work my way back so as not to use up energy unnecessarily, but looking at my power numbers I could see I wasn’t really putting myself under a lot of stress at the front, so I just stayed there. As soon as we hit the climbs on the eastbound leg, however, I went for it. Really, I was just trying to see how the other guys would respond, but before I knew it I’d made a break. This was earlier than seemed wise but I figured if they caught me on the flat I could have another dig on the hills, on the next and final lap.
Back on the north side of the course for the last time, I looked back and saw a small chasing group gaining on me. Later they would tell me they’d decided to hang me out to dry at this point, but this coincided with me digging deeper, watching the power numbers and holding a higher sustained effort to the base of the hills. At the top of the first climb on the south side, I looked back and could see the chasing group about 500 metres behind me. I began to feel they wouldn’t catch me and in the end I crossed the line with a gap of around 90 seconds. There was a certain satisfaction to winning both my first Cycling Victoria club race and first Vets race.
Over the next couple of weeks I raced another two vets races, both handicaps. The handicap format was something I didn’t enjoy as much as scratch racing, but it was good to be road racing and the community around Northern Cycling was warm and welcoming. I finished 10th in the first handicap, placing first in my starting group (B grade riders), but was a DNF in my second, having a lousy day with a failing power meter and a loss of motivation. Although my power meter died on this second handicap, I had a new one back on my bike by the end of the week, within a mere three days of the distributor receiving the old one. Sometimes it pays not to buy online.