Surprisingly, I had very few nerves going into the first race of the season. As long as the bike was working well, I knew I had put in the work to stay close to my teammates so we could stick with the majority of the riders in the M3 field.
After my warm up, I did get to the start line behind most of the others in my category so this created a little worry but Coach Kris from our team, http://www.kurzawinskicoach.com/ , gave me a game plan to work my way up the pack to align with Richard and Phill. I really wanted to be up much closer to them on the start but the Commissionaires were being very strict with us staying on the right half of the road and forcing all late riders to the back of the pack. Oh well...
So the race starts and several guys go zooming up the other side of the road for the next few kilometres trying to get away from the back. I didn't want to risk a DQ so I "patiently" picked away at the right side. Once out of the tree lined section of the course, we were getting hit with a minor side wind that many were trying to avoid so the right side eventually started to open up, although I was wasting more energy than most of the other riders, I still felt that I was well below my usual race effort so continued up the side of the pack.
By the time we made our first right turn I had moved up into the top fifteen and could see Richard and Phill lurking up near the front. We were now into a head wind and the pace dramatically slowed as nobody wanted to lead out the group. This short stretch leading to a steep, twisting hill tested our braking abilities again so I just stayed put and waited for our first climb.
I dropped down to my small ring up front and spun up the hill with no worries. I was making good time up the hill and was actually getting caught in some of the guys starting to stall, which caused some drama but I strugged it off and crested the hill for my decent. During the decent, I passed a good number of athletes and made it up to see Richard and Phill both in around the top five.
Deciding I could give them a lead out for a while, I settled in behind the lead rider and made the next two climbs on his rear before making a little move as we headed down the hill after turning onto Safari Road. I was hoping Richard and Phill would pick this up and give me a signal to hammer but I think too many others were too close at this point to really make a major move this early in the race. I just kept pulling and monitoring my effort to make I was not burning too much too soon.
As we made the next right onto Brock Road, the huge peloton remained right on my tail. We had a tailwind along this fairly flat part so the speeds started to pick up and everyone held tight until we made our last turn of lap 1 back to the start/finish line.
At this point a few guys decided to pick up the pace and seemed to want to sprint for the line. Not sure what they were thinking but we all jumped on and nothing was established as we started lap 2. Not too much further up the road, my momentum had taken me back up to the front with WOB rider, Stanislaw Bielak. Kris told me to stay with him as much as possible as he had won the past few Good Friday races in this category. I was hoping he was ready to roll but he was not too interested in pulling so I basically had to roll to a stop before he would pull through.
Eventually, a few other riders grew tired of the slow pace and took the lead as we corned onto Westover Road. This was the head wind portion so their efforts were pretty much smashed by the breeze that was showing signs of waking up. I was starting to think this was going to take a sprint to win the race, which is not in my favour, so I was starting to plot a strategy to take off, hopefully with my teammates in tow.
I figured I would wait until we got through the three hills and then pick it up on the flats to see what would happen. With this plan set, I just tried to remain calm on the climbs to reserve my energy for the upcoming effort. Unfortunately, as we were descending on the Safari Road hill, our race was neutralized by an official to let the S4 group pass us. The pace car destroyed any chance I had as the group became like a can of sardines waiting for the race to start again.
Once the S4 group had passed, and gapped us, we were set free but it was chaos for the rest of the race as we had too many people trying to share a lane of this country road. Many were getting edgy and making their move on the other side of the yellow but I did not want to risk this. Especially, after watching one dude almost eat the front grill of a car coming up the other side of the road. Scary...
So the rest of the last lap was just a bunch of grapes floating along the course. I could see Richard and Phill just a couple bikes ahead of me but I was stuck dead centre with nowhere to go. By the time the group started to move along Brock Road for the last few kilometres, things were really getting pushy as I could see a lot of jockeying for position in the couple rows a head. This is when things got really crazy, just to the right of my bike, I saw one guy go down and the rider beside me could not avoid the mess. I was just hoping my teammates were OK but I could only see Phill still riding. I had a bad feeling Richard was a part of the carnage and started to get very cautious.
Around the last corner, to the sprint finish, all I could think was just get me to the line with the rubber side down. Thankfully, this short section opened up to the full road and the group spread out with most grabbing wheels on the right hand side. I saw an opening on the left and hammered down that side of the road passing a few people from the massive peloton. I ended up with the same time as the leader but back in 22nd place. Phill had a nice sprint just a few wheels back of the leaders and ended up in 9th place overall. Nicely done!
Thankfully, Richard ended up being cleared by the medical staff and is back at it already. It was a nasty tumble he took and can be read about on his blog http://richard-westwood.blogspot.com/
From the results page there were 52 riders that finished in the main group and 97 athletes that started the race in M3.