5th wheel

These race reports are written for (and first published by) the Southern Veterans Cycling Club.

21 November 2010, Casey

Fifth wheel

Because it’s where I like to sit for most of a race. You can cover most moves off the front without being called upon to actually do the work, and you get a reasonable feel for how the race is unfolding from the inside. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll roll through and do my turn but then work my way back up through the field to fifth.

The wind was already up by the time I arrived, just to remind us where we were. C Grade was looking a bit smaller than usual but with some of the usual suspects lurking and a couple of unfamiliar faces: Richard Tullett(?) from LaTrobe and Scott Deane(?) from Phillip Island, both of whom would have an impact on the race.

Dean Roberts was sporting his Movember mo and looked like something from a seventies cop show. Dean’s been pushing for a C grade win for the past few weeks after coming back from an injury and has promised to put himself up to B once he’s got it. He prophetically told me that if the bunch drags him to the finish, he’ll give the sprint a good kick. ‘It’s all I’ve got,’ he said, although a pretty serious attack at the 35 minute mark suggested otherwise.

Andrew Caithness was there, who is always strong and seems to push a big gear with relative ease for the full hour and then still have some for the sprint. He’s a great wheel to sit on, but hard to hold at the end. If you’ve read Tim Krabbe’s classic cycling novel, ‘The Rider’, you’ll know that one of the realities of cycling is that you know riders by their bikes or jerseys rather than their names. The Bianchi rider who placed a few weeks back was there again and looked threatening for the whole race. As usual, the Colnago jersey made his presence felt every time he moved to the front by picking up the pace by two or three kph into the wind. The other guy in the Southern Vets jersey has a similar impact on the bunch and my only hope each time they did a turn was that no-one thought it was a good time to attack.

The race started relatively easily but picked up pace by the third lap with a few riders (particularly Richard) testing people’s legs with some surges and faux attacks. Things would slow down considerably into the wind then away we’d go, seeing who had the legs. Dean attacked into the cross wind at the 35 minute mark but we dragged him back. In retrospect, it might have been better to leave him out there. Then Scott Deane attacked, and attacked, and attacked! At one point it looked like he might have been away with the Bianchi rider but it wasn’t to be.

As usual at Casey on a crowded track, no-one was really sure when we were going to get the bell. With ten minutes or so left, riders started watching each other and Richard did two full laps at the front before pulling over. I (foolishly?) rolled through, thinking I’d do half a lap or so but ended up leading for most of the bell lap. It’s not a good place to be but I kept my ears open and my eyes on the shadows. I dropped it into 53:15 up the back into the wind and tried to pick up the pace a bit ready for the jump. Sure enough, Scott jumped early into the wind (despite all the work he’d done), and I tried in vain to catch his wheel as he and the sprinters shot past. I worked through the gears up the hill but ran out of both legs and gears by the final corner.

Dean obviously caught him before the line and Andrew took third. I would have been happy to have still been fifth wheel, but it wasn’t to be.

Thanks to all the organisers for making it all possible.

5 December 2010, Casey

C Grade Racing from Fifth Wheel

There’s nothing like two riders in identical team kit at the line-up to get you thinking about how a race might unfold, especially when they’re sporting consecutive race numbers and chatting quietly to each other. Even more interesting when one is Scott Deane who placed second last time I raced here and his Philip Island mate looks equally as threatening.

There’s no sign of Dean Roberts, who is either not racing or has moved up to B Grade. Andrew Caithness is sidelined with broken ribs after breaking a chain on a training ride. He’s sporting cuts and grazes to his nose and elbow as well and it goes to show how much trust we place in our equipment each time we ride.

But there’s still a strong looking field of twelve and enough wind to keep us on our mettle. Given my experience last time I raced here at Casey, my main aim today is to not be on the front when we get the bell!

The first half hour or so is reasonably quick and fluid with riders either sheltering from the wind or using it to advantage. There are few loose wheels and you have to work hard to hold position on the turns. There’s a bit of movement at the front but no-one really shows themself till the thirty two minute mark when Kris Holmes has a bit of a dig on his Pinarello Prince and Richard Tullett goes with him. They know it’s too early and they’re reeled back in.

Things get interesting with A Grade passing us on the turns into a strong crosswind. The Defence Forces rider goes cross-country for a bit and shows remarkable bike skills at pace. He has what looks like a military grade GPS system on his handlebars that may have led him astray, but I suspect it was just a momentary lapse of concentration in a tight situation. I notice later that he’s back in the race.

Shaun Donaldson launches an attack at the forty-minute mark and there’s a bit of hesitation about whether to chase or not. The moment we bring him back in, Kris Holmes jumps with a counter attack but there are too many on his wheel for him to do any damage.

The Philip Island duo did a bit of work early but have been ominously absent from the front of the bunch for a while, obviously biding their time. When they jump, it’s a serious attack into the wind then up the hill and there’s a chorus of clicking gears as the bunch stretches out and things get serious. They might have stayed away if they had one other rider to roll turns with but we all come back together and the watching game starts.

Kris Holmes and Richard Tullett put a bit of pace on again with the Alessio Bianchi rider pulling a strong turn as well before the race gets neutralised for a while with some confusion about whether E grade are on the bell or coming up for the bell.

I’m sitting comfortably on third wheel when we get the bell ourselves and am happy to stay there as we snake our way up the back straight. The sprint starts just before the turn into the hill and I see the Philip Island jerseys, Kris Holmes and Richard Tullett shoot past. I grab a wheel and hold it to the top corner, although I couldn’t say whose it was. I take the corner wide thinking I might get a clear shot with the tail wind but the real contenders have it all tied up and I roll across in 8th.

Kris Holmes takes the win followed by Scott Deane and Richard Tullett.

As always, thanks to the organizers for making it happen.

Fifth Wheel

6 Jan 2011, Sandown
C Grade Twilight Racing
First race for the year, and from the turnout it seems more than a few have
been keen to get back into it.
We take a lap or so to get sorted then sit into a bit of a rhythm in the dry heat and wind. At 28 minutes, one of two Men in Black in the bunch (no.147) launches a serious attack up the back hill. No one goes with him. He has a look and keeps going. He’s still got about 100 meters on us past the line when the second MIB (no.148) jumps across to him. They hold us off for another half lap then are swallowed up going into the turns. A great effort, especially since both contribute to the pace later in the race.
A and B come past and we slow for a bit before the first of the two TFM riders (no.122) has a dig and the pace is back on for another lap. The move of the day though comes from his mate (name) when he rides away from the front of the bunch immediately after the bell. No one can hold his wheel and he’s got a good 150 meters on us up the back. We chase and make some ground, but with the finish looming, riders are thinking about second and third.
In to the corners for the last time and Sean Wilkinson has it all wrapped up. To my shame, I’m on the front for the first time in the race and think I might have a chance for a place. It’s tight. One rider runs out of road and is on the grass. A line comes through then it’s on. We fly out of the last corner, rattling the gears up the straight. I count the riders ahead of me as I cross the line – all ten of them. Eleventh for the first race of 2011. I appreciate the symmetry but would be happier without it.
A great ride and a well deserved win from Sean Wilkinson. David Blake picked up second and Kris Holmes third in what I imagine was a tight finish. Emma Lyall was first female across the line but wanted to share the glory with her friend!
Thanks to the organizers. It’s great to be back racing.
Fifth Wheel

23 January 2011, Casey

C Grade Report

After Sandown, the lineup at Casey this week was relatively small, which makes for a different sort of racing. There are few places to hide and when a break goes, you can’t rely on a big bunch to drag it back.

Andrew Caithness set the pace early, winding it up from the word go. With a light cloud cover and less wind than we’re used to at Casey, things seemed reasonably comfortable and I abandoned my fifth wheel position and rolled through for a turn on the front. Doing a turn early sets an agenda for yourself, even if for no-one else. I was prepared to give it a shot today. The only question was when.

There were plenty of others with stronger legs than mine to roll turns and the pace fluctuated between mid thirties and low forties for the first half hour with some surges coming through the bends after the front straight.

The first serious attack came around the back at thirty-one minutes when numbers 121 and 131 (Andrew Nicholl) put some fifty metres on the bunch and seemed set to extend it by working well together. What looked at first like an easily bridgeable gap stayed open for more than a lap. A few legs were tested in the chase and the bunch was strung out with a few riders struggling to hold wheels. When we came back together, it looked like the rider in yellow was ready to launch a counter attack. Thankfully, it was quickly covered and we re-grouped for a lap or two.

Five minutes later, Number 121 was away again and it looked like a group of five might get organized around him. That the move was shut down reveals as much about the importance of communication and reading a race as it does about the strength of the riders involved.

Things turned a bit odd in the last four or five laps with a break from D Grade passing us then some uncertainty about where we sat with the chasing group, especially since they were nearing the bell. Eventually, we slowed up and let them go clear before the pace went on again.

I’d told myself I’d have a crack, but time was running out. Experience had told me that I’d get swallowed in a sprint, so it was go early or not go at all. I was fifth wheel up the back straight on the lap that I was sure we’d get the bell. The pace dropped and I jumped to the right and went. Head down, out of the saddle round the turn and all the way to the top of the hill. I snuck a look behind me just before the corner, and there they were: strung out, but hardly blown away! Sure enough, we got the bell, and I was on the front again.

The sprint started in exactly the same spot that I’d launched my attack. I stayed with them to the corner and crossed the line a respectable seventh. Andrew Nicholl, who had been strong all day, took a well-deserved win. Justin Deely took second and Bruce Johnson just couldn’t get clear and took third.

Thanks to the organizers. A great job, as always, and its good to see Bill out from behind the table, racing!

Fifth Wheel

17 February, 2011 Sandown
Fixed wheel training fails to produce results in C Grade at Sandown.

All right: desperate times, desperate measures and all that. With my interval and sprint training only producing a twelfth place at Sandown last week, I finally resorted to the fixed wheel to put a bit of zip into the legs. If it was good enough for Lance and Cadel, it was good enough for me, although I suspect they didn’t do it the day before a race!

So, Wednesday morning I dragged the beautiful steel-framed work of art out of the study and joined the hipsters and indie kids heading into the city. Point one: hipsters are colour blind or believe the red lights are for someone else. Point two: any time you ride a steel framed bike, it will rain big time. Point three: fixed wheel bikes hurt your legs. There’s no avoiding it. Going fast is fine, or at least as fast as a 42:16 ratio will allow. It’s the going slow, or controlling your descent down a longish hill that crucifies you. Stopping for red lights is pain itself. There are muscles I never knew I had!

Consequence: I arrived at Sandown with my quads so tight I found it hard to get out of the car. I did a couple of warm-up laps with Leigh Parsons from A grade and things loosened up a bit. I used to race with Leigh in the eighties with Chelsea and then with Carnegie-Caulfield. His return to racing has seen him progress ridiculously quickly from D grade through to A (with a third place tonight).

Rolling out with a biggish C Grade bunch, it didn’t take long to forget the tightness and focus on the wheel in front of me. I thought I’d want to spin, but pushing a bigger gear seemed to help. Neil Stitt and Con Chrisanthou drifted off the front within the first ten minutes and looked like they were going to make a go of it. Scott Wellsin the cycling tips kit bridged across first but even with three of them it was too early for a real move.

Back together, the pace fluctuated with a few little jumps before the real move at thirty one minutes. I saw it go but couldn’t say who was in it apart from Alex Newman. There were three of them at first, along the back straight, then four, then five with a decent gap and enough organisation to make it look like it might work. Eventually, the bunch switched into chase mode and the tightness in the legs started to tell. I did a couple of hard turns on the front, sharing the work with Scott Wells until the heart and lungs sent me to the back of the bunch to recover. Debbie Chamberswas on the front for a while, rolling turns with some big strong boys into the wind. It took us a good three laps to get them all back.

We let D Grade pass for their sprint and got the bell the moment they’d crossed the line. I’d recovered enough to move back up and went with the jump up the back straight. I had my eye on Andrew Caithness’ wheel but couldn’t grab it and slotted in around twelfth as we swung through the bends. I stole one or two spots before the final turn. Into the straight, I’m on a good wheel then swing out past it, only to have three or four other riders pass me on either side. My gears eventually drop into 12 and I get a little more kick for the last fifty metres, but it’s all over.

Alex Newman, Marcus O’Callaghan and Harry Kellenaerspicked up first second and third and Debbie Chambers was first female across the line. I crossed in eleventh place, one up from last week despite the fixed wheel training. At this rate, I should be ready for a win about a week after the crit season ends.

Thanks to the organizers. Great racing as always.

Fifth Wheel.

10 March 2011 – Sandown

Mass start madness

Before tonight, the closest experience I’d had to mass start cycling was the Chelsea road season in the mid-eighties where twenty or so riders of vastly varying abilities rolled out together on the hilly Main Ridge circuit and came in separately some two hours later after what amounted to an individual time trial. Tonight was different! They say the best way to improve is to compete against someone better. As a C Grade rider still pushing for a place in graded scratch events, tonight presented a pretty substantial contingent of better riders to push the envelope.

Bill Upston’s advice at sign-in was ‘get near the front, pedal as hard as you can and suck wheels all the way.’ Stuart Campbell, who has raced more races than I’ve had cold beers told me that mass starts were the norm back in the day in England and they could unfold in one of two ways. Everyone would hold on to the main group for as long as they could, or the group would quickly fragment into its component parts. ‘If you look around and everyone’s got white hats, you’re in the wrong group.’ I knew there was little danger of that.

With two hundred-plus riders all rolling out together, it’s probably the closest I’ll come to the start of a Grand Tour stage. The air was electric and the sound was beautiful. I used the two controlled laps behind the Barry Bourke lead car to move up towards the front of the bunch until the numbers dropped into the one hundreds. But even then the front of the peloton was snaking through corners a good 200 metres ahead, Fiftieth wheel was a more realistic option than fifth.

When the lead car pulled off, the pace went on like someone had flipped a switch. My aim was to simply hold on for as long as I could. If I finished it would be a bonus. The only time the pace came off was when we slowed for the S bends but the sprint to get back on pretty well did you in. When I saw I was doing 51kph up the back hill (a good 10kph quicker than my norm) I knew I wasn’t in Kansas any more. Even with the advantage of critical mass, you’ve still got to put the power out and fight to hold wheels. I couldn’t see what was happening up front, but apparently there was a group of six with a gap at some stage. Behind me, I just hoped there were riders dropping off like flies. All I could see was the wheel in front of me.

It doesn’t take much to realise that for a mid-grade (middle-aged) rider, a mass start is really a war of attrition. I tried to control my breathing and hold wheels that would keep me in the bunch as long as possible. I was acutely aware of the principle that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. Each lap and each corner was a struggle to hold position. I hung in till the lap before the bell before the elastic broke and I felt myself sliding out the back.

When you crack in a bike race, it’s a mixture of relief and profound disappointment. My first impulse was to slide up the off ramp and call it quits, but there was a group of half a dozen riders coming through, so I jumped on and got the bell. We rolled around and jockeyed for position. I think I got second in the secondary sprint, but to be honest I was seeing double and didn’t really know where the line was and wasn’t completely sure that we’d all done the same number of laps anyway.

I have no idea how the commissaries determined the graded places in what must have seemed like organized chaos at the line. The results are there to view. I wasn’t there, but all power to the Southern Vets crew who put on such an awesome event, especially coming off the back of the phenomenal Dandenong criterium, which was one of the best organized events I’ve been involved in. This is a great club. Thanks for all the hard work.

Fifth Wheel

20 March, 2011, Casey

C Grade report

When I starting writing these reports, fifth wheel referred to the position I like to hold during a race, not when I cross the line. With another fifth place today in an interesting bunch sprint, I’m thinking I should start writing under a different name.

There was barely time to settle in to a rhythm today before Glen Bowen attacked up the hill and opened up a sizeable gap on the first lap. No sooner was he caught than Ian McEwin counter-attacked and we were chasing again on the second lap. If the two had gone together, the break might well have worked as both rode strongly for the whole race with Glen picking up a third place in the final sprint and Ian working the front of the bunch for a large part of the race.

As usual at Casey, the wind made for a technical race with some fast downwind legs turning abruptly into a wall of wind and riders ducking for cover to avoid being left out in the cold. I did a few laps towards the back but felt with the sudden changes in pace, it was only a matter of time before a serious attack was launched.

Moving up means you’ve got to pay your dues. I slotted in to the back of the lead group and rolled dutifully through for a couple of turns on the front then sat around fourth or fifth while Glen Bowen, Ian McEwin and Paul Bruders drove the train. There were some serious surges after the thirty-minute mark but the bunch held together till the inevitable change of pace when B Grade rolled past.

We hung about four of five bike lengths off them for half a lap till Ray King pulled rank and told us to let them go. Andrew Caithness, who’s showing great form at the moment, was chatting away while pushing something like 53:11 and trying to work out who had latched on to them in the first place. Once they were clear, the pace went back on again, only to slow for the B grade crash at the start of the back straight.

I was sitting second wheel on Glen Bowen when we got the bell. He’d already done a power of work, but now was not the time to roll through. It was either Paul Bruders or his mate on the matching Colnago who launched the attack just before the hill, but Bruce Johnson had timed his sprint to perfection to take the honours. I was fourth wheel as we turned into the home straight and thought I might have a shot at a place. The thing with downwind sprints though, is that it’s downwind for everyone! I saw the deep rim carbon wheels and Colnago frame slide past me and accepted my designated lot.

Thanks, as always, to the organisers for a great day out.

Fifth Wheel.


Ride of the Day? C Grade Report – Lang-Lang Yannathan

12 August, 2012

Waiting to roll out, a mate looked across and told me, ‘See that guy on the Scott? He’s a strong rider; he’d be a good wheel to watch towards the finish.’

Never a truer word was spoken. Trouble was, his wheel was nowhere in sight when the bunch crossed the line. In fact, it disappeared from view with the wheel of the eventual winner before the end of the first lap and was never seen again.

It’s not often that the decisive move in a masters’ race comes in the first hundred metres after race control, but all credit to Lee Lindsay and Peter Dean (on the Scott) for staying away for the full 81km and four climbs of Heath’s Hill in reasonably tough and windy conditions.

Lee Lindsay rode away the moment we crossed the start line and opened up a hundred-metre gap. Peter Dean was the only rider to jump across and we all watched him go, thinking it was way too early to do any work and that we’d reel them in, probably by the top of the first climb. They pushed the gap out to about three-hundred metres and disappeared over the top of Heath’s Hill before Dave Kennedy tested the rest of us out by cranking it up the rise and stringing us out.

Dave visits each week from 1987. His kit and shoes are period-perfect and he rides a steel frame with down-tube shifters and about half as many gears to choose from as the rest of us. It doesn’t stop him ramping up the pace though, especially up the hills where it’s difficult to tell exactly what gear he’s pushing. Dave set the pace up all four climbs of Heath’s Hill until the inevitable attack on the final climb.

When we swung left at the top of the first climb, Lindsay and Dean were still in sight but they’d extended their lead by at least another two hundred metres. We made ground for a bit with some rolling turns but as we turned towards Yannathan, they seemed to be holding us and the same few wheels kept presenting for a turn. After the second climb, I was convinced we had them. We kept pulling closer, closing the gap into the wind, only to find it was a rider off the back of B and our two were gone.

By the third lap, I think we knew we were racing for third. The pace came off. Then on. Then off again. Towards the top of the final climb there was an attack that split the group in two. I don’t know who made it, as all I could see was the wheel in front of me and a sort of flashing behind my eyes. It took about 2k on the downhill and flat for us to re-group, with Doc Stitt and the rider in orange pulling some good turns to get us back on. Then the game-playing started to see who would pull the group to the finish.

Dave Edwards jumped first, right before the 200m line. I had one cog left and chased hard before dropping it down. Dave started to fade into the wind and there was that moment where you think you’ve got it. But there was still seventy metres to go and I only had 30 left in my legs. Half the bunch went past in a blur and Bart Van Der Looij picked up third.

I obviously wasn’t there to see when the alliance between Lee Lindsay and Peter Dean turned into a competition, but I’d be keen to hear. Well done to both riders on an awesome effort. Next time, I’ll take the advice more seriously.

Thanks to the organizers for another great event.

Fifth Wheel

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