The curtain has come down on the Armidale classics season after a nail-biting finish to La Flèche Dangarsleigh that no one could have predicted. With a last minute change to the route which in turn was threatened by rogue cattle grazing on the rapid Salisbury Waters descent, and some incredible handicapping, it was a race that had everything and more.
The inspired route change avoided the awkward Monument turn after 7.5km. Instead, riders charged out 23.5km into a brisk autumnal headwind before returning to finish atop the 2km Salibury Waters climb at the location of the regular 15km turn.
Matt Pett got things underway as the solo Go rider, followed by Jacqui King at 2 minutes and then a bunch of five riders at 7 minutes. The remaining riders in the 24-strong field were spread across a further 11 minutes with Dave Munday the lone Scratch rider with his own wall to climb, a minute in arrears of Pete Harris and a returning Mick Hoult.
Possibly due to the headwind, and possibly because of the uncertainty of what lay ahead, riders mostly stayed and worked together. Jacqui had overcome Matt by the 15km point and drawn out a useful lead. Behind Matt came the trio of Olive Tutt, Paul Whitford and Derek Shirlaw. They still had just over two minutes on a large group – Tom Simmonds, the Bourke Sisters, Alex Thomas, Hayden Freeman and Ice Cold Bill Mara were all together and rapidly closing in having already pulled back four minutes.
Now under a minute behind this big bunch, three well-matched riders were really motoring. Johnny, Swanny and Andy “I can’t climb hills” Robb had managed to maintain the bulk of the margin on their 16 minute chasers but could they catch the younger legs ahead in time? Houlty and Pete Harris had committed from the gun and were now just 15s off bridging across to Kirky, Jason and Rob to form a formidable force. Meanwhile Dave Munday was punching out a serious solo chase into the headwind but had just started to lose ground at this point. Houlty gamely sacrificed his own race to get Pete within 5s of the group ahead and it paid off as the Block rider managed to make it across with a mammoth final effort while Houlty disappeared in a cloud of post-holiday smoke.
Down into Salisbury Waters, over Mihi and on to the 23.5km turn the race was well and truly on with riders slowly reeling in those ahead. It was Tom, Clint and Alex who were the first riders to be greeted by Col at the turn. Having shaken off their mates on the punchy climbs they had a small but useful lead on the chasers. Swanny’s group were 43s down and now 22s ahead of the Harris group. With just 8km remaining and plenty of hills, it was impossible to call.
The southern face of the Mihi climb caused gaps to close a little more with Jason showing strong legs to chop 15s off the deficit and bring Swanny’s group within range. A few more stray cattle on the road back down to Salisbury Waters were safely negotiated and it was onto the final climb – 2km of pain awaited before the summit and victory.
And what a climb it turned out to be, with riders strewn along the course. Up front, Tom and Clint were at it hammer and tong with Alex not far behind. Andy Robb had dispatched his self-inflicted moniker and broken-free of Swanny, Johnny and Hayden. Closing in on them all was the deadly duo of Spartacus and Jason. The latter two hit hard with around 500m remaining, overcoming most but unable to reach the leaders before the road ran out, despite a great effort. Tom Simmonds’ younger legs danced up the climb to record a fine win, getting the better of Clint Bourke who continued his B2B form on the local hills. Andy Robb just hung on for third in a photo finish with Pete Harris, who grabbed fastest time on the day. Spare a thought for fellow Grafton competitor Dave Munday though – allocated a challenging 1 minute solo Scratch handicap, Dave left it all on the road, ploughing through back markers in a great unassisted effort that saw him come within 30s of Pete’s fastest time.
It was probably the toughest 30km course we have run in recent times and a relative unknown for most, but special mention must go to Col Maciver for some outstanding handicapping. The Strava graphic below shows how Pete’s group chased down Tom’s over the course of the race, ultimately just failing to make the catch at the end.
Congratulations Tom Simmonds on a well-raced first handicap victory for 2 years. Thanks Col for handicapping and excellent race marshaling, Chris Stace for some great camera work with the GoPro that gave us mid-race splits and Dene Bourke for spending most of his Saturday dodging cattle, putting out and pulling in the signs.
After a false start last month, we really are starting the 2018 Road Racer league competition next weekend with a 40km firecracker on the challenging Boorolong course. Not to be missed.
|HARRIS Pete||04||0:17:00||0:41:28||0:54:58||1:08:00||0:00:09||0:51:00 FT||37.06|