Having won last week’s first Round of the National Series, I was definitely amped for the challenge of defending the title in this year’s Wildside Stage Race event. With local Tasmanian favorite Rowena Fry, Perth power-house Jo Bennett and SA’s up and comer Terri Rhodes in the mix, I knew that the competition was going to be fierce and I was in for a tough 4 days of racing!
This time round, I had 2 great travel companions in Super Masters champ Kerry Ryan and his lovely daughter Prue. Kerry is an amazing 71 y/old rider whom I coach. His name is down in the Wildside record books as having won the previous 3 editions in the 60+ category. Needless to say, this year’s event saw his toughest yet, with some very fast guys to contend with who were up to 10 years his junior. As well as Kerry, I had 6 others I coach racing; all of whom had put in the hard yards over the previous few months and I was excited to see just how well they would race over the 4 days. Mark Tupalski (aka Tupac) and I were the only Torq Team members to be racing. Tupac has shown some awesome form of late and was definitely one of the favorites on the start line.
Pre-race ride around Dove Lake on Cradle Mtn
I remember from the 2012 edition, that this very first stage was one of my hardest. I think with the flat yet bumpy terrain and exposed sections, this stage suits a strong rider who can maintain some high powers; Not really my specialty! The start of the stage was a bit of a mad scramble to make sure to get into a good working group. I got myself a clean start and managed to grab hold of Row Fry’s wheel and follow her direction throughout the first few km. I was definitely finding the going tough, particularly with the cold conditions. At one point I had to stop to dislodge a stick from the derailleur and lost contact with Row. By this stage, Jo Bennett had caught back up to me and we were then able to work together to real Row back in. The last few km’s was a hard fought battle, and I was happy in the end to finish alongside Row and Jo. Row had sprinted to take out stage one and would go into stage 2 as race leader.
After an extreme, painfully cold, cruise stage, we all tried to thaw out in the heated up cars and buses while downing some fuel for the afternoon. I think for many, these extreme conditions on this first day proved to be the most challenging of the whole event.
The afternoon stage started out with some nice bits of single track, then a rather deep river crossing followed by some nasty pinch climbs…the sort of climbs that were just long enough to hurt! Row and I got ourselves a good start along with a group of 4-5 guys. We worked together quite well in the open sections and it wasn’t until the river crossing that the group splintered. I figured it would be best to ride my own rhythm through the hills anyway and tried my best to find that rhythm! By this stage Row had dropped off a little and I had a feeling that Jo would be not too far back! Sure enough Jo made a pass up one of the steep pinches and I concentrated on holding a high pace and keeping her in sight. The stage ended with an awesome descent and I was able to make back a little time on Jo and was happy at stage-end to be within 30sec.
Tupac had ridden a great afternoon stage also as he had taken advantage of the hill climbs and would go into day 2 as men’s overall leader
The morning stage on day 2 is my favorite. It consists of a fast 1km flattish 4wd track, followed by long single-track climb and then a gnarly single track descent with plenty of mud patches and roots to negotiate. This was definitely one for the mtbikers! Unfortunately I didn’t get the best of starts and was stuck behind for much of the single-track climb. I was getting a little eager to pass at one stage and tried a line to the right of another rider only to be almost knocked out by an over-head tree branch! I then decided it would probably be best to wait for a little more track width! Meanwhile, Row Fry was powering up ahead and built a good gap that I was never able to close. I had some awesome fun on the descent to finish this stage and had a smile from ear to ear as I sprinted to the line. Row had ridden a great stage to take back some time she had lost the previous afternoon. The battle for overall was certainly tight.
The afternoon’s Montezuma Falls stage is seen as the “queen stage” of Wildside. It started with a 5km bitumen climb and then eventually we were directed onto a 4wd track that made its way steadily up to the scenic waterfalls. Crossing the cable bridge with bike on shoulder is probably the scariest part; I certainly wasn’t brave enough to look down and actually view the falls as I clumsily made my way across. Once over the bridge, Row and I made our way back up to Jo who had got herself a handy lead up the initial climb. This was then the most challenging section for me. I seemed to just bump around all over the place over the endless dips and wooden sleepers. A few times I made silly line choices through the puddles ending in a little more mud than necessary. The other 2 girls were definitely stronger through this section and I just tried to limit the time I was losing. Luckily this stage finished once again with a long, quite technical descent and I was able to make a little more time back. So, at the end of day 2 Row Fry had a narrow lead over Jo and me.
The men’s was also close with Ben Mather just ahead of Mark Tupalski.
Day 3, started off with a short Time Trial of around 20min. We were sent off in pairs, so could either work together or race each other. Jo Bennett and I were very close on GC and so inevitably were sent off together. We were able to swap turns for a bit in the initial couple of km’s, but then once on the finishing straight (which seemingly went on forever), Jo was able to put the power down and ride away from me. Again, I tried to limit my losses and willed my leg muscles to produce more force. I think this was probably my most painful stage as I limped to the line in 3rd place once again.
The following Cruise stage made up for the nasty TT of pain. We were treated to some beautiful views as we made our way into Granville Harbor. It was so nice to have the sun shining throughout this ride and while enjoying lunch down by the water.
The afternoon’s stage started with a gravel uphill road of a few km. This very quickly sorted the bunch out as we reached the summit and made our way onto the trails running along the cliff top. These trails were characterized by a mixture of granite rocky terrain and patches of loose sand. It was actually one of the most challenging stages, particularly in way of technical climbing. Good line choice was a must as we picked our way through the rocky hills. I was careful to leave a good gap to the rider in front so I could chose my own line. I had a terrible start but by the halfway mark was surprised to have Jo in sight. Frustratingly, I suffered a couple of slight mechanicals meaning I had to claw my way back to Jo each time. In the end I manage to finish 30sec off the pace; quite pleasing given the several forced stops.
This 6th stage proved to be a great one for fellow Torq Team rider mark Tupalski. Mark had made his move from the very start and had ridden away from the lead bunch of guys. By the stage end he had put 1.5min into 2nd place and now sat in the overall lead once more.
Mark Tupalski taking on some much needed Torq nutrition!
The last stage was always going to be a suffer-fest! Going into this stage I was sitting in 2nd on GC, but only by 8sec back to Jo Bennett. The terrain really did not suit me and I knew I had to give it everything and some more to remain in 2nd! We started with a controlled rolling start for a few km and then the flag was dropped and the racing was on! My aim was to stick on Jo’s wheel and try to remain there until the finish. As we descended over some sand dunes and onto the beach section, one of the guys in front of Row and I had a tumble. This forced us off and running and Jo had got approx. 20m gap on us. I then did my best to put the power down and close the gap. I got within 5m and then Row took over and closed the rest. I had made it back onto Jo’s wheel, but I was more than a little spent! I was then amazed at just how much power Jo could maintain over that beach section as she managed to drop both myself and 4 other guys and apparently she led almost the whole length of the beach! She definitely deserved to win this last stage and overtake me for 2nd spot.
I was content to take home 3rd on GC as I gave it everything and to date, this is probably my best result over this format of racing. I know that I have won the event back in 2012; however the level of competition was so much higher in this year’s event as can be seen by the super-fast race times. Big congrats to Row Fry who took out the event and to Jo Bennett for a well-deserved 2nd place.
Mark Tupalski also lost out on this final stage as he too couldn’t quite match the power of Ben Mather along the flat windy sections. In the end it was super-close. Mark finished a minute behind Ben on the stage, which meant that Ben took overall victory by a mere 8sec! It was a little heart breaking for Mark but he can certainly hold his head high with a hard-fought 2nd place overall. People often forget that he is still just 21 years. He has plenty more opportunity to go back to Tassie and make amends!
After this final stage, it was great to have a swim and enjoy some lunch while listening to all the tales from fellow competitors. I was stoked to hear that all of the Pedallab riders had ridden so well and surpassed any expectations. They certainly had deserved at least a few days off.
Thanks so much to TORQ AUSTRALIA and all of the team’s sponsors for giving Mark and I the opportunity to race this event. In particular SRAM were extremely helpful throughout the week and helped see our bikes through to the finish line!
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