Often we look at race results, and it doesn’t tell us a very good story of what happened or how it played out. Certainly going into the race; we weren’t expecting to have 4/4 DNFS on the results. Although that’s not what we wanted; we still came out of the race with our heads held high knowing that we had a crack and that we had put ourselves in a position where we could have won. Check out Dave’s recap of the day’s proceedings.
Grafton to Inverell
By David Randall
With some added experience in the squad for 2018, Van D’am Racing decided for the first time to send a team to the Grafton to Inverell Cycling Classic. “The Grafton” this year was held at the opening event of the National Road Series, and 4 of us went up with a lot of excitement to what is widely regarded the hardest one-day race in Australia.
I travelled to Stuart Thomason’s (Jason’s dad, and our DS for the weekend) second home in Yamba (thank you to Stuart and Creena for their support all weekend!) with Iven Bennett, our team’s resident breakaway destroyer and ever-reliable joker and teammate, Rylan Dowdell, a cracking climber back racing after finishing on the podium at the Baw Baw Classic, and Jason Thomason, our team captain who has raced and led the team brilliantly for whole first half of the year.
After a hellishly early start on Saturday, we rolled out of Grafton on the Gwydir Hwy (very rare that we race on a single road for more than 200kms in one day!) towards the infamous Gibraltar Range National Park – the climb of 950 vertical metres differentiates the Grafton from the longer, faster and (sometimes) easier Warrny, so there is even more reason to have representation in the breakaway. This allows for an easier ride up the climb and so that the rest of the team can relax.
After 5kms of attacks and counter-attacks, I saw William Barker from Phoenix Cycling Collective off the front with a small gap and managed to take a run-up and, for a while at least, technically, lead the 2018 National Road Series. (Can I put that on my CV?) We rode out to a 40-second gap and waited for a bit of help from an inevitable chasing group – with a 30kph headwind all day, a group of 2 was never going to last long (unless you’re Raph Freienstein and Nathan Elliot, absolute machines both of them).
On the first KOM of the day, I rode away from Barker and was joined by probably the strongest early break I’ve ever seen – Elliot, Freienstein, Crome, White, Bondarenko, Kent-Spark, Murtagh, Cavanagh, etc. You get the picture! Due to some technical issues, our team car didn’t catch word that I had made it into the break of the day, so I gave my arm warmers to a surprised commissaire and took a bidon from one of the brilliant motorbike riders looking after the break.
I had the plan of following the break up the climb without putting myself deep “in the red” (in danger of your legs exploding) – that worked a treat and I got over the climb in the second group. Although distanced over the climb, Rylan was fortunate enough to have the Iven Express on hand to pull him back to the front of the race. Jason, unfortunately, ran into traffic early on before the climb and couldn’t overcome the deficit, and was eventually stuck trying to chase back by himself (never works out well).
So far so good: three riders at the front of the race after the climb: almost perfect. Then things kind of fell apart.
Just as Stu made it up to the peloton to offer food, drinks and some warm clothing (it was seriously cold after the top of the climb!), Rylan found himself airborne, going over the top of a crash in a nasty crosswind section and whacking his head on the road. Amazingly, despite a headache, a bit of whiplash and a pretty substantial helmet fracture, Rylan didn’t have a scratch on him – he was super lucky that his Suomy took all the force of the impact!
Shortly after this Iven succumbed to his efforts and bid the peloton adieu.
Unfortunately, with the bedlam of breakaways, chase groups, climbs, crosswinds and crashes, I still didn’t get a chance to see the team car until 160kms in, almost 5 hours into the race and around 2 hours after summiting Gibraltar. Even with a generous food handout from the Mobius car while I was desperately calling for my own team car, I was freezing, starving and cramping like crazy – the feed and clothing helped but it was already lights out. After I staggered off the bike and into the team car, we rejoined the convoy for the run into Inverell to collect Rylan’s bike (that’d been kindly taken by Alistair Reither in the neutral spares car) and regroup for the long drive home.
We weren’t disappointed in our performance, and certainly couldn’t fault our efforts, but unfortunately, we lucked out and the cards didn’t fall our way this time around. We’ll be back in the second half of 2018 ready to make amends!