Finally its here, the end of season 2012. Must say its a pretty good feeling to be sitting here bathed in the warmth of the Central Otago afternoon sun, sipping on a large cold brew and reminiscing on what has been an epic journey over the last 12months. This time last year I was gearing up for a massive year with a ProContinental version of PureBlack Racing in Spain however as we know things didn’t work out and since then it has certainly been a rollercoaster ride.
lining up with the boys for the last time this year
The last stop of which was the Tour of Southland last week. I guess my fortunes for the year were mirrored in the way that the tour played out. We started really strongly with a very close 4th in the TTT prologue (all four top teams were within 2sec), I was feeling amazing and super excited for what lay ahead. However a lot was to unfold on the roads of Southland during the week and generally it wouldn’t be going my way.
lighting it up in the TTT
The first road stage was reasonably uneventful, we stuck together and had a good plan for the finish, although we showed our strength we misjudged the finish abit and ended up going to early. I managed to hold on for 6th in the sprint but was a little disappointed with what could have been.
Day 3, the second road stage is where things started to get abit messy, again I had super legs and was cruising along in the bunch waiting for the big finale up Bluff hill, however the race had other plans and a large group of strong contenders rolled away early on taking several minutes. This was Taylor Gunman’s time to shine as he was our sole representative up the road, he did not disappoint putting in an impressive showing for third on the stage. Further back down the road carnage was taking place. The bunch was being decimated in the crosswinds on the way to Bluff, I was feeling good and riding right at the front along with my boys Roman and Dion. However a quick swerving of wheels in the echelon resulted in me running out of room on the side of the road and going flying into the grass, luckily I was unhurt but required a wheel change. I was able to regain the main peloton and went into the bottom of the climb a minute or so down. I climbed well and limited my losses, hopeful that my good form would be able to pull me back up the standings later in the week, however it was just a sign of things to come.
Day 4 included stages 3 and 4, first up a short burst from Riverton along the brutally exposed southern coast to Tuatapere and then a 100km haul directly into the blowing nor-wester up to Te Anau. I was feeling good in the hellish crosswinds along the coast and made the select front split, only to once again be pushed off the road by another rider getting blown in the wrong direction in front of me. This time I wasn’t able to jump back in quick enough to join the chase group and had to roll in some more minutes down, this time effectively ending any GC hopes.
I went into the afternoons stage annoyed, determined and focused. I wasn’t going to keep letting crashes getting in the way of things so I would just try ride out front this time. However this was almost completely chucked out the window when I had a mechanical issue with my front deralieur in the neutral section, luckily it was no sweat for team mechanic Louie to sort out. Usual protocol when a rider has a mechanical in the neutral section is to delay the race start until they have rejoined the race, so I wasn’t too stressed but when I saw the bunch and convoy stretched out in a long line going 55kph in front of me I was abit worried, turns out they didn’t bother to wait. Anyway Harry made sure I got back up with the help of the van. Although as soon as I got back to the bunch I saw the break was already gone, I was pretty pissed off so didn’t hesitate and jumped as hard as I could when the next rider went to get across. It didn’t take us long to get there and establish a decent breakaway group. It was a long tough drag to Te Anau, uphill and headwind the whole way on roads that would require a lazy boy couch car to pass over comfortably, this resulted in the break disintegrating rapidly. With 50k to go there were only 3 of us left and the bunch never let us get much of a time gap so it was never looking very good for us. I kept riding through hard trying to get as much out of the other guys as possible but I soon realised if I wanted any chance of holding on for the win I was going to have to empty the tank and go solo. With 15k remaining and a change of direction giving us a tail wind I went for it. With only 1min gap over the bunch I was basically pushing shit uphill but was none the less fully committed. Having done the stretch of road in a TT of the Tour de Lakes previously I was very familiar with it and knew that there was abit of downhill inside the last 4km and just killed myself to get there still ahead, however the reward was not just, as I turned to the downhill section the wind was once again firmly in my face and my 30sec gap rapidly disappeared inside the next two kilometers and I had to settle for slipping off the back of the bunch at the finish. One of those ‘a lot of effort for nothing days’ but was consolidating to know the form was definitely there.
Going it alone
The crown range stage is the longest stage of the tour and is quite often won from a breakaway group. I still felt really good in the morning even after yesterdays efforts and considering there were some strong climbers in the field I figured my best chance of winning was to get in the break and have some time at the bottom of the climb. The break group was much larger and stronger today but still it wasn’t enough to contend with the long tedious drags into the heavy northerly wind, which was knocking our speed down to 20kph on the flat! As the bunch lifted the pace with some guys keen to push for a stage win, our lead evaporated quickly, some of the guys in the break group with me didn’t seem to want to fully commit to keeping the gap high and were more content to continue sitting on and saving energy so that they could try their own solo attacks with still 20k and a 3k climb remaining but only a 50sec time gap. Such is bike racing though and I had to concede another large amount of energy expenditure in a 150km breakaway for not much at all.
in the break again – long road to Crown Range
Going into the last two days we had to change tack abit and look to ride defensively in order to preserve Taylor’s 3rd place on GC and U23 leaders jersey as well as 2nd on teams GC. At the start of the long stage to Gore I could feel instantly that I was going to be paying for my efforts in the last couple of days, unfortunately I wasn’t given any chance to ride into the stage with crosswinds ripping the bunch to shreds in the first 30km, I was constantly getting caught one or two wheels to far back and having to chase back up. Once it finally settled down and I rejoined the front group I saw a few key guys missing and with all of our guys still in the bunch with me it meant that there was nothing for it but to go straight to the front and continue chasing, yet again I was smashing away into ahead wind on roads that never seemed to end. The break was strong and without a concerted effort from other teams to help chase it turned out to be a long long day slugging away. Eventually I had enough and just rolled in the main pack to the finish. Taylor continued to ride strongly and maintained his position after a very testing day.
on the front again, this time doing the chasing in a long day around Gore
The last day of the tour is generally nothing short of epic, and this year was promising to be the same. With small time gaps up top there was still a lot to race for, the weather was coming along to play as well chucking snow, hail, wind and rain at us. The first stage had changed from the 80k blast to Lumsden that had often defined the tour in previous years to a very unappealing 13k TT around the dead back roads of Winton. TT’s are often the key to winning a tour but then Southland is not really a normal tour and the TT did very little to affect GC. I was still struggling to get off the downhill slope of tiredness and recover abit after three massive days riding on the front and so had to just take the TT pretty easy in anticipation and trepidation for what lay ahead in the afternoon. Taylor, Roman and Dion had all TT’d well and we were still strongly holding our positions, it was just going to be a matter of giving everything we had and fighting right to the end to keep ahold of them.
Boys sticking together through a tough week
Usually after the decisive morning stage the final stage into Invercargill is somewhat of a procession with abit of action at the finish. However we were in for something totally different this time and within the first 5k of the stage there were only 20 riders left in the front group. Myself, Dion and Taylor up there, it seemed there was to be no relief for me as I was forced to spend all my time riding as hard as I could on the front to protect Taylor’s position. I think everyone in the bike race gave their absolute all in that stage but unfortunately for us we didn’t quite have as much left as the others, and the time gaps at the finish were too big. It was a really disappointing way to finish off the tour, it had just been 50k too long with Taylor losing his pink U23 jersey and slipping to 5th overall, aswell as our team GC position slipping one spot. But nevertheless we were proud with how we had ridden as a team, sticking together the whole time. It was also great to see our former PureBlack Racing teammate and good friend, Mike Northey take an impressive overall win.
emptying the tank chasing on the last stage
The two new comers on board from Australia and Canada, Dan and Cody, slotted in as if they had been part of the team all year and were always looking for ways to help out and improve. We also had a massive amount of support behind the scenes to be thankful for. Louie made the switch from rider/team sprinter to mechanic and was just as effective at his new role. Astrid was our swanny in training and was learning new tricks everyday, doing a job that basically has no end of things to do, very proficiently. Linda and Tony van Uden took us under their wing and showed us why Roman will never leave home with their kitchen skills. We were also very privileged to have Paul & Paul along from Roofing Industries, two guys who had never been to a bike race before made themselves so useful I’m not sure now how we would’ve survived the week without them, their special talent being identifying key tent spots pre and post race so that we were always as comfortable as possible.
Anyway despite the slightly disappointing results it was a great fun week and an excellent way to wrap up a mega year. I will most definitely enjoy my break for a couple of weeks now but am already getting excited about what the future holds.
Also I want to take the opportunity to say a big thanks to all those supporters and sponsors that have helped get me through the year. Our team sponsors – Avanti, Perry Foundation, Steel Roofing & Roofing Industries NZ, F2P to name a few have made such a big year possible.
My personal sponsors have given me so much support over the last 12months, it certainly would’ve been a lot harder and less successful without them so massive thanks to NZ Funds, Skeggs Foundation and Armstrong Sport.
Anyway I’m going to go enjoy some more of the Central sunshine,
enjoying some of this for the next wee while
Thanks for reading.
*photos from Cycling Southland and Pete Bruggeman