Two weeks after The Race and I might still be recovering from it. Who knows?
I did come out of it with a couple of injuries. First, the hamstring on my left leg, which was caused by the cramping during the climb of the Gibraltar Range. Second, some muscle under my shoulder blade has been annoying me. I guess it might be normal after such a race.
So, a few days off the bike followed by some casual rides seemed the right thing to do.
Grafton to Inverell Report - a bit of a blur, really!
Going over the KOM line, on top of the Gibraltar Range was an emotional experience. Not quite sure what caused the few tears. It could have been the huge sense of achievement, after having coming up second best a few times. A sense of relief perhaps as the road started to point downwards from there (yeah, right!) or simply because it is something that just happens...
I have to say, after I crossed that line, my body seemed to have gone through an instant recuperation process. I felt strong again and just wanted to keep going. Ahead of me was the race car, that's all I was focusing on.
At one time, I contemplated getting to the first feed station alone. How cool would that have been? It would certainly shock a few people. But the thought was quickly forgotten when the radio car came by, saying that the chasing bunch was two minutes behind. I decided to save energy and get ready to jump in the middle of it and do everything to stay with them.
I still got to the second water station first, which was funny as they didn't expect, or didn't see and weren't prepared for it. When they did hear my shouts, they all jumped and tried to give me a biddon. I think I said Thank you! a dozen times after getting my second one. Pretty funny at the time!
Not quite sure where I got caught, perhaps at the 100 km mark. I remember seen a sprint flag up the hill short after and thinking: You guys can fight for it, I am going to sit here and enjoy the ride for a while... What really surprised me was the size of the leading bunch. I counted twenty, or twenty one riders... It would have been interesting to see how it all happened on the climb.
Soon after that came the first feed zone (115 km). There was a bit of confusion in the bunch but I knew Sandra would be ready and in a good position. I could see her smile when she recognised me, stretching her arm with my lunch. She was happy, I was happy.
#1... I think!
Next, two long ascents, which took us to the highest point of the race at 1190 m. One rider got away and was left out there. The bunch kept working well, some taking longer turns, some taking fewer turns. Still feeling good, I put a few efforts on to help the bunch when I could.
For my relief, a long, long down hill run took us closer to Glen Innes (65 km to go) but the hill just before the township took a fair bit of me and I started to struggle. No way I was going to dispute the town sprint... I needed to finish the race in Inverell.
Feed station two, I was glad to see Sandra again and grab another musette. This time, I made a real mess of it and lost a bit of ground on a dozen guys hammering up the hill. I managed to grab the drinks, a banana and a couple of bars out of the bag, which I needed to give to someone who somehow, couldn't find his handler.
Dropped, we formed a group of three or four and chased. A hard chase it was. Shortly, we were the bunch of 18 riders again, climbing up to Waterloo Range Summit (1155 m), a steep and long stretch. I was struggling badly this time.
A car went pass and someone screamed at his rider: - 4 min to the rider in front and 9 and a half to the group behind! Then, Sandra went pass and saw me struggling behind the bunch. Not a good sight for a team mate. That's what handlers really are: team mates.
I looked down and saw 175 km on my computer, 50 to go. Only another 1.5 hours on the bike but I was struggling. I needed to recover and the long and fast descent to the Matheson Sprint came at the right time. We were travelling at 75+ km/h without pedalling.
Thirty-five kilometers to go, we were getting close to the next feed. I couldn't eat anything else but was looking forward to have the energy drink I put on the list for the third musette, hoping that it would give me a boost for the last hour.
Just after the third feed station, I started to notice my front tyre getting a bit sloppy. I wasn't sure if it was going flat so I asked someone:
- Excuse me. Something feels a bit strange. Is my tyre going flat?
- Mate, don't worry. In this race and at this point, we all feel a bit strange...
Fair comment but that wasn't the only problem. Every time, I got out of the saddle on an incline, it felt like I was riding on edge of the rims.
Too afraid to get dropped, I decided not to get a wheel change for a few more kilometers.
Nearing the Dijon Sapphire Sprint point, I felt rested and decided to have a go at it. I did rely on the bunch to catch the solo attacker who was now in our sight. He had been out the front for almost 80 km and still managed to get over the line in front. A super effort!!
He was overtaken shortly after. I am not sure if he did hang on after that but I know he won the Sprint Jersey and lots of cash. Well deserved too.
Twenty kilometers to Inverell now. The pace started to pick up and a few guys tried to get away a couple of times. They were quickly brought back, one by one. Even though my legs felt good, I kept telling myself to conserve. I was saving for a move with two kilometers to go.
On the last climb, 10 km to the finish, my front tyre went flat. Completely this time. I got off and put my hand up. In a matter of seconds, a car stopped and someone jumped out. Another few seconds and he is trying to fit this wheel which I never seen before.
Good or bad, I had a wheel and was chasing the bunch in less than a minute. The cars were moving slowly behind them and people were yelling and banging on the car doors as I went pass. That was helping me on the chase.
At one point, I noticed a large truck and a gap behind it, so I crossed to the right and kept riding on the wrong side of the road. Ahead, there was a police car with flashing lights and blocking the incoming traffic. I felt like it was a pro race then...
I got back just as the bunch got to the crest of this long hill, perhaps with 4 or 5 km to go. There was a descent into town and a small incline but I didn't have much left in the tank to try anything. I watched the sprinters moving to the front and each one had somebody glued to their wheels. We were very close to each other.
With 500-600 m, the speed picked up and we came to a round about. One last turn before... and someone in front hit the breaks. There was a sudden split, we went around the corner and the sprint started, maybe 300 m to the finish.
I lost a few places then and only managed a 14th place, 3 sec behind the winner.
Happy with my first Grafton to Inverell!
And I will be there next year!