2015 Northern Combine 3 Day Tour

The Northern Combine 3 Day Tour is one of my bigger goals of the season. It’s always fun to get away for 3 days of bike racing in the freezing winter weather. Ok, so maybe not the freezing weather but.. BIKES! Read on for my race report.

B Grade Men

Stage 1 – Kyneton Pastoria Loop

Distance:85km

Result: 5th

The opening stage of the 3 Day Tour took place on the Kyneton Pastoria circuit, a 22km loop with the climb up Bald Hill coming only 2km or so from the finish. I was able to win this stage last year in C grade, however the finish then was in a much more sprinter friendly location. With the climb coming so close to the finish line this year, it was clearly not only going to be decisive for the stage, but potentially heavily influence the overall classification of the tour should one lose contact on the final ascent.

As this was my first road race of the year and my first in B grade I was fairly nervous in the lead up, aiming at a top 15 result with a top 10 being a bonus – but secretly just hoping to just not get dropped! The bunch rolled out at a fairly moderate pace, with the odd attack being thrown in to test out the field. With KOM points (and bonus seconds) on offer for the first two laps up Bald Hill, no one was really given any real chance at getting away.

The first time up the climb, a few of the guys lit it up, and I dug pretty deep to try and maintain contact somewhere near the front of the chasing bunch. With the heart rate heading towards 200 as we crested, I did my best to recover, while rolling a couple of turns help the group make contact with the strong climbers.

With the group back together after 5 or so km, I was determined to try and conserve a bit better in the coming laps to be able to limit my losses to the fast climbers in the bunch – particularly on the final lap.

The next lap up the climb there was again a surge in pace, but with only a couple of guys off the front to get the KOM points I did my best to ride a bit more within myself to crest with the main bunch and not stress about  closing down the gaps to the small group off the front.

Once the KOM points were taken care of the race settled into a predictable rhythm of attack; chase – counter attack. The bunch was not keen to let anyone get away and take time, ensuring fireworks the final time up the climb.

I moved up through the group, making sure I had enough wheels to sit behind, and at the same time being able to make sure no real dangerous moved skipped away on approach to the final climb.

The pace came up as we started the final climb. As the group passed the 1000m sign to the top of the KOM, I tried to not go too deep in the shallower sections, knowing the final 500m was steeper and more likely to be decisive. Boom! The fast guys hit the steeper section hard – I did my best to hang on conceding some distance to a front group of 5 or 6 riders, but climbing towards the front of the next group. As we crested the climb, heart rate up around the 200 bpm mark, I shifted up in to the big chain ring to start the fast hard charge toward the line. The group pushed on hard to limit the losses to the front guys with speeds hitting 60kph. With 500m to go, the groups came back together, and I found myself stuck on the left side of the road, right where you don’t want to be for a bunch finish. At the start of the race I had focused my thoughts on only not losing time on this stage, now I found myself in a position to place – but frustratingly I was jammed right where you don’t want to be.

300m to go and the sprint opened up, in turn thinning out the bunch while fortunately opening up some room on the left. I took my chance and spun out as hard as I could, moving up the left of the group managing to snag 5th place across the line. Not only bunch time, but a sneaky bonus second too! I’ll take that any day.

my face doesn't really show my surprise and satisfaction at scoring 5th on the opening day
My face doesn’t really show my surprise and satisfaction at scoring 5th on the opening day

Time to rest up and prep ready for the ITT on Sunday morning.

Race Stats

Average speed: 35.4 kph

Normalised Power: 270w

Max Heart Rate:199 bpm.

Strava Link: https://app.strava.com/activities/319203831/analysis

Stage 2 – Carlsruhe Individual Time Trial

Distance:5.6km not 5!

Result: 9th

With a change up to the order of stages this year, a new TT course was set for competitors 5 km south of Kyneton in the small town of Carlsruhe. A predominantly flat and straight course with a slight kink to the left 2km in, and a kink back to the right not far from the finish.

Nothing too much to report here. Went out too hard, paid for it in the stronger cross wind section. Thought the course was 5km – grovelled for the last 600m. Bit of an abomination of a time trial from an execution point of view, not to worry – just more lessons learnt for the future.

Road Bikes only, head down, in the box.
Head down, in the box. Photo Credit: Stephen Rutledge

Race Stats

Average speed:  38.6 kph

Normalised Power: 362 w

Max Heart Rate: 196 bpm.

Strava Link: https://app.strava.com/activities/319902829

Stage 3 – Newham Circuit, Carlsruhe finish

Distance:95.3km

Result: 10th

The Sunday afternoon stage was three laps of the Newham circuit, with the finish heading straight up towards Carlsruhe, finishing where the time trial had started that morning. The course is not as demanding as the Pastoria loop from the morning previous, however with the freezing conditions and very strong and icy northerly winds, it was bound to be a tough afternoon out for riders and spectators (possibly more so!) alike.

With the first KOM points coming only 8.5km into the stage, no one was getting away early. I spent the first few km at the back of the bunch trying to warm into the idea of bike racing for the afternoon before deciding it was time to move up before the climb. I knew it was unlikely that I could score KOM points (and subsequent bonus seconds), however I wanted to make sure that if a split occurred I was at the front end of it, not out to back sucking in the big ones, with 80+km still to race.

As it turned out, the pace was quick up the climb then reasonably sedate afterwards, allowing the full bunch to maintain contact or regroup. I found myself at the front doing some soft turns just to keep the pace above idle for a few km before moving back in the group conserving energy.

After a similar speed and effort up the KOM for the second lap, a small move formed off the front containing a few of the top GC contenders, fortunately however not the current GC leader. I worked with a couple of the guys to roll some moderate turns, helping to keep the break in check, before we collectively decided to hand the reigns over to the tour leader –  after all, it was his lead that was riding away up the road. Single handedly he sat on the front and bought the break back with about 30k remaining, it was a pretty impressive turn of pace that’s for sure.

With the race together, the pace surged up to 40kph, then back to 30, with no one wanting to pull to hard in to the strong cross winds before what looked like an inevitable sprint finish. With about 10km to go the pace came off and BOOM attack – no one responded. This was a strong rider who had pulled a similar move at a VRS round earlier in the year soloing in to the win, so I knew he could go the distance if no one responded. No one did. The pace ramped up heavily as we passed the Don’s Rd turn off, just over 5km remaining and a 40sec gap to close, with 2km to go we could still not see the rider off the front. I moved my way through the bunch, trying to find a good wheel for the sprint. Found one! A move on my right boxed me in slightly – and in that moment, I had lost a great lead out for the sprint. I found my way out and prepared, then with 800m to go another strong rider hit out super early – his massive charge a last ditch effort to bring back the solo move off the front. The surge caught me off guard, however I was able to jump across to the fast finishers off the front…. but found myself with nowhere to go as the group fanned out across the road. I rolled across in the line to take 10th, with the surge in pace causing a slight split in the bunch. I found myself on the right side of the time gaps – a win in itself.

Group fanned out across the road. Bunch time.
Group fanned out across the road. Bunch time.

Race Stats

Average speed:  36.2 kph

Normalised Power: 250 w

Max Heart Rate: 197 bpm.

Strava Link: https://app.strava.com/activities/319985716

Stage 4  – Metcalf Redesdale

Distance:90km

Result: 6th*

The final stage of the Northern Combine 3 Day Tour was set for the Metcalf Redesdale loop, and while it looks easy on paper, it leaves you wondering if the constant climbing will ever end.

It was a chilly roll out from the start in Kyneton, with temperatures hovering around the 5 degree mark for the third day in a row. The cold weather was taking its toll on the riders motivation, however it wasn’t long before the B Grade group rolled out and started cranking its way towards Metcalf.

A couple of riders managed to sneak off the front again, however they were not give too much rope. The bunch was keen to keep them within sniping distance ready to tackle the KOM for a couple of bonus second.

The speed picked up on the run in to the KOM again, with the guys in contest for the points keen to string it out to ensure they’d have a clean contest for the point. I found myself riding in reasonable position, in around 10th wheel, again close enough to see what’s going on, far enough back to not have to work too hard – after two solid days on the bike I was happy to save the legs as much as possible.

The KOM hit out was pretty well as expected, I felt like I climbed reasonable well relative to the other riders – not as fast as the front group, but somewhere near the best of the rest. I made it over the top in a good group and the pace pushed on to make sure that we didn’t lose touch with the front fast guys toward the intersection ahead.

Once the left turn was made on to Sutton Grange road, there was no driving force within the group, with everyone at a happy ride tempo. A couple of half hearted attacks came from a few guys, myself included, but were never really given a chance. Once the bunch turned left on the road back towards Kyneton, things wound up a bit more however. With the left turn came a cross-tailwind to push the group in the general direction of Kyneton and the tour finish. After 6km, the tour leader snuck off the front with another couple of guys. They were given maybe 2-300 metres, of advantage, and then, while on a gradual climb, one of the riders attacked his break away companions and rode hard off on his own solo. With over 30km still to ride in the stage, no one in the bunch thought too much of him, casually agreeing it was too far to go to the finish solo.

As the bunch rolled on toward the finish, around every corner we were looking for the solo rider up the road – however he was nowhere to be seen, stealing a large advantage on group, and in doing so, riding himself in to potentially the overall tour lead. Surely we would bring him in towards the finish.

The final proper climb of the race came with 8km to go, and is similar in nature to many of the other climbs in the area – characterised by a 6-7% grade for 3 or 4 minutes of pure V02 max effort. The group hit the climb with a moderate tempo, pushing on the pedals, but with no one in too much difficulty. Then as the right turn up the climb came, the real climbers put their respective feet on the gas and gave it everything over the top – splitting the bunch in the process.

The lead group crested with 10-15 seconds advantage and quickly worked together, swapping off at the front to maintain their advantage over the chasing group (where I found myself), while at the same time, tearing time out of the lone rider off the front, and doing their cumulative best to save the overall classification from being pulled from under them.

Back in the chase group, there was reasonable motivation to try and claw back the front runners, with three or to four guys ripping solid turns to drive the pace. I was sitting in equal 8th on GC heading in to this final stage, with several guys in front of me in the chasing group. I leant on them heavily to provide the bulk of the pace making, saving my legs for a possible chance at a sprint to round out the tour.

As the kilometres wound down, it became apparent that we were unlikely to catch the front group, and immediately the energy was sapped from the group, with cooperation reducing to almost nothing from the bunch. I found myself rolling a couple of turns, but at the same time playing the same game as everyone else.

With 3 kilometres to go a rider again hit out at our group, doing his best to solo away, however everyone responded quickly. A couple more surges came in the closing kilometres, before one rider launched his sprint with about 500m to go. Immediately he had 10 – 20m on us, a gap hard to close down at the best of times, let alone when everyone is in full kick. I was able to launch clear on the run in to the line and just roll over the top of another rider for 7th on the stage, and in doing so managing to hold on to my top 10 in the overall with 9th on GC. The solo rider managed to hold an advantage of 1min 40 over the line to take the overall classification win – an awesome ride, with almost half the stage out on his own.

Post race there was some adjustment to the results as a couple of riders were disqualified for collusion with a wheel swap occurring on course, this elevated me to 6th on stage, and 8th on GC. I understand the ruling and why it occurred, however at a club level I’m not sure if a complete DQ from a weekend of racing is the correct way to deal with it. Maybe a time penalty is more suited for the first offence, with serial offenders being deleted from the results?

Throw for the line in the final stage
Throw for the line in the final stage

Race Stats

Average speed:  34.9 kph

Normalised Power: 250 w

Max Heart Rate: 198 bpm.

Strava Link: https://app.strava.com/activities/320823035/overview

Robbie’s Race Ratings

Conditions: 2/5 it wasn’t really raining, but come on Kyneton how about some sun!

Performance: 3.5/5 better than expected, let down by average TT prep/performance.

Event Organisation: 4/5 for an event that survives on volunteer efforts, cant complain!

Overall Satisfaction: 4/5 achieved goals, had fun. Point lost for TT.

Another great weekend of racing bikes. I achieved my goal of not getting dropped (and a top ten on GC!), made some friends on the road, and had an awesome time doing it.

Next up I have a couple of Mountain Bike Endurance races as part of the Victorian Enduro Series – I’m racing in pairs with my best mate from uni. Can’t wait – should kick arse!
Thanks for reading!

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