Monday, March 25, 2013

The Noble Sport of Road Racing

The thing that makes amateur road racing interesting is the money. The cash prize is what brings out the best and worst in athletes. Strong riders might risk an ambitious solo breakaway in the hope of stealing a victory while a lazy sprinter might agree to pay off a portion of their prizemoney to somebody else in the field willing to help bring back an escape and set up a bunch sprint. Becoming a strong, fast and clever rider is one way to maximise your chances of winning lots of prizemoney – and it is the hard way. The other way is known as ‘sandbagging’. Let me paint you a picture…

It is a lovely sunny Sunday morning in Mansfield. I grab a takeaway latte and an organic nut slice from the local Produce Store – this place is way too pretentious to even dream of calling itself a café. It has rustic charm, a raw timber floor, art on the walls and all sorts of fancy looking, well packaged foodstuffs (or  ‘produce’) for sale. It is not cheap, but is always busy and I’m told that the filled baguettes are to die for. If you come from Fitzroy, then you like it already. To me, a good café should always remind you of the boys on an end of season footy trip – a bit rough around the edges and with a lot of exposed wood. Black marble benchtops and stainless-steel fittings just don’t do it for me, but the bohemian charm of an antique cake stand filled with cupcakes makes me feel at ease, and more than happy to spend.

Whatever you do, just don't go calling these 'muffins'

I quickly down the breakfast, lube the chain on the road bike and head to the start line for the Mansfield to Mount Buller Road Race. It’s just 48km so only minimal preparation is needed and I’ve managed to sneak in to B-Grade which means I don’t need to be too nervous about not having the nicest bike in the peloton.

Grading and handicapping is certainly not an exact science and I don’t actually know how CycleSport Victoria come to reach their final decision on what grade to put you in. I guess it is part honesty, as the entry form requires you to state your perceived ability and list a couple of other riders of a similar standard. There must also be some statistical analysis involved, as I imagine they have some sort or archaic database of race results compiled on punch cards stored in a dusty basement somewhere. And there’s definitely an emotional component because you can always give them a story about how you haven’t raced for years, have only recently got back on the bike after a bout of poor health or are just interested in giving this road racing thing a try to see if you’d like to take it more seriously.

Anyway, the fact remains, that if you are creative enough with your entry form, you should realistically be able to improve your chances of winning some prizemoney.

As B-Grade headed off, it quickly became clear, after a cursory roll through the bunch, that I definitely had the nicest bike in the peloton – so that was an early victory in itself. The race was uneventful – an unsuccessful early solo break, the typical whinging about people not doing turns in the bunch and then everybody together at the base of the final 16km climb to the Mount Buller village. After that it was really just survival of the fittest. With each surge in speed on the climb, the lead group was gradually whittled down to a select group of the best climbers who marked each other intently until they were sufficiently close to the end for one of them to put in a strong attack and win the race. Unfortunately on this day, it wasn’t me, but I managed to hang on for 2nd place and an envelope full of cash to blow back at the Mansfield Produce Store.

In light of this result, it is obvious that my next entry form will have to include a particularly compelling story and might require some added artistic license in order to achieve its goal – perhaps my cat will have unexpectedly fallen ill or the Produce Store’s free-range broccolini and quinoa salad has lately not been agreeable. Whatever it takes, to keep the racing interesting, I say.

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