2011 Hell Of The West By Super Dave
Dave Williams from HCC is just loving his racing. Not only did he win the Alf Kimpton Handicap a couple of weeks ago, he is proving to be quite an acomplished racer. The following is Super Dave’s race report from The Hell of the West. It is an epic..
Thanks Andrew Blake for permission to use his great photos.
This is pretty long-winded to put it mildly, so here’s the headline: it was a bloody hard ride but we were all bloody glad we did it. The end.
However, if you:
a) have way too much time on your hands
b) are totally into the world of C Grade cycling action or
c) are afflicted with both too much time and an unnatural interest in all things C Grade…
then read on you lucky, lucky thing.
The Hell of the West. Now there’s a name to make you sit up and pay attention. For those who haven’t sampled its delights, let me assure you this isn’t just a pumped up title. But while the roads around Balliang are plenty rough, they’re hardly the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. No, the Hell of the West is really all about one thing: Mount Wallace. This beast traditionally comes at the end of the race, but for 2011 the officials had cruelly dropped Mt Wallace right in the middle of the course. And A, B and C Grades would have a few more climbs and 2km of unsealed road thrown in for good measure.
Clear skies and bright sunshine meant it could have been worse. But mother nature hadn’t come to the pain party completely empty handed. There was still a decent westerly to keep us all honest. The Hell of the West course is essentially a square laid out so we’d have a tail wind on the final straight, but there was a lot of fighting to be done before we could enjoy that tail wind. Laurie Lovelock, David Johnstone, Funky Col Berry and I made up the Hawthorn contingent.
C Grade rolled out at a dawdle, and I mean S-L-O-W. This was my first ever scratch road race, and I reckon I can safely say that except for public transport, I’ve never travelled so slow for so long in such a large group. Not that I’m complaining. It was all about the hill in the middle of the map, and anything that saved energy either side of that was a GOOD THING.
The pace had picked up by the time we turned east to meet the first real climbs and gaps started to appear immediately. I congratulated myself for having worked my way to the front before the first accelerations began. But in a surprising twist, those who were dropped first would laugh last; the lead group motored straight past the turn to the gravel section and didn’t realise their mistake until more than a kilometre down the road. By the time everyone in the used-to-be-lead group was back on course, the race had taken on a very different complexion. Thanks to superior (i.e. basic) course knowledge, a race dominated by a climb was now being led by a large group of weaker climbers and they’d scored themselves a tasty four and a half minute lead over the stronger climbers. Dumb luck or masterful race craft? Whatever, they were in the lead and that’s all that really mattered. The chase was on!
It took a while for the chase group to reform and reorganise after the gravel. By now we were headed north and copping the wind hard from our left. Echelons were eventually formed, the work began to be shared around, and riders up the road started to be reeled in. Every rider who was caught faced the same interrogation, repeated all the way down the line: how many were left up ahead???
There were about half a dozen still off the front as we turned into the wind. The closer we got to Mt Wallace, the quieter the bunch grew. With about 5km to go, all was very quiet on the hell of the western front. Funky Col Berry and I had somehow managed to get stuck at the head of the peloton and nobody was about to relieve us. It was quite funny to see just how slow we could ride without anybody coming around. But that suited us well enough. As long as we were allowed to creep along and minimise our effort into the breeze, we’d happily be first onto The Hill.
And that’s how it turned out. As we approached the foot of the climb, I was able to go off the front at a slightly higher rate while fellow Boomchika Col controlled the pace behind me. By the time I was on the truly steep bit, I had the advantage I needed and sat in for a dose of pain like I haven’t experienced in quite some time. Was it only coincidence that this climb shared its name with Marcellus Wallace, the feared crime boss from Pulp Fiction who promises to “get medieval” on the asses of his tormentors? Because Mt Wallace sure was getting medieval on my ass. And my legs. And my lungs.
At the start line, Lachie Harrison-Smith had commented on the 28 tooth dinner plate sitting proudly at the top of my cassette stack, to which I replied he’d be wishing he had one too when he got onto Mt Wallace. I spared a thought for Lachie as I reached the steepest steep bit, pushed on my shifter and found I was already in my lowest gear. Oh. Shit.
So much pain! I put my head down, concentrated on the few metres in front of my wheel and tried not to look up the road ahead. As my legs filled with lactic acid and my lungs tried to burst through my chest, I thought about the stories of people walking this climb. Was my attempt to be first up Mt Wallace about to backfire horribly and bring me to a shuddering halt in front of everyone?
I could see the breakaway up the road as I reached the sweet, sweet flat section at the top. And I could also feel the headwind. Damn. It was now or never. I had to bridge to that lead group.Closing the final few metres seemed to take double the time and effort of the previous few hundred. Even when I was eventually hanging on to a wheel there was no opportunity to rest. These guys were looking fresh and they’d begun doing turns. As much as I wanted to sit on, you can’t really beg fatigue if you’re in the breakaway. Getting to the front the first few times took everything I had – out of the saddle, throwing the bike from side to side and redlining just to stay with the guy in front so I could eventually coast to the rear and begin suffering anew.
There were attempts at communication but I could barely manage a grunt in reply, let alone whole words.We turned south and after a few misunderstandings (I had no idea what track turns were, much less why anybody would want to try doing them in a road race) we eventually began rolling turns again, but not before a few more riders had bridged the gap. By now the breakaway was about 10 riders strong. From here the course mercifully tended downhill and we all just concentrated on pulling turns and staying away.
At the foot of the main descent and the start of the home run, a massive B Grader from St Kilda who’d joined our group went to work. This guy was the size of any two of the rest of us combined. How he got up Mt Wallace at all is a question that could keep a team of Nobel physicists busy for years. All we cared about was the power he was putting down as he dragged us towards the finish line. We weren’t any threat to him and he seemed happy to let us sit in his generous draft for ages until finally flicking the elbow of truth. Oh boy, time to earn a result.
Predictably enough, the pace ratcheted up as we neared the finish. At least the wind that had pushed us around for most of the race was now at our tail. I was happy to try my chances in the sprint. Michael Sparke from Brunswick attacked repeatedly in the final kilometres but the three or four of us on the front wouldn’t let him get away.
Heath Jamieson from Sunbury and his mate had been looking strong and their increasingly hushed conversation inside the final 20km had me convinced they were the ones to watch. Sure enough, they were pushing the pace as the finish line came into view. Just as the volume was almost at eleven, Manning Thomson from St Kilda burst through with a serious turn of speed. I was able to come around Heath and catch Manning’s wheel, hoping to judge a final kick toward the line.
Thank god for whoever invented hi-vis clothing, because without the volunteers’ jackets I wouldn’t have had a clue where the line actually was. I pulled out and tried to come around when I thought the time was right, but Manning was way too strong for any of that nonsense. I came in second, with Heath third.
One last note. I know a few people were disappointed by the missed turn that had been sans corner marshal at the time. As one of the last idiots to realise their mistake, it affected me about as much as anybody. Rather than look to blame others, I think it serves to highlight two important points.
One, every rider has the individual responsibility to know the route they’re on. There really isn’t any excuse in these days of course profiles, Google maps and GPS devices.
Two, volunteers are absolutely key to a good road racing experience. We all have good excuses for not volunteering, but we somehow manage to fit in a race or two all the same. I know because I’m yet to volunteer this season, yet I’ve already entered two races.
If you haven’t volunteered for an NC race in 2011, think about it. Maybe I’ll see you there in matching hi-vis splendour.