Lachlan Harrison-Smith was one of the HCC members saddling up to tackle the Hell of The West which incorporates the savage 20% climb up Mt Wallace. Here is his report from the D grade race where he just missed that decisive break, turned himself inside out and came away with a hat full of learnings. Great report Lachlan and good luck in your next race.
Here is a shot of the young man as he is saying his prayers before he takes on the demons from hell.
I’m not sure I can live up to Fuzzy Dave’s gripping race report from last year but I think it falls on me to provide the group with a summary of the racing from Saturday’s Hell of the West out at Balliang.
This is particularly true as there were only about 4 Hawthorn riders who managed to put in their entries in the 5 minute window before they closed (the notable absentees being certain Boomchikas who may have still been curled up in the foetal position after Baw Baw the week before).
Anyway, here is my race report of my second attempt at the Hell of the West (and my third road race):
I arrived nice and early on Saturday morning, having iphone-GPS’ed my way through the fog-covered paddocks west of Werribee to find myself at the Balliang memorial hall well before entries opened at 9am.
The advantages of my early arrival were twofold:
1. I was able to have a nice warm-up and stretch along the finishing 5km of the course (noting the splendid ’20 dead foxes hung up on a fence’ exhibit about 2km from the line); and
2. I avoided repeating my mistake from the Buller road race a month prior, where I was still utilising the public amenities as the race started and forced to chase on to the peleton through the backstreets of Mansfield.
The race itself started as it had last year – with the entire field conscious of ‘that hill’ and not wanting to exert any more energy than strictly necessary at this early stage. The result was that everyone in D grade attempted to find a wheel to sit on at 32km/h, so the field was stretched out in single file at the front, with me stubbornly heading a second column of riders from about 8th wheel onwards. And so we rolled on until the traditional ‘early break’, which I duly chased down for the peleton. I will call this “first burnt match”. Just testing out the legs.
I had thought about the tactics required to do well on this course and had concluded that I, too, should play it safe until Mount Wallace (about half way round the 65km course in D grade). So it was a bit of a surprise to me to find myself chasing and joining in another early break away a few kms later (we will call this “second burnt match”), with no real prospect of success.
Around the 90 degree corner it was on again, and having enjoyed the sensation of going fast and being in a break a few more of us tried to put the pressure on and stretch out the peleton a bit.
A few kms down the road, a strong solo rider in a black top and with curly hair rode away from the bunch (we will call him Curly Black). Shortly after that I was off attacking again, chasing down Curly Black with a few others in an effort to make it to Mount Wallace first (we will call this “third, fourth, fifth and sixth burnt matches”). We held off the bunch (which had been well and truly broken up by now) for a while but the real result was that I was hurting big time by the time we neared Mount Wallace, and slipped down through to the back of the pack to catch my breath. Ouch.
So I had totally trashed my race plan and my fresh legs, and we were up to the hardest part of the race. I worked my way back up through the pack on the hill, passing most of the pack again up the 1km section with an average gradient of ‘ridiculously steep %’. Cresting the top of the hill amongst the leaders, we formed up and took off across the ridge. Mostly St Kilda riders, a couple of strong women but no familiar faces, it was just holding on at this stage as I tried to recover from the max effort of the hill climb while not dropping off the group.
Curly Black, meanwhile, was way out in front somewhere with another rider. We weren’t sure where he’d gone, but I think at that stage he was still leading.
Anyway, I knew at this time that if I could stay with this group I would have a chance of snatching the choccies but alas, in a moment of weakness I dropped the wheel and exploded, burning all my remaining matches – it was simply too much time in the red zone. I caught my breath and rode pursuit style at a good pace trying to catch back on, but I was useless against a bunch of 7 rolling turns ahead of me, so eventually they slipped out of sight.
I had recovered by now so put on the afterburners, and this is my preferred style of riding so it took a while for me to be caught by 3 chasing riders. We worked track turns and put on a fast pace to try to catch the group in front, but didn’t get close enough to catch them. We dropped one rider and caught another from the group ahead, and almost caught another as we came up to the finish but the real race had been in the group of 7 up ahead of us. Deep down I knew that if I had been fresh enough to hold that wheel and stay in that chase group the day could have been quite different, so I slunk home in about 12th place in my little group of 4.
As for Curly Black and his accomplice? Well turns out that his mighty legs and lungs were no use for the smarts of the chasing group behind him, as there was no sign of him at the finish line when we got there. Maybe he took a wrong turn at an unmarshalled corner? Again the lesson to everyone is to KNOW THE COURSE. He will be kicking himself once he makes his way back to Balliang (he’s probably still riding out there now looking for the corner marshall).
The conclusion for me? Well, I started the day as one rower/cyclist in a bunch of strangers but was shaking hands and smiling with my finishing group at the end like we were old mates. Turns out it’s 100% true that you only have so much energy to use in a race – and I could definitely have raced a lot (LOT) smarter, but blooming heck it was fun while it lasted.
So the big question is, who is this Curly Black?
Going through Rod & Jo Upton’s photos it was good to see Paul Ambry and Laurie Lovelock flying the HCC colours.
Shane Miller’s A Grade report about his 2nd consecutive win of this race is a compulsory read.
Ritchard Longmire & Wes Cordingly collaborated unknowingly to produce the following report. Thanks heaps guys and congratulations on your great race.
The John Sewell Handicap, held at Balliang was greeted with sunshine and a nice breeze that would work to the advantage of the stronger groups.
The handicap consisted of three laps of 25km circuit. The circuit was pretty much flat apart from two short climbs, the second of which being about 500m @ 7%. The highlight of the course though was a 3km gravel road which was into a stiff northerly. Some 70 riders were split into 8 groups with limit being given a 24 minute start on scratch.
I had heard and read plenty about the Northern Combine 3 Day tour and it was on my list to do last year, however registrations closed early due to rider limits having been reached. Registrations closed early again this year, however his time I managed to get my entry in to secure my spot in B Grade.
The B grade start list was quite a mix & it felt like we were racing the SKCC championships as they represented almost half of the field. Add to this quite a few Brunswick & Coburg riders wearing red and blue of the TopGear team. Kosdown & Becoz were also well represented. James Dunn and Peter Wilkie from Canard and a couple of good EVCC riders Stef Kirsch, Simon Bone & Damian Burke dropping back from A grade could make things interesting. So not sure what tactics were going to be at play, what aliases needed to be made & who you could you trust.
See the race program for the descriptions of the 4 stages raced over 3 days.
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.