By Jayman Prestidge
Racing returned in beautiful conditions this week for the Warragul Cycling Club, with the 8km Nilma-Darnum race circuit the location for 22 combative racers to try their luck in the first of the “Drouin Cycles Handicap Series” of races.
An inability of both the Race Day Co-Ordinator and many of the racers to count to 5, resulted in some riders completing 6 laps and others completing 5. If that sounds confusing, it was!
Handicap races are a fantastic way to start cycle racing as riders are ranked in accordance with their ability. The ‘Limit’ bunch (slowest riders) start first, with other groups of riders commencing at predetermined time gaps thereafter. The ‘Scratch’ bunch (fastest riders) start last! With a 16 minute gap between the slowest and fastest riders, and perfect weather conditions, the ‘Scratch’ bunch had their work cut out for them.
The race started in idyllic conditions as the sun shone brightly on the ‘Limit’ bunch consisting of Pam Benstead and Annie Pryjmak. Next away was Frank Benstead and Greg Sealby, followed several minutes later by a large bunch of pursuers including Zvonko Maric, Andrew Jackson, Colin Manitveld, John Batten, Ross Henry, Shane Wakker and several others. A smaller group consisting of Geoffrey Thomson, George Tambassis, James Laylor, Jayman Prestidge and Greg Spencer took off next, with the “Scratch” bunch a further four minutes back. The ‘Scratch’ bunch had some very experienced riders in their bunch whom immediately took charge and ensured each rider in the group was ‘pulling a turn’.
The art of riding well in your group is to ride as smoothly as possible to ensure that no gaps are created amongst the line of riders in your group. Acceleration of any type means your team mate has to work hard to close the gap, and at the end of the day, ruins the ability of the group to catch the groups further up the road.
The ‘Scratch’ and ‘Chopping Block’ bunches were like well-oiled machines from the start, running quietly and smoothly and firing on all cylinders. For groups to run like this, there has to be a Chief, and Shane Stiles and George Tambassis were the Chiefs of their respective groups, with the Indians falling dutifully in to step.
The largest group on the road was lacking a Chief, and were looking hot and disheveled as they progressed through the race.
As the race continued, several riders were ‘dropped’ from their groups as the pace picked up. Andrew Jackson, Jayman Prestidge, Dwayne McDonald and several others were soon pedaling alone, with each of them falling victim to one of two swooping magpies that call the area home.
Sick of being swooped by magpies, Jayman Prestidge latched onto the back of the ‘Scratch’ bunch as they prepared to sail past at 42kph. When a slower rider is caught by a faster group that rider is not obligated to ‘pull a turn at the front’, but it is appreciated if they do. Jayman chose to follow the learning’s of one of his idols, Geoff Thomson, and did not pull one turn.
As the ‘Scratch’ bunch approached the end of the 4th lap, Chief of the group, Shane Stiles, rallied his troupes to lift the speed and close the gap between the groups just up the road. As they passed the finish line, expecting the bell to be rang for the final lap, Race Day Co-Ordinator, Matthew Parkinson advised there were two laps to go! This created complete confusion in the ‘Scratch’ bunch, with riders uncertain as to whether they lift the pace to catch the other riders on the current lap, or maintain the current speed, which would ensure the catch occurred on the 6th and final lap. They chose to take it easy – a decision that may have cost victory!
The Race Day Co-Ordinator had miscounted the laps and just turned a 5 lap race into 6!
As each of the groups on the ride attempted to reconcile that they were now to complete an extra lap, confusion continued to reign at the finish line. In history making, and extraordinary circumstances, the Race Day Co-Ordinator then chose to revert the race back to 5 laps, whilst knowing that he had no way of communicating this to the riders.
This would create havoc, as the faster bunches had deliberately slowed their pace knowing they had an extra lap to make the catch and take the victory! But it was not to be! As riders approached the end of Lap 5 the finish flag was being waved and the limit riders in Greg Sealby and Frank Benstead simply rode across the line to take 1st and 2nd position respectively. Given the uncertainty as to whether they has finished, they actually rode a 6th lap, along with Ross Henry who took out 3rd position. John Batten and Colin Manitveld rounded out the paying positions in 4th and 5th.
The ‘Chopping Block’ and ‘Scratch’ bunches rolled over the line after 5 laps and were clearly told their race was over.
With disappointment etched on their faces these riders had no choice but to pack up their bikes and look forward to the return of racing on Saturday 6 September on the same circuit.
Next Saturday many of the Clubs riders will be participating in the ‘Warragul2Kabul’ ride in support of promoting women in cycling.
Drouin Cycles is sponsoring the series.