Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. Other than not wearing sun block, getting fried and paying for it for the next two days, my baptism into watching professionals road race was a highlight and a joy.
Apart from going a lot faster the three things I really noticed were:
– by watching a criterium, you get the see the riders go past you many times
– their gear changes are mostly quick and smooth with an efficient clunk
– there is a definitively unique whirling sound that a peloton makes which is like a swarm of locusts
When the wife decided to go to the hair dresser, I jumped in the car and headed south to the shire where I grew up and to places I normally went with a surfboard, but this time Wanda and Elloura offered roads, and the waves were just the scenery.
The first person I saw was a mate of mine I grew up with named ‘Cus’ who was carrying wheels and had a big grin because his son scored a second place in the B grade race and not because he loved pumping tires.
After that, I lapped the circuit, watched the start of the women’s race and was quite impressed how Rochelle Gilmore’s Wiggle Honda team totally annihilated the opposition by taking all three steps on the podium, with a clear win by Lauren Kitchen in her last ride with the team.
It’s really interesting how each time the riders come by how much the gaps can change. In one lap they are a group, then six riders will separate, then one will head out in front, then they regroup then the solo break is on again. Criterium racing can be so dynamic.
But for me the highlight was the men’s and to see one of my favourites, the great lead out man Mr Mark Renshaw who was riding one of his last rides in the green Belkin colours, before rejoining the lead out train next year with OPQS (Omega Pharma Quick Step) with the legendary Mark Cavendish. Plus a bonus during the race, I noticed Lachlan Morton was there too riding for Garmin Sharp, who had an impressive year (and a memorable mustache) whilst riding as a neo pro in the US.
On the front row of the race start were crowd favourites Chris Sutton from Sky and Tom Palmer from Drapac with Orica Green Edge riders Leigh Howard, Wes Sulzberger and their latest signing and young Aussie hope Caleb Ewan. Sutton lead them out for the first lap and then after that there were breaks but the pack rejoined at the end for a sprint finish with all the best riders in position.
I had noticed Sutton trailing Renshaw for the last five laps and when Renshaw tried to sprint away over the last 400m, the top guys trailed him. Job done, Renshaw slowed (like he planned to ride this way) and Sutton blew by with Palmer on the other side and it looked liked the Sky rider was on his way when out of his shadow, the small stocky figure of Ewan shot out and in a result that looked like it was separated by a hair, Ewan took it in an exciting finish.
What a day. I drove home happy and went out for a night ride because I needed to be on my bike. I couldn’t get to Wollongong for the next day so I watched it on tv and saw Ewan take the men’s overall and Charlotte Becker of Wiggle take the women’s (which she impressively did after a first lap crash).
As a final tip, one thing I learnt was don’t spend too much time looking at your phone or camera, the action is in front of your face and will stay in your mind for a long time.
It was great to have some legends in Sydney and for my first time, it was impressive to see and hear. Now when are they going to hold a stage race in Sydney?