The Suzhou 120km race sponsored by Look and Mavic was staged last weekend and 149 elite riders lined up on the start line in front of a good sized crowd. Apparently, the Chinese Cycling Federation have not yet banned radios from amateur level racing like most other places in the world! It was interesting to see many of the major Chinese amateur teams equipped with radios. They were obviously take this race quite seriously.
While at the start-line, only minutes before the start, I somehow managed to snap my Velocite carbon skewers. The rear HED wheel felt like it had too much sideways movement, so I went to re-clamp it tighter. The lever just broke off in my hands and the skewer was no-where to be seen. It was a shooting missile, quite dangerous in fact. Lucky it did not puncture anyone. I was saved by the Trek Racing Team, one of their riders on the sidelines offered me his mountain bike skewer and I used that for the race.
I was at the very back of the field when the gun went off, and the riders just went ballistic; seemed like an all-out sprint as the 149 riders were strung out, weaving across the road like a snake out of control. That first lap was a good 45km/h average and I had broken away with China’s current time trial champion going through the start/finish arena. However, the break was short-lived as the peloton reeled us back in quick time.
On the attack
I wanted to be sure that I would make the winning selection so I went on the attack at every opportunity. In the first 25kms I was in half a dozen separate breakaways and none of the stuck. There was one promising one that got a big gap, but it got too big and unwieldy as more riders leapfrogged across to join in on the action – that break swelled to 25 riders but it was quickly shut down as there was no organization whatsoever, with riders constantly looking over their shoulders and giving half-hearted pulls.
After 30kms, I was riding mid-pack and saw a small group of three riders edge away so I slowly moved up to the front and then launched a massive sprint to bridge across to those riders. About 3/4 across, I checked on my progress behind and saw Specialized Simon Cui and a whole string of other riders right on my wheel. I immediately swung over and let them finish the bridge. I was able to jump on the back of the train and the group formed the 15-man break that stayed away. Initially, I had to yell at the riders for not co-operating but eventually succeeded in getting them to roll through after leading by example. It was not as fast as I would have liked, but we rolled well enough to get out to a handy two minute lead on the peloton.
When the riders realized that the lead was over two minutes, they started to get a little complacent and started rolling through for softer turns. They only spurred back into action when the gap was cut down to just over a minute! I felt like I had done too much work in the opening stanzas of the race with all of my attacks and counter-attacks that I started to look after myself a bit more by taking shorter but efficient pulls on the front. I was also at a disadvantage riding unattached as all the major teams in the break each had two riders each. This meant that they could send their team-mates up the road while the other sat in waiting to counter-attack when the catch was made.
Detonation of the Break
With 25kms remaining in the race (five laps), the riders started the attacking business. This made life quite difficult for me as I was hoping to roll to the finish and try and out-sprint them! It did make for an exciting race with all the attacking going on. Three riders managed to slip away and I was unable to follow them as I was still recovering from a hard out effort. I was surprised that Triace and Specialized did not take it on themselves to chase down the trio – Trek was one of them up the road. Despite the trio steadily extending the gap, the rest of the riders were happy to attack, sit up, counterattack, sit up and relaunch another attack! All I could do was hold on for dear life, I had no choice but to follow every move. This ensured that my heart-rate was well in the red-zone of high 180s to early 190s for the last 20kms.
Entering the final lap, the original 15-man breakaway had splintered into fragments with two riders about 30 seconds up and I was in a group of seven riders. The first half of the lap was high speed and we looked like we were going to catch the front two riders, however there was a senseless crash that took out a couple of riders (Specialized Simon Cui and Triace Feng Kuanggao) that halted the momentum. Following the crash, we rode quite slow – about 30km/h and this allowed the crashed riders to rejoin the party.
As a sprinter, I was backing my chances of winning the sprint for third place. This was my plan and I was going to execute it with perfection. Rounding the final bend with about 200m remaining, Wang Lei from Triace came through on the inside of me and I immediately jumped onto his wheel and was looking to finish strong. However, the early hard work had caught up with me. My right leg just seized up with cramp. I rolled across the line 4th in the sprint and 6th overall.
The Mavic Look sponsored race had some very nice prizes for the top 10 place-getters with myself collecting Mavic Cross Trails for the 6th position. I don’t know why a road race gave out mountain bike wheels as prizes to roadies! Thanks to qqride.com for the photographs. Thanks to my trusty Velocite Magnus for another sterling effort and to my main sponsors Hansaton, Smith Optics, Usana and Selle SMP. All photos can be clicked on for the larger version.