The Great Ocean Road Classic is a handicapped 120km team time-trial, starting and finishing in Lorne, Victoria. Half of the 60 teams set off clockwise, and the other half tackle the loop in reverse.
We decided months ago that GORC would make a great hit-out for the team, our first real opportunity to ride together since the team formed. We had been given one of the latest start times, theoretically meaning we should be able to pass other teams on the loop and make for a tight finish.
We hadn't discussed too much strategy before the race, other than everyone playing down their own form and insisting that they wouldn't lead any hard efforts. Jack Cummings insisted he wouldn't be capable of much as he hadn't been riding lately (note that he turned up with a kit bag from his former European team!).
The weather gods turned on perfect conditions for racing with cool temps, sunny skies, and light winds. We set off just before 8am and were immediately into the 10km Benwerrin climb.
A couple of km's into the climb and there were a few calls to control the pace, as first Shule, and then Mikey and Riley took the group up. As we crested the climb, Jack went from sitting in and cracking jokes to bombing the descent into Dean's Marsh like a madman.
25km's in, we came to the start of the worst section of the race. We had about 30km of rollers into a headwind, and Chucky and Jack (the two ex-Euro pro's) took control. Fast rolling turns were the only way to get through it, and we held a really solid tempo. Everyone was working well together and managing their own fatigue levels.
"Hey, what do you guys reckon that sound is that's coming from my bike?". Never the best question to hear from a teammate, but especially not good when it comes from Jack at the 50km mark of a 120km race. The best response is usually to ignore such a question and hope the bike fixes itself, but surprisingly this strategy didn't work. A couple of minutes later we pull over to inspect the damage. Turns out Jack's tube was now on the outside of his front tyre.
We wasted a couple of minutes worrying about it before we left Jack on the side of the road and continued on. We spent the next 10 minutes sitting up, thinking our day was over (rules state you must finish as a full team of 6). We eventually got our heads back in the game and powered through to the start of the next climb. We knew that after this climb we had a flowing 10km descent before hitting the Great Ocean Road, so we punched through the climb at a solid speed. Legs were getting heavy and lungs were burning by this stage, so the descent was a welcome opportunity to lower the heart rate.
After descending Skenes Creek Road we knew it was only another 40km home along the Great Ocean Road. Dave McLean set the tempo by holding 50km/h for the first 5km, and from there it was all about just tucking in until it was your turn and then doing your best on the front. With 20km to go there was one last rush of gels and hydration to get us to the line. This is where team captain Chucky and then Mikey pulled big turns and got us within touching distance of the finish.
The last 5km was a crazy blur, passing teams, dealing with traffic (there were no road closures), and trying to leave it all on the course in one final push. Crossing the line as a team that pushed each other to the limit all day was a pretty amazing feeling. Almost immediately, the pain in the legs and lungs was forgotten about, overtaken by a feeling of camraderie. And a hunger for burgers.
We eventually rolled over the line in 3 hours and 40 minutes, slightly behind where we wanted to be. There's no doubt only having 5 riders hurt our time, especially as Jack is such a strong rider.
Ultimately though, we achieved everything we wanted to. We had great teamwork, we rode hard but still enjoyed our surroundings, and we had burgers afterward. What more could you want from the first hit-out as a team?