Several Lifecycle riders competed in the BikeKing Tour de Sunshine Coast over the Queen's Birthday long weekend. The 5 stage, 4 day Tour is considered by many to be the highlight of the Queensland road racing calendar and again in 2008 this proved to be the case.
The event kicked off with a night time Prologue at Maroochydore. Around 370 riders started 20 seconds apart and all blasted through the 2.2km course in around 3 minutes. Racing for the first time in the Elite C category, Joe Millican clocked a fast time which saw him finish 2nd by 3.1 seconds. Perhaps next time Joe will go one place better knowing where the finish line is. Racing in the tour for the 3rd time, David Stanton had thought he'd set a blistering time in Masters B having caught his '20 second man'. It turned out that rider wasn't Fabian Cancellara and David's time saw him placed mid-field, as expected.
The following day saw the riders tackle a tough hilly course at Kenilworth with most grades to race 2 laps of the 32km circuit. Having reconnoitered the course with a successful race there a few weeks earlier (David 1st, Simone 2nd), the Lifecycle team were confident. Liam McCarthy attacked the Elite B peloton upon clearing the neutral zone. He was shortly joined by another rider and they quickly opened a substantial gap ahead of the bunch and disappeared from view over the hills. This allowed Jeremy Moore a free ride back in the peloton with him disrupting the chase a little.
The breakaway duo worked together for the next 15km before Liam's breakaway companion rode away from him. Liam pushed on solo for another 15km but had the peloton breathing down his neck on the long climb over Brooloo Pass.
Staying just in front, Liam was able to avoid a crash in the peloton behind as they descended in the wet towards Kenilworth. Nearing completion of the first of two laps, the peloton wound things up for the intermediate sprint and Liam was absorbed back into the bunch, as was his earlier breakaway companion. Meanwhile Jeremy was following in the 2nd bunch having dropped a chain on one of the earlier climbs. Suffering from the early 30km breakaway, Liam couldn't stay with the front bunch as they tackled the climb over Brooloo Pass a second time, now in driving rain. Finishing over 3 minutes behind the front of the field, Liam's chances for the general classification (GC) looked slim.
Looking good after his 2nd place the night before, Joe was ready to tackle the course in Elite C together with Jason Billsborough. Jason was in good form having won the Metropolitan Championship Criterium and also 3rd in the "Metros" Road Race one week earlier. However, the hills took their toll early with Jason dropping from the bunch in the first set of hills in the rain. The ride still held some excitement though as Jason narrowly avoided a crash with a rider who had just collided with a car near the top of the main climb 5km from home. The rider was okay but threw his bike back on to the road in disgust as Jason topped the climb. Early years on the BMX kept Jason on the bike and he managed to regroup at the bottom, working with 3 other guys to ride home for 9th.
In the Masters B race, David was in a break of three the 2nd time up the final climb and just dropped off at the top. They stayed away to take 1st/2nd leaving David to battle it out with another 10 guys for the minor placings and he came in 8th.
Simone Grounds was one of the favourites in the Elite A Women competition but was up against fast climbing Sunshine Coast local Shara Gillow and Queensland State Road and XC MTB Champion Jodie Willett. Simone had raced well on the Kenilworth course a few weeks earlier, coming 2nd in a sprint against fellow Lifecycle rider David Stanton. The two strong girls of the peloton, Simone & Jodie, drove the bunch hard over the hilly course but Shara was able to follow. Eventually these three put a gap on the bunch and broke away over the top of the hill. They were joined by another Sunshine Coast rider, Tahlia Paskin, 2kms into the 2nd lap and stayed away until 15km into the second lap. After a brief recovery, the same trio attacked in the back hills again and were away until the bottom of “the hill round 2” in – by this stage - pouring rain. In a repeat of lap 1, Shara, Jodie and Simone left the bunch behind. Jodie got a flat just before the hill top, leaving Simone to chase Shara for a few kilometres until joined by Tahlia Paskin. Simone and Tahlia time-trialled it towards home, aiming to catch Shara who had established a handy lead. Into the finishing straight Tahlia started sprinting 200m from the line but with a “GO GING!!!” from Julie Uebel on the side-line, Simone flicked the ON switch, hopped on Tahlia’s wheel and popped out just before the line at the top of the hill to beat her and take 2nd.
That night the team enjoyed a meal together at their Maroochydore base before a good rub down by the magic hands of Julie Uebel.
An early start the next day had the riders gather for the "Queen" stage of the Tour - the hill climb to Montville. This stage has seen some lightning fast climbs over the years with Lifecycle riders such as David Betts and Carla Ryan taking wins and the GC yellow jerseys. David also holds the record for the climb.
Jeremy was tasked with looking after Liam and getting him to the front of the peloton before the road headed skywards, and if possible establishing a gap of any size off the front. Once underway, Jeremy got boxed in on one side of the large field but Liam was able to move to the front down the other side. The Victor Broncos TriplePlay team were rocketing the peloton along the 2km flat to the base of the 6km long climb. They set up a leadout train for their leader & top climber David Crosswell, burning through 2 or 3 of their riders before the climb even started. Liam slotted in on David's wheel, marking the number one threat for the climb. Upon reaching the climb the pace dropped markedly. Seizing the moment, Liam shifted up a couple of gears & shot off up the climb. Jeremy was now able to sit back in the bunch and take it easy on the climb, saving himself for the stages yet to come, "quietly confident" that Liam had this stage in the bag. The chasing peloton progressively crumbled away to nothing leaving Crosswell to attempt to bridge the gap solo. He chased hard and closed the gap down to only a few bike lengths behind Liam. With only a couple of hundred metres to go the taste of victory was on Liam's lips. With encouragement being yelled by the spectators lining the course, including team helpers Julie and Lisa, Liam got out of the saddle and accelerated away from Crosswell finishing 5 seconds clear. Lifecycle had taken victory at Montville yet again.
Further below Joe was racing hard in Elite C. He and one other rider had ridden away from the bunch. Joe took to the front dragging the other rider to the line. As they came to the finish the other rider sprinted around Joe but Joe threw his bike forwards and both bikes hit the line together. The timing system showed Joe had lost by 0.2 seconds! Oh so close.
The climb started out slow for the Elite A women. At the start of the climb Jodie Willett applied the pressure and before long the bunch had split. Jodie, Simone and Shara worked up the hill, with Shara making a break at the halfway mark. Simone tried to stay on her tail but the previous day’s climbing left her legs wanting and Jodie with bit more in the tank was able to work to stay on Shara’s wheel. Simone came in 16sec behind Shara and 9 secs behind Jodie, which would contribute to the difference come the end of the tour.
That afternoon saw the riders race again, this time over the North Arm 10km course, just outside Yandina. With most grades racing 3 laps, speeds were expected to be high even with strong winds, a hairpin corner and a climb. Sprint points were up for grabs every lap too. Some confusion over start times saw Simone nearly miss her race! After some delay after the first round of races, race officials announced it would be 15 minutes before the next round of races started, with Elite C men off first then Elite A women, so Simone continued her warm up. About 5 minutes later it was left up to Jason to frantically track her down. Obviously the 15min had been shortened and the race line-up altered so that Elite A women were off first. She joined on the bunch just as it was rounding the first corner. Phew! The rest of the race saw a few attacks, but the bunch stayed mostly together. Simone accumulated some valuable sprint points during the 3 laps (1st & 3rd) and was just pipped on the finish line for 3rd. So no change to the Elite Women general classification. However Simone was now on top of the ladder for the green sprinters jersey.
After Joe’s cruel defeat on the Palmwoods-Montville climb that morning, the Lifecycle team in Elite C (Jason and Joe) were keen to make amends. After a limited warm up because he was trying to find Simone for her race, Jason sat up the back of the pack to get a feel for the course and hatch a few cunning plans. Once the second lap started he was ready to strike and moved up to the front to set a snappy pace and stretch the bunch in order to help Joe make a break in the 3rd lap.
After doing a solid 3km turn up the front through the hilly section of the course, Jason led the pack into the start/finish and crossed the line in 4th for the intermediate sprint. Halfway into the 3rd lap, Joe and another rider slipped off the front, where Jason went to work at the front of the bunch as “super-domestique” to slow the bunch down. Once the bunch wised-up to the “team” tactics, the breakaways were chased down. Jason once again moved up to the front to stretch the bunch before turning into the start/finish run. Unfortunately, everyone wanted a piece of the glory and Jason was thwarted in his attempt to be Nick Gates to Joe’s Robbie McEwen, leaving Joe to his own devices to finish 4th across the line with Jason finishing a respectable 6th.
Overnight the Lifecycle team reviewed the points situation to determine what Simone had to do to claim the Green jersey at the Tour's end. Come morning, scattered showers were falling all around the Sunshine Coast. The final stage at Eumundi was over a 20km circuit which featured 4 short sharp climbs and a lengthy windy descent. Simply finishing this final stage became the primary objective of all riders as the descent was quite slippery in the wet. It didn't matter if you were at the top of the points leader board - if you didn't finish then no green jersey for you!
The 60km Eumundi race for Elite C saw similar circumstances to the previous day’s racing. In the intermediate sprints, Jason clocked a 3rd and narrowly missed another on the line to get 4th. The worsening weather saw the bunch split in the fickle back hills, where narrow, wet roads, big bunches and the odd land slip were making for “exciting” racing. The front group stayed away to the finish with some jostling through the roundabout making it hard to get a clean run to the line for the sprint finish. Joe claimed 4th and Jason 7th to round out a solid weekend of racing.
At the beginning of the Elite A women’s 80km road race, Simone was 1 point in the lead on sprint points. The up-shot of this was if she wanted the pretty green jersey then a bit of time in the hurt box was necessary as her nearest rival was the yellow jersey wearer, Shara Gillows. The race started strong but waned as the laps went on and the weekend was starting to take it’s toll. Jodie Willett kept the pace snappy with Simone, Tahlia Paskin and Josie McCall (NZ) also taking solid turns at the front. Simone attacked briefly in second lap in an effort to stretch the group and Zoe Appel (QAS) made a strong solo break on the 3rd lap and stayed away for a good 5km.
Simone, Shara, Jodie and Tahlia made a gap on the bunch on “The Pinch” – the shortest and nastiest of the hills – and broke away for a short time with Sunshine Coast rider Jodie Harris, before being caught by the bunch. In the meantime, Simone was steadily clocking up sprint points with a 3rd, 1st & 3rd in the intermediate sprints.
On the 4th and final lap Simone, Jodie and Shara managed to break again on “The Pinch” and stayed away to push home. Jodie was keen to push the small breakaway group to make up 30sec in GC points to beat Tahlia Paskin into overall 3rd and Simone was keen to shake Shara in the hope of making up her own GC gap of 58sec (all that sprinting was starting to make her delirious with optimism). Coming into Eumundi the girls were slowed by the A-grade men’s express and spent a frustrating minute (which seemed like 5) in “neutral” while waiting to wind it up for the home straight. Jodie led into the final stretch into Eumundi, with Shara on her wheel and Simone tailing, saving some energy for the sprint. Coming into the home straight over the rise, Simone powered home past Shara and Jodie for the Stage win, a celebratory fist-pump and a green jersey.
So Lifecycle had a successful tour and all riders look forward to racing again next year. Thank you to the Sunshine Coast Cycling Club for running a fantastic event. Hopefully a few more Lifecycle riders will be back in racing condition for the 2009 tour.
Full results available at http://www.tourdesunshinecoast.com.au/
Special thanks to Kevin Coppalotti and Daniel White for their fantastic photos.
More of Kevin's photography can be viewed at http://maxhr.zenfolio.com/