It was a successful weekend for the AMR Renault Racing team. On Saturday Matt Slee took out A-grade at the O’Connors transport Tyalgum Cup, Josh Aldridge won the Gentle Annie Classic and to cap it off on Sunday Toby Orchard was crowned the Southern District road champion for 2015. Here’s a first-hand account of the (not so) ‘Gentle Annie’ race from Josh…
“The Gentle Annie Classic is an open event organised by Ramblers Cycling Club. Over its short history it’s built a reputation as being the ‘hilliest race in NZ’ with 2900m (according to my Garmin) of climbing over 133km.
A classy field lined up for the 2015 edition. The Avanti Racing Team were represented by three riders including defending champ Fraser Gough. Also lining up was Olympic medallist Westley Gough, Junior World Champ Regan Gough and a few other NRS riders.
I knew the Gough trio on their home turf were the riders to watch, but with a few decent climbs along the way it was anyone’s race to be won. Early in the race Fraser escaped with a small group which was a little concerning. Luckily, despite some big climbs looming there were others in the bunch who were prepared to roll and limit the gap to less than a minute. As we crested the second major climb Robert Stannard and I bridged the reduced gap and made contact with the leaders to form a group of four. It wasn’t the right combination and our lead was short lived.
Soon after I was back in a lead group of about a dozen. Throughout the middle hour of the race I went through a bad spell and five riders escaped, a dangerous move which included all three Gough’s. A few more riders got dropped from my group and I saw my chances of winning beginning to disappear up the road. I still had a few riders alongside me who I’m sure were thinking the same thing. We let each other suffer in silence and kept the legs ticking over.
Then we hit the ‘Gentle Annie’ climb. The extreme gradient and low speeds tricked my mind into thinking the gap (probably almost a minute) was a lot less and I found enough in the legs to drag myself back into the race. As I got closer I realised everyone was suffering at least as much as me and I stared to feel good for the first time. Some miracle kept me on the road when I misjudged a corner on the descent and nine of us regrouped at the front of the race. There was calm for a moment and I tried to figure out how everyone else was feeling.
Dan Molyneax and Nick Osten tested their legs over the last major climb of the day but were never allowed out of sight, as a couple more riders were lost to attrition. With all the bergs ticked off the list and nobody wanting to pull into the headwind, the attacks began. Several riders had a crack at getting away but no gifts was given until the final 25km when Callum Gordon and I were allowed some freedom. With 20km it was déjà vu, two against five just like K2 only this time I was not alone. Callum and I knew exactly what we had to do (bury ourselves about 30 minutes and pray the five chasers don’t get organised). If we thought about who was going to win, neither of us would.
As we rounded the last corner I was on Callum’s wheel. We could both see the finish line less than a kilometre away. I took one last look behind and for the first time I was sure we couldn’t be caught. It crossed my mind getting beaten by Callum in the bunch sprint 4 weeks earlier at the REV Classic. Cycling can be a cruel sport. I stayed glued to his wheel until the final 200m. He shifted up one gear so I shifted up two and didn’t look back until I crossed the line.
Thanks to all the organisers and sponsors, especially Brett Hooker and Ricoh for making this event happen. Hope this event remains on the calendar (maybe in reverse one year would be cool).”