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).”
In the road race at the 2015 Oceania Championships AMR Renault was represented by a team of six with Dylan Sunderland, Matt Slee, Laurie Groom (all U23), Josh Aldridge, Aaron Watts and Cam Fraser (Elite) taking the start line. This is how Josh Aldridge saw things on his way to finishing 24th…
Conditions were calm by Toowoomba standards but with 142km and the temperature topping 30 degrees it was going to be a tough day in the saddle. Early in the race the peloton was nervous and it was very difficult to hold a good position near the front of the bunch. The team was caught out of position when an early break of seven riders escaped. With Avanti, Drapac and Budget Forklifts all content with the situation they blocked the road and the gap quickly extended to the 3-minute mark.
Into the second lap Data#3, who like us were not represented, set a good tempo on the front of the peloton and the gap came down to about 2 minutes. This suited AMR Renault and we rode well as a unit towards the front of the bunch, looking to stay out of trouble and conserve energy.
Midway through the 3rd lap some serious attacks started as legs were starting to tire. Then Drapac took control of the race and forced the pace. Soon after the feed zone a nasty crash took down five riders and split the peloton. Dylan was the only AMR Renault rider in the front bunch, the others all getting delayed by the crash. After a hard chase I made it across with a small group by the beginning of the final lap and after an even harder chase Matt also dragged himself back on.
At this point we realised that the original break was not going to be caught. But with only one U23 rider in the break, we knew Dylan had a good shot at a high finish. Coming into the hilly 2nd half of the final lap, Matt paid the price for his hard chase and lost contact with the bunch while I helped Dylan get near the front.
In the closing kilometers Dylan rode strongly and followed several moves which all came back together for a reduced bunch sprint. Dylan sprinted to 6th placed U23 (19th overall) only narrowly missing out on a podium. I came across the line in the same bunch in 24th Elite (36th overall). Matt and Aaron came across the line in 47th and 62nd place respectively. The hard conditions got to Cam and Laurie who had to abandon the race. Taylor Gunman took the Oceania title for Avanti Racing.
The race summed up a good weekend in Toowoomba for the AMR Renault Racing Team, gaining valuable experience racing together ahead of the upcoming NRS season.
Thanks to all the parents who did a superb job keeping the boys hydrated throughout the race. Without them we would all be dead on the side of the road!
AMR Renault Racing Team heads north for this weekend’s 2015 Oceania Road Cycling Championships in Toowoomba brimming with confidence following a solid start to the 2015 road season. With the Elite and U23 road races being staged together it will be the first time the bulk of the NRS squad have raced as a unit in 2015, ensuring strength in numbers and the on-road opportunities those numbers can create.
Riders to watch include kiwi Josh Aldridge, fresh from securing 12th on overall GC at the five-stage New Zealand Cycling Classic, and the quality Under 23 trio of Laurie Groom, Matt Slee and Dylan Sunderland, all of whom raced at the 2015 Mars Australian Road National Championships in Ballarat.
“With the Bay Crits and Nationals, January was a great hit-out for most of the squad and an excellent chance for the younger guys to learn from, and race with, the best,” said AMR Renault Racing Team Director Russell Menzies. “After a freshen up back at home, the boys are fired up for Toowoomba, especially Josh Aldridge and Laurie Groom who had some bad luck with mechanicals in their respective National road races. Dylan (Sunderland) always go well up there too, it’s pretty much his backyard hailing from Inverell, he knows those roads as well as anyone.”
Without doubt the team’s busiest rider at the Oceanias will be Aaron Watts, who will compete on all three days. Friday and Saturday see Watts partnering with dual Paralympic medalist, Bryce Lindores, in the tandem time trial and road races. Then on Sunday it’s the Elite Men’s road race with the rest of his AMR Renault racing team-mates.
AMR Renault Racing Team – 2015 Oceania Road Championships: Joshua Aldridge, Laurie Groom, Dylan Sunderland, Matt Slee, Cameron Fraser, Toby Orchard, Aaron Watts.
Last week AMR Renault Racing’s resident kiwi, Josh Aldridge, competed in the 5-stage UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic as part of a composite team. This is how he saw the race…
This year 16 teams of five from Australia and NZ formed a field of 80 riders. The tour opened with a 3.5km prologue with a couple of speed bumps and challenging corners. Not exactly my kind of stage but I put myself through a bit over 4.5 minutes of pain and came out in 50th place, 32 seconds down on stage winner Joe Cooper who put 12 seconds into his teammate Fraser Gough in 2nd. Morgan Smith from Subaru Albion finished 3rd.
Stage 1 was a lumpy 133km from Palmerston North to Ashhurst. After the first sprint a large break of 14 was established. At the time I wasn’t too cornered because Avanti’s Cooper and Gough in yellow and white jerseys were still present in peloton. When nobody chased I realised there were two riders from each of the four strongest teams missing from the peloton and the gap quickly blew out to 3 minutes. Data#3 started working and limited the damage in first half of the stage, but it was obvious they didn’t have the firepower to bring it back. Mid-way through the stage I started attacking with a few others and we eventually formed a strong chase bunch that were prepared to work (most of the time). We got within a minute of the front with 25km to race before our organisation broke down. Nine from original break stayed away and I finished the stage in 24th (back of chase bunch) to move up to 23rd on GC. Christie won stage and Barry of Budget Forklifts took yellow.
Stage 2 was 139km from Palmerston North to Fielding. I punctured 10km into the stage which ended my hopes of getting into the break. When I re-joined the peloton the break had gone and I found myself doing another headcount, one blue helmet missing (Cooper) one yellow helmet missing (Berry), along with Oram and a few others. Couldn’t work out why Budget Forklifts were riding on the front of the peloton as even though Barry had yellow, Berry was the best placed GC rider in break. Meanwhile some strange politics was going on up the road because a 6 minute gap disappeared in the space of 20km. We caught the break with about 50km to go on the hardest part of the stage and immediately Avanti attacked and the field split again. The end result was 4 Avanti driving the front group of just 10 riders and 4 Budget riders driving the chase group of 18 riders. I was in the chase group and we lost over 3 minutes. Avanti regained 1st and 2nd on GC and Gunman took yellow.
Stage 3 was 127km, including 5 laps of an 18km circuit before finishing with a 2.5km climb. After two hard stages I decided to have an easy day in the bunch and save my legs for the final climb and tomorrow’s queen stage. I thought it was a pretty safe strategy since the long straights on the circuit were head/tail wind and the short straights were cross winds. I expected Avanti to control the race with their strong position in the GC. I was wrong. Soon after the flag dropped 20+ riders were up the road. I left the chase to other teams and got lucky, the majority of the break came back. With just 3 riders up the road to contest the stage, the majority of the field came into the final climb together. I finished 17th on the stage. Oram won from the break, Gunman retained yellow and I moved to 14th on GC.
The fourth and final stage (on my birthday) was 164km. After 4 days of sunshine and 30 degree temperatures it rained all day. The roads were greasy and staying on the bike proved the biggest challenge of the day. Apart riders falling off their bikes, including the yellow jersey, the stage more or less followed the normal script with a non-threatening break being allowed to escape and brought back by Avanti by the final climb. The head wind on the final climb discouraged attacks until about 1km from the summit when Oram and Prete escaped. I was caught a bit out of position and had to get around a few riders having difficulties with traction on the descent. Near the bottom the chase stalled so I had a dig and tried to ride across the 10-15 seconds gap. I only made it about half way then soon found myself back in the chase bunch with 3km to go. Prete beat Oram for the stage win and I came 12th, also finishing up 12th on the final GC.
Overall I was relatively happy with the week of racing. Looking forward to the 2015 Oceania Championships in two weeks in Toowoomba, my first official race with AMR Renault Racing.