Saturday, 12 September 2015

Cycling Dayz Gone By:Retrospective of an Unfulfilled Career

First racing bike. Preparing for training. Aged 10.
As many readers of this blog will know, I raced pushbikes reasonably seriously from the time I was 15 until I was 24. I had a bit of ability but never trained hard enough although I had my moments. Giving the sport away before I reached my peak is a shame in retrospect but I am comfortable with it. Who knows what might have been? But I don't lose any sleep over it.

 Work and a few health issues were the primary reasons for not racing seriously past the mid-1990's. Standing up all day on hard concrete floors well into the night weren't conducive conditions to enable an athlete to train at his best. And I was a lazy trainer anyway. Looking back, I should have shoved the job then and just ridden my bike. A life long commitment to not being a bum kept me with my employer. It keeps me with them now. A mistake in retrospect. Ho hum.

 I rode my bike religiously for many years after I stopped racing. In fact there were times I was so fit I could have easily stepped back into the sport and started racing at a modest level. Instead, I used my training to enjoy my life, stay fit and healthy, utilizing it for adventures which were far safer than racing and training on the roads and tracks of Australia. And it meant not having to put up with the myriad of sociopaths who cross your path when you are playing organised sport.

 I've walked the Kokoda Track and hiked the major tourist trails in New Zealand, all using my background as a racing cyclist to peak effect in preparation for these jaunts. And have completed them comfortably as a result. Cycling is still in my blood and although I don't ride regularly nowadays, in fact I don't ride nearly enough at all, I still have a passion for the sport and follow it as much as I can.
First Victory. Cotter Classic. Aged 11

So, as I have nothing to do on this Saturday afternoon and as I am feeling a little creative, I am going to indulge myself and launch a retrospective of my cycling career here on my blog. From my earliest efforts on my first racing bike, wearing my cap in the classic euro-chic style, through shots of me racing the open events of southern NSW, here is my modest career as a racing cyclist in pictures.

 The first shot is of me with my first racing bike. Gitane was a famous name in bike racing when I was a boy although the company seems to have gone with the wind today, and I was pretty chuffed when I received a Gitane racing bike for Christmas when I was 10 years old.  I never raced seriously on this bike. My only effort and victory on this machine was in the "Cotter Classic", a picnic event run by the employer of one of Dad's cycling mates. Dad, his mate and I were the only entrants!

 I can't remember where we started from but it was well within the environs of Canberra and finished at the Cotter Reserve. I mercilessly delivered a lesson in road sprinting to the two old fellas as we hit the finishing straight although hindsight and maturity does tell me my victory may have been achieved a little too easily. These old pros. You can't trust them. Collusion comes naturally to them. The second shot is of me enjoying the spoils of victory.
Queanbeyan Park. Aged 15

 I started racing seriously when I was 15. None of this amateur nonsense mind you. I turned pro straight away. No Olympic dream for me. Old school, hard core pro racing. My father,a pro from the time he was a boy himself would have it no other way and looking back on it, neither would I if I could do it again.

 The photo to the left was taken at Queanbeyan Park when I was 15. I was about to go and race in Tasmania at the famed Christmas carnival series and my mate, training and racing companion, Anthony O'Connor, arranged for the Queanbeyan Age to interview us and our mugs appeared in the rag as well. A vintage shot to be sure. The frame of the bike I am on once belonged to Gary Sutton, arguably one of Australia's best ever cyclists and he had ridden it only once, ironically crashing on it at Queanbeyan Park and never riding it again. It served me well although I never had the sort of pedigree it's previous owner possessed.
Tassie 86. Latrobe Wheelrace heat

The next shot is of me, with "friends", racing on the aforementioned trip to the Apple Isle. It's a cutting from a Tassie paper. It pictures me in my heat of the Latrobe Wheelrace, one of the most prestigious races on the Australian calendar.

 Anyone who knows a bit about cycling will appreciate the tough heat I drew when you recognize the riders rounding me up. Four time world champion and one of the greatest cyclists in history, Danny Clark leads the charge from Olympic champion Mike Turtur, noted Tassie champion Craig Price and some other Tasmanian riders who achieved solid results from the back marks. The race of course is a handicap event and as a newcomer to the scene I had a very generous mark of 300 metres. That is, 300 metres in front of my friends in the photo.

 With a lap to go my fellow out-markers and I were in with a chance to cause a boilover and ride our very famous opponents out in their heat but the 3000 metre distance began to prove too much and our leading bunch began to slow precariously at the crucial moment.

 Realizing that there was nothing to be gained by merely finishing the distance, I hit out on the last lap only to be reeled in by my famous contemporaries as I  entered the home straight. A gallant defeat for a 15 year old.

Close defeat. Wagga 1986

My first road racing season achieved a few notable results. Riding from the out-marks in open handicap road races saw me finish in the money on a few occasions. Most notably was the Sid Demmery Memorial road race at Wagga where I was narrowly outsprinted by a wily veteran. I had no idea what I was doing. I merely followed wheels at the finish and found myself sprinting for the victory. I  have always thought I won this race and the officials got it wrong. However, as my sister was one of the judges and gave it to the other bloke I haven't got much of a leg to stand on. There is the picture. What do you think?

Family Hotel Handicap 1986

 I did manage to record a victory in 1986. The Family Hotel handicap in Cootamundra, although not an open, had a good field of locals and was a bit of a feather in the cap of youngster who saw off some canny veterans to win the day in a tight finish.

 It was an out and back course along the Gundagai Road. A 50 kilometre handicap. The front bunches, one of which I was a member, combined and looked set for victory when, only a kilometre or so from the finish, it was noticed that the scratchmen, the "gun" riders of the field who had started off the mark of honour, were gaining on us at a rapid rate and would indeed overtake us at the last possible moment. It was likely that defeat would be snatched from the jaws of victory.

 I was a bit naive when it came to race tactics and panic had clearly gripped the large group of riders I was with. I remember a rider in our bunch yelling out, pleading for someone to "hit it", that is, get to the front of the bunch and up the pace before we were consumed by the chasing group. I had no intention of being the one to do this but I did in essence "attack" the field, jumping away from the bunch, soloing to victory. It was on the surface a masterful tactical move made in reality by a youngster with no idea who was simply riding on adrenaline and raw instinct.

 The photo above was taken after the race and appeared in the Cootamundra Herald. I am on the far left of the photo with Wagga legend Barry O'Hagen to my left, Peter Chislett from Dubbo next to him and my training partner Anthony O'Connor on the far right of the shot.
Camperdown Velodrome 86/87

Of course winter inevitably gives way to summer and in those days so too did road racing to track racing. My next shot is from Camperdown velodrome, a track which has since been demolished and it was taken at a small carnival, a series of four which was run by one of the few professional clubs in Sydney at the time. There was a pointscore run on certain events over the four meetings and I managed to secure the title although it was nothing to write home about. The other notable incident which occurred was that I managed to roll a tyre, that is, the shellac which glued my front tubular single tyre to the rim gave way and I made a spectacular slide down the track.  Under normal circumstances such an incident would incur a penalty, a fine or a suspension but as my father was the President of the state organisation all thoughts of smiting me for my indiscretion were banished. He had also stuck the tyres on!

 I used to have a couple of terrific photos of the meet at which I rolled the tyre but have misplaced them. All effort to trace them have been in vain and I appear to have lost them forever.

 The one funny thing to come out of the meeting was the insistence of the very bored St John's Ambulance man who attended to my grazes, that he would bandage my lacerations in such a way that it made me look like an extra from a horror movie. The poor fellow had been sitting around for hours doing nothing and was grateful for having me to work on! He gave me the full treatment.

 Shane Crowe from Cootamundra is the rider on my wheel in the photo.

Australian Champions!
The 1986/87 season finished on a high note as I was a part of the NSW under 23 team which won an Australian title in Whyalla. We tied with the very good Tasmanian team we were up against in the final. We were actually leading our opponents, a team of star-studded backmarkers, going into the final lap but they pulled us back and as we crossed the line I glanced across the track and felt sure we had been defeated. The stopwatches of the officials, quite remarkably, showed exactly the same times for both teams and two gold medals were awarded. A bit of an achievement really. Our opponents were really top class and we were less than sublime to be perfectly honest.

 We were lucky to have a very good rider by the name of Peter Bundy, a former champion making a comeback in the professional ranks, doing one lap turns for us and it is fair to say he won us the title. Thanks Pete!

My mate Anthony was a part of our winning team and managed once more to get our heads in the Queanbeyan Age. The photo above left is a clipping from that paper picturing us on our triumphant return from South Australia.

The next two photos are from the same year and although I am displaying them here and had some success at this particular meet at Wagga, it's not a memory which is particularly sweet.

 I had actually won the NSW Under 23 Sprint Title, the first of three victories in that particular event on the first night of racing. The main carnival, featuring the Wagga Wheelrace was held on the next night and given my generous handicap mark and the fact I had just won a state title, I was favoured to win the event.

However, it all ended in disappointment, or at least not as successfully as it should or could have. A combination of hubris, naivety and bad tactics led to me being overhauled in the final yards and finishing third. An event I certainly should have won.

 The top picture shows a number of title winners from the meeting and the bottom picture the place-getters in the wheelrace final. I managed half a smile for the camera but I really wasn't happy. Such are the fortunes of the cycle racer.

The final picture I have was taken a few years on from the rest. It was the start of the Australian Under-23 Road Championship at Lara in Victoria in 1989. This is the NSW team which contested the event although the photographer appears to have cut one of our team-mates out of shot!

 Myself, David Lang from Young, Bill Robertson from Wagga and Adam de Gelder from Newcastle are pictured. I think Neil McMillan was the other rider.

 We were up against it this day, some very good national class riders in the field and from memory I finished eighth or ninth. Nothing to write home about but it was in fact one of my best performances.

 Lara is a very windy place between Melbourne and Geelong and the breeze certainly played havoc with the race that day.

 The first few kilometres of the event were neutralized until we got out of town where the race would begin in earnest and a left hand turn would lead us into a slicing cross-wind. I was second last as we made this turn, a mixture of nervousness and a lack of self-confidence confining me to the back of the peloton.

 The big name riders from Victoria and South Australia milling at the front of the bunch decided they didn't intend to ride the day out with the lesser lights and immediately attacked in the cross-wind causing carnage. The race broke up into five distinct groups with yours truly at the back of the last bunch!

 I jumped from group to group, managing to get to the second bunch on the road, leaving behind my team-mates and others whose race was over barely before it had begun. We would not see them again that day.

 I attacked again, trying to claw my way across to the leaders but to no avail. I remember someone in the second group urging me to calm down. "Don't worry", I remember him saying, "we will get them". And we did!

 This second group which consisted of some solid riders who would probably not be considered favorites, worked hard and closed the gap to the leaders and we eventually found ourselves at the front of the race.

 I actually attacked late in the race, using up reserves which would have been better used at the finish. With the pace increasing on the run back into Lara I found my surge had put me into difficulty and I was dropped. Seeking shelter in the following cars I recovered and regained the leading bunch with a few kilometres to go.

 I had a good position in the sprint but the self-consciousness I felt about being at the sharp end of a finish of an Australian Title betrayed me and not for the first or last time in my life I let the sprint for the championship unfold without me. I rolled over the line with a creditable top-ten finish to my name. I still think I let a great chance slip though. I was as good a sprinter as anyone in the field.

And that is the camera roll of my cycling career. I raced for years after that photo was taken but I suppose we never really considered cycling important enough to document it.

 I rode hundreds of races and won a few. I still consider myself a cyclist although I rarely get on the bike nowadays. The weather is warming up and it is ripe for a trip around the lake on the treadley. Perhaps when those pesky magpies are through mating though!

 That is a little snapshot of cycling days gone by; a very different era to what we see today. I hope you enjoyed a little peek into what I did with most of my spare time as a youngster. I still love cycling and always will. It's a great sport.

 Have a nice day.

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