Monday, 14 April 2014

NRS Tour of Adelaide

The 2014 NRS season had already begun one week prior to the Jarvis Subaru Adelaide Tour, but for some of my teammates and I, it was our first race for the year.
I was lining up alongside seven teammates from the Avanti Racing Team, including current NRS Individual Series Leader Joe Cooper, fresh off his win at the Tour de Perth, Neil van der Ploeg, Jack Haig, Ben Dyball, Tom Robinson, Jack Beckinsale and Mark O'Brien. We arrived three days in advance to ride some of the courses and acclimatise to the weather. After reading a few chapters of 'Battle Scars' by Stuart O'Grady on the way over, I was motivated for a good few days of racing. The four stages included a short but sharp 84km road stage which finished up and over the infamous 'Corkscrew’ on day one, another road race on day two - 154km's around the rolling hills of Handorf and Bird in Hand Winery, a 60km city center criterium on day three and then an 80km Kermese race on the forth and final day of the Tour. Staying in newly renovated caravan park cabins, we most importantly had comfy beds and also a fair bit of floor space for the evening foam roller or two. All of the guys have their own specific pre-race routines, whether that be watching a movie, spending hours at the coffee shop or curling up in bed for the afternoon. I'm pretty flexible but have my usual routines I always try to replicate each race, it helps me focus and control any nervous energy I may have. The night before stage one, we had a team meeting to discuss our race tactics. It was decided that our climbers were going to be our best chance of a result, so my teammate Tom & I would try to ensure they got to the base of the climb as best they could. Heading to the race, I was excited to start my first NRS race of 2014 with the Avanti racing Team, so much that I forgot my Garmin, which I thought I had packed. It wasn’t the end of the world, because I had my shoes, helmet and kit so it didn’t worry me too much, I just told everyone I was saving weight for the Corkscrew climb.
With 160 riders starting the Tour, it was important to ride at the front, hopefully to avoid any crashes and to keep an eye on the attacks that were created at the front of the race. Aggressive riding from most teams saw many small moves go clear of the bunch, but they were all eventually brought back. The breakaway of the day was established after 20km and included a handful of teams, but we missed the move along with Team Budget Forklifts. Teammate Tom Robinson was straight to the front setting the tempo and beginning the chase. I joined him soon after and we were joined by Team African Wildlife Safaris and Team Budget who eventually put a couple of riders into the chase. As we approached the Corkscrew road, we set a fast pace flying down Gorge Road. The undulating terrain saw a few very fast sections, one in which we hit at nearly 90kms/hr.
Most teams had a full lead-out train when we entered the base of the climb, all strung out and the tempo set high. I finished my last big turn at the base of the climb and swung off to see all of our climbers positioned well at the front. When I returned, the boys fell 39 seconds short of victory, as the breakaway had split and all but two riders stayed away. Joe Copper was the best placed in 4th for the stage. Not the result we wanted, some miss-communication out on the road resulted in the breakaway gaining too much advantage at the base of the climb. A lesson learnt and we would fight on to improve our results the following day. The morning of stage two, I was feeling very good. My sleep was great, I was motivated and I had targeted this stage in the lead up to this tour. The 156km road race consisted of three laps of a 52km circuit, which was fast at the start then undulating with a dirt road section towards the finish. It was made for a typical classics rider, someone who could endure both the length and terrain of the course. With Joe, Jack, Marko and Ben all within striking range, we were hoping that at least one of them could follow the right move and put us in a positive position out on the road. I was told to take a slight back seat and save myself for the finish in case of a bunch sprint. Early on in the stage, teammate Ben Dyball was involved in a nasty crash, eventually forcing him out of the stage. Later scans at hospital confirmed he had a broken his wrist, which was disappointing news to hear.
Down to seven riders, we played it smart and let the leading team (Drapac) do all the chasing to control the small breakaway early on. By the start of last lap, the field had split dramatically around the back of the course - the most difficult section with short, sharp climbs and a dirt road section to test your skills. The fast, open roads enabled small groups that were split just off the back to rejoin our leading group of 10-15 riders, which formed over the dirt section. Racing through the busy main street of German town Hahndorf, about 25km’s remained and the main bunch was down to 60 riders. Shortly after Handorf, some hard climbs split the race which saw a 20-man group ride off into the distance. The leading group consisted of my teammates Jack Haig, Neil Van de Ploeg, Joe Cooper, Tom Robinson & I. Team Drapac’s Wez Sulzberger who was the current yellow jersey holder made the front split but due to the solid pace set by his team, his teammates simply could not follow the flurry of attacks which left them behind. I was the last rider to make the break and I waited until the final small rise before descending off into the distance with the group, amazed at how that last few kilometres had unfolded. Most of the group worked well together and we quickly extended the lead. Tom was unlucky to get a flat and with no team car in sight at the time, he wasn’t able to rejoin. The race was over for the rest and with less than 15km’s to go, our group began the attacks and the tactics became interesting.
Jack and Neil set the pace and we all shared the chasing. Approaching the first climb through the feed zone, a small group of six riders escaped, including Budget Forklift’s Brodie Talbot, plus Search to Retain rider Stuart Smith and I. The other guys had just chased down another move and it was my turn to chase this one. Little did we know, the move led by Brodie (who was only 39secs behind Wez) went on to be the winning breakaway. With less than 10 kilometres to go, the rolling hills kept the break honest approaching the final dirt section. Brodie was driving the break chasing time in the hope he could lead the tour. I was looking for a stage win for Avanti and despite knowing I could get the job done in the final sprint, I contemplated going solo numerous times. At the finish it was a sprint to the line and I got the win for the Avanti Racing Team with Brodie Talbot taking the overall lead for Team Budget Forklifts.
Jack and Joe finished in the second group a minute behind containing Tim Roe and Wez Sulzberger. Although we may have won the stage we were unable to capitalize on taking the lead of the tour. Stage three saw a 2.1 kilometre circuit street criterium in the heart of Adelaide. An early start due to the afternoon’s AFL match between my beloved Sydney Swans versus the Adelaide Crows did not deter us from performing at our best. The 60 kilometre race began strongly with the yellow jersey team of Budget Forklifts taking up the early tempo. A crucial error of not lining up at the front made for a solid chase to eventually get to the front after a couple of laps. A field of 160 riders made it interesting at times, but when you ride at the front, it’s generally a little safer and less taxing on the body. Any early attacks were shut down by Budget but after 35km’s, a two-man break escaped. Not threatening overall GC, they were left out there and controlled.
As a team, we were positioning ourselves relatively well in the top 20 riders, getting set for a bunch sprint. I was feeling good and everything was going smoothly, but with 10 laps to go, my chain somehow shifted down into the frame and got stuck. I quickly put it back on, jumped on the bike again and had a bit of a chase to rejoin the tail of the main bunch. With around 100 riders still remaining in the race, it made my job a little harder to get to my teammates near the front. I soon made it back a few laps later and we positioned ourselves in the lead-out train behind Budget who were still setting the pace. Disaster stuck with four laps to go when I noticed my electronic group set battery was very low and I had very minimal power to change gears. I yelled at ACJ and our team mechanic Damo and the next lap I came screaming to a stop in the pits, carefully dropped my race bike and jumped straight onto my spare bike. You might think that something like this, three laps to go in a super fast criterium is nearly impossible to come back from, but I saw it as a challenge.
The field was slightly reduced, maybe down to 80 riders, and I was straight onto the last wheel of the bunch and immediately making up a handful of positions around every corner. With Jack Beckinsale and Neil Van der Ploeg still at the front with the rest of my teammates, we still had options but I still wanted to get back fast, I wasn’t done yet! The bell sounded and I still wasn’t quite where I wanted to be, so making up a few more places around the next corner and I was behind my teammates. With 1km remained and the at the bottom corner I was boxed in by a few guys and lost contact with the team, it was everyman for himself.
I went early up the climb, got up to the front and saw my teammates Jack Beckinsale leading it out off the front. Behind Jack was Jesse Kerrison and his Budget Forklifts lead-out man Myron Simpson. We rounded the final corner with 250m to go and I had spent a few too many watts in the end, not having enough to come past Jesse who won the race and finished about a wheel in front. It was close in the end but not enough to get another win. I was happy with my performance, putting up a reasonable fight after the mechanicals I had towards the very end of the race. The final stage was the exact same as last year, an 80km Kermesse which had a few tight corners and one round-a-bout which had ‘crash’ writen all over it. Thankfully, this year there was no carnage on this particular section but a couple of guys went down very hard on some of the corners. Racing in the anxious 160 rider bunch, I avoided any such incidents throughout the race and so did my teammates. There was only one major break of the day and the size and speed of the group eventually triumphed in the finish. Team Budget had ridden the front the whole stage, but closer to the end, they were most definitely running on reserve as only two to three riders remained at best. Brodie Talbot was supported well all race but with four laps to go, he needed to do some of the chasing himself.
I was sitting reasonably comfy with my Avanti teammates in the main bunch not having to worry about chasing as we were represented by Joe Cooper, Jack Beckinsale and Mark O’Brien in the leading breakaway. At the finish, Jack got the job done and Joe held on for third place, which was a really good result to end the Tour on. The bunch sprinted for 6th place and ex-track sprinter Scott Sunderland got the early jump on the whole field. No one made the move so I followed and closed the gap as best I could to finish seventh. Overall for the tour, Joe moved up to fourth on GC, Jack Haig was seventh and I was eighth. Out of the four stages, we won two and placed on the podium twice with a second and a third. We also won the team’s classification to see us extend our teams NRS lead and Joe’s Individual NRS Lead after two. rounds.
On the 4th of May, I’ll be riding 240km’s for the CareFlight Base to Base Charity Ride. This year, we ride from Brisbane to Toowoomba and will be once again joined by Tour de France Green Jersey winner, Robbie McEwen. I’m hoping to raise much needed funds for this not-for-profit helicopter rescue service who saved my life in 2011. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for CareFlight, so I’d appreciate any donation to my fundraising page: Big thanks to all of our sponsors and team staff of the Avanti Racing Team, the results keep coming in for us and we appreciate your support! To mum and dad, brothers and grandparents, thank you for your financial backing and devoting the time and effort into helping me reach my goals. To my coach Matt Wallace, masseur Jude and chiro Sharon, thanks for keeping my body in perfect condition, it’s been an awesome year so far.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bendigo International Madison Criterium

The Bendigo International Madison is one of Australia’s most iconic track cycling carnivals on the calendar. Filled with Australia’s best elite talent, the racing also attracts some of the world’s top international track riders. This year, I was looking forward to racing the Madison International Criterium which is held on the Friday night before the track carnival. I’ve raced this race for the past two years, with every year being another step closer to the podium placing 15th in 2012 and 8th in 2013. The honour roll includes Pro Tour Riders such as Mark Cavendish (2005), Simon Clarke (2006)and Mitch Docker (2008).
Lining up on the 2014 start line was a selection of Australia’s up and coming talent and a handful of international riders from Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Racing for Avanti Racing Team, I was accompanied by some of my teammates, Luke Fetch, Mark O’Brien and Scott Law. The 1.2km circuit was technical with two main straights, with the back straight being on a 2.5m wide footpath through the middle of the local park. There is only one thing you need to do and that’s ride a good position! If you’re not in the top 20, your night will end much sooner than you would have hoped for. It’s like an elastic band, the front riders are riding hard and smooth while the guys at the back are being pulled along in surges, it’s painful and I wasn’t going to be caught out at the back of the race like previous years. The 30-lap race began aggressively with many small moves breaking clear from the main field. I made sure I got to the front as soon as I could and as a team, we were riding superbly to represent ourselves in every move and bring back the ones we weren’t in.
At the 20-minute mark, I rode away with Budget Forklifts’ Sam Witmitz and Germany’s Leif Lampater who won the race in 2009. We were joined by Luke Parker (VIS) and my teammates Mark O'Brien until a gap opened between the front group and they re-joined the main field. Once we had established the initial gap, despite some organized chasing from a number of riders, our advantage only increased. The gap was never more than 35 seconds at best, but on this course, it’s close to half a lap. We all contributed to the pace making equally and it was the perfect breakaway trio to be part of.
Glancing back at the main field, it was good to see my teammates helping to control any potential attacks, enabling us to continue the race-winning move. The final few laps were no different to any other - we all contributed equally to the pace. On the final lap, no one made a move and I was certain I could get the job done in a three-up sprint to the line.
Sam kicked first coming out of the park and into the final bend with 250m to go. I followed in his slipstream, with Leif trying to take his wheel off me. We rubbed shoulders and gave each other an elbow or two, but I wasn’t going to let him take it from me. I was able to hold Sam’s wheel and go on to win the 2014 race with Sam in second and Leif in third.
My teammate and last year’s winner Scott Law won the bunch kick for fourth place. I was so pleased to get the win, which I couldn’t have done without my supportive teammates riding strongly the whole night. To stand on the top step of the podium representing Avanti Racing Team and to put on the yellow winner’s jersey was a great feeling! I’ve wanted to win this race ever since my first attempt a few years ago so was really pleased with my result.
Thanks to all of our sponsors of Avanti Racing Team, we couldn’t be achieving results without your products and support. Diadora Australia make the best cycling shoes and I’m fortunate enough to have their support as well. Big thanks to my coach Matt and his wife Brooke for their hospitality over the weekend, I always feel at home up in Bendigo and I was spoilt by the great coffee and home cooked meals. Last but not least, thanks to my supportive family, friends and girlfriend Lucy for the time and effort you put in to help me pursue my dreams. Photo credits: Con Chronis

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

2014 Oceania Elite Road Championships

Bags packed, I was again ready for the next cycling race on the calendar with Team Avanti. This time it was off to Toowoomba, Queensland where the 2014 Oceania Road Championships would take place. Toowoomba holds mixed emotions for me being the place I met my girlfriend Lucy for the very first time and where I also made my first NRS podium. But it’s also the location I was airlifted out of after a serious racing accident making it a place I love and hate. We arrived a few days prior to the race, allowing some time for course recon and to acclimatize to the humidity that QLD is renowned for. Our training rides were split between two with the time trial riders preparing separately while the rest of us who were only racing in the road race did our own thing.
The time trial saw my teammates Campbell Flakemore finish second in the U23 category and Joe Cooper win the Elite Men’s category making it a great start to the 2014 Oceania’s for Team Avanti. Special mention to everyone else who competed in the Time Trial, with notable mention to Ben Dyball who placed fourth and Taylor Gunman sixth in the Elite Men’s, plus Mitch Lovelock-Fay for placing sixth in U23. Focusing on the road race, riding a lap of the course was very beneficial as it gave us an idea of where the tough sections were going to be and how we could mentally prepare ourselves leading into Sunday’s race. The course was heavily exposed to the wind, consisted of three categorised climbs and the roads were physically draining with not many areas to rest or recover.
We had 12 guys lining up for Team Avanti, our squad was filled with talented riders but we had some tough competition. Team Drapac were represented with 14, Team Budget had 12, plus a number of other NRS team presented with strong squads. Come race day, a total of 127 riders started the race, but in the end not even a quarter would go on to finish in the brutally tough conditions. To spice things up a little, the Elite category was combined with the U23 category, meaning they would race with us but have two separate podiums at the end.
From the start, it was aggressive with everyone and every team trying to hold their position and keep sheltered from the crosswinds. I was riding the Shimano C50 wheelset and so far this year, they are my number one choice. I rave about how good the Avanti Corsa DR is and on a day like this, it handled the conditions superbly. The breakaway of the day was established on the second of four laps, providing some momentarily relief from the severe aggressiveness we had faced so early on in the race.
Teammate Mitch Lovelock-Fay represented us in the break and was riding strong to hold his own and control the other riders who were with him. Team Drapac had two guys represented so they weren’t going to chase and team Budget also had one guy in the move. With everyone in our team riding so strongly, with two laps to go, the bunch was down to 30-40 guys but we still had nine riders at the front. Luke Durbridge was proving why he is a professional rider by showing his strength on the front to split the main field on a number of occasions. It put everyone in ‘the gutter’ with no place to shelter from the wind at all. It separated the strong from the weak and this is why so many riders didn’t finish the race!
The team decided to take control to catch the break, with Neil Van der Ploeg and I taking a back seat to save our legs for the finish as best we could. The boys were always looking out for us when we needed them, riding in the wind and moving us up to the front of the bunch which makes a big difference when you’re on your limit, racing hard. They maybe rode a little too hard in the closing lap or two when on the front but we learnt from this mistake and will get it right next time. We caught the break on the last lap, then the attacks began to come from the other teams and we had a lot of pressure on our shoulders to cover the moves. They were controlled as best we could, but it was so windy and the course was so draining that riders were physically ‘popping’ and being spat out the back one by one.
With 15km’s to go, Luke Durbridge and fellow WA rider Robert Power (U23) attacked as we crested the most difficult climbs of the course. Our boys had done their job and gave Neil and I the best possible chance with the front bunch now down to only 15 guys. Ben Dyball found a second pair of legs and rode back to the front to keep the tempo high in an attempt to catch the leading duo. Unfortunetely, they were riding too well and with team Drapac riding very aggressive in the closing stages to try and launch their riders away from us, we couldn’t close the gap. It wasn’t until the final climb with two kilometres to go that Bernie Sulzberger (Drapac) attacked and narrowly stayed away to cross the line third and win silver in the Elite category. The bunch sprinted for the remaining places with both the elite and U23 podium places yet to be filled. Despite letting Bernie ride away in the final kilometre, I won the bunch sprint for fourth place, which was a bronze medal in the elite category as Robert Power (WA – second on stage) was an U23 rider. My teammate Neil finished eighth and Ben Dyball was also in the front group and rode superbly.
I was happy to have ridden another strong race, but I couldn’t have done it without the incredible teamwork from my Avanti teammates who kept us out of the wind in the important stages of the race. The podium place also gained us some more valuable points in the Oceania Team’s standings, which gives Team Avanti the Oceania Teams top ranking and qualifies us to race at the 2014 World Team Time Trial Championships. After a long evening of travel back from QLD, it’s nice to be back home after a few days away. To come home with another podium place and show that my 2014 season just keeps on rolling is a good feeling. I’m looking forward to the next race with Team Avanti, hopefully we can go up a couple of steps and put the blue and orange colors on top once again. As always, thanks to our staff and sponsors of Team Avanti, your products, financial input and support goes a long way to helping us succeed. To Diadora Australia for their sponsorship with Cycling Shoes, I love the products guys! To my family, mum & dad, brothers, girlfriend and friends, thanks for your ongoing commitment and sacrifice to allow me to do what I love. My personal coach Matt Wallace, Chiropractor Sharon and Masseur Jude, I appreciate your work behind the scenes. Keep posted for further updates, I have a few club races and invitational criteriums to take part in before my next race with Team Avanti Pro Cycling. Enjoy your riding and keep safe! Cheers, Brenton

Monday, 10 February 2014

UCI 2.2 NZ Cycle Classic

The first tour of the 2014 season for Team Avanti took place in New Zealand with the UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic. I was excited to race having come off a great first month of racing in Australia and I was confident, being surrounded by my teammates who had performed strongly in their early season racing too.
After some minor baggage issues at the airport upon arrival, our bikes eventually turned up that afternoon and we settled into our accommodation. Before the racing began, we rode the important sections of the final stage as well as the first stage time-trial course. The idea of this was to visualize the course and know what to expect on the day we raced on them. On one of the rides, some of the local AvantiPlus Bike Shop staff and riders, all eager to come and ride with our team accompanied us for the morning.
Stage one. Day one saw a 5.1km fast and flat individual time-trial course to test our ability against the clock in what would be an explosive measure of 6-7min power. My morning roll with teammate Taylor Gunman (2014 NZ National TT Champ) was great because we decided to go and have another look at the afternoon’s course and fine tune the lines and cornering skills we would use in the race. I know when I’m on a good day because not only do my legs feel good, my body and mental focus is great also. With each of us in Team Avanti starting at different time slots, I was first off from our team and rolled out with teammate Sam Davis to the start line. Before I arrived at the start line, I got a flat tire halfway out and had to call team director, Andrew Christie-Johnston (ACJ) to come and collect me. I didn’t let it bother me, instead, I focused on the job and prepared myself for the ITT.
I was so mentally pumped up and focused on the start line, that heading down off the start ramp, into the first tight corner and onto the first open straight, I forgot to start my Garmin and was only focused on what my power and speed were doing. Around the very sharp turn-a-round point - which surprised all riders as it was 100m shorter than expected - I had set a good time and my rhythm and legs were great and I had one final head-wind section towards the finish line to go. One kilometre to go and my legs were killing me but riding strong. The last 500 metres were so painful, but with my teammate Taylor and ACJ yelling from the team car (whilst on the horn), I finished in a great time of 6 minutes 17 seconds. Despite my teammates Aaron Donnelly (6 min 19 sec) and Taylor Gunman’s (6min 26sec) very strong performances, the only other rider to go a few seconds quicker than me was team Budget Forklifts’ Michael Vink who stopped the clock in a time of 6 minute 13 seconds. I was so happy to have posted a solid time which I had been so sure was going to be beaten by my teammates or another strong TT rider. We may not have won, but with Aaron in 3rd place and Taylor top 10 and myself in 2nd, it was a good day for Team Avanti.
Stage two. The first of the road race stages saw a solid course, which included some steep climbs between the 75km – 110km mark. The tempo wasn’t super aggressive until we got to the climbs and although it stretched the field out, there was still 50-60 guys left in the front group. Sam Davis tried his luck off the front with a few other strong guys, but nothing was going clear so the boys helped me to ride good position when we knew the bunch sprint looked certain. It was a fast finish. The final three kilometres were on straight roads and there were lots of lead-out trains and the usual sprinting aggression - banging bars with the guy next too you. With three kilometres to go, I tried to find the perfect wheel for the finish. I probably didn’t pick the ideal wheel to sit behind but most of the guys went too early and I waited perfectly. Just as I began my final sprint, my chain over-shifted on the front chain rings and although I got it back on within a few seconds, I had lost my momentum. I was determined to explode to the line after this, my aggression and determination was at its highest and so I did, coming back from seventh position with 150m to go to finish within ½ a wheel of both first and second place. I just wish I hadn’t of had that slight problem but that’s racing and team Drapac rode well for the final lead-out to help Wouter Wippet to the line. Tomorrow was another day and my focus had already shifted to the next opportunity that would come my way. I was just happy to have made the UCI podium once again and finished with all skin still intact.
Stage three. On the morning of stage three, we followed our previous pre-race routines and headed into town to grab a brew from our favorite coffee shop. The course was the same as stage two, except in the reverse direction and a little bit longer, totaling 160km’s. The race started aggressively with teams and riders all looking to benefit from the stronger winds which were set to make the racing even harder to control. A few small moves broke clear but were controlled by team Budget Forklifts who were still leading both teams GC and individual GC.
Once on the climbs out the back of the course, many teams were taking it in turns to put Budget under pressure and reduce their strength in numbers. Teammates Sam Davis & Ben Dyball were riding superbly at the front to create the pressure. Sam was eventually rewarded for his efforts by making the major break of the day, which stayed away until 10km’s to go. It was important to eat and drink as much as you could, however the many attacks and short but sharp climbs throughout the race meant that there was little time to replenish the body. Yellow jersey wearer Michael Vink was isolated going up the last major ascent of the day, but not even solid efforts from teammates Taylor Gunman and Ben could disrupt Vink who was riding well enough to keep the main bunch together over the top. With 40km’s left to race, a fast but open road saw the field split to bits in the cross-winds. Small groups were scattered along the long stretch of road with the leading breakaway only one minute in advantage. Eventually, organization at the front from teams Baku, Budget, Rapha-Condor and my teammates Aaron & Ben got the pace rolling and we were catching the leaders slowly but surely. Wind direction changes and two short climbs with 20km’s to go kept everyone at the front of their seats, fighting hard to hold position. I was feeling confident, my legs were good and it’s hard finishes like this that are my favorite. Just as we caught the breakaway with 8km’s to go, a train at a level crossing stopped us momentarily before we raced the final 6km to the finish line.
Turning right onto the final 3km stretch was a little hectic because the cross-wind immediately put everyone onto the right-hand side of the road and we were only allowed to use the left-hand side (with rolling road closure). We all knew the finish, as it was the same as yesterday so it would be interesting to see how the sprint would unfold today. 2km’s to go, two riders broke clear of the main field but Aaron, Ben, Sam & Taylor all contributed to the pace making bringing them back and giving me the best possible chance in the bunch sprint. I was locked onto Drapac’s Woulter Wippet who had won stage two, it was the perfect wheel for me to follow. With 500m to go, his teammate Malcom Rudolph gave him a perfect lead-out and we kicked with 200m to go. In the very fast, tail-wind sprint to the line, I timed my run perfectly to narrowly beat Woulter and take the win for Team Avanti. It was my first UCI stage win and I couldn’t have done it without the tremendous teamwork from my teammates. They put a lot of trust in me and there was no way I was going to loose for them, teamwork wins races.
Stage four. Another sunny day welcomed us to the start of the 136km stage four. It would be crucial to hold a good position once we began racing around the five laps of the 18km circuit, as the wind today would be just enough to cause the field to split. In the opening laps, a small break broke clear of the bunch but was brought back by the teams chasing King of the Mountain (KOM) points. There was only one KOM sprint on each stage so things settled down after the early KOM climb.
Team Budget controlled the pace-making to the three leaders who had escaped up the road, so it wasn’t really a physically hard race - just tactically challenging to position yourself well in the cross-wind sections which strung the bunch out. My legs were good and so were my teammates who applied some pressure on the fourth lap going up the 1.5km climb to try and split the field. Budget had a firm hold on all the moves however, and even on the aggressive final lap, nothing was getting away. It was going to be another bunch sprint and teams began to get organized for their sprinters. The last 20km’s had a mix of cross and tail winds that made it difficult to ride near the front. I was positioned perfectly behind the yellow jersey and his team, making it much safer for me to ride at the front. Approaching the finish, I needed to jump onto another lead-out train but I didn’t. It was a messy finish, with riders everywhere and a crash at 300 metres to go made for an interesting sprint. I came from way too far back to finish fifth, still up the pointy end of a UCI level race but not what I’d hoped for. I remained second on GC, with my teammate Aaron in third overall and we were still leading the Team’s GC with only one more stage to go.
Stage five. After four days of racing, the fifth and final day of the New Zealand Cycle Classic would test the tired legs of all riders with a 164km course to decide the 2014 winner. A solid climb early on in the race was hard but not as hard as we had expected with the pace controlled well by team Budget. A few moves broke away but they were brought back before the bottom of the climb. A big crash on the flat roads saw half the peloton involved, but no one was seriously injured and our team all missed it riding safely at the front. The race was momentarily neutralized, before attacks and small moves took over the aggressiveness of the race once more. The roads were rolling with short but solid climbs of between 1-1.5km’s long. They were enough to cause the field to split and we were able to isolate team Budget who only had three guys left after 100km’s. The wind direction was coming from the south east and the course layout made for a speedy final 50km’s with cross and tail wind sections that were ridden at speeds of 50-60km/hr. Only 40 guys remained in the front bunch, we still had everyone from Team Avanti and the final three kilometre climb was set to decide the tour. Approaching the climb, it was like a sprint. Full lead-out trains from every team going full-gas, cross winds making it even harder to position yourself and the occasional head-butt or two to try and hold your wheel, it was furious!
Teammate Aaron set us up nicely before the climb, riding into the wind as he does best! At the bottom, fireworks went off, attacks were 100% and the climbers were going for glory. I obviously had some good form but the speed on the steep climb was too much and I gradually lost contact. My teammates were aggressive at the front but just struggled to hold onto the leaders, Ben was our best placed rider in fifth. Sam & Taylor finished top 20 and I placed 24th on the stage. Although the stage hadn’t planned out to be the way we wanted it too, we finished the Tour off with something to smile about - winning the overall team’s classification, placing on the podium in stages 1 & 2, plus a winning stage three, enough for us to be content with. A big thanks to all of our sponsors who support the Avanti Pro Cycling Team, you can check out the latest news and our sponsors websites via this link: To our team staff, thanks for your hard work behind the scenes, we all appreciate your efforts and we wouldn't be able to stand on the top step of the podium as a team without your assistance. To Diadora Australia for their support with Cycling Shoes, I love the products and recommend to any cyclist out their wanting style, comfort and performance. Thumbs up to my coach Matt Wallace, our hard work is paying off, love your work Matt! My masseur Jude and Chiropractor Sharon, thanks for the work you both do to keep the body fit and healthy. Last but not least, to my Mum & Dad, brothers, girlfriend Lucy, grandparents, extended family and all of my friends, I can't thank you all enough for your support and encouragement. Well done to my other Avanti teammates who raced the 2014 Jayco Herald Sun Tour last week, awesome job against a quality field boys! Some top 10's and the white jersey for Jack Haig, not too bad at all. A few state and club races are on the cards, before the 2014 Oceania Road Championships in Toowoomba, QLD take place on the 23rd February. Safe riding, cheers Brenton.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

2014 Elite Road Nationals

If there was one race any Australian rider wanted to win, it would be this one. Not only because the competition is at it’s best, but because for the whole season, you have the privilege to wear your national colours on your team’s jersey.
The elite field of 168 riders consisted mostly of National Road Series and Pro Tour riders, so to race at the pointy end of the field was going to be a challenge to say the least. Leading into the race, I sat down along with my teammates from Avanti Pro Cycling to map out a race plan with our Team DS Andrew Christie-Johnston. The vibe was good, everyone was looking forward to the race and to gain some exposure for our sponsors - a result would be the ultimate bonus. My main goal leading into the race was to make the break and help my teammates out approaching the final few laps when help would be needed most. For guys like myself, the best plan would be to make the breakaway and get noticed. We had four key riders who would have the best chance at the finish - Ben Dyball, Mark O’Brien, Anthony Giacoppo and Neil Van der Ploeg - whilst the rest of us were there for support and/or to make the early break. After a great start to the year, winning the Bay Cycling Classic and earning a podium place at the National Criterium Championships, I had confidence with my form but I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself for the road race. I had results, I just wanted to show my strength and be a team player.
On the start line, media were everywhere, the fans were lining the barricades and big names like Cadel Evans and the whole Orica-GreenEdge team were all finalising their last minute preparations. My legs were good again, but it would be a big challenge to climb with the worlds best and riders who would be more suited to the Bunninyong climb than me. 18 gruelling laps of a 10.1km circuit with a 2.5km climb to Mt Buninyong mid-way through each lap meant it was going to be a big day in the saddle for everyone. At the start, attacks were going off the front as they always do, with many of the bigger teams controlling the early pace and the moves too. It wasn’t until the second lap that a breakaway was formed, I made the move from riding good position and being determined to make the break from the start. The break included 17 guys and I was the sole representative from my Avanti Pro Cycling Team while Drapac had four riders and GreenEdge had three riders. The pace was solid, especially up the climb each lap, so I rode as conservative as possible to stay out the front as long as I could. My team car which included DS, ACJ, High Performance Manager Mark Fenner and Mechanic Damo Harris were very supportive of me out in the break. I tried my best to take what they had to say on board and push the pedals up the climb each lap knowing each lap was another lap closer to the finish. My teammates were riding on the front of the main bunch to try and bring the break back, mainly because all of our best chances were still back in the bunch and because I was the only team member represented in the break, making me out numbered, which isn’t a positive position to be in.
To see 20,000 spectators lining the roads and cheering us on was awesome, I got an adrenaline rush every time I went up the climb. Along with many other riders, I had a lot of people from my local area, friends and fellow riders showing their support and it definitely spurred me on to ride so many laps out in the break. I managed to last 15 laps with the lead group before I couldn’t hang on any longer. I rode 1/2 a lap on the front of what remained of the peloton for the rest of my teammates who were chasing the leaders approaching two laps to go.
I pulled out after that, I had given it my all and had nothing left in the tank. The boys rode strong for the rest of the race, with Marko the best placed finisher for our team and the first non professionally signed rider across the line behind a world class line up. Stepping up from the U23 category last year, I was happy with my first year’s efforts in the Elite ranks, and I was pleased to be acknowledged by many influential people and my teammates on a good ride.
It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our sponsors, team managers and staff who make our job’s so much easier. I’m really looking forward to 2014, it’s going to be an exciting year with many new experiences and opportunities to learn from. Big thanks to my Mum, Dad and family for their amazing support, I couldn't have started 2014 any better without you. It’s always nice to know someone besides your family is always there to support you and I thank my lovely girlfriend Lucy for her care and encouragement. To Diadora Australia thank you for your support with shoes, I appreciate it and I recommend your products to anyone wanting comfort at a reasonable price. Last but not least, thanks to my coach Matt Wallace, Masseur Jude and Chiropractor Sharon, I wouldn’t be riding at my best without you all. Keep posted for my next report from the New Zealand Cycle Classic which is a UCI level race. Cheers Brenton

Monday, 27 January 2014

2014 National Elite Criterium Championships

The perfect warm summers evening in Ballarat greeted us for the 2014 National Criterium Championships which took place around Sturt Street on a 1.2km hot dog circuit. In my first elite national championships, I was looking forward to the step up into the big league, but I’d be racing against guys who’d have a lot more experience than I. For Australian riders, the national champs are one of the biggest races for the whole year, so to win one means your preparation is perfect and your form must be at it’s best. This year for Team Avanti Pro Cycling, we had 8 riders representing in the elite category. We had a strong team and our plan was to be prominent at the front and if it was a bunch sprint, the boys would lead it out for me. Knowing my team were trusting me to get the job done made me even more motivated. Fresh off my Bay Classic win, I was feeling good and ready to race. Mid-way through the race, we were all riding smart, doing our various roles as part of the team. The pace was fast and the field strung out at numerous times, creating gaps between the front, middle and back of the peloton. Our team got to the front with six laps to go and began to take up the pace making. It’s a very hard course to get a lead-out train going because the front straight is uphill and the back straight is a fast downhill making it hard to maintain a constant speed and it also provides the competitors with a nice slipstream on the downhill. The boys did an incredible job to keep us in great position at the front for the final few laps, despite being challenged by team Drapac in the closing few laps. With one lap remaining, I was with AJ and Neil who were fighting to stay at the front. Around the top hairpin corner, team Drapac’s front lead-out man slid out and lost his front wheel, causing his whole team to crash out of the race! It was a huge interruption to the final lap, but we just missed the carnage thanks to a move by AJ up the inside of the corner moments before. Down the back straight, AJ and Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) made the most of the confusion, and ended up with a 20m lead, with me chasing hard to get back on AJ’s wheel. Around the last corner, AJ and Steele had a convincing lead, whilst Cam Meyer had put in a big effort to fly past me and close the gap. I was still in shock from what had happened on the previous corner but with 300m to go, my only chance was a bronze medal and I wasn’t going to give up on that chance at all. I gave it everything I had left and pushed hard to pass Cam and cross the line in third place, only a wheel behind my teammate AJ who finished a respectable 2nd behind Garmin Sharp’s Pro Tour sprinter, Steele Von Hoff.
At the presentation, all three of us were so happy for one another as we are all great mates. In the words of Steele; “This would have to be the best podium I’ve ever been on”. The podium couldn’t have been any better, basically a ‘clean sweep’ for the ‘Genesys/Praties’ family, riders and staff. It was also a nice 2nd and 3rd for the newly named Team Avanti Pro Cycling. We left the criterium with a lot of confidence, not only for the road race but the rest of the year to come. I’m sure with results like this, you’ll see more of the Avanti team colours on many more podiums throughout 2014.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

2014 Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic

Day 1 - Ritchie Boulevard, Hot-dog criterium circuit. Superb conditions, spectator perfect on the waterfront. Riding for Team Procon Telematics, I was accompanied by world class sprinter and Garmin Sharp Pro Tour rider, Steele Von Hoff who, on paper, was our best chance of winning the Bay Classic this year. Joining Steele and I were young guns Ed Bissaker, Matt Lane and Damien Drapac who were all looking forward to the week of racing.
In the lead up to the first day, I was positive and really looking forward to the experience I was about to gain from this years race. Relaxing with my brothers before the start, having lunch by the waterfront, I wasn’t nervous or tense about the evenings criteria what so ever. The hours ticked over and following our first team meeting where we were introduced to the co-business parters of Procon, Dean & Rene, we each began our warm ups in preparation for the first race.
On the start line, it was pretty cool to look around and see Pro Tour riders, guys like Matt Goss, winner of Milan-San Remo, my own teammate Steele Von Hoff who has shown incredible speed to podium and win some Pro Tour races this year and 2013 defending champion Caleb Ewan who is Australia’s next best young talent.
A furious pace set the early tempo of the race with many attacks being controlled by the larger teams. Steele and I were very active at the start and we were rewarded for this effort as I found myself in the early move after 15mins of racing. The breakaway consisted of 2013 Australian road and time trial champion Luke Durbridge, Zac Dempster, Matt Goss, Felix English, Luke Parker and Harry Carpenter. It was a strong group and we all worked well together to extend our margin over the main field. There were plenty of people cheering me on and I was in the box seat to get a result for not only myself but our team, Procon Telematics.
I was feeling great, my legs in good form and i was determined, focused and hungry. Approaching the finish, we lapped the main field and the bunch sprinted for 8th place as we continued to race for the final 3 laps. In the process of lapping the field, Matt Goss and Luke Parker somehow lost contact with us and were left to chase hard.
On the final lap, Harry gave Zac a perfect lead out into the final corner to open up a winning gap which both Felix and I were only 1/2 a wheel of catching on the finish line. Zac showed his class and deserved the win, Felix took the green jersey and second place, whilst I was third and happy to make my first elite Bay Crits podium.
The crowds witnessed some great racing from the amazing views of the big grass bank overlooking the waterfront and it was even better to race on a course with so much activity going on surrounding the circuit. Day 2 - Geelong Botanical Gardens Circuit Waking up in the morning on day two, all riders lucky enough to be staying at the Four Points enjoyed a delicious buffet breakfast which included a range of fresh fruit, bircher muesli and a personal chef cooking omelette’s on the spot. It was awesome and it’s what makes cycling and racing at these big events even more enjoyable and relaxing, everything is done for you. Most of the riders went for a roll after breakfast as we didn’t race until 2:30pm, so it allowed us plenty of time to do a 1-1.5hr pre-race ride in the morning. My legs were great in the morning once again and I was looking forward to the afternoon’s Stage two around the botanical gardens. Sitting in 3rd place overall, I was hoping to have another consistent race but try and help out my Procon teammate Steele Von Hoff if it came together for a bunch sprint.
Mid-way through the race, Steele, Ed and I were all riding well at the front, following a few moves and riding safely in the bunch. With 15-20mins to go, Orica-GreenEdge took control of the peloton to help set-up their lead sprinter, Matt Goss for the stage win. Steele and I with the help of Ed rode great position behind their lead-out train and with a few laps to go, Steele made it clear he was riding for me! I had mixed emotions because Steele is a great guy, I didn’t want to let him down and I had been than happy to do the lead-out for him.
After that, I focused really hard to do well and follow him as best I could. I got squeezed off his wheel on the last lap with 1km to go, but I found and jumped onto Caleb’ [Ewan’s] wheel straight away who was also sprinting solo. We both came from along way back, Caleb finished second and I rolled over the line for fourth behind Leigh Howard (third) and Matt Goss who took out the stage. Everyone in the team were super happy, as I had moved up into second overall as well as finishing fourth in the stage. It was an awesome team environment and both Dean & Rene were so supportive of us. We had a very nice team dinner to conclude the day, before we set our sights on day three. Day 3 - Portalington Circuit. The renowned Portalington stage has always been known to be the most challenging stage of the series which ultimately decides the overall General Classification. This year was no exception with the wind so strong and the course ever so brutal. The short but steep climb after the finish line was just enough to fatigue you each lap and by the time you recovered, you were back up the climb. Steele and I had planned to be alert at the front, follow the key moves and aim to pick up a few points at the end of the day so I could retain my overall GC position.
Starting on the front row, I lined up alongside Matt Goss, Caleb Ewan and Felix English. It wasn’t too long ago that I was on the commentary stage with Matt Keenan and Phil Liggett watching Australia’s best riders race this exact race, and there I was on the front row sitting in second place overall.
I gave it everything. The bunch split lap after lap and Steele and I were always near the front looking good. On one particular lap, Luke Durbridge attacked with Pat Shaw and they established a solid lead shortly after. An attack on the climb split what was left of the main bunch and a group of seven containing both Steele and I rolled clear of the rest. Matt Goss couldn’t follow the move and was left behind with only Zac, Caleb, Leigh Howard, Mitch Docker Tom Scully and Steele among the other big names at the head of the race. Steele looked around to see what damage had been done and immediately went to the front as he could see Goss wasn't there. Zac needed points too, so he attacked and was followed by Tom Scully. Steele did an amazing job to help keep the tempo high and keep me in with a chance to get some much needed points on the overall GC. Our small group of six sprinted for fifth place, Mitch Docker led out Leigh Howard but despite the good work by GreenEdge, Caleb won the uphill sprint to finish fifth and I was just behind in sixth, claiming enough points to hold onto my second place on GC.
Many of our team and my family were very encouraging after the stage, saying how strong I rode to keep up with the best riders around the toughest course of the series.
That night, I had a phone call from someone who was my childhood hero growing up. His name is Robbie McEwen and for those who don’t know, he has won the Bay Crits six times and is a multiple stage winner and green jersey winner at the Tour De France, 21 stage victories to be exact. I had been chasing some advice from someone like Robbie as I set to embark upon a new stage in my career, stepping up and aiming to achieve results I could only dream of. Robbie congratulated me on my performances so far in the series and gave me some key pointers and simple tactics in which I could work on for the final stage in Williamstown. Speaking to Robbie was inspiring and motivating to say the least. To say I was determined to win was an understatement, I was hungry to win and I had given myself the best chance of doing so up until this moment, I just needed to finish it off. Day 4 - Williamstown Circuit The morning of the final stage, I was focused right from the start. I think it was important for me to be positive, confident and believe that I could do it. I didn’t have any nerves or put any pressure on myself either, I was just applying the same mental focus and preparation I had done for the past three days. A morning ride flushed out any leftover fatigue from the day before and the legs began to feel great towards the end of the ride. I draw a lot from confidence from having ‘good legs’ so to finish the ride and drive to Williamstown in a good, happy and relaxed mood, was perfect. My mate Ryan MacAnally drove with me to the final stage and listening to some up-beat music and having a laugh along the way was definitely my type of pre-race build up. Some lunch from mum when we arrived and an hour spent relaxing under the Team Procon tent, I was ready to begin the warm up and get out onto the race circuit. My warm up was half on the road and half on my Ergo. I knew I had good legs and I knew I was ready to race so my confidence was good and my warm up music got me in the zone to race and race hard!
My whole family, including grandparents were on the barricades cheering me on, along with a handful of local club riders and family friends who joined in as my supporters for the day. It makes a big difference to my focus when I race past in the bunch, working hard to hold the wheel or attack and I hear a voice say, “go Brenton” or “go B.J”, it inspires me even more. The photo above captured my little bro Mitch, Girlfriend Lucy and my Mum. Following the advice of Robbie McEwen, I rode aggressively at the front to show I belonged there and wanted to win. My Avanti Pro Cycling Team manager Andrew Christie-Johnson messaged Steele and I before the race with some helpful advice on the tactics we should implement for the stage. Joel Pearson also came up to me before the start and gave me some advice which was helpful and I appreciated it as he has a lot of racing experience too.
The start of the race was great, I went straight into good position and never felt uncomfortable or challenged by yellow jersey leader Zac, or my closest rivals Matt Goss and Caleb Ewan. Steele helped chase a few moves and did a lot of riding to keep the pace high and hold me in a safe position in the top 10 all race.
GreenEdge took up the lead-out train and with 15mins to go, the countdown was on until the finish which would decide the 2014 winner. Zac was riding well up front, Gossy was sitting comfortably behind his teammates, Caleb was riding smart as the classy rider he is and Steele was still doing an impressive job working with me to match Australia’s best team and sprinters on what was the deciding stage. The last lap was fast, the pace was on and everyone was strung out, Steele looked back to see me on his wheel on the back straight and moved me up from eighth place to about third or fourth around the second last corner. He had absolutely nothing left and flicked his elbow to see me dive up his inside and get onto Zac’s wheel. It was the perfect position and he showed why he is a professional rider, using his race experience to outsmart his fellow pro's. Caleb rounded the corner first with an impressive early jump, Zac went down on the inside to enter the corner second while Leigh Howard and Matt Goss ran way too wide leaving the door open for me.
As soon as the road straightened up, it was 150m to the line and Caleb had a winning margin and would take out the stage. But Zac and I were sprinting for the win, whoever crossed for second place would take the 2014 crown.
It was a fair, clean sprint, I wasn’t going to back down now and I came around Zac slowly but surely to finish second behind Caleb and win the 2014 Mitchelton Wines Bay Cycling Classic, the biggest win of my career, so far.
My emotions were unreal! I was so happy and I couldn’t believe I had done it. I was so determined to get the job done and I did it.
I won for my family and the support they continue to provide me with, and I won for my friends, sponsors and supporters who have assisted me in my career throughout the good and the bad times - you know who you are!
I had put my name on the honour roll alongside guys like Robbie McEwen, Mark Renshaw and Baden Cooke to name a few, most of whom have all ridden and for some, been Stage and Green Jersey winners in the Tour de France - another small dream of mine.
To think all those years ago, I had no idea I would be the 2014 winner of the Jayco/Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic. I was only 13yrs old in the photo above, standing on the far right, net to my fellow local juniors, two young brothers on the stage behind and pro riders Matt Wilson and Baden Cooke in the mix.
I would’t have been able to race this year if it wasn’t for my Bay Crits team, Procon Telematics who were gave me great support and encouragement throughout the week. It was a pleasure to ride for them and to win the bay crits was an added bonus to the week of fun and enjoyment I experienced as a part of the team. Special mention to Steele Von Hoff for his display of sportsmanship, sacrifice and teamwork to help me achieve my dream and get the win for our team. Watch out for Steele at the Tour Down Under where he is riding for his Pro Tour Team, Garmin Sharp and will be their main sprinter for the tour, good luck mate.
Not forgetting my Continental Team, Team Avanti Pro Cycling, thanks for allowing me to ride with Procon for the Bay Crits, I absolutely love our 2014 Avanti bikes and Shimano wheels/groupsets, so fast, responsive and crisp. I’m pleased to get the bikes first win for 2014, I know it’s just the start of plenty more to come.
To my personal sponsor Diadora Australia, thank you for your support with cycling shoes. The Jet Racers are amazing shoes, both stiff and comfortable, plus they look great and stand out from the rest too.
Thanks also to my Coach Matt Wallace. We started way back when I was on the MTB as a 17year old when I represented Australia as a junior and now I'm continuing to follow and achieve my dreams on the road. Super coach! Good luck to my teammates and all the other Aussie's racing the Tour Down Under next week, hopefully next year I'll be given the opportunity to ride in the Uni SA National Team and continue to follow my dream of becoming a professional, have had a great year so far! If you would like to check out more of these awesome photo's from Mark Gunter, visit his website: Thanks for reading, I will be posting my next blog about the 2014 National Champs in the next few days.