Monday, March 08, 2010

New Blog

Hi All,

You may have noticed this blog hasn't seen much action recently.

We've decided to start fresh with a new site.

Jump over here to have a look. We'll try to keep it a bit more upto date, we promise.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

National MTB Champs 2010- XCO

Green and Gold jerseys were getting thrown around on the 16/17 of January and I was lucky enough to be one of the few lucky enough to grab one. Here is how the 2010 National MTB champs at Adelaide unfolded for me…

The FELT SRAM MTB team was in full force for the national champs with a strong 5 riders lining up for the Elite men’s XCO race. Scott Liston, Jack Lamshed, James Maebus, Neil van der Ploeg and his younger but taller brother (Me) made the trip across to Adelaide. With a full Squad all were keen to have a solid ride and finish in the pointy end of the race.

At 11am the 15sec warning was called and the Gun went off shortly after…

There was a large crash in the first corner that I narrowly missed out on accompanying my fellow elite racers in. Cal Britten flew in my direction but luck was with me and I shot up the trail. All Felt team mates made it threw with little setbacks.

My plan was to settle into a groove as soon as possible somewhere in the top ten and test the legs in the following laps. Dan McConnell powered into the distance and Lachie Norris, Sid Taberley jumped onto his wheel as best they could. I sat in the chase pack knowing that if I went with Dan I would be blowing chunks and going backwards later in the race.

So in the chase group Shaun Lewis led into the first climb and single track, I sat second wheel until I shot around him to chase Andy Blair and Ben Henderson. This was a silly move but got me clear trail. Coming into the second lap we had a good group of around 5 or 6 which included Neil VDP fellow brother and team mate.

Things were looking good and I felt like I was dancing on the pedals for once.

In the proceeding laps mechanicals haunted many of our group due to the rocky rough single track and the feeling of pressure to ride fast with smooth riding escaping the desperate. AJ had shifter ‘quick release’ in lap one and needed tech support and a new bolt. Aido had a puncture with tires that have never punctured for anyone ever! Ben Hendo had his chain guide wrap around and stop the flow of his chain. Matt Flemming double punctured….things were not going to plan for many of the chasing pack.

I on the other hand tried to keep smooth but this proved to be quite hard and this followed with me pooing my pants every time I hit a rock in fear that I had punctured…My tires held air and my legs held power and this meant that I could focus on riding harder in the final few laps.

The chase group was down to Josh Carlson and I by the 5th lap and I was feeling really strong, this meant I kept pushing myself to ride quicker on the climbs and flow as best as possible through the many single track sections. The commentators were talking a lot about lap times every time I came through and I was glad to hear that my lap times were staying consistent and that the leaders were dropping the pace back a fraction.

On the final lap I caught sight of Sid who appeared to be in some trouble, He had flown into the country two days before the race and looked to be hurting a lot. I managed to make the passing move on a section of fire road which boosted my confidence for the climb, but the legs were starting to get a little sting in them. Over the last half of the lap Josh Carlson looked to be hunting me down after the small gap had been opened. He was descending like a mad man while I was aiming to get to the line in one piece and without a mechanical.

On the last pinch up to the village I knew I had him covered and it was time to soak up the fact I had fought my way into another National U23 title and 3rd overall in the elite field! I crossed the line and rode straight to my good friends Lach and Dan to congratulate them on an awesome ride. I could not be happier with the race and the final result. Cal Britten battled his way through the field to finish 2nd in the U23 followed by Dan Brainsteins who took 3rd after starting 49th on the grid.

Finally I need to send out a massive thanks to FELT bicycles for all of their support they have given me for the last 4 years. Without there belief in me I don’t know what I would have done. SRAM components for the XX group set which is by far the best setup I have ridden to date. Also a final thankyou has to go out to my family and friends for their support, not only at the race but outside in the real world as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tour of Tassie- The final day

Day 4.
Stage 6. Ulverstone Criterium.
This was likely to be my last day of racing due to a wedding of the National marathon champion, Murray Spink. So I wanted to go out with a good day of racing. The criterium was fast and flowing with a head wind on the back straight and a tail on the home straight. I was feeling quite good. I spent a lot of time really close to front, probably the best positioning in a criterium for me to date. A break went clear early so the pace in the main field was steady and comfortable. However, with about five laps to go there was a crash and about half the field took a lap out. I looked around and sure enough I was the last rider to NOT take a lap out. IDIOT! So when the riders merged back into the peleton I was very near the back with only a handful of laps to go. I tried to make a few easy positions up but in the end decided to just conserve energy for the afternoon’s stage. The last few laps were furious but apart from that it was a relatively easy criterium.

Stage 7. Ulverstone to Penguin.
Team mate Steve Robb had been talking this stage up all week as the real decider of the tour. Why? A big burg of course. At an avg. of around 9% it was certainly steep enough but it was less than 4km long. There was still some hope! I figured even if I managed to stay with the leaders to the bottom of the climb there was still no way I could get over the hill still in contact. My solution: get in a breakaway. Risky, but it was my last day and I wanted to give it a crack.
For the first part of the race I was too far from the front to get among the action. There were some riders not too far up the road and a breakaway was looking like a possibility. I gave myself a stern talking to for lingering so far back and moved up when I saw the chance. Sitting right up the front for less than a minute I looked to my left and saw ex-mtb rider and fellow Albury resident Rhys Pollock boxed in and looking ready to pounce like a van der Ploeg at the dinner table. I dropped back slightly and presented a gap for him, surely enough he attacked. I followed.
We got into the break and it established itself. What luck. We worked solidly together and I was a little concerned I was overexerting myself but tried to find the right balance between helping the break and saving my legs. The gap got out to around 3 minutes but in the approach to the climb we slowed up and the leaders turned it up. We hit the bottom of the decisive climb with only a minute’s lead. This was ominous.
I felt pretty good up the climb and got into a good rhythm. About ¾ from the top the leaders caught us. Myself and the other break away riders increased our pace to try and hang on over the top. I thought I’d done it but after a short descent only about 200m long there was a straight piece of road towering above us. It was upsettingly steep. Peter MacDonald decided this was a good time to start sprinting and a few of the big hitters followed. I tried to limit my losses and stay near some other riders for the final 20km of gradual descending.
Steve was right; this climb had completely blown the race apart. But after we got over the top, riders started forming groups. The last 20km can be described pretty well using two words, hard and fast. It was undoubtedly the fastest 20km I have ever ridden in my life that was not down a mountain. There were some very strong humans in our group. Former Australian champion Matt Wilson was the strongest. He was the last person I wanted to pull a turn after I had finished my own. I almost was dropped countless times but in between was able to pull what I thought were good strong turns.
Our group got to around 15 riders in size and we almost succeeded in bringing back the minute gap to the leaders. Didn’t do well in the sprint for the line at all but was very satisfied with how the stage panned out. It was a big effort and a great way to finish the tour. After that stage search2retain moved up into 6th position in team GC with Ben Dyball finishing in my group and Steve in the next bunch not far back.

A tough tour, a shame not to complete it but there are plenty more bike races to come, stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tour of Tassie- Day 3

Day 3.
Stage 5. Smithton to Stanley- 116.5km
Only one stage today and a bit longer than the others. I was looking forward to this one. There was only 35 odd ks of riding to Stanley and then 10 laps of a circuit (7.9km) for the last 80km. There was a short climb in the circuit that was bloody steep, followed immediately by an exposed piece of road with strong cross winds and some more gradual climbs before descending back into Stanley. A break containing mountain biker Nathan Haas and Scody Cup series leader Richard Lang went clear before we hit the circuit and got a lead of over 4 minutes. For a few laps of the circuit the pace wasn’t too bad with Fly V on the front dictating the pace. Manager Peter was in our ears warning us that Fly V was getting commands to bring back the gap. Nervous times. We tried to ready ourselves by getting right near the front to not get caught out in any splits in the bunch after the climb in the cross winds. In particular we were trying to lead Ben up the peleton and keep him fresh. Inevitably, fly V put the hammer down up the climb and into the cross winds. The peleton was getting blown to pieces and people were grovelling in the gutter all over the place but I stayed in the lead group and it all came back together. The pace steadied for a few laps and then on the final lap it happened all over again, but more carnage. I got dropped from the lead bunch in the crosswinds and formed a bit of a group. With about 1km to go we bridged the gap to the group in front, which turned out to be the first main bunch across the line. A good result personally and also for day the team. Ben Dyball unfortunately missed getting back into the lead bunch but led the next one in so didn’t lose too much time, while Steve Robb also finished in the same bunch as I so we climbed into 8th position in team GC.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Tour of Tassie- Day 2

Day Two.
Stage 3- Burnie Criterium
The course: 1.3km. About 750m climb and then a 550m steep descent, all on a very narrow road. Needless to say another hard stage was upon us. The driver of the bike trailer and half our team overshot the school that the crit circuit was in so we got our bikes half an hour before the start. Very keen to squeeze in a good warm up, when I lined up I was pretty close to the rear of the field. Immediately after the gun went off, the familiar fast pace I’ve come to expect was set by the leaders. Contrary to popular belief, cycling races generally require very little strategy or thought. I know what you’re thinking and you’re probably right, this does suit me! Basically, you need to try to avoid getting dropped. At my current fitness, this means pain from the get-go. If the rider in front of you is dropping the wheel, you overtake him. If you can, you get near the front to avoid too much stop starting around the corners. That’s pretty much it. If you succeed in that then you’re doing well.
People were getting shelled right from the start and since I was riding from very near the back this meant a lot of sprinting around people to stay on. I did my very best to gain positions but this could only really be achieved to any significant effect by climbing faster than the guys in front to pass them. If I was the strongest I could have got away with this but unfortunately I wasn’t. It eventually took its toll and following a few quick laps by the leaders I went off the back. I rolled around for a few laps until I saw two search2retain team mates come up behind, including our highest GC rider, Steve Robb. Brilliant! I’ve seen this type of thing in the tour. The domestique paces the leader for as long as he can to get him back into the lead bunch. I prepared myself for some tough laps but after getting a little too excited only managed one lap before I blew again. With heaps of laps to go I watched Steve and Alex Ray (team mate) lap around alone and realised I would’ve been much more helpful to go a little less hard and stick it out with them. Whoops. In the end they got lapped with only about 5 laps to go. It wasn’t all bad for search2retain with other GC hope Ben Dyball up in the lead bunch holding his own until the finish. A disappointing criterium personally and for the team but with Ben up there it was still an acceptable result.

This stage looked harder than stage two where I was put into a lot of pain from the start so I was prepared for a tough one. In the first few km’s I moved myself close to the front. Blowing from the front is better than blowing from the back. And then the rain started to come down. As I learned in Gippsland, this is good news for the mountain bikers! We had a bit of a descent so I used it to get to front of the pack, no energy required! I went past the fly V train on the front of the pack and attacked off the front. Shortly after I heard some one shouting my name from behind and saw Drapac Porsche rider Stuart Shaw trying to bridge the gap. I eased up and started working with him to catch the only other rider up the road, Nick Aitken. But then the road sharply pitched upwards and I soon after I realised the bunch was sure to catch me so I climbed at a comfortable tempo until I was reeled in. After that I was doing my best to stay on the lead group and got dropped slightly a few times but was able to get back on. Rolling towards the finish with a 1km to go I found myself quite close to the front. Looking back, I should have found a sprinters wheel and followed but instead I just kind of sat near the front in the middle with no easy way out for a sprint. I guess I was still in defence mode and my main objectives were still to avoid getting dropped rather than going for it in the sprint. After finishing in 18th, not too far from the winner and feeling pretty good I found myself wondering why I didn’t give it a good crack? Next time. Was I finding my legs or were the leaders just tired from completing the gruelling criterium that morning? Time will tell!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tour of Tassie team photos

All smiles before the start of the second stage, FOOL!

The team!

Tour of Tassie- Day 1

Tour of Tassie
Day 1.
Stage one-Davenport criterium 31km
The stage started off inside the Spirit of Tasmania. It should look good for the cameras and on T.V but for us cyclists it was a little inconvenient. It took quite a bit of stuffing around to get onto the boat and into position and the warm up track inside the security area was really small so when all 140+ riders took to it we were packed in like sardines. The warm up suffered.

When the gun went off I worked hard from the start to get up in a good position to avoid any crashes and save energy. I think I was in the top half of the field for almost the entire time so that went ok. About 10 minutes in my lungs were burning, the intensity obviously a higher to what I’ve exposed them to recently, sorry boys. The pace felt fast and the legs and lungs were telling me that I was going hard enough riding in the bunch so basically I stayed there for the rest of the race. Boring, I know! Highlights of the race came from search2retain’s (the team I’m riding for) team radios. Team manager Peter was constantly in our ears telling us to move up, how many laps to go and near the end giving us motivational comments. It was good fun!

Stage two-Spreyton to Mole Creek 54km road race
This one didn’t look too hard judging by the course profile. We were wrong. There were no really long climbs but it was just bloody hilly for almost the whole way, with some pretty nasty gradients. There were four categorised climbs and I had to really grovel to stay in contact with the leaders on the second climb. A break of 20 riders went clear and the pace eased up. This was good. At the base of climb three, one of the strongest teams, Fly V Australia decided to reel in the break. This was bad. It’s fair to say that I was in the box and JUST hanging on over the crest of the climb but not without some serious self talk to keep myself motivated. After that climb it was still hilly and I was in trouble. I was in last wheel of our group and at times started to get that dizzy feeling going over some hills. I think the fourth climb was around 8% and about 3km long and when I saw it kicking up I knew it was time to get into my own tempo and let them go. I had cracked. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure so at least I had company. Going over the last 500m of the climb, Ben Mather went past. This was just what I needed to get me pumped again. We have had some good close races in the recent past so I couldn’t let him get this psychological victory. We descended pretty quickly and swapped off briefly at the bottom before Ben suggested it was time to start saving energy. I didn’t argue, but only a minute or two later, when two others caught us the pace was on again. They were apparently keen to finish as close as possible to the leaders. My legs were really, really suffering and I almost got dropped several times in the final 10km to the finish. I couldn’t have been happier to see the finish line. A hard day. Unfortunately my recent good form was absent but hopefully it’s just a day late. Fingers crossed! Otherwise this tour will be very tough. On the positive side two of our search2retain teammates finished in lead bunch so there are some good signs for the team and maybe I will be called on for domestique duties, we will have to see!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tour de Timor Video

Tour de Timor

Final stage!

Stage 5 was a fast 97km stage from Maubisse back to Dili with a grand finish in front of the Timor Presidential palace. A stage mostly of descending, but in true Timor style sending us to the heavens on what climbs were in the course.

As you know from the previous post, Team Mad Dogs still had some work to do to regain the lead, and as far as the time splits went the race was anyone's.

From the gun the race was on, our teams first plan was to hit the group from the start line! The pure fury and power unleashed on the start caught a lot of people off guard, including myself.

Attack after attack on the first initial climbs set the tone of the final stage. Neil and Pete would get away and just after the KOM it was clear the Yellow jersey was struggling. Soon after Neil had the break that could ultimately put him back in the yellow jersey, fortunately he was in good company with Mark Frendo of team SHORTIS. It was all up to those boys now, would they work well together, or were we asking too much of Neil?

Although the final stage was mostly down hill, make no mistake in thinking it was an easy stage, Neil was chewing stem to keep away, and put in as much time as possible to the chases.

The last 8 km's to the finish line were the most memorable moments of the whole trip. Thousands of Timor Leste people lined the street, dictating the path you took to the finish line, a human barrier, screaming, jumping and covering you in flower petals. This was amazing, and in a way numbed the pain as you dug into the reserves of 5 days of hard racing, the noise was so loud you couldn't here yourself think.

And to cap it all off NEIL BLOODY WON!!! The stage was won by Mark Frendo, but together they put in enough time for Neil to regain the Yellow Jersey! He rode the stage of his life and pulled out something extra special for us.

Total elation followed, we had just won the first ever Tour de Timor, the race was over, the atmosphere was ecstatic... We couldn't of had a better tour!

Team Mad Dogs: Neil Van der Ploeg, Peter Hatton & Scott Liston,