The Tour of Tasmania has been running in some form since the 1930's and has seen more than a handful of its previous winners go on to the highest level of the sport, think Cadel Evans and Richie Porte. With 5 stages starting with a prologue, 3 hilly road stages, and finishing with a criterium in Devonport, this year’s edition was set to be a tough week on the bike. With the most dominant NRS team, Isowhey Swiss Wellness, giving it a miss, it was unclear how the race would unfold. Below is the quick ‘n’ dirty from my first NRS road tour with AMR Renault Racing Team.
Travel Day: Sun 5 Nov
First, I’d like to say how much I enjoy spending time with these guys, and this week reinforced that we are not only teammates but great friends both on and off the bike. Having arrived on Sunday night we got to our accommodation (Farm house), built bikes, and were off to bed.
Day 1: Prologue, Launceston, 0.65km 50m climbing: Mon 6 Nov
Since the prologue wasn’t ‘til later in the afternoon, the team got up and went for an easy ride into Launceston for coffee before the stress of the afternoon set in. Today was definitely a mountain biker kind of day with a short, 1.5 to 2 minute switchback climb ending in nausea, blurred vision, and a strong dose of “why do I think this is fun?” The results reflected the MTB dominance, with Cam Ivory (GPM Stultz) taking out the stage followed closely by James Whelan, Tristan Ward (Ultra), myself, and Michael Potter (Ultra), making it four of the top five coming from MTB. After racing it was back to the farm for pasta, garlic bread, and salad before the infamous Russell Menzies team meeting.
Day 2, Stage 1, George Town to Grindelwald, 115.9km 1784m climbing: Tue 7 Nov
The plan for today was to have two guys looking to get in the early breakaway (Ryan and Dylan), another two guys (Dan and Blake) looking after the main GC riders (Sean and Alex) and going back to the car for food/drinks and instructions, and Julian as the road captain, planning and making on-the-fly decisions about how the race was unfolding and what needed to be done. Dylan and I wore ourselves out covering moves and being active in the early part of the race and then switched to survival role as we did our best to stay in the bunch and conserve energy for some hard climbs at the end of the stage. By the finish at the top of the climb we were mostly spread out within the main bunch of riders, with Alex finishing the highest up and not far down on the GC.
Day 3, Stage 2, Launceston to Poatina, 103.8km 1529m climbing: Wed 8 Nov
Early break patrol again today for everyone except Sean, Alex, and Julian, but again we didn’t make it in the right move although it was sure to come back as we approached Poatina. With about 10km to the bottom of the climb we rounded up all guys and made our way towards the front of the peloton to set up Sean and Alex for a potential stage win and a real crack at the GC (this was the #1 plan for the day). Executed perfectly, by the bottom of the climb a little lull in the pace allowed Sean to go off the front with Ian Talbot (Ultra). The pace was now being set by the real climbers and the further up the climb we went, the smaller the group got. They were attacking each other, and I did all I could to hang on with the group (now down to ~10 riders.) With 4km to go Alex attacked, and I knew he was going with no intention of looking back. He reeled in Ian and took the stage win along with the yellow jersey and best young rider jersey. That night around the dinner table the atmosphere was electric as everyone reminisced on the execution of the plan and Alex’s ability to climb. This also meant that the next day would be a near impossible mission to control the peloton and protect the yellow jersey. Sean and I came out of the stage both sitting in the top 10 on GC, and everyone went to bed with a nervous excitement about the rest of the week.
Day 4, Stage 3, Ulverstone to Penguin, 108.9km 1800m climbing: Thu 9 Nov
One of the hardest days I’ve ever had on the bike. An early break went with another GC contender so it was our job to chase. We rode our rings off and eventually it was only Sean and I left on the front, holding the break around 1min. Things started to wind up through Gunns Plain before going into the second cat 2 climb of the day: it was going to stay hard till the end! The group split up the climb then we worked hard to bring it back together within 10k to the finish. The final 1.5km was a steeper climb than I expected and the work from the day caught up with me, losing more time to the front guys and dropping to 12th on GC.
Day 5, Stage 4 Devonport Crit, 54km : Fri 10 Nov
After a long night’s sleep, it was time to prepare for another attempt at the early break in the crit. The first break went early but was brought back by the teams looking for sprint points. Not long after the first sprint, I found myself in a group of about ten guys off the front of the peloton and the group stayed away the rest of the day. I was in a good position in that I was trying to slow the group down so Alex didn’t lose time, and just going along for the ride with a potential to finish well in the stage. I sat on the bunch and was in a bad position for the sprint, leading to a decision to go for the win from about 1k out. It was going well as I had a little gap on the others in their leadout for sprinters, but my legs decided they didn’t want to do the last 150m, and I was rolled to finish near the back of the lead bunch with enough time to move up into 11th on GC for the week. Congrats to everyone on an exciting race, and I can’t wait till next year.
Hill Climb Sprint: this one went pretty well, again suiting the mountain bikers with Cam Ivory beating Tristan Ward in the final. I’d been knocked out by Tristan in the semi-final with his mean kick at the top of the hill.
Criterium: This was another hard crit with an early break getting away with all of the favorites. I realized a little too late that I needed to be in the move and about five guys including me put in a huge effort to try and bridge across. This move lasted the rest of the race, and we caught a few guys who were dropped from the front group and managed to not get lapped. I finished 10th just behind MTB teammate Tasman Nankervis, out of only ~15 finishers. Overall this was a great week of racing and I was looking forward to racing at the Hellfire Cup starting on Thursday.
There is a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes to make these races happen and I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who's there along the way! Check out the supporters of the AMR Renault Cycling Team below, and give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram to see what they're up to with the Tour of Bright coming up on Dec 1-3