NRS Tour of Gippsland

After a late call up to join my Huon Salmon – Genesys Wealth Pro Cycling Teammates in the NRS Tour of Gippsland, I was looking forward to a successful week supporting the boys and sharing my local knowledge, racing on roads which I’m very familiar with.
Stage 1 got off to a great start with Anthony Giacoppo taking line honours in what was a tremendous team effort throughout the 44km waterfront criterium race. Attacks were present throughout the race but nothing was staying clear of the fast moving bunch. Our lead-out for AJ was challenged by many other teams but we held our ground as best we could. Racing at 50-55km’s/hr elbowing and banging bars with the opposition is all a part of racing, but it was a sketchy last few laps - that’s for sure! Pat Shaw delivered AJ into first place around the last corner and there he stayed to give the team our first win of the Tour. Pat ran 4th and I placed 6th after ‘sweeping’ AJ’s wheel from the other sprinters.
That afternoon, stage two’s Kermesse around the Phillip Island GP Circuit was fast and very open. Sitting in the bunch, it was very easy to be sucked along in the slipstream so in a similar fashion to stage 1, the attacks went nowhere and another bunch sprint was certain for Stage 2. Team Euride and Budget Forklifts were the first to initiate the lead-out with 2 laps to go on the 4.5km circuit. Our team lead-out was for AJ and it comprised of Joe Cooper, Jack Haig, Aaron Donnelly, Pat Shaw & I with AJ on the back. We made our move alongside team Euride on the ‘Lukey Heights’ climb with 1.5km’s to go but were forced into the ‘gutter’, loosing AJ in the process. I kept looking behind to see where he was and I kept yelling out to Pat saying, “AJ is gone, he isn’t on the back” but it was too late. Approaching the very fast head-wind sprint finish, we were swamped by the riders behind and didn’t achieve the result we wanted with AJ our best placed rider in 9th.
Day two and our drive from Phillip Island to the stage 3 start in Leongatha was quite enjoyable as the team recently purchased a new team bus which had plenty of room and is more comfortable than our old Vito Van. The start was well supported by the local school kids, hopefully inspiring some future champions of our sport. A tough road stage was set to split the field with a number of climbs along the way to a stage finish in Yinnar. When the red flag went down to start the race after the 2.3km neutral zone, the V.I.S Team applied the pressure straight away and we raced up the first climb on Hulls Rd at a fair speed.
Our GC riders were comfy in the bunch, waiting for the major climbs of the day, hoping to split the bunch on those sections. A break formed early but was caught on the first KOM climb. The field split with small bunches everywhere but the boys all stayed together as best they could up the front. Aaron and I were just off the back in a chasing group about to catch back onto the lead bunch after the climb, and then somehow, 3 riders collided and came down in front of me, forcing me to stop and untangle my bike. I got a flat front tyre and after waiting for the team car, I was given a new wheel from Damo our mechanic and motor-paced behind ACJ in the team car to slowly re-joined the bunch.
By the time I returned, a new leading group had formed out the front and all seemed ok as we had Nathan Earle and Jai Crawford in the move. 20km’s to go, Pat Shaw was given the instructions for Donnelly and I to chase to the finish and limit our losses to the winning move. Nathan finished 4th and the team had lost overall Team’s GC as Team Budget had 3 riders in the move. It wasn’t the best outcome for us but we could only look towards the next 3 days.
Day three saw another double staged day which began with a street criterium in Sale before an afternoon road race to Licola. After having won the first criterium on Day 1, we knew we had the strength and speed to help AJ take out another win. It wasn’t until the middle half of the race that the wind picked up and small breaks began to stretch out the field. The whole team rode strongly to cover moves and then with 9 laps to go, the boys hit the front and held a strong pace in what was a perfect lead-out. I was placed on the back of AJ to ‘safeguard’ his rear wheel and on the final corner, AJ & Nathan had a clear lead with AJ eventually taking his 2nd stage win for the Tour and Nathan hanging on for 3rd to pick up crucial bonus seconds. . The win was what we were after and that’s what we achieved, but as a nice bonus, I was awarded the ‘Most Aggressive Rider’ Jersey for the stage.
In the afternoon, a challenging road stage towards Licola provided some steady climbs to sort out the GC. After some brutal cross-winds in the first 50km’s; we began to set a fast tempo on the climbs as a team, trying to split the field as best we could. Aaron and I controlled the early pacing of the climbs, with pressure being applied from AJ, Pat and Joe to hopefully leave Jack, Jai and Nathan to finish it off for the team. In the end, we came so close and the team did a tremendous job. Nathan attacked solo in the final 10km’s and was caught with only 50m to go! He finished 3rd and after winning a few ‘time bonus’s’ along the way, he moved up into 2nd overall.
The second last day of racing was hosted by Lake Entrance where a morning criterium was followed once again by an afternoon Road Stage to a near-by town, Metung. With a total of 8 corners, the crit circuit was technical and if you weren’t at the front, you had no chance. Budget Forklifts had control of the race as they were still leading the GC but that didn’t stop riders trying their luck off the front. The whole team was positioned well in the final 20mins of racing and on the final lap; it was Pat Shaw who made his move with AJ securely on his wheel to ensure our third stage win.
The afternoon’s road stage was very windy and the course was predominantly flat with many short, but steep climbs. We had our plans going into this stage and our aim was to get Nathan into the GC lead and Jai closer to the podium. The boys tried numerous times to launch Jai & Nathan across to small breaks up the road but Budget were riding very well and the breaks were slowly but surely reeled back in. With the bunch all together approaching the final KOM of the day, it was up to Nathan, Jai & Jack Haig to ‘light it up’ on the climb. The aim was not only to take the crucial bonus seconds, but to put time into their closest GC rivals and hold them off for the final 15km’s of the race which remained following the final KOM. However heading into the final KOM a breakaway was up the road including Joe Cooper which swallowed up the time bonus’. With it looking unlikely we would catch the break before the finish, Joe Cooper made his move and Time Trialled solo to his first Tour of Gippsland road race stage victory. Nathan didn’t lose any time at the conclusion of the day but he still needed to make up 5secs with only 1 stage to go. A job well done by the team, a great ride by Joe, another stage win is always nice for our sponsors and supporters.
The final stage of the 2013 Tour of Gippsland was hosted by Traralgon, on a challenging criterium circuit which was both fast and sharp as a nasty 200m steep hill was tackled a gruelling 30 times. We had discussed our tactics as we always do together as a team the night before, so we all knew our roles leading into the race. With Nathan still positioned in 2nd overall by a mere 5 seconds, the overall yellow jersey and winner of the 2013 Tour was still yet to be decided.
All the team had to do was position Nathan as best we could throughout the race and assist him into the perfect position to take the stage win which saw a 6 second bonus for the win. One of the reasons why I love cycling is because no matter what plans you have, there are always going to be hurdles along the way, it’s just such a lottery and you can’t predict what the other teams and riders will throw at you. Our lottery was the team lead-out for Nathan and whether we could over-power current race leader, Jack Anderson and his team, Budget Forklifts.
Some gusty winds made the racing hard and a number of small breaks and solo attacks went clear but not out of sight. In the final few laps, we had numbers up the front with Jack Haig, Aaron Donnelly and Joe Cooper setting the early tempo on the front with 5 laps to go. My job was to follow Nathan and protect his rear wheel for the sprint. Team Euride came to the front and gained control of the race with 3 laps to go and we didn’t have the numbers or firepower we usually do to match them. We were isolated on the final, most important lap and with less than 1km remaining, Nathan was comfortably placed on the back of team Euride. With the final corner only 200m from the finish line, Nathan needed to be further forward than 7th wheel. On the very fast back straight, I did my best to drive Nathan down the outside into a good position for the final sprint. I was able to move him up into 3rd position and he held on for 2nd. We came so painfully close to helping Nathan win the stage, to finish 2nd was a good effort and he showed great strength to finish so well in a criterium race. Only 1 second separated Jack Anderson & Nathan after 5 days of racing, which is great for the National Road Series and the competition it provides, but unfortunate for us to come so close. I had a very enjoyable week with my team and to come away with 4 stage wins and the KOM Jersey was not a disappointing performance.
A big thank all of our sponsors who contribute so much to our team; we really can’t perform so well without them. To our team staff; ACJ, Damo, Neil, Nunny & Peter, thanks for another great Tour, it’s nice to have your bikes, food and travel arrangements taken care of for you. Personally, I’d like to thank Diadora Australia for their support with shoes, a quality product which I love to wear. Last but not least, to my supportive parents, brothers, grandparents, girlfriend Lucy, Masseur Jude, chiropractor Sharon and Coach Matt Wallace, I can’t thank you enough for your support. The next race with my team, Huon Salmon – Genesys Wealth Advisors is the Tour of the Great South Coast which takes place on the 14th-18th of August. Photo credits to our very own Team Staff member Neil Walker & Official Race Photographer, Mark Gunter. Stay tuned for more race updates, hope you enjoyed the read. Thanks, Brenton.


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