As the handicapper in last year’s Joe Allen race I was a bit embarrassed that we had a top-notch scratch bunch who worked like Trojans, but didn’t get anywhere near winning. It made it worse that I was in the scratch bunch with a bit of form!
A good handicap race is one where all the bunches come together in the last 5 to 10% of the race distance. The Joe Allen is a bit different, because the last third of the race is downhill or flat, so providing there is no strong cross wind, many B and C riders would be able to hook onto scratch as they come through and be in the mix for the overall win. This year’s race was a bit closer to that ideal…
The limit riders (D grade) were a small group, and although they had half an hour on scratch, the group size and wind direction (Sth Easterly) meant that they’d be caught at some point on the way home.
C grade had 18 minutes, and some strong riders, which meant that some of these could be a chance, especially if they were able to latch onto a good B grade group.
Block (B grade, 12 riders, on 9 min) seemed the group to catch, because it contained the experience of locals Mark Waterland, Kevin Laskey, and Steve Chapman, but the youth (and horsepower) of Jacob Humphries and Kerri-Anne Page.
On scratch, local riders Matthew Goode, Jordan Castle, George Roberts, and yours truly were up against the likes of National ITT champ Andy Hagen, previous winner Josh Page, and noted Taranaki rider Greg Marfell. This group of 14 riders was the biggest bunch of the race.
The scratch bunch started typically fast, and rolled over well until the upward drag started at Cheltenham. The pace didn’t slow at all though, and although couple of riders soon fell off the back, we started picking up some B and C grade drop-offs before Kimbolton.
Andy Hagen, then Josh Page pushed the pace up out of the Oroua river crossing and by the top the scratch bunch was reduced to eight. I think I was eighth up the hill and not at all comfortable with the pace…
Not long before the turn-around at Apiti, we saw a bunch approaching so we knew we weren’t far from catching B grade and whoever they’d caught. "Two minutes thirty" was the call from the Commissaire. A quick turn-around and then we were flat out back towards the descent with the scartch group working well, though we now had a couple of hangers-on who’d started in one of the earlier grades.
Up the first part of the climb we must have put some serious time into the front bunch as we could see them about 100 metres ahead before the final climb. With the pace on for the KOM prize. Greg Marfell took a flyer, but Kane McConnell (Wheel Works) pipped him for the money. At the same time we passed all of what was the remnants of B, C, and D grades, so the race was now on for first and fastest. At this point there were 7 riders left.
I’d had it by then so pretty much sucked wheels until Kiwitea when the attacks started. The first one blew me off the bunch, but I got back on by using up any fuel I had left. The next time it got thrown in the gutter, I was dropped, the bunch broke up, and four riders were left on the front.
Those four lapped it out until the finish line where Josh Page (Hawkes Bay) scored a deserved win from Will Green (Hawkes Bay) and Jason Thomason (Taranaki). I rolled over in 7th about a minute and half back, and George Roberts, in one of his first races of the season, rounded out 10th.
From A rider’s perspective, it was another great Joe Allen with perfect riding conditions. Looking forward to next year’s episode already!