In a day where crosswinds wreaked havoc on the peloton in Stage 1 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour teams like Michelton-Scott, Aqua Blue Sport and Bennelong SwissWellness will be quite happy after the dust settles. Other teams missed the moves and enter the rest of the race on the back foot.
In Oliver’s Real Food Racing's case, it was pummeled by a succession of crashes, punctures and mechanicals, making the normally scenic trip along the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool an ugly one for the green team.
It began with a sunny, breezy day in Colac for the stage start, with riders farewelled by throngs of school kids. The calm before the storm was the headwind start, with initial scrambling at the front to establish the break.
Oliver’s missed out, leaving sports director and team founder Sam Layzell lamenting a missed opportunity to get out the front and have a crack at taking a jersey or perhaps even a stage result if the peloton messed up on pulling the move back. There were signs of the carnage to come later as the wind whistled around the peloton.
“The wind… it’s obviously going to play a part today, especially when the peloton is driving the pace to catch the break at the end. Disappointing that we’re not in it, but on the flip-side we still have plenty of opportunities in this race and if it’s going to be hard in the final, chances are it will come back.”
The prospect of high winds splitting the race didn’t faze Oliver’s that counted a number of its riders as top ones in the event of crosswinds.
“We’ve got Rien Schuurhuis, we’ve got Sean Whitfield, who also rides well in the crosswinds and Jack Sutton, who towed Nick Reddish to a stage win in the New Zealand Cycle Classic the other day. This is definitely our favourite sort of racing, the flatter races with more crosswind. The latter few stages (including a mountain-top finish on Lake Mountain) aren’t as suitable for us as these ones.”
The optimistic words were soon dashed by disaster. Jack Sutton and the team’s general classification hope, Ben Andrews, went down in a big crash in the middle of the peloton. Layzell and team mechanic Graham Geary ran up to the crash site, replacing broken wheels and getting the riders back up.
The focus immediately turned to drafting the riders back up to the peloton (a method that is deemed acceptable after an incident like a crash). Sutton let out a loud exclamation of pain as he got out of the saddle getting up to speed to join the slipstream.
Up the road, the race split to pieces in the crosswinds and echelons began to snake across the road, leading the commissaires to announce that drafting to bring back riders was now not allowed. At the back of the convoy, the signal was given to stop drafting the crashed pair, their chances of getting back on with the pace hot up front virtually nil.
Layzell and the team car gave them the bad news, telling them to focus on beating the time cut and getting in safe. His attention now turned to racing to get back to the convoy and assist his other riders still in the peloton. But a familiar bright green kit appears on the side of the road gesturing to a rear flat.
Elsewhere, Schuurhuis also got a rear puncture and was now well off the back of the race. He was ordered to wait up for the injured Sutton and Andrews and use his experience to help them through it.
Around the next corner and Nick Reddish, their recent star at the New Zealand Cycle Classic, came into view, again well off the back of the race. He explains he dropped his chain and it wrapped around itself. Layzell tells him to stop and join the “Oliver’s grupetto”.
At this point Layzell gestures to the number on the car that denotes the position in the convoy, 13.
“I know it’s only a number,” says Layzell, “but when I put it on this morning I knew something bad was going to happen. Look at this, it’s been a disaster!”
It’s hard to say how much he’s joking, venting or whether he’s just plain furious at the gods of luck and cycling. A few pounds of the wheel don’t miss the mark either, an expression of the frustration of having a bad day at the biggest race of the season for an Australian team looking to promote their Australian sponsor.
The aftermath isn’t pretty.
The dramatic results of the crash yesterday were prominently displayed across Twitter, but it was Jack Sutton of Oliver's that bore the brunt of the fall, with most of the riders that came down falling on him.
"I was one of the last few wheels in the front group (of the peloton) and I just had my front wheel chopped," said Sutton. Whether it was his pedal or his foot, it ripped all my spokes to pieces.
"I tried to slow down and pull over, but obviously a few guys were heads down, bums up and ran into the back of me. That's just the way it goes sometimes.
"Where they caught the back of my leg is a bit sore and my calf muscle. A little bit of skin off as always, but we'll pull the knicks on tomorrow and go again."
Banged up, nowhere on general classification or in any of the jersey battles but not lacking in grit and determination, Oliver's Real Food Racing will likely have to roll the dice in the remaining stages.