Mavs Go Close at Nongsa Challenge
The Specialized Mavericks got their 2014 season off to a flyer with two second places at the inaugural Cycosports Nongsa Challenge in Batam on Sunday, February 9. In the Cat 1 race, Youcef "Walnut" Cummings was one spot away from a dream debut for the Mavs as he was narrowly beaten in a two-up sprint on the tough uphill finish. Conan "Lemsip" Hales also took the runners-up position in the Cat 2 contest, in the process scoring his first ever podium place.
The Nongsa Challenge was a circuit race and the course was a cracker, eight laps of a lumpy 12km circuit, followed by a triple-stepped climb of just over 1km to the finish at the Turi Beach Resort, the host of the event. Each lap had 170 metres of elevation, much of it front-loaded into a 2km stretch of three hills just 1km into the loop.
The Cat 1 squad were confident of success and while Bastian "//r" Dohling would be the obvious perceived main threat, the Mavs had many options within the rest of their line-up: Walnut, Ben "TimTam" Arnott, Chris "Melon" Nyonyintono, Jimmy "Pixie" Guardino, Nate "Gump" Faulkenberry and Nick "Pigeon" Swallow".
Cat 1: Attack, Attack, Attack
The Cat 2 team had double "grand tour" winner Stephen "Amez" Ames as their obvious team leader but Lemsip was also given protected status as a reward for his sterling domestique work in 2013 and his strong start to the year in training. The only "if" about Lemsip was whether he could curtail his natural attacking instincts and try to save energy instead. He and Amez were supported by Alan "Chimp" Soh, Greg "Yeti" Barnes, Adriano "Fiddler" Niro and Richard "Biggish" Donaldson.
There was no neutralized start to the race, so when the horn sounded for the Cat 1 contest, in typical fashion Pigeon shot out of the gates and away. Only one man followed in the shape of the former Mav Brian "Bear" Johnsen, and the duo quickly built a one-minute gap within the first lap. The peloton woke up to the threat, though, and the escape was reeled in on the "three hills" during lap 2.
Then it was time for the TimTam show.
"The bunch caught Pigeon and Bear on the climbs on lap 2 and I cruised straight to the front in case there was a counter attack. My momentum carried me over the crest ahead of the whole peloton; I was quite surprised to see no-one chase me down the hill to bridge the gap so I just kept going. I felt good going solo for two laps, getting into that lovely position where you are exactly one roller ahead of the bunch, and then getting regular time checks informing me that the gap was indeed growing," the bold TT recalled.
It's about this time that riders begin to dream, but going solo for 84km is nigh impossible. Help, though, was at hand for TimTam in the form of Walnut. On the hills of lap 3 a Lapierre rider attacked and when an ISSI man joined him, Walnut recognised an opportunity.
"With Ben up the road, Anza watching Bastian and seemingly no other teams able to organise a serious chase, I saw a great time to create a winning break. I chased up the climb and attacked over the two riders at the crest, they bridged on the descent and on the second roller we were joined by the second ISSI rider, a group of four had formed," the Mavs recent arrival from Dubai said.
This proved to be the decisive move and the foursome set after TimTam, who had a lead of over a minute. It took at least a lap to catch him but not before the Lapierre rider who had instigated the chase was dropped. So with four laps to go and a quartet made up of two Mavs and two ISSI with a one-minute lead, the chances were good that the winner would come from the break, especially as the teams behind couldn't seem to organise themselves into a collective chase.
Walnut was fully focused on finishing the job.
"We took a few moments to gather our composure after the ballistic ride across allowing Ben also to recover from his solo superman. The timekeeper called 1.05, we continued to push hard and for two laps I was at 100 percent. Each time we climbed the first of the three lumps the ISSI ride would put me in the red and drop his teammate, I couldn’t understand the strategy and tried to get across to him that we needed to stay together to hold off 40 riders behind us," he said.
"Coming up on the rear of the circuit again we received a two-minute time gap. I looked at Ben, said this was good and we could ride steady, which was a welcome relief. Next loop over the climb I rode at the front to try to control the pace.”
Back in the bunch the remaining Mavs were happy to let their two elder statesmen do their thing out front but they were of course offering any assistance they could.
Walnut's head may be down as he crosses the line just behind the winner but //r soon cheers him up after a superb effort.
“Laps 4 to 8 saw the average lap speed continue to hover around 38kph, although the pace was at best summed up as surgey. Some of the teams not represented in the break made some strong bids to escape but with numbers in our favour, any key threat always had a least one Mav in tow. When the time gap went out to three minutes with only a few laps remaining, a more collective chase was formed, but ultimately it ran out of road,” recounted the Mav known as Melon.
For the breakaway this was the perfect scenario and the stage was set for an exciting finale.
“The final spilt came on lap 7,” explained Walnut. “After receiving a three-minute time gap, the ISSI rider again attacked on the first of the three lumps, dropping Ben and his teammate at the same time. After I again voiced my concern at this tactic, I sat up hoping Ben would get back on, but my breakaway partner kept pulling! After the last of the three lumps and into the right-hander across the gravel I could see Ben about 50 metres back. In between was the second ISSI rider who eventually rejoined and they both continued to work. Ben was unable to bridge and so I had to press on.”
"The very next climb, I rode hard at the front, dropping the second ISSI rider. I rode 70 percent at the front of the last lap as my partner complained of cramps. I tried once to get rid him but it was clear the ‘cramps’ were being saved for the finish line. After completing the eight laps we made the left turn that signaled the climb to the finish at the resort. Onto the first of the three steps and I pushed to try and drop him but he was still there. I had few options so figuring I had a decent turn of speed I decided to leave it until the last 100 metres. Alas it wasn’t to be, as he jumped just at the third rise and I couldn’t catch him," Walnut concluded.
While Endra Wijaya was definitely a worthy winner, Walnut can take solace in the fact that he was only beaten by a man at least 10 kilos lighter and 20 years younger than him. Not a bad effort for a 47-year-old who'd flown into Singapore the night before after taking part in the grueling Transshajjar mountain bike race in Oman.
Behind, the chasing bunch had finally woken up and the final gap between second and third was "only" 67 seconds.
“So, one flat tyre, one broken spoke, a couple of friendly elbows, and a few blown gaskets later, the remainder of the bunch hit the left turn to the three pinches up to the finish,” said Melon. “The gallant Tim Tam and one of the ISSI boys had been caught at the death, which left third place up for grabs as well as the team prize. As the usual suspects jostled for position, //r pinged ahead, only to be caught literally on the line by one of the ISSI boys.”
Closely behind the East German machine (who might be renamed ////r after his second successive "failure") were Pixie and Melon. With four riders in the first six, the Mavs collected the Cat 1 team prize, making it three out of three in the Cycosports races. As far as the individual honours go, that's two third and a second, so the aim next time out is that first series victory.
Cat 2: Lemsip, the Perfect Prescription
It was now up to the Cat 2 Mavs to either match or better their Cat 1 brethren. A field of around 80 riders lined up at the Nongsa Ferry Terminal ready to battle. The man of the moment, Mr Lemsip himself, recounted how that contest unfolded.
"The race started easily enough with people just checking each other out and no-one attempting a Pigeon-like flyer. But that didn't last for long, because as soon as we hit the first climb the speed surged and my power meter was reading 400+ watts. I knew that this pace wasn’t going to last and sure enough everyone slowed up. I was watching people and didn’t see anyone making easy work of it except for Amez," said Lemsip.
"On laps two through four, Biggish, Chimp and Fiddler did a lot of work at the front. Amez and I stayed in the top third of the peloton, but found ourselves at the front every time we got to the big climb. Amez disappeared off the front early to see who would chase before drifting back … for a moment I thought he was going for a big solo effort."
"Around the middle of the race after our road captain Yeti told us to put the gas down and some epic pulls from the Saskatchewan hairy claws followed, with me doing mini-pulls to give him a break, and HB closely in tow. Then Fiddler reappeared at the front and buried himself again. Amazing effort!"
"On lap 6 I found myself off the front on the long drag up and decided to soft pedal to keep the lead. There is one big sweeping right hander downhill and I decided to do a short dig and created a gap. Two Anza boys chased on with me and we were in the formation of a break but I thought we needed at least two more riders to have a chance to go all the way, and in the end it came to nothing."
"So to the final lap and Yeti was still doing massive pulls on the front. By now we were down to around 20-30 people in the lead bunch. Our domestiques had done a sterling effort breaking up the peloton up to the final lap."
"Yeti then did one final fantastic pull to bring me into the last corner perfectly. Big Ben Hawker and I were wheel to wheel on the first climb and then I snuck in behind him for the second rise. Just then Amez came zooming past on the right with two in tow and I jumped on and soon we were on the flat before the final climb.”
“Matt White went for it on the outside, I saw him go and I tried to get onto his wheel but I was boxed in a bit and he created a gap. I did a final dig up the last climb and even though he really slowed down in the final 20 metres he had enough of a gap to hold on."
"Still, I was second. I've never been top three in any sporting event in my life so it was a new experience. I'm really pleased."
And so he should be. Lemsip took his first opportunity to lead the team and delivered what will surely be the first of many podiums.
It was a fantastic effort from the whole Cat 2 team, although with three second places in the three Cycosports events so far they must surely be looking to go one better at the next race in the series, the Bintan Lagoon Classic on April 15.
The Specialized Mavericks would like to thank Gavin Kramer, Kent McCallum and the Cycosports team for putting on another fantastic event. Respect too to all the other racers for the great competition.
Last but definitely not least, a big thanks to all our sponsors: Specialized, Champion System, Tay Junction, Athlete Lab, Seatronics and Seventy-Seven Design.
Next up for the Mavs are the OCBC Cycle Singapore Criterium events on March 28 when teams will be racing hard for the wins in the Open, Masters and Women’s races.
The smile says it all for Lemsip post race. Left, he crosses the line well clear of third place.
Some more images from the Nongsa Challenge
Photos courtesy of Phillip Au, Yasim Rahim, Metropolitant.com via Cycosports.