By Dion Smith (Full Circle Cycling)
The 4th and final stage of the Merco Cycling Classic was set to be a big day with 120 miles to be covered. The course, a 24-mile circuit that we had to complete 5 times, was rolling and the roads were rough, with a lot of uneven surfaces and potholes. The first 2 laps were crazy fast and aggressive, with most of the field trying to get in the break. I think we covered 60km in the first hour and 15 minutes. I tried having a few goes off the front, but nothing really stuck, which was OK because my legs didn’t feel too great, so I decided to sit in and stay out of trouble.
The main break of the day finally escaped at the beginning of the 3rd lap. It included 6 or so guys, but lasted just under a lap before the peloton brought them back. Two more riders got away with just under 2 laps to go and established a sizeable gap. I knew they wouldn’t have a chance to last, as Bissell was in control and setting a steady tempo.
With a lap to go, things started to heat up. Bissell lifted the pace and everyone started fighting for a good position near the front. By then, my legs had opened up and started to feel good. I positioned myself in the top 20 so there was less chance of getting into trouble and it was easier to save some energy for the finale. The peloton caught the 2 breakaway riders with half a lap remaining and there was no chance of anyone else getting away. It was going to come down to a bunch kick.
I wouldn’t call myself a pure sprinter, but whenever I get the chance I will definitely give it a crack. I knew there were a lot of stronger and faster guys in the bunch, so I had to be smart and follow the right wheels. The final 2k was technical and also slightly uphill, so it suited me more than a dead-flat sprint. I managed to follow some good lines and the right wheels, and I also made sure I didn’t get “boxed in.”
With 400m to go, I found myself 2nd wheel, which couldn’t have worked out better. It was a headwind sprint, so I made sure I didn’t go too early. With just over 200m to go, I kicked and gave it everything, hoping for the best. There were 2 other riders on either side of me and all 3 of us lunged for the line. About 5 minutes after finishing the stage, I heard I had won by a tyre’s width. That was good enough for me and I couldn’t have been happier, especially on my birthday!
I really enjoyed the Merco Cycling Classic, so thank you to all the people that made it happen. I would also like to thank Full Circle Cycling, our mechanic Brian, and Paige for the massages and preparing our race food and bottles.