A week is a long time in bike racing. While we needed that time to dry our kits and clean our very (safety conscious) fluro Shimano shoes, we were also aware that our Tour Of The Tropics successes would be a distant memory come the Tyalgum start line.
We were not bold enough to once again dream of tour GC success, but as the team was strengthened with the addition of Victoria Olden ... sorry, Bentley Olden, the squad was energised and motivated.
We felt going in that stage one would not be a determining stage, however, we were not content to rely on this assessment. An aggressive opening 90min saw a large group, including our three GC options (Vine, Coyle and Hill) move away and we felt we were in a good position.
The three leaders kept the pressure on, eventually forcing a selection that would contain the podium riders. Angus Lyons took the stage in a three-up sprint with Ryan Thomas and our boy Sam Hill.
Stage two began at the Madura Tea Estate for the 140km journey through the beautiful Tweed Valley. On paper, this stage had the makings of a truly epic day of Australian racing.
We threw caution to the wind allowing our two well-placed GC riders (Jay Vine and Jesse Coyle) off the leash to “do their thing”.
Sam’s responsibility was to follow stage one winner and yellow jersey holder Angus Lyons; this task was made more difficult after a poorly timed flat tyre saw Sam delayed in a dangerous crosswind section. Lucky for him Leigh Phillips was on hand to drag the Scone-ion school teacher back to the main bunch.
Oliver's Real Food Racing was defending the yellow jersey and we intended to make this job as difficult as possible. Lucky for us, a number of other teams had the same idea and as the stage progressed and fatigue took over, green jersey wearers at the front of the race were being whittled away.
Snatching the opportunity, Jay Vine took over where Jesse left off, spending relentless kms off the front of the race, before solo bridging to the eventual stage winners Ryan Thomas and Sam Volkers.
To the casual observer, Jay’s ride may have come across as an overplay of confidence. However in reality, with Ryan Thomas up the road taking time on Sam’s GC position, Jay made a conscious decision (given the information available to him) to bridge the gap.
Little did he know (remember there are no race radios in NRS racing), Chris Miller and Sam Hill we’re sitting in the remnants of a 20 man peloton and as Inform Make and then ACA Pro Cycling took over from the now exhausted Oliver's; the GC battle was beginning to play second fiddle to a stage battle.
Ryan Thomas would show his strength and tactical awareness driving the break and winning the three-man sprint with Volkers 2nd and Jay 3rd. Incredibly Sam Hill launched an attack through the gravel section taking a number of seconds off his GC podium rivals, securing Team Nero Bianchi 2nd and 3rd on General Classification after stage 2.
As the dust (and 1.3km of gravel) settled on Saturday, it was clear we had just witnessed a great day of NRS racing. Oliver’s had lost the yellow jersey but only after a new guard of teams had thrown the kitchen sink at them.
As the TNB boys settled into their evening pasta, watching the NRS highlights live-stream (another great innovation), we noted we had taken the lead in Teams Classification for the tour, never something to race for but a nice reward for what felt like a great team effort.
While Sunday’s time trial and criterium saw no movement the GC and/or teams standings, it is worth mentioning that Jarrad Drizners time trial was the stand out NRS performance of the day, going under 11:30min on his road bike.
Sam and Jay took second and third in GC, with Ryan Thomas in first. While any opportunity to stand on an NRS podium is a special one, standing on the podium as a whole team (as Team Classification winners) alongside the new NRS leader Jay Vine, is something that will be difficult to top. A really special moment for TNB, riders and support staff alike.
As our Queensland adventure draws to a close, we must make special mention of Luke Manion. Luke not only kept us organised, on the road and pointing in the right direction, but also provided the most entertaining Instagram story of the tour. For those of you who missed it, be sure to head over to our Instagram feed and enjoy his work!