Heart-stopping start for Riley

Riley Hart (right) on the podium following his third place finish in the West Bend stage of the 2018 Tour of America’s Dairyland on June 25. Photo: Tour of America’s Dairyland/Karl Hendriske

THE style of racing was “ruthless” and the pace “absolutely insane”, but Riley Hart’s first taste of senior open international road cycling racing in the USA last month proved to be the ultimate learning experience.

Hart, 19, is already a rising star of the velodrome – winning a gold medal for Victoria in the elite men’s team pursuit at the National Championships in Brisbane – but he’d yet to test himself on the road circuits overseas.

He discovered what’s required as part of a four-man Cannondale X Pedla team competing in two major regional tours, and ended up with a hard-earned podium finish in one of the stages for his efforts.

Arriving from Melbourne’s winter chill, Riley found himself in heatwave conditions in Oklahoma for the start of the three-day Tulsa Tough event on June 8, which lived up to its name.

He finished in the mid-60s in the 150+ strong field in each stage, not helped by starting from the back of the pack, and crashing early in stage two along a tight and crowded corner.

“The Tulsa Tough was a bit of a shock to begin with, as the fields are larger due to the prize money up for grabs, and there’s much more aggression and dangerous racing – the speed was just crazy,” Hart told The AJN last week.

“The racing was at an insanely high level, and there was an electric atmosphere, with all the races happening in town centres, attracting a huge mix of cycling fans and just thousands of locals coming out to party – I’ve never experienced anything like it.

After some high altitude training in Boulder, Hart came 7th in the Bighorn Crossing criterium event on June 17, before heading to Wisconsin on June 21 for the week-long Tour of America’s Dairyland.

“That was a fair bit more enjoyable as, while there were still huge fields, there was not one team who controlled things, so the racing was more fluid and I was able to break away in a number of stages.”

Hart’s best result in the first four stages was 40th, in the East Troy stage, but he said “I knew I was starting to come good, as I had been much more active in the racing, and the next course [West Bend on June 25] was the first one to include a hill, so I knew it would be right up my alley.”

Hart earned a spot on the podium by building on a mid-race move, turning it to his advantage.

“With about 10 laps to go, I sprinted for a cash prize and saw I had a gap, so I put my head down,” said Hart.

Eventually a small group of cyclists caught up to him, and he kept up the pace to keep them at bay, before saving a last reserve of energy for the final lap sprint finish.

Flu kept Hart out of action for the final stages. He will now travel to Belgium for a month of competing in several road races, starting off with the 170km Albert Fauville Grand Prix.

“This all would not have been possible without being the recipient of the 2018 Maccabi Australia Rudi Roth Scholarship – that generous support has resulted in amazing opportunities that I’m incredibly thankful for.”

SHANE DESIATNIK

Riley Hart in action in the 2018 Tour of America’s Dairyland. Photo: Jonathan Ninmer