Verita Stewart

Writer, blogger, social media | Racer of bikes with Specialized Women's Racing Team|

Battle on the Border, where I think I found my watts

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The last month or so I’ve been complaining that I had lost my watts, I wasn’t really sure where they had gone. I was running 20 watts short on almost every training session I was doing. It was getting me down. My Super Coach assured me that athletes don’t feel fresh all the time, and that they (the watts) would come back, I’d just have to be patient. So I suffered through, feeling rubbish on the bike, waiting until the day that they would magically return.

Fast forward to last weekend. It really did feel like that, fast forward… All of a sudden I was packing my bike bag, getting ready to race Battle on the Border.

The four stage tour was held around Murwillumbah (NSW) and included an 86km road race, 9km ITT, criterium and 77km road race. Battle was going to be our (Total Rush’s) first National Road Series (NRS) race this season, with Jess Toghill (QLD) joining us, along with Bridie (who had solo’d it at Mersey Valley Tour) and NRS first timers, Emma Scott and Kate Perry (Kelly was unavailable for this tour). We were here, totally unsupported, and were crossing our fingers for a trouble free, strong weekend of racing together.

We flew up to the Gold Coast on the Thursday morning, hired a car and drove to our accommodation in New Brighton, which was about 40 minutes from Murwillumbah.  We settled in, and went for a quick pedal.

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The start times for this tour were outrageously early. 7:45AM starts every day, which meant that we would need to be up at 5AM and on the road by 6AM to get to the start with enough time for my usual faffing about. I was not sure how the early starts were going to affect me, both mentally and physically. I was already tired from the early starts I’d had all week… and I wasn’t sure how my legs would go for my first NRS race of the season.

Stage 1. Murwillumbah Road Race
So we were up and fed at 5AM, at the race start by 6AM. With not enough luggage allowance to bring trainers, we would be warming up on the road. This would prove to be an interesting experience for me, because usually I need a good 30 minutes on the trainer to get the legs going. So we rolled around the cane fields, turning the legs over. I was feeling ok, but those little efforts were nothing compared to the intensity that I was expecting from the race. This course was going to be a challenging. The terrain was quite lumpy, weaving in and out of the rainforest, into flat cane fields. It had in two sprints and two QOM’s to add to the pain. One of the QOM’s was going to be particularly tough being about 2.5km long, it was sure to suit the climbers, and possibly split the field.

(c) Tim Bardsley-Smith

After a quick team chat, we were on the start line with 55 other women. For some strange reason I was not feeling nervous on the line as I usually would. In light of my missing watts, I probably should have been panicking. After a hairy experience getting out of the neutral zone, we were racing.  Not long after battling through traffic on the road (vehicles and other competitors!), Jess went for and got the first sprint point! It was a battle and a half to keep a good position and out of trouble, I felt like it was a washing machine and we were churning around the front. I can’t really remember detail of the race, but there were a few attacks here and there and the pace was high, especially on the climbs and the descents.

To my surprise, my legs felt good and I was climbing better than I had done all year. I was able to stay with the bunch over all the climbs, and not get dropped on the descents. This is probably the biggest improvement I have noticed since the last year. In 2013 I would get dropped on every decent, I simply did not have the balls, skills or speed to hang on to the group. This year, I think I had the confidence, a little more race experience and I wasn’t getting dropped.

Nothing was being allowed to get away. Well, that was until, well I can’t remember exactly where, but somewhere after the 2nd QOM, a group of three being Tessa (VIS) , Lizzie (Specialized-Securitor) and Anna-Leesa broke away on some fast descents and smashed it solo all the way to the finish line. They finished approximately 2 mins ahead of the bunch.

I managed to hold on and finish with the bunch. Stage 1 complete. My legs were still attached.

The race was over and it was 10:30am. We had a a full day to put the feet up and go to the beach! I was very exited about that!

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Results

Stage 2. Dawn ITT.
The ITT would be interesting for the team for several reasons… a) we were racing at the crack of dawn b) we had no gear! The team was all in the same position, no proper warm up, no TT bikes, no aero helmets. All we had were our roadies and our legs. Bridie, who has just come off her Mersey Valley Tour ITT win, would have to go the roadie too. As everyone knows, the ITT warm up is very specific and important to prime the legs and get the heart rate to my usual 205 bpm… all we had was the wide open road…. and a can of V.

(c) Tim Bardsley-Smith

The SC had given me an average speed to aim for rather than average watts. Partly because I was complaining so much that my watts had gone, and partly because the course was fairly technical, average speed would be easier to focus on. This was probably all an attempt to distract me from my whining about my watts. It worked. The course was a weird shape, with an uneven road surface, a pinch, sweeping bends and sharp left handers. It would be easy to brake too hard and wash away any speed and momentum you built up. That’s exactly what happened to me. In hindsight I was way too cautious of the corners, I lost so much speed braking and then having to make that time up. Still, I did a respectable time of 14.28 to finish 25th.

Tessa won, and did an incredible time, of 13.04, which was 1.24 faster than my time!

The time was now only 8:30AM, we had hours to wait until our crit at 1:30PM. Recovery time!

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Results

Stage 3. Crit 
After a 5 hour wait until the start of the crit, it was time to get excited. I was nervous and feeling very jittery about this one. My fear and increased heart rate could have been as a result of I drinking two “V’s” whilst waiting around, but in reality, I put my nerves down to the fact that the course was just plain frightening. It had three pinches, with each getting progressively steeper, combined with a steep decent to navigate and some left and right corners. All this technicality and the climbs, were going to split the field, that was for sure.

It was on from the gun, with various riders taking the opportunity to smash the field’s legs off. Our team goal was to, “just move up”. Riders were being shelled every lap. No surprise really, with Bridie, Holden and Bicycle Superstore setting the pace it was a fast climb and fast decent. We were strung out, almost in single file for most of the race… I was hanging on for dear life and “moving up” where I could.

(c) Tim Bardsley-Smith

I was in a world of pain from that first pedal stroke. Too preoccupied with the pain that when I eventually glanced down to my Garmin to see how much more of this torturous circuit I had to endure, I saw that I forgot to press start. Bugger. I didn’t know how far in I was, how far I had to go. Ain’t no body got time for that. I didn’t have time to dwell. I just kept moving up, moving up.

I was in the hurt box so much that I had no idea what was going on at the front of the bunch. Ruth had attacked, and managed to get a good distance on the front of the bunch. The speed was picking up, then all of a sudden Lizzie kicked and skipped up the hill, down the decent and then everyone slowed down.

I was so confused, I didn’t realise that was the last lap. The race was over. Thank god. I was glad to just survive. Jess, Bridie and I finished with the bunch. Half of the field were pulled. Emma and Kate did a great job but got pulled after about 15 minutes of madness!

crit file
This is 23 minutes worth of my file. Let’s just say that it HURT!

Results

Stage 4. Kingscliff Road Race
It was the last day of racing. We were all feeling weary. This course was full or rolling hills, a couple of pinchy climbs and a few flat sections around the cane fields. Our race objective was to stay towards the front, especially coming into the QOMs. The first part of the race was relatively uneventful. The bunch was staying together. Lizzie grabbed the first QOM and sprint points.

We had just gone over a little pinch, at about the 46km mark, when I did a very opportunistic thing. I managed to get myself in a solo breakaway. I’m not even sure how it happened. We were going over a little pinch, I followed the wheel of someone, then all of a sudden I looked back and there was a gap. Started to descend, looked around and the gap was bigger. I was at the point of no return. I then proceeded to TT my way for the next 25km or so, my biggest gap getting to 1.05 secs thanks to some great teamwork going on in the bunch.

(c) Tim Bardsley-Smith

Riding solo I had a lot of time to think. My thoughts were mostly about keeping my speed at about 40km/hr. I also had time to ponder my missing watts, and of course, what I was going to eat for dinner. I was having a great tour, in terms of the goals I had set for myself. I had given it my all, and was not doing too badly overall. My legs were feeling great, considering they had three days of racing in them. I just had to keep pedalling, my team would have been working hard in the bunch. I was going to have Baby Pizza for dinner.

I ticked along, concentrating on my speed and picked up the next sprint and QOM points. The further I got, the more I begun to feel the bunch hunting me. I knew they would. I knew that the VIS, Holden and Specialized-Securitor trains would be forming and they would start to chase me down. They wanted the win. There was not much time separating the overall GC positions, a win for them here could easily change the standings.

At about the 70km mark I was joined Shannon Malseed (Holden), Bex Heath (Bicycle Superstore) and Emma Viotto (Brumby Suzuki) bridged over to me from the bunch. There was not much left in the race, with only about 10km remaining. The trains were coming! We spent the first 5km or so working turns and yelling at eachother, then we settled into a rhythm. We were aiming to stay away, but the trains were coming.

(c) Tim Bardsley-Smith

With 600m to go, we were caught. I was just behind Emma going around the roundabout when Lizzie came hurtling by, then all of a sudden, Emma was horizontal, Lizzie had gone wide left and I slammed my breaks on and went right, towards the gutter. I managed to get back on track, with a little less momentum, and get around the corner to finish 9th. My best NRS finish so far!

To top off my efforts on the day, I had the pleasure of being ASADA tested. Now that is an experience and a half. Quite amusing really because I had beetroot for dinner the night before. #pinkreallyismycolour

Results

I had an amazing weekend racing and spending time with my Total Rush team mates. We did well as a team and all learned a lot, such a pleasure. We survived three days totally unsupported, with no on-road mechanicals or flats, we picked up sprint points, rode aggressively, climbed our hearts out and survive the three 5am starts in a row – with not being late once. I can’t wait until our next race together, for me that is Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley. My home town!

I learned a lot about myself this tour too. What SC had been telling me  about being patient and my watts would return, was true. She was right, of course, I think I found them somewhere on the border.

GC results

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And yes, I did have Baby Pizza for dinner. My usual Peroni and a fungi pizza. Delicious.

You can watch the NRS race videos by clicking here. Race photos supplied by TBS Photography and used with permission. Thanks to Total Rush for keeping our bikes in top race condition, to 4Shaw for keeping my feet warm and to my Super Coach, Bec Domange for always being right.

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Author: Verita Stewart

Cyclist for Specialized, Instagramer, blogger, desk sitter, coffee lover, recycler

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