Verita Stewart

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


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REVIEW: S-Works 6 Women’s Road Shoe


I was really excited to hear that Specialized was going to release a new and fresh new pair of shoes, the S-Works 6 in 2016 and couldn’t wait to get my hot little hands on a pair!

I’ve been wearing the Specialized S-Works road shoe for a couple of years now, in fact, I have owned three pairs over the past three years. I have been wearing them daily and have been put through all conditions. They have been through easily 1000 hours of use, torrential rain, freezing cold, scorching heat, intense racing, easy commuting…and you name it, I’ve done it in these shoes.

Ultimately they are the most comfortable cycling shoe that I’ve worn, they held their shape and colour, remained super stiff, didn’t cause me any pressure points or discomfort and the Boas remained tight. In general, the shoes were just really comfortable to wear even, after 12 months of solid use, which is quite rare.

It is probably no surprise that I with such wear, I have grown to know these shoes quite well and I had a few niggles in the back of my mind that I thought could be improved old to new. For example, on the 2015 S-Works shoe, the tongue would occasionally fold over if I wasn’t careful to straighten it out, the heel lugs were prone to wear off quickly, the heel area could have had a little more support and the toe area was a little tight at first. Now, this was just me being picky after wearing them, a lot!

To my surprise, everything that I thought could have been improved in the new model had been just that, improved! I noticed the changes straight out of the box, I felt like cinderella, the shoe certainly fit! Straight up, we had a new colour way for 2016, crisp white with grey and black panels make the shoe very easy on the eye. Also, a great colour to match with any kit, or sock for that matter.

The tongue has been redesigned, to fit the curve around the top of your foot. This eliminated the ‘fold over’ that I mentioned earlier.The new tongue fits and molds snugly around the top of your foot, even when the Boas are at their tightest.

To my annoyance, the little heel lugs on the old model were prone to wear off, or at least they were for me (maybe I did too much walking around the coffee shop and not enough cycling). The S-Works 6 lugs are a different shape and appear as though they won’t wear so easily…They are  made of one piece of plastic. Again, like the old model, the new lugs are again fully replaceable, just in case! I’ve worn my shoes for almost three months now, with no signs of wear, hooray!

The heel area on the S-Works 6 is totally different, it is made from a single piece of molded plastic, which hugs your heel and locks it in place. This improves feel of the shoe on your foot, no slipping, sliding and definitely no fabric stretch happening here. No stretch and movement is also better for power transfer into your pedals. Extra watts = bonus.

The toe box area has been improved too, it is heaps more roomy. I can comfortably wiggle my toes around without touching the top! When comparing the shoes side by side, you can immediately see the difference in the toe area. The S-Works 6 are much higher and a different shape, designed to comfortably accommodate my stumpy toes.

I’m completely in love with these shoes.  I’m super impressed that the little niggles that I experienced with the old model shoes had been improved, I’m going to struggle to find fault even after I put in 1000 hours. Never underestimate the importance of shoes in performance and comfort when cycling. Invest in a good pair that fits you well, getting specific orthotics or foot beds can help too. Credit to Specialized because there has been some very specific research and development in the production of these shoes, great to see that improvements have been made!

Now, go out and get yourself a pair.

You can read all about them on the Specialized website here and get yourself a pair at your nearest Specialized dealer!

Rider Stats
Shoe size: 37EU
Foot width: Normal
Food bed: Green
Pedals: Speedplay
Weight: 54kg

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Dealing with disappointment

It’s been months since my last post, I’ve been busy racing, managing illness and injury, working full time, writing my regular column for Cycling Tips Ella and doing some side projects for Bike Exchange. I thought it best that I give you an update on what’s going on in my life. Apologies in advance, I brain dumped this post – tried to be grammatically correct and coherent, yet full of emotion.

The second half of the NRS season has been run and won, unfortunately, my performances in these races has been for whatever reason, less than impressive. The last few months for me has been full of bad luck and disappointment. I have struggled to find positivity out of training and racing, and to be honest, they have been hard, really hard, both mentally and physically. It all really starts with the fact that I have also been sick too many times this year to count, I’ve had annoying injuries, and the latest, I got hit by a car (just when I was starting to feel good again). I’ve had more DNFs this last three months due to injury or illness than you can poke a stick at. In fact, they’re the only DNFs of my short career and all happened within a short 3 months period.

Tonight's headwind. #thestruggleisreal #specializedwmn

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I’m not good at dealing with disappointment, even though I’ve been sick and injured, trying to rationalise what has been going on with me felt impossible. I was feeling out of my depth and frustrated at what was happening with me and my body. That I wasn’t able to do the things I wanted, I couldn’t train and race at my peak. Getting hit by the car, was just the icing on the cake. I sustained an injury to my lower back, which meant that I couldn’t ride at all for two weeks, and then lingered – it put me off the bike for longer than I wanted, put a huge dint in my training… it was just another thing that was holding me back. For all of you that know me, I’m impatient, I wanted to be fixed and better yesterday, and it was not working that way.

All these together, I had not had a solid block of training in my legs in months. Hampered by injury and illness, I’ve just rolled on, trying to be positive, hoping that everything would straighten out.

As an athlete, I strive to be at my best. To give everything I have and it is incredibly disappointing when I don’t perform or can’t for whatever reason. My expectations of myself seem to override any rational thought and as my coach reminds me often, I quickly forget legitimate reasons for under performing or not performing as I would have liked.

A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with fructose malabsorption. This explains so much of what has been going on in my life, why I’ve been constantly sick, why my race performances have been less than impressive, weight gain, frequently upset stomach and generally explains why I’ve been feeling like crap for some time now. This news is almost like a proverbial weight off my shoulders, relief that I have an answer for the way I’ve been feeling for a long time now. I’m seeing a dietician to help me with a plan going forward. I’m feeling really positive that a few dietary changes here and there will help me on the way to good health again.

Everything has straightened its self out, it just took time. My injury sustained after the car accident has settled down and after much soul searching and enforced rest (thanks coach), I’m back training.

I’m rolling along now, back on track. It’s been a two solid weeks of training, and you know what, it feels great!  My power numbers might be down, my lungs and legs hurt every training session, but do you know what… the pain is strangely satisfying!

I am coming to terms with everything that has gone on and feeling positive about the my changes in diet.Most sports nutrition (and delicious food) contains fructose, so cutting them out and finding alternatives will be challenging. So interesting times ahead whilst I try to manage this fructose malabsorption thing, that is another blog…

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the past three months, dealing with disappointment has been one of them. I’m excited to work towards future goals.

Bring on the summer of cycling!

PS. Follow me on Instagram (@lowercasev) and watch out for some product reviews coming soon. I’ve tried and tested the new Specialized S-Works 6 women’s road shoe and some of the new women’s kits on the market from MaapRapha and Specialized.


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Non-existent motivation and Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley

I’ll admit it; since returning from the US summer, to dreary old Melbourne, my motivation has disappeared. I’ve struggled for the past couple of months with finding any want to ride my bike.

The person I was – the rain, hail or shine rider – has slipped under the doona and lies somewhere with the odd socks that I’ve lost over the years.

For almost two months, I’ve dragged myself out of bed each morning (ok ok I’ve hit snooze a couple of times), reluctantly put every layer of clothing on, and scraped myself through trainings sessions.  Fair to say that I have had to top up my Myki card more times than I did the last financial year, which is money I could have spent on cycling accessories!

Thank god for Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley (TOKV), it was the light at the end of the bad weather vortex. Over the last few weeks it has made me drag myself out of bed and scrape through those sessions. Knowing how tough racing would be if I didn’t put in the hard yards.
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TOKV is my favourite race of the year.

I first raced TOKV three years ago, with Cycling Victoria Development Team. It was my first race at the NRS level, the race that got me hooked on NRS racing. Here I am, three years later, lining up with Specialized Securitor, just as excited and nervous as that first race.

This year the racing was everything I expected and more. I must say, the level of the NRS has increased and we faced hard and fast racing for three days straight.

The courses had changed this year, with a shorter ITT, a downtown crit and a new road race course for Stage 3.

Stage 1 ITT was a bit of a fizz for me, I couldn’t find my rhythm and wasn’t really happy with my time.

Stage 1 Whitfield TT 9kms Tour Of The King Valley.  Sat, Aug.  2015. Photo: Con Chronis

Stage 1 Whitfield TT 9kms Tour Of The King Valley. Sat, Aug. 2015. Photo: Con Chronis

I was particularly looking forward to the Stage 2 Crit. I was keen to test my legs and apply the skills that I have learned racing crits in the U.S. The added bonus, Wangaratta is my home town and was keen to race in front of a home town crowd, friends, girlfriend, coach and family supporting me on the streets I grew up.

Stage 2 Dockers Street Wangaratta Criterium Tour Of The King Valley.  Sat, Aug.  2015. Photo: Con Chronis

Stage 2 Dockers Street Wangaratta Criterium Tour Of The King Valley. Sat, Aug. 2015. Photo: Con Chronis

Stage 2 was awesome! The team had a great race, setting up Sophie for the sprints and countering each sprint lap. It scored me most aggressive rider, my first NRS jersey! The result made even sweeter because it was in front of everyone that I love in my life. It ended up a fast one indeed, 40km/hr average thanks to sprint laps every three laps. It was very similar to U.S. racing in that regard, though cash primes would be great along with time bonuses (haha).

It wasn’t in just the crit where my team rode well, we had a great tour across all stages. The racing was hard, fast and tactical, and we performed well as a cohesive unit. We hit all our team objectives and ended up in teams classification jerseys too.  Stage 3 and 4 was hard, fast, and tactical and the team performed as a solid unit, it was awesome to be a part of.
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There’s nothing like a confidence boost to try to snap you out of the winter blues, though, it’s raining right now and I haven’t ridden my bike all week. Lucky it’s my rest week and I can get away with it.

Next focus is Amy’s Otway Classic in two weeks’ time. It will officially be spring and I can’t wait.

Has anyone else found this winter particularly hard?

All results can be viewed here. My Strava files from the weekend here.

Women's Stage 3 Strade Nero Road Race 106kms Tour Of The King Valley.  Sat, Aug.  2015. Photo: Con Chronis

Women’s Stage 3 Strade Nero Road Race 106kms Tour Of The King Valley. Sat, Aug. 2015. Photo: Con Chronis

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All photos courtesy of Con Chronis and can be purchased here.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @lowercasev.

Thanks always to Specialized Securitor sponsors. Securitor Financial Group, Specialized Australia, Capo Cycling, Adidas Eyewear. Also to Pro4mance Sports Nutrition and Strava Cycling.


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Tulsa and Dairylands, home time already. 

  
Here I am, at the airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m drinking a coffee from Colectivo, which has been a daily ritual for me. I’m at the end of my three week bike racing trip guest riding for CRCA StansNo Tubes p/b Velo Classic Cycling. #critcamp as we’ve dubbed it. I can’t believe it’s over already! What a learning curve it’s been. 

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Starting my racing at Tulsa Tough was definitely a baptism by fire. Less than half the field would finish each race! The first race, Blue Dome Crit was intense! We averaged 43km/hr over 60 minutes and my heart rate peaked at 212bpm and averaged 199bpm. 
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The 2nd race, the Brady Crit was much the same, fast. I felt I held my own in these races, finishing top 20 in both these. It was really hard racing and as much as I fought my way to the front for the final laps, I would somehow get stuck behind someone, wasn’t able to get on the lead out trains of other teams and sprint into better positions. That’s something I will work on. 
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The final days racing at Tulsa was on the infamous Cry Baby Hill… I have heard so much about Cry Baby, I watched the previous years video of Lizzie Williams squeeze through a gap to sprint into 2nd place. I was so pumped for it. The crowd spectating was amazing. It was like a giant frat party! 

The race was hard, the decent much harder than the climb, because of a sharp right gander right at the bottom.  I was feeling comfortable during the race, until a rain storm that neutralised the race for 30 mins. We lost our momentum, but the torrential rain was dangerous as there was a river running down the hill and visibility was next to nothing. There was only 1/3 or the starters left at this point! Once our rain delay was over, racing started again, much much faster than the first half. I knew that I would have to be in the right position on the last lap if I was going to finish well. It came down to the final lap, everyone was in a frantic state trying to get to the front. I moved up positions, then just before the corner got stuck behind someone going backwards. Bugger… After the corner I sprinted to 12th. I did everything I could to finish where I did! I was absolutely stoked. It sounds silly to be so happy with 12th, but I was, and still am. 

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The quality of riders in the field was amazing, the big teams such as Pepper Palace, Coltivita, BMW Happy Tooth, IS Corp, UHC among others… No wonder it was hard racing. I’m happy to have finished top 20. I can’t wait until next year, definitely have to come back to Tulsa. The crowds, the prize money and the fields, how could I not!

Next up was Tour of America’s Dairyland. 11 days of back to back crits. The fields were smaller than Tulsa, about 40-60 each day. 

The first race at Shorewood was just like Tulsa, fast at 42km/hr. It was great to race with fellow Aussie Lauretta Hanson, we even spent some time off the front in a break together! 

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I might not be fast finisher like the sprinters, Tina Pic or Lauretta who have dominated Dairylands, but I gave each race a red hot go, improved my bunch skills ten fold and helped my team mate BrittLee finish 2nd in Grafton, numerous top 10s and finish 9th in the omnium. 

I had a heap of fun at the Shlitz Park Crit where I spent some time off the front, and at Road America where I managed to come in 10th despite feeling rubbish all race. We lost Sara to a crash on day 9, which was a sad point. It also knocked a lot of confidence out of me. I finally got it back on the last days racing, just as well, because it was the hardest of them all. So fast and flat, so many riders got dropped. I was happy to hang in there, just. 

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I’ll miss all my new #squad friends – you’ve been awesome, I’ll miss the tacos, the coffee rides, the dancing, crap ghetto music, wholefoods and adventures! 

I’ve done 14 crits in the short time I’ve been here in the U.S. I’ve learnt a lot, that’s for sure. I’ve got the bug and hope that I can come back next year for a longer period to guest ride with a team again. 

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I’ve stayed upright, kept all my skin and my Specialized Amira has been an absolute dream. Can’t wait to get back to Australia, have a decent coffee and put on my winter Specialized Securitor riding gear – I’ve missed it. 

Thanks to my Stans NotUbes team mates, BrittLee for allowing me to ride for her team and for showing me around NYC, Sara keeping me company at Tulsa and for road tripping with me and Jen for the funny cat videos!

Huge thanks also to my Aussie Team Specialized Securitor for allowing me to guest ride for three weeks, can’t wait to get home and apply what I’ve learnt! Next up, Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley! 

Make sure you check out my weekly column on Ella Cycling Tips and my Strava files from racing! 

@lowercasev 

Pic @bokanev


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The USA racing adventure begins

I’m sitting here at the airport waiting to get on the plane to the United States of America. I really can’t believe that it is actually happening, today… Maybe I’m still delirious from getting up at 3:45AM! So I’ve maxed out my credit card, taken leave with out pay from my job and now about to start a month long adventure, which will see me racing Tulsa Tough and Tour of America’s Dairylands with Stans CRCA/ Stan’s NoTubes p/b Velo Classic Cycling.

It was only really two/three months ago that I decided to take some steps towards following my cycling dreams. I’m sure you can relate, change is scary, the unknown is scary. But, I know that this is something that will challenge and motivate me to reach my goals! I’m so excited. I’ll endeavour to keep you all updated on my progress here, but as always, my Instagram account and Strava will be on overdrive. So if you have not followed me already, get on it for many many pictures of bikes, food, new friends and fun!

Thanks for the support from Specialized Securitor, Specialized Australia, Capo Cycling, Adidas Eyewear and Pro4mance Sports Nutrition to allow me to race in the US and also, my SC Bec Domange. My partner Purdie is my number one supporter, thank you for believing in me.

LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN!

p.s don’t forget to tune into The Bike Lane, 5PM, SBS Sundays. 


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Quick update… It’s been too long!

Apologies for the recent infrequent posts, I’ve been “flat out like a lizard drinking” so to speak… I’ve managed to fill all of my spare time either working, riding, writing or eating – how lucky am I?

A lot has happened since my last update – I won’t go into huge detail, but the gist of it is here:

Cycling Tips Ella Weekly Column
I hope you have all been enjoying my weekly columns on Cycling Tips Ella? I have really enjoyed sharing my love of cycling with you all. I really can’t believe that it all started here, on my simple little blog! I really can’t wait to see where this all takes me!
If you have any ideas or suggestions on what topics I could cover on Ella – shoot me through an email verita.stewart@gmail.com – I’m more than happy to try and cover what you want to read!

Australian National Team Selection Camp at the Australian Institute of Sport
I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend the infamous Aussie Team selection camp this year, I penned some words on my experience that can be found on the Ella Cycling Tips website here. It was like Survivor All (cycling) Stars. I’ve got lots to learn and improve on for next year, that’s for sure.
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Mersey Valley Tour
This turned out to be a snotty fizz for me. I was looking forward to a solid three days of racing in some of the toughest NRS terrain going. Mersey Valley Tour is HILLY, just the way I like it. I have to say that it is rather disappointing to train for months for a race, only to succumb to a chest infection and have to pull out. Annoying not only for me, but for the team who then had to push on through with only 4 riders. All I managed was the ITT, which after was when I started to travel down the slippery slide of sickness. The girls put up a good fight in my absence, Jenelle came through with 3rd on GC and 3rd on stage 3… So we couldn’t be happier! I’m looking forward to Battle on the Border in just over a weeks time, my feet are getting itchy for racing!
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The Bike Lane
When Matt Keenan contacted me about me featuring on the new The Bike Lane, I nearly fell off my chair in disbelief! I’m absolutely honored that I can again, share my love of cycling – this time on TV, a platform that I have no experience in. It has been a learning curve for me, speaking into the camera, writing scripts and being totally out of my comfort zone. You know what, I’m loving it! I really can’t wait to do more of this sort of thing!
Tune in 5pm on Sundays on SBS – 6 episodes starting the 24th of May. You can view the preview here.
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U.S racing trip
Yep, that’s right… The credit card is maxed out and I’m off the the U.S on the 6th of June to race a couple of races – Tulsa Tough and Tour of America’s Dairylands. I’m racing with a team called Stans NoTubes p/b VeloClassic racing, they are a domestic elite team based out of NYC. I’m so grateful that they have been kind enough to include me on their roster for these two races, as well as house me and take me on awesome road trips… I really can’t wait! It is going to be so fun.

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Dirty Gran Fondo
The best Gran Fondo of the year! Four of my friends donned our CX bikes and got dirty last weekend on 90km of fire trails! The best thing? The feed zones, full of delicous cheesymite scrolls, cookies, baked goods, and coffee! Check out the website here. I think Candy Crux will be retiring this year, i NEED disc brakes!
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Whats next?
Next up for me is Battle on the Border, then the week later – I’m off to the U.S to start my adventure for a month. In the meantime, make sure you tune in to The Bike Lane this Sunday on SBS and look out for my weekly column on Cycling Tips Ella. There is so much going on in my life at the moment that I’m finding it hard to keep up with myself. Melbourne hasn’t been forgiving weather wise – I’ve been sick, stuck on the trainer indoors. I’m slowly waiting for the clouds to part.

Don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @lowercasev and on Strava Verita Strewart.

Until next time… V


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Beauty and Suffering, Rapha Prestige Launceston

The Rapha Prestige is not a race. It’s an unsupported and unmarshalled adventure across stunning terrain. Designed to bring out the camaraderie and suffering of road riding, the rules are simple, and the course is tough. Team members must ride and finish together, and teams must include at least one female rider. There were thirteen teams all up, and 17 women. image6
When Nadine O’Connor from Rapha gave me a call to ask if I’d like to participate in Rapha Prestige Launceston, I instantly said yes before I’d even heard about the route or the team of which I would be a part. My smile grew wider across my face as Nadine explained the route to me. The event would be taking us on an adventure starting in Legana, a small town near Launceston (northern Tasmania) through tiny towns and over undulating, steep and tough terrain. We would then suffer up the gravel and winding ascent up Jacob’s Ladder to the summit of Ben Lomond. Jacob’s Ladder was the icing on the proverbial cake for me. It has been on my cycling bucket list for years. I couldn’t wait to ride this route. In true Rapha style, the 165km route included 3000m of climbing and about 50km of gravel road. I knew it was going to be a challenge. I prepped my bike with new Specialized Roubaix Pro tyres and stuffed an extra tube and gas canister into my overflowing saddle bag. I filled my pockets with as much food as I could carry. Size extra-extra-small jerseys aren’t too accommodating for six Cliff bars, a rain jacket, tyre leavers, multi tool, phone and wallet but I still managed to somehow fit everything in. I was as ready as I could be. Now I just had to meet my Festka Australia team for the first time. image9

Day One Thirteen teams gathered at Velo Wines Legana for a 7am briefing on Saturday morning. It was definitely feeling like Tasmania – the air was brisk and the winds were strong. Rain had been forecasted for the afternoon, but I hoped would be home before the skies opened. I met my teammates Karl Ulbrich, and brothers Thomas and Benjamin Juzwin at the morning briefing. First impressions? Three strapping lads with quads to rival Andre Greipel. We huddled around our coffee cups and nervously chatted about the day ahead. We set off at a cracking pace, riding hard for almost 40km passing a few other teams along the way. The terrain was absolutely breathtaking – and so was the pace. My legs were screaming. The grovelling had begun. My Quarq had cracked it in the morning, so I was without power data. Probably for the better as the numbers would have definitely stressed me out. The guys were great. On the pinchy climbs they waited, and on the flats they let me suck their wheel. My nose didn’t touch the wind all day. I constantly had to remind myself to look up and around from my stem to take in the views of some of the most beautiful roads in Australia. image2
Soon enough we were caught by the team that left after us. We rode with them a while and had some fun drafting behind the film crew as they captured our journey. This company proved a great distraction from my screaming legs and before I knew it, we were at the base of the Ben Lomond climb. image3
I told the boys to ride at their own pace, and I would see them at the top. This was the beginning of 18km of gravel. The road was hard-packed, with loose gravel on the surface. It was hard to get out of the saddle without the back wheel slipping around. My 23 tyres were just not wide enough to make the gravel comfortable. I spent a lot of time looking at the road in front of me, picking my line and grinding carefully. I was using all my energy concentrating, my legs were feeling very heavy. The race pace from earlier was catching up on me. This was proving to be one of the most picturesque climbs I’ve ever done. As I gained altitude, the terrain got more spectacular. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The rock formations were unbelievable. The boys waited for me at about the mid-point, and we rode together until the final four kilometres – where Jacob’s Ladder  begins. We emerged from the tree lined road, to a rocky open moonscape. Cliffs on one side and a sheer rock face on the other. The road wound up and around a steep gradient, with deep rocky gravel. We were exposed to the elements now, and the wind had picked up. As I grinded along, I gripped my bars tighter and tighter. I wanted to look up, but I couldn’t. I had to concentrate on my line. I stopped on the first hair pin to take a photo. How could I not? The view was better than anything I’ve seen. It even rivals Col d’ Aubisque or even Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees – both of which were mind blowingly beautiful. It was probably a rookie move to stop here. Mounting my bike on a 10 percent gradient, in deep gravel, in the wind proved difficult. Not to mention I was feeling very fatigued by now. I managed to get on, just, after pushing my bike to a flatter five percent section.
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The final four kilometres was a grind. It was beginning to get cold and very windy. I finally made it to the summit. I walked up those stairs to the café like I had been run over by a truck. At the café, I was met by familiar faces as most teams opted to stop here and share the moment over a warm drink. It was time to refuel, dry the sweaty clothes a bit and get back on the road as we still had 80km left to get home, including another 30km or so of gravel.

A stressful descent aside, we regrouped at the bottom and set off home with a few other teams. There was now a large bunch of us, my partner Purdie included. The pace now was a little slower, but quick all the same and the climbing wasn’t over. I hadn’t recovered like I’d hoped, my legs were feeling very slow on the pinchy climbs and the wind was picking up. I was groveling again. Sucking wheel. I shoveled more food in, hoping that it would make me come good. That’s when we hit the final gravel section. All of a sudden, I was vibrating all over the road. I was stressed. I was feeling overwhelmed by the speed at which the bunch was travelling on the gravel descent. I started to go backwards, started to lose touch with the group, and I watched them fly into the distance. My teammates were up the road, and I was alone, sliding around in daze. The gravel was defeating me. I felt overcome with emotion and self-doubt. That’s when I saw the light, or Purdie at least, she was waiting for me with a group that had flatted. I kept riding and groveled the final two kilometres or so on the gravel with her by my side – in silence. We stopped once we reached the asphalt. I was so relieved that I almost kissed it. I had a little moment to reflect, ate some food, and then I was ready to ride again. In hindsight, I was not being rational. I let myself get stressed and I was letting the gravel get to me – all I needed was some food and a moment to regroup. image8
We continued on and joined another couple of teams along the way. Eventually I picked up my teammates Karl, Ben and Tom, who had taken a wrong turn (that’s why I lost them earlier). We were all feeling it – they had done an extra 10km of gravel by the time they found us again. The wind had picked up by now, and the 30 or so of us were being blown around like yachts. I was feeling much more positive at this point, especially because we had a group to ride with for the final 30km. image7
The Rapha team car joined us for a little bit, it was pumping out some tunes and handing out jelly snakes to keep us motivated. As we rode, we were collecting riders along the way, and by the time we reached the outskirts of Launceston with 10km to go, we were about 40 riders strong. And just as we neared the end, the downpour began. Most of us were at the edge of our tethers by now, suffering in the elements with fatigue well and truly setting into our bones. The knowledge that pizza and beer awaited us all back at Velo Wines was enough for our legs to keep ticking over at a steady pace. Before I knew it, we were home. There was a huge cheer as we wiped the mud from our brows, wrung out our gloves and devoured those pizzas. It was 4:30PM when we got in… nearly nine hours since roll out, which felt like a distant memory. I was absolutely cooked. I high-fived the boys and the rest of the evening is a blur of good food, wine and a fair exchange of stories of flats, stacks, bonks, road kill and suffering – with the hope that the following day’s ride would be a little more cruisy.

Day Two
We gathered again at Velo Wines, a little more weary than the day before. As we sipped coffee together in the morning sun, we chatted about what the day would have in store for us. Sunday’s route would take us along the Tamar River, through State Forest and the steep gravel roads of Notley Gorge. It was a relatively short day on the bike, but challenging all the same for our tired legs.
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We set off in larger groups, with three teams grouped together. We rode the rolling hills along the Tamar River, chatting excitedly. It was a beautiful sight, the sun reflecting off the water and the wind on our backs. We were all in top spirits. Unlike yesterday, I was more mentally prepared for the gravel sections which we would encounter. I did not let the gravel stress me out. I rode it like I would any paved road, enjoying the scenery and the banter. The kilometres ticked over quickly and before we knew it we were entering Notley Gorge. image14 T
he climb was steep and unsealed, which meant it was hard to get out of the saddle without losing traction. I was wishing I had one more gear. Before I knew it, we were at the top – stopping briefly to regroup. My legs were weary by now, yet I managed to find the last burst of energy to get me home. I could have kept riding into the distance, but that was the end. It was time to pack up my bike and head back to reality.

Reflections
I would say that the Rapha Prestige was one of the hardest weekends I’ve had on the bike, maybe even harder than Everesting. I very much underestimated the power of the gravel. It drained my energy and my mental strength. In many ways it nearly broke me. Everesting was controlled, consistent and predictable. Rapha Prestige was not any of this, and it wasn’t meant to be. In many ways it was everything I expected – a truly epic adventure. I learnt a lot about myself this weekend. Riding here has been one of the most satisfying times I’ve had on the bike. Jacob’s Ladder is one of the most beautiful climbs in the world, and I can now say that I have climbed it. The view from the lookout rivals many of the famous climbs I’ve ridden in the Pyrenees, and it’s just as challenging to ride. The rock formations, cliffs, forest and sky viewed from that lookout was almost angelic. I will never forget the experience of this weekend – the view from Jacob’s Ladder, the suffering that I endured on that dreaded gravel, the satisfaction I felt high-fiving the boys after a hard 165km, and the friendships formed in sweet and tears along the way. Every person that rode The Rapha Prestige Launceston will have a different story to tell, yet we all shared the same camaraderie and suffering. Memories that will not be forgotten. I’ve made new friends, solidly built from the satisfaction and knowledge that we did it. Together. This weekend reminded me of the importance of following your dreams – whether it be to climb a mountain or begin commuting to work. Just get on your bike and ride it, in paces that challenge and inspire you to ride more. I can’t wait until the next Prestige, and a whole lot more suffering.
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