Sunshine, Prosecco and Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley

After a stellar three weeks holiday pedalling up the famous mountains of Italy and the Pyrenees, my body decided to punish me for returning to Melbourne’s dreary winter and I spent a uncomfortable 5 days in bed with a temperature of 40. One could say that I didn’t have the most ideal prep for the upcoming Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley. But hey, by the time Friday rolled around I was back on my bike and was excited to be racing my first NRS tour with Specialized Securitor and not to mention we were racing in my home town of Wangaratta!

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

We arrived at Wangaratta on Thursday, after a detour via the airport to pick up my new team mates. We had a full team, Sophie, Ash, Cass, Josie and Jaz plus super DS Bec and super mechanic Zeke. We were here to race Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley, a four stage race held over three days. It is arguably the best on the women’s NRS calendar, with a TT, crit and two road races.

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

The King Valley had certainly turned on the weather for Stage 1. It was blue skies all round. The TT was based out of Dal Zotto Winery and featured a 20.7km lumpy course. Bec our DS had set us our aims. Which were to ride hard, try to break into the top five. Pre race we had our bikes checked by the officials. Slight fail there with Josie’s and Cass’s Shivs not being UCI legal, so they had to ride their roadies and my tiny Transition needing its saddle put back 10mm – not going to be the best fit. The course was going to be a great one for inflicting pain, the rolling hills hurt the legs and the headwind home provided a bit of unwanted resistance. I was nervous about the TT. Mainly because I hadn’t been on the bike all week and was unsure if my legs and heart would handle 200bpm for 30 odd minutes. Nerves were channelled into the legs off the start ramp and I concentrated on keeping a solid pace. Nothing much to report along the way, my nose was running like a tap, my legs were heavy pushing too big of a gear and the headwind home made for a very snotty finish. Ash had a stomper of a ride, crossing the line in 2nd position and climbed herself into the QOM jersey. The team had three riders in the top 20. Thumbs up. Full results can be viewed here. 

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Photo courtesy of Jo Upton Photography

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

After the TT we packed up the bikes and headed to the next stage, a 38 km Crit (or rather a Kermesse) at the Wangaratta aerodrome. The laps were a long 3.3km, with two hotdog style corners, on a cheese grater surface that would make for interesting riding. Last year, the weather made this crit horrible as we raced in torrential rain and gail force winds. This year it was the exact opposite, relatively still and the sun was shining, perfect. We knew that this one was going to be an aggressive race, so that was going to be our objective. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The race was just that. Aggressive. Riders were going off the front, but no-one was letting anything get away. We were doing our best to cover breaks and attack when we could. It was a battle to hold position, like a washing machine that we just kept churning around in. I was struggling to hold my position – it was so frustrating getting squashed out around the corners and then having to spend the straight moving up. Nothing really significant happened for the entire race, apart from Josie getting a flat, and Cass and Jaz throwing some attacks into the fold. So we just prepared ourselves for a bunch sprint. We knew it would be critical to hit that last corner in top 5 positions to have a chance at the podium. So thats what we did, we got Ash around that final hairpin bend and bang, she battled it out for 4th. The rest of the girls finished with the bunch. Her result here meant that we held the QOM jersey, 2nd on GC and we are 2nd on Teams Classification. It was now time to go home, lay horizontal and consume as much peanut butter and honey on toast as our stomachs could handle. Full results can be viewed here. GoPro YouTube video of the crit can be viewed here.

We welcomed the later start for Stage 3, fitting in a 200m coffee ride and some time to bask in the sun. The 102km road race had 3 intermediate sprints, 3 QOMs and one 6km gravel section called the strade nero. This gravel section could potentially make or break the race, so our objective was to be aggressive on the climbs, and do everything we could to maintain 2nd on GC and in teams classification. We started off after neutral at a rather leisurely pace, only really ramping up after the first sprint point. We were all climbing well and made it over the first two QOMs comfortably. Somewhere over the QOMs a breakaway group of riders, including our rider Sophie ended up the road with a good amount of time on the main bunch. This was ideal, because Ruth was with us in the bunch and they were taking any bonus time points away from her. With the strade nero approaching, we made sure that we were at the front and started the climb at pace. Ruth had attacked and bridged over to the lead group of riders. Despite Ash’s saddle dropping and her having to pedal with her knees around her ears, we made it over the climb just behind the race leaders. We smashed the descent, a vast contrast to my descent the previous year… where I did a similar climb, only to get dropped on the descent. It was my mission not to do that this year. We formed a group of about 15 by the time we got to Whitfield, we rode the next 20 or so km together. Nothing exciting was really happening, the bunch kind of sat up. There were a few attacks here and there and we were responding when necessary. Gradually, the riders that were left behind on the climb, sorted themselves out and caught us. Most of the peloton were all together with 20km to go. Then we just went through the motions. As we got closer and closer to the finish, the bunch started to swarm and things got a little hectic. Unfortunately with 2km to go Sophie crashed. She hit the deck pretty hard. Before we knew it, we were sprinting for the line. Job done. As suspected, Soph had not only broke her collar bone, but shattered it. It was a huge day with mixed emotions for the team. Race wise we were very happy with the day and how we were riding, but sad to have lost Soph, she was riding so well! Full results can be viewed here.

Sam Miranda, NRS Womens RR Stg 43, 24/08/2014
Photo courtesy of Con Chronis

Stage four was an 86km road race, with two QOMs and not much time between Ash and Ruth (Holden Cycling), it was important for us to grab as many QOM time bonuses as possible to retain 2nd on GC. That was it. Our aim was clear. The race was aggressive from the start, with riders going off the front left right and centre. Early on as the rolling hills started, I managed to get myself in an early break with three other riders. That was short lived as we weren’t going to be let get away, we got reeled in soon promptly. That was going to be the going for the majority of the race. Attacking and catching. The first QOM was fast approaching and teams started to organize themselves towards the front. You could feel the tension brewing. The pace ramped up significantly in the lead up to the 1km to go sign, to prevent anyone attacking early and riders were launched into the climb. Our team all made it over with the group, with Ash sprinting over the top grabbing 2 points behind Ruth. This splintered the group somewhat. Though the bunch came together on the decent and we again were preparing ourselves for the next QOM. Again, the first 500m of the climb were fast paced, waiting for the inevitable attacks to happen. Making sure Ash was in position was critical because when Ruth kicked, Ash had time to respond and again managed to get 2 points behind Ruth. We crested the climb and the decent started. The next section was slightly downhill for 10 or so kms, so it was fast. Very fast. This is where an attack went and got away. A Bicycle Superstore rider Crystal, Boss and BikeBug-Next Gen rider Juzzy went into the distance. The next few kilometers the bunch cruised along, with various teams making an attempt to bridge over or reel the breakaway group in…until about 10km to go when the breakaway had a good minute on us and everyone seemed to panic. That’s when the pace started to pick up and the group started to chase.

Sam Miranda, NRS Womens RR Stg 43, 24/08/2014
Photo courtesy of Con Chronis

Fast forward a few kilometres and the bunch was sprinting for the line. The breakaway had stuck. The team all crossed it in the chase bunch, with only our bonus points in tow. Ash set herself up for the bunch sprint for 4th spot leaving 9 seconds between Ash and Ruth. Our job was done, we protected Ash’s 2nd place on GC plus 2nd place on Team’s Classification. Full results of the stage can be viewed here.

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The team all rode strongly this weekend, we had a good result, ate lots of peanut butter, drank lots of coffee, enjoyed the sunshine, had Prosecco showers and most of all, had fun doing the thing we love, riding our bikes. Fast. Though sad to have Soph injured with a confirmed broken collarbone, but that is racing and she’ll be back soon enough (actually she is probably on the trainer as you read this!).

You can see the full GC results here and the official gallery of images and videos here.

Finally I just wanted to say thanks to everyone involved in this tour and especially for supporting women’s cycling. The team and I really enjoyed racing the Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley, it is one of the best races on the calendar. A huge thank-you goes out to Bec Domange our DS and Zeke Ashworth our mechanic for keeping us and our Amira’s in order. Also thanks to our legendary sponsors Specialized, Securitor, Capo and Adidas for getting us on the road in the first place.

Until next time, get on your bike and ride it.

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+ Vsport Australia

Testing the ‘pain’ face at the Baw Baw Road Race

“Ask most Victorian cyclists what the toughest climb in the state is and they’ll probably say Mt. Baw Baw. And fair enough: the climb’s final 6.8km rise at an average gradient of more than 10% and just getting up the climb is a great effort. Racing up it is something else entirely.” Matt DeNeef – The Climbing Cyclist

I wrote a version of this post for The Climbing Cyclist about my recent win at the Mt Baw Baw Alpine Classic, which is part of Cycling Victoria’s National Road Series.

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I’m relatively new to cycling and still finding my legs. But, after my recent win in C Grade at the Mt. Buller Road Race (the first race in the Victorian Road Series), I’ve reluctantly come to terms with the idea that I might… cough… actually… like… climbing. Don’t judge me!

As I’m sure you are well aware climbing is bloody hard … but apparently I tick all the right boxes to make a good climber: the right physique, the right power-to-weight ratio, a high pain threshold (I think). So, I better make the most of my ability. I better take it and run (ride) … uphill.

Enter the Mt. Baw Baw Alipne Classic.

I was relatively prepared leading up to the race. I had been working on a program of hills, hills and more hills so I was as prepared as I could have been. Well, actually, I don’t think anyone can really train properly for the Mt. Baw Baw climb itself, other than by riding it. A lot. Which I hadn’t. Ever.

I did go out to Mt. Macedon the week earlier to do hill repeats to try and simulate the Baw Baw climb. But I tell you now — it was not even close to a simulation. Mt. Macedon does have some very pinchy 13% sections, but it was nothing like the 20% sections of Baw Baw that I was about to endure.

Everyone was telling me that the course was suited to me: 103km of undulating hills, with a few pinchy sections, like Vesper Hill (4km at 8%), and the final 6km of Baw Baw where my power-to-weight ratio was going to come into play. But, 103 km was a daunting number for me. The longest race I’d ever ridden was the 50km Mt. Buller Road Race a few weeks earlier.

That race was hard. I struggled in the first 35km — the pace was fast and the wind was strong, I just made it to the base of the Mt Buller climb. So I was nervous that Baw Baw was going to be a similar race, that my hardest battle was going to be the 95km before the Mt. Baw Baw climb. I knew that I just had to get to the base and to do that, I would have to listen to my coach’s advice and “race smart.

So I set my goals for this race: to hang in with the bunch, to stay out of the wind, and to preserve as much energy as I could so I could go into the second half of pain … I mean race … in the best physical condition possible. Despite all my hard work and mental preparation, I still sat on the start line, shaking in my proverbial S-Works “boots”.

To my absolute horror A, B and C grades were sent off together. I assumed the grades would split up quickly, but that wasn’t the case at all. We rode together in a fairly (unexpectedly) civilised manner for the majority of the race, although a couple of the stronger riders went off the front early, taking a lead that could not be broken. I was consciously eating and drinking every 45 minutes to keep my energy levels up, which was going to be number-one priority if I was going to make it through to the end.

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Spot the pink!?

I was riding well, the pace was steady and I felt comfortable in the bunch. I tried to ride towards the front keeping Liz Hall (Total Rush-Hyster), Penny Brown (Total Rush-Hyster) and Hawthorn Cycling Club member Deborah Richards in sight. There were a few undulating sections at Buln Buln and Neerim South to keep us on our toes, but I managed to hang in there and before I knew it 50km had flashed by. Before too long we were approaching the feed zone at Noojee, which marked the half-way point of the race.

At this stage I was getting nervous about the approaching feed zone and not concentrating on much else. I was imagining the carnage that was about to happen, with everyone bottlenecking through a sea of soignuers waiting to do the ol’ water bottle swap. Among the “swannies”, I would have to spot mine — my friend Nadia — and grab my bottle off her … without dropping it, and without losing too much time on the bunch. Some three seconds later, I breathed a sigh of relief … phew! I had passed through the feed zone safe and sound, got my water bottle and re-joined the main bunch just before the dreaded climb that they call “Vespers”.

My legs were feeling surprisingly good as we started the climb, but I still wasn’t looking forward to the next 4km at an average of 8% — this was really going to test my climbing ability. Everyone had told me that Vespers was where the peloton would sort itself out. They were right. As soon as we hit the climb all hell broke loose – the stronger A-grade riders darted up like Bambi on red cordial and that was it. I lost the main bunch and was left spinning, alone. Crap!

In about 30 seconds, my plan of sitting in and staying out of the wind was gone.

I was definitely not keen on riding solo, so I had a gel, sipped some water, and turned the legs on. I needed to catch someone, anyone, to ride with. So I climbed at a steady tempo and as I reached the top of Vespers and started the decent I could see a group of four riders in the distance. They were my bait, my carrot on a stick. I told myself I had to reach them; I needed some company. So I spent the next 10km chasing, ascending, descending and generally pedalling my heart out to catch them.

Finally, I caught up to them somewhere after Icy Creek. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realised it was Penny, Deb, (my mates from earlier), Sam De Rita (Holden Cycling Team) and Christal Wemyss (Horsham CC). I absolutely could not believe I caught them! Despite the fact my legs still felt good, I was a bit worried I might have wasted too much energy in the chase. I still had about 30km of climbing to go!

The five of us rode together, laughed together, cursed Baw Baw together, ran out of water, shared water and kept each other in good spirits for the next 20km of ascending and descending. Before I knew it we were at Tanjil Bren where we were about to begin the final climb, Mt. Baw Baw.

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Photo Credit: Gavin Wright

I blinked (or while Gav was taking this photo) and Penny, Christal and Sam were off — they must have found something else in their tank and were powering off into the distance towards the Gantry at the base of the climb.

At this point Deb reminded me that we still had 6km of pain to go — my little legs needed to make it up Baw Baw, so this time, I was not chasing. We started the climb at the Gantry together.

For the 95km of the race leading up to Baw Baw I was in complete denial about how brutal the climb was going to be. And you know what? It was worse than I ever could have imagined. I was riding up a wall and it felt like it was impossible. But, somehow, I found my rhythm and started to grind away, one pedal in front of another, hauling my butt up that hill.

I found some satisfaction and motivation in passing some grown men, struggling, crying, cramping and even pushing their bikes during the awful climb. This was not going to be me. I kept my eyes to the ground and kept looking for the kilometer markers on the road, counting them down, slowly.

My brain was screaming at me to stop, so I got myself into a routine of going in and out of the saddle, zig-zagging and telling myself I was nearly there. My pain face was in full form as I heaved myself up that mountain. Every now and again I would look up to the sound of strangers and friends screaming my name out their car windows. Just the encouragement I needed but by the 3km-to-go point, I was beginning to fail – my brain was getting the better of me.

That was until I heard a beep — my Garmin had gone onto auto-pause. I laughed out loud, almost hysterically, at the fact that I was riding so slowly. That was the wake up call I needed. I had snoozed for long enough. I needed to focus — the lack of oxygen and my anaerobic state must have been turning me crazy. I was smiling!? I had to. It was what was going to get me through.

I forced myself to smile and to remember that riding my bike is fun. That’s why I love cycling, and that 13% gradient was fun. I was having a great time and I could pedal faster (to stop my Garmin from auto-pausing). So I told my brain to shut up, focused on the road ahead and smiled my way through those last few kilometres of Baw Baw. After losing the bunch at Vespers, and conquering Baw Baw, I rolled across that white line in a world of pain, with a huge smile on my face … and in first place!

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The Baw Baw Classic is by far the hardest race I’ve done in my short cycling career and you know what? I still had fun. I feel that I rode the best race I could have — I hung in with the bunch, I stayed out of the wind and used my energy well. The second half of the race was hard, with the pinchy Vespers testing my limits. But I feel I also raced smart and that is what got me through the painful end. I’m very proud with the result.

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The sick thing is that I’m sitting here recapping the race and I’m thinking Baw Baw was not that bad. I’ll do it again for sure, just not next weekend.

So … what’s next? No rest for the wicked, that’s what! I’ll be trying my hand at Cyclocross next weekend in Beechworth. Then on April 27 I’ll be tacking the next race in the Victorian Road Series — the Tour of the South West. Unlike Baw Baw the Tour of the South West is a much flatter series of races consisting of a crit, a time trial and a road race. I’ll be starting in the state series leader’s yellow jersey and hoping to hold onto it!

To any women out there who are thinking of taking up cycling, recreationally or competitively, just do it! Get a bike and ride it — it’ll change your life. Anyone for any women wanting to join a cycling club, I highly recommend the Women’s Development Program at Hawthorn Cycling Club.

Finally, I’d like to thank my wonderful support crew of Nadia, Gavin (Liz’s husband), the Total Rush Crew and the Hawthorn Cycling Club who all helped to get me through a tough day’s racing.

…a big thank you to my super coach Bec Domange for forcing me to ride up hills!

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Click here to see my Strava file from the 2013 Baw Baw Classic. You can follow me on Twitter (@lowercasev) and on Instagram (@lowercasev there too). All photos courtesy of my black swan Nadia Combe. Click here to see the full results from all grades in the race.

Get a Bike Fit. It’s not a new fitness fad, it’s better!

Wah wah, I’ve got a sore knee.

Simon says, get a Body Geometry Bike Fit. So I did. And you know what, it has changed my life. I feel like I have gained more power, more comfortable on the bike and imporved my pedal stroak. I also went from the Hunchback of Notre Dame to, I don’t know…the opposite!

What did they do? Well, Luke at TR tweaked my seat height (put it up), changed my saddle shape (went from a Specialized Oura to a Specialized Ruby), moved my cleat position (including putting in spacers in my show) and fitted me with Speedplay Pedals (to bring my ankles in line with my knees). He also slammed the hell out of my stem to put me in a more agressive position – which I’m loving!

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Figure 1. My position before the BG Fit- right image, my position after the BG Fit- left image

So, get a Specialized Body Geometry Fit from Total Rush, Richmond. It’ll give you more power…. and superpowers!

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Superpowers!

Meet Napoleon – AMIRA SL4 PRO COMP

Napoleon is my new baby. She was born at Total Rush, Richmond on 15 December, 2012.

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Named primarily because of the Neapolitan Icecream colour combination – pink bar tape, white hoods and black shifters. I discovered later about the term “Napoleon Complex” (more info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon_complex), which upon further research, seems somewhat fitting! The complex apparently surfaces in people who are of short stature, like myself. Where one displays compensatory behaviour for the subjects stature. Ha.

Napoleon has changed my life (or the way I ride at least). He is light, handles well, and is an overall dream to ride.

AMIRA SL4 PRO COMP
Total Rush, Richmond

FRAME
FACT 10r carbon, FACT IS construction, women’s tubesets and performance geometry, tapered 1-1/8″ to 1-3/8″ HT, OSBB

FORK
Specialized FACT carbon, full monocoque, 1-1/8″ to 1-3/8″ tapered steerer

HEADSET
1-1/8″ upper and 1-3/8″ lower Cr-Mo cartridge bearings, w/ 20mm carbon cone spacer and 20mm of carbon spacers

STEM
Specialized Pro-Set 7075 3D forged alloy, cone head bolt and plastic clip, 12- degree, 4-degree shim, 31.8mm

HANDLEBARS
Specialized Women’s Expert alloy, shallow drop

HOODS
SRAM white

TAPE
Specialized Roobaix pink

FRONT BRAKE
SRAM Force

REAR BRAKE
SRAM Force

FRONT DERAILLEUR
SRAM Force

REAR DERAILLEUR
SRAM Red Black

SHIFT LEVERS
SRAM New Red DoubleTap

CASSETTE
SRAM 1070, 10-speed, 11-28

CHAIN
KMC X10 DLC Superlight

CRANKSET
Specialized Pro FACT carbon

CHAINRINGS
50/34

BOTTOM BRACKET
OS integrated, sealed bearings

PEDALS
Shimano Ultegra

FRONT WHEEL
Roval Fusee SLX 23

REAR WHEEL
Roval Fusee SLX 23

FRONT TYRE
Specialized Turbo Pro, BlackBelt, 127TPI, aramid bead, 700x23c

REAR TYRE
Specialized Turbo Pro, BlackBelt, 127TPI, aramid bead, 700x23c

INNER TUBES
Turbo Ultralight, 60mm, presta

SADDLE
Body Geometry Oura Expert Gel, hollow Ti rails, 155mm

SEATPOST
Specialized Pro SL, FACT carbon, 27.2mm

SEAT BINDER
Forged alloy, Ti bolt and nut, 32.6mm