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

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!

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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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Finding that motivation, rain, hail or shine

Yesterday was the first time since I sold my car, where I really wished I hadn’t.

It was raining, and I mean bucketing down. I had to get to work, trains and trams are not so convenient, so on the bike I got. As I pedalled, dripping wet, I really started to resent the fact that I had to ride my bike… I was feeling daunted by the weather to come, this was only the start… winter that is. Sigh. The worst is yet to come.

My motivation for riding my bike always seems to wain this time of year, when the darkness sets in and the temperature starts to drop. This is the time of year when I find it increasingly hard to get myself out of bed in the morning and find that motivation to get on my bike and ride it. Don’t get me wrong. I love riding my bike. I once did this:

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But still, there is something about this time of year that gets to me. There is a brief adjustment period. Though my motivation starts to wain at this time of year, it is a good time for me to revisit my goals. So why do I get up to train in the morning? The underlining motivation is my love for riding my bike. Bike riding keeps me fit, happy and if nothing else, sane. Often it is the 45 minutes I spend commuting to work in the morning that is almost the most enjoyable part of my day, an opportunity to clear my mind, experience some endorphins and get my daily vitamin D. My bike is also my primary mode of transport, I need it to get from a to b. My competitive streak keeps me focused with many bike related goals to achieve. Then there is the social aspect that cycling provides, many friends to ride with, places to go, breakfast spots to eat at. I really do have hundreds of reasons to be motivated, to get out of bed in the morning, to ride rain, hail or shine, and to just get on my bike and ride it.

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My training will shift from focusing on summer crits, to winter kilometres, hills and tts, and I will remind myself that despite the cold, wet and dreary conditions, I love riding my bike and everything that it provides me. The cold can be relieved, the wet can be prepared for. Now it is time to rug up, put on those merino socks, rub that embro on the legs and get on my bike and ride it!

Avoid the rain, ride in the snow… a slow and snowy ascent of Mt Buffalo

I had borrowed a pair of demo race wheels, Roval CLX40’s from Total Rush, and was headed home to Eldorado for the weekend, excited to see what the wheels could do. The plan was to ride the Sam Miranda NRS courses over the weekend, but with the torrential rain and the Strade Nero more in a state more suited to a cyclocross bike, the plan was scrapped. I did not want to ruin the demo wheels by climbing the Strade Nero in 30cm of mud!

With the original plan scrapped, a less muddy alternative was sought. I have a tradition of climbing Mt Buffalo every time I head home, so this was going to be Plan B. The only problem, it was a bloody  miserable day, still raining, like it had done all night… who likes riding in the rain? No one! Well, really I have no excuses, I have all the gear to ride in the rain, so rain or no rain, we could do it, we could take on plan B and climb Mt Buffalo instead of the Strade Nero.

A quick check of the weather report for Mt Buffalo…snow… Hmmm…. was this going to be a good idea? I went to my wardrobe and got out my ski gloves, socks, and goggles, this was going to be an adventure. This is one of the many reasons why I ride my bike. I like to push and challenge myself and chase the adventure! So I packed the bikes, ski gear and my friend in the car, and we set off, into the rain to ride our bikes up Mt Buffalo.

We sat in the car at the bottom of the climb staring out the windows, it was still raining, probably heavier than before. Procrastination. We eventually mustered up the courage to get out of the car and quickly put every piece of cycling clothing we own on. Including the ski socks and goggles… Lets just say today was not going to be a day for PB’s, despite the fact I was rocking a pretty fast set of Roval’s!

Mt Buffalo climb starts at the toll gates, and takes you up 1,014m, over 18km of about 5% gradient (see the Climbing Cyclist’s guide here). It is a steady, yet challenging climb. Very picturesque scenery and probably the best climb in North East Victoria because of it. I never get tired of This climb…Hence why I’ve done it about one million times (not literally, more like 10).

So layered up in clothing like the Michelin Man, we began climbing with the far out hope that the rain would subside. After a while, we did not think about the rain at all. We just chatted away, soaking up the atmosphere, all the while I was whining that I needed a few more gears. (I’ve recently gone from a 50 BCR to a 52 BCR. Compact to mid-compact) My little legs were feeling the burn. Good burn.

 To our surprise, half way up the climb it did stop raining!

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It started snowing instead. The wind picked up too and snow flakes were floating through the air just like in the movies. It was absolutely spectacular. The thought crossed our minds, that maybe we should turn back? Nah, this was to exhilarating!

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We were more than half way up.  We were feeling relatively good, despite our hands and feet were feeling a little frost bitten (toes might have fallen off) and our gloves a little damp…at least the snow meant it was not raining anymore! There was no way we would turn around now, we were way too close. 

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Naturally as we climbed higher, the snow on the road got thicker. I tell you now that that I’m happy that there were cars driving up the mountain with chains on. They would cut tracks in the snow on the road that we could ride in. The tyres that were fitted to the demo wheels were, lets just say, slick and probably not the best for snow conditions. But they did the job fine!

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So we made it to the top, to a white wonderland and a chilly -1.6 degrees, but frozen smiles from ear to ear.  We made it, not do it in record time, but we enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed the company. 

Climbing Mt Buffalo into the snow has been one of the most rewarding cycling experiences of my life. The challenge of the climb in the snow, the adrenaline, and coupled with the beauty of the terrain was absolutely magical. Often in life we doubt our ability to do things, we often put challenging things off or just avoid them all together. This could have been one of those things that was put off. That miserable morning we could have very easily stayed at home, listening to the rain on the roof, sitting by the fire, or have been snuggled up in bed.  But instead, we dragged ourself out into the rain, and climbed a mountain, in the snow. We pushed ourselves, challenged ourselves and had an adventure of a lifetime. It is definitely something that I will do again. The ski socks were a life saver, I did not even use embro, shock horror!

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Get on your bike and ride it, push yourself, chase the adventure, ride in the rain, the snow and with your friends.

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Here is are some of my thoughts on the Roval CLX40’s…

I’m no expert on wheels, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the demo wheels I borrowed over the weekend.

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Though no PB’s were achieved this time up Buffalo, the Roval’s were absolutely fantastic to ride! I’m sure that if there was no snow, I would have been able to give my PB a red hot crack because the wheels felt great during the climb, so light and smooth and bloody fast.  Even though they are only >200g lighter than my Roval Fusee’s they are much more aero, cutting through the wind and gliding over the road surface easily. The wheels handled extremely well when cornering, felt stiff and controlled, even at speed. They felt great under wheel when peddling out of the saddle too. The biggest difference I notices was the smoothness when climing, I felt like I glided up that mountain… even in the snow!

The next day I took them out on the flat to give them a bash, to see what they really could do. I was amazed at how smooth they felt on the country roads compared to my Fusee’s – they rolled like the wind, in fact they glided through the wind, making a satisfying mean  noise… I think I’m addicted to the sound. I definitely noticed a difference when accelerating compared to my Fusee’s. I was able to accelerate up to speed quickly and smoothly. They cut straight through the wind… I suspect that they will be great for racing crits!

Not only do I think that these wheels are fast, but they make my bike look fast too. Looks. That’s all that matters right? So, I’m thinking that I will need to find myself a set in time for Tour of Bright at the end of the year… and for the summer crit season!

Hmmm, I better get a part time job…or sell a kidney…?

Roval Rapide CLX 40

Full Carbon
Aero Clincher
Moulded Carbon Rims
Sealed Cartridge Hubs
DT Revolution Spokes
Hand built
CLX40 – 1,425g
Limited Lifetime Warranty
Ceramic bearings

You too can demo a set from Total Rush, click here for more info.

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Strava segment can be found here
You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @lowercasev
#pinkismycolour
#getonyourbikeandrideit