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

Hautacam rest day and Stage 18 of the TDF

So our initial plan was to watch Stage 18’s finish at the summit of the Hautacam. The Tour riders would have to endure Col du Tourmalet and then make their way to the summit to finish at the infamous Hautacam.

Our plans changed on good advice from our host Dom. It was confirmed that it would be a logistical nightmare for us to endure the entire day on the summit without any vehicle or support with us. The road to the summit closes at 11am. The race finishes at approximately 5pm. You are not allowed to descend the Hautacam until 7pm. This would mean that we would stand around in the sun for minimum 8 hours and not be able to leave until late, with limited food and water. We would have anywhere to put our bikes. We sound soft, but we did have a plan B.

We instead decided to ride the Hautacam early in the morning and then ride home to watch the riders pass through Orincles – literally at our driveway. The Cote de Benejacq (2.3km at 6.7%) where the first King of the Mountain points were on offer provided the perfect point for our viewing.

Now Cote de Benejacq is not the biggest burg in the Pyrenees, but it sure is a pinch. It is 2.3km long and at 6.7% certainly would have woken the legs up of the riders who were only 50 or so km into the stage.

So we started the day off early, rode to the Hautacam. Now the climb was hard, well, not as bad as yesterdays Luz. It is a consistent gradient, steep – 13.6km at 8%. Purdie and I decided to ride this one together. The ride up was certainly a spectacle, we could not ride fast, constantly navigating people walking and riding up, standing on the side of the road, painting messages on the road, camper vans etc..all with the goal to get a prime position on the mountain to watch the stage finish. It was madness. By the time we got to the top, we were stopped by the Feds who with 100m to the summit, would not let us through. No Strava segment for us. Oh well. Now descending was a hazard too. On the brakes the whole way down, dodging just the same. We were relieved to get off the mountain. It would be good to ride it another time, without the crowds.

We then got home just in time to watch the Caravan go through. The Caravan we never see on TV in Australia. To put it simply, they are big floats, or cars that are covered in sponsors advertising that drive around the stage before the riders, pumping music and throwing free stuff at us. It is amazing, and so much fun. I waved my arms around like a kid in a candy store at the passing parade for an hour or so – gathering as much junk as I could and fighting kids for freebies!

After all that craziness, we gathered our loot and headed up to the KOM point. It was a 2km hike up to the Cote de Benjacq KOM point. Now I hate walking, so walking anywhere is a big deal. But the reward of the walk would be worth it, I’ve wanted to see the Tour live since forever.

It was awesome up there, hundreds of people lining the road, trying to get a good position to see the riders hurtle past. And that they did. The crowd starts off calm and quiet, then the tooting and sirens from the official vehicles starts. Then the Feds come through pushing the crowd back on the scooters, then the lead car, then the riders, then the crowd screams and yells and cow bells ring, then it is quiet again and the crowds disappear! The riders went through as a small lead group, then the main bunch. I guess they were all together as it was early in the race, so our viewing was over in 10 seconds flat.

It was so much fun. It was great to be a part of the fanfare that you see on TV. The atmosphere was electric and I had a smile from ear to ear all day. I have wanted to watch the race live all my life, and now I have!  We rushed home to watch the rest of the stage on TV, they were on their way up to the Tourmelet… We’ll be tackling it tomorrow – double! Can’t wait!

We only did 65km today, albeit up the Hautacam on our rest day, but heck, it was our rest day and I had a race to watch.

PS. Nibali won.
PPS. Completed Rapha Rising!

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You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev. All photos taken on GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition. #GoPro #VSport

 

Luz Ardiden, cooked.

Today’s adventure would take us to our first real climb. I say this because the previous ones – Col du Aspin and Col du Soulor both had long sections of 1-2% and averaged out with a 5% gradient. The beast that is Luz, has a average of 9% over 13km. It is totally and utterly ouchy. Here is my Strava file.

We had to ride 35km to the base of Luz and were all rather cooked from our previous days efforts. So the first 20 or so km hurt…a lot! It was also about 30 degrees which literally cooked us as well.

The climb itself was just steep, uphill and steep. My legs were screaming every second. There was no rest, no where to hide on this one, apart from turning the switchbacks where the gradient eased off a little. The heat is the thing that got me. It was brutal, there was not much tree cover for the final 10km, it was beating down on me and I was sweating like a criminal. It felt like it went on forever, the sun beating down. I did not realise how many switchbacks there were until I looked back down. The view at the top was spectacular, so was the descent!

We were in struggle town on the way home, legs were burring, and we were burning. It was now the heat of the day and I was cooking. We were all a bit dehydrated and grumpy. We made a bee line for Argelles for food and water, with a minor detour to get my cable fixed at the local bike shop! The LBS was a Specialized dealer too! By the time the cable was fixed, we were out of there just in time to watch the end of the Tour in a bar, which made the final 20km home quite a crawl. But what a day, we did 100km, 1800m of climbing, all on rather cooked legs, under the searing sun. But I’m not complaining, at least it is not winter!

Hautacam tomorrow and watching the Tour pass our accommodation doorstep! Can’t wait! Though I hope my legs feel better.

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You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev. All photos taken on GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition.

 

The not so epic adventure, Col d’Aspin and the Hourquette

Today we didn’t have quite the adventure that we did yesterday, but we had fun just the same and finished with a ride time of about 4.5hrs a vast improvement from yesterday’s activities. Today we had 0 crashes, 0 hospital visits, 0 punctures, 0 navigation issues, 1 QOM and multiple animal encounters.

So I’m here in the Pyrenees, doing a tour with a bunch of friends and friend’s of friends. We are a bunch of mixed abilities and strengths.  There is Trace and Dean, Greg (uncle of Ritchie Porte), Mike, Kristina (HCC member and recovering from her crash yesterday), Purdie and The Cycling Life owners Brett and Andrew.

Mike, Purdie and I are all of similar ability and we set off on adventures slightly more epic than the rest in the group. This really only equates to doing  extra ams and extra elevation gained than the others.

Today Mike, Purdie and I conquered Col d’Aspin and the Hourquette. A 110 km round trip with 2300 m elevation, check out my Strava file here.

Col d’Aspin is 13km at average gradient of 5%. It has sections of 2% and the last 2km runs at about 8%. It is deceptively hard. The Tour de France rode up this climb in 2012 – this was made very obvious by the encouragement painted on the road. Go Valverde – he must have had some fans that year! Whilst I wouldn’t be riding as fast as the tour riders, I was keen to set a personal goal and try to nab the QOM. The Strava record for a female was 47 mins. It was definitely achievable.

Aspin does not feel like a climb. The 2% sections make it feel like a flat time trial, until the end that is, where it kicks up in the last few kms. I started the climb…..36 minutes later, I had the QOM!

We rode into a cloud, visibility was low and it was freezing at the top. Lucky Kristina and Dom (our host) were waiting at the top with food and warm clothes. With the next stop on todays agenda being the Hourquette, we had a decent of about 15km. Silly me forgot my trusty long fingered gloves for the descent. To prevent frost bite on my hands, I put Kristina’s spare socks over my hands to keep them warm and functional. It worked… 45 mins later we were at the base of the Horquette ready for our second climb of the day.

The Hourquette. A mild 9km at 8%. It was certainly going to hurt after my effort from the Aspin. Mike left Purdie and I to grovel up together. The decent of the Hourquette was the most beautiful so far. We wound through valleys, along a stream and through fields. Stunning.

That was our climbing over. We cruised home with a head wind at 35km/hr for 25kms, all slightly downhill. (along the way, we bumped into some familiar Aussies doing a bike style tour – small world indeed)

Another great day in the saddle riding in the Pyrenees. We very much look forward to coming home to lounge by the pool and eat delicious food.

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

Note: I dropped into the LBS this arvo to see if I could get my cable issue fixed. The mechanic was having a rest day. Will try again tomorrow afternoon. Another day without a big chain ring for me. Supercoach will be happy, no grinding in the BCR….yet.

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All photos taken on GoPro Hero 3+ black edition. You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev

 

En Route to the Pyrenees

Here are just a few GoPto photos from the transit from Melbourne to the Pyrenees.

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Waiting
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Forever waiting
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Hydrators are winners
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Fast train – 296 km/hr… Strava QOM?

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A
rrive!

 

Women’s 100 today… can’t wait!

All photos taken with GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition.