Everesting. Yep, we did that.

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Photo: @fairflyer

The call up
I certainly didn’t expect to be planning an Everesting attempt when I got the invitation from Laura Wilson from Specialized Australia to catch up over coffee little over two months ago. What she proposed to me over that coffee seemed madness, but something not totally off my radar. She asked me to represent Specialized in a little Everesting attempt that Hells500 were cooking up. There was no expectations for me to participate, it was merely an offer. My eyes lit up.

I have been following the Eversting craze ever since Andy van Bergen from Hells500 set it up back in September 2013. I’ve been attending Andy’s Hells500 Tuesday #RFWYA rides for a while now and following the stories of many others who have completed their Everests. The proposal Laura and Hells500 had put in front of me was outstanding – how could I not be involved. 25 women + Mt Donna Buang, 8848m, the largest group everesting on record all to inspire, motivate and encourage female cycling around the world that anything is possible. I immediately said “yes”. February 7th at 11:59PM we were going to begin our Everesting attempt of Mt Donna Buang, 25 women attempting in solidarity, but all riding together to climb Mt Everest. The date went straight into my race calendar, I would clear it with the coach later!

The prep
The enormity of what Andy had planned for the 25 Everesting women didn’t really kick in for a few days. I began researching what Everesting Mt Donna Buang would involve – 300km, 8848m elevation, 20hrs+ in the saddle. The good thing was that I didn’t really have the time to dwell on the details too much. I was too busy racing my bike. For those that follow my blog will know, Specialized Securitor had a very busy summer schedule. January went by in a blur of Bay Crits, Nationals, Santos Womens Tour in Adelaide and Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race. The bad thing was that I wouldn’t get much, actually ANY, endurance training in the legs at all. The furthest I’d ride in the lead up to the Everesting attempt would be racing Cadel’s race the weekend before. So as far as physical prep, I didn’t really have much. While I focused my physical and mental energy on racing, it was only the week before (once racing was over) that I had time to think about things properly.

For me, the most important part of the ride was my clothing/equipment choice and what I would be shoving in my mouth for fuel. They were the two things that were key to Eversting success. I spent the week leading up to the event writing lists, charging lights and getting my gear together. Laura had organised a Specialized care pack for me, which included some clothing for all occasions and some prettly slick high power Flux lights. The next thing that I had to organise was my nutrition. From what people had told me, it was all about real food. As much as possible. So that’s what I did. On the Friday I spent the day baking fruit cake, making sandwiches and picking bananas. I think I was sorted. Too many clothes and too much food. Check.

Excitement was brewing as word got out about the event. Andy had organised a Domestique ride on the day so that the community could come to support by riding a lap or two with us. The women, from all walks of life, chatted excitedly on our Facebook group and rallied our friends and family to support us on the day. Before I knew it, it was 10PM and my partner Purdie and I were driving out to Warburton. Purdie was going to ride the first few night laps with me, then go off to assist the Start Foundation fundraising BBQ she had organised, then re-join me in the afternoon. I had friends coming to roll laps throughout the night and day, so I was never going to be alone. The fact that I was never going to be alone, made the whole thing way more palatable. As Purdie and I chatted about the pending epicness it became apparent that Purdie could actually Everest too (we had friends that could manage the BBQ)… We got to Base Camp at about 11PM to a massive crowd of riders and supporters, we unpacked our bikes and food and soaked up some of the atmosphere. It was buzzing, a mixture of excitement and nerves. A little whisper to Andy and Purdie had her name added to the rider sign on board and it was official,  she was doing it too! That grey stripe we often talked about, we were about to earn together.

The day/night
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The crew on the start line.

Lap 1. Our Garmin’s were started at 12:01am and we were off, pockets full of food. It was a balmy 17 degrees at the summit, quite humid, but perfect weather. Dressed in short sleeves, we rolled into the darkness, beginning our first lap into the unknown. The group stayed together for most of this lap, chatting away, full of energy. It naturally broke up as people climbed at their own pace. We needed a strategy to get through the monotony of 9 laps and had planned to break it down into bite sized chunks to allow us to get through. 3 blocks of 3 laps, with a short break in between seemed the best way for us to get through. This meant that we would break as it got light at approximately 6:00am. Purdie and I rode in relative silence for the first lap, concentrating on the road in front of us, getting used to riding in the darkness and enjoying the peaceful surrounds. The decent was a little scary, buy we had high power lights that were shining the way. There was a huge sigh of relief when we completed the first lap, simple because we did it. It was possible.

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Rolling into the darkness for the first time.

Lap 2. The second lap I was feeling sleepy and hungry, it was time to eat some food. It was just gone 2am, a time where I would very much be asleep. Again, I concentrated on the road in front, turning the pedals. I checked my phone at the top and saw a welcome message from my friend Luke. It said:  “I’m 20 minutes away, see you at the bottom”. I couldn’t believe it. It was 4am now and we weren’t rolling a lap alone! Lap 2 video here.

Lap 3. Having help at lap three was just what we needed to keep us awake, someone new to talk to and distract our droopy eyes. It was just starting to get lighter as the sun rose between the trees. The sky was turning a beautiful rose colour and we began to see our fellow everesters, passing up and down the mountain on their respective laps. I couldn’t stop smiling, it was perfect. It was a magical time of the morning and a time at which Purdie and I were hanging for our 1st proper break. We arrived at the bottom to be greeted by our next two helpers, Bec and Tanya. They all waited patiently whilst Purdie and I filled our water bottles, pockets full of food and put on a new set of lower power lights – the sun was up!
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All good

Lap 4. We were feeling much slower at the beginning of lap four. We had lapped the first three in just under two hours, this lap seemed slower. We couldn’t really complain, Bec had forgotten her cycling shoes and was to ride the next lap with us in her runners. Now that is dedication and a true sign of friendship and support! With the new help, we were a group of 5 and we chatted away, passing the time quickly. Descending this time was a lot different, we had full visibility as it was now around 8AM.  We could see the massive trees and ferns – absolutely beautiful. As we climbed there was a constant exchange of waves and an encouragement yell to the women we passed! The time was flying! Luke left us after this lap, only to be joined by more friends – David, Martin and Grace. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Photo @fairflyer and @fameandspear

Lap 5. Our group had grown again. We were a group of six at lap five. I was feeling the pinch at this stage, we had  been in the saddle for six hours or so and feeling rather weary. Here we did split up a bit, which didn’t matter. We waited for each other every few kilometres. I mean, Purdie and I were in it for the long haul. We were going to ride it together. Our helpers were fantastic at riding at our pace, not once did I get half wheeled or felt pressured to ride faster! We had some fun along the way with Ron and Andy who were taking some photos… Before we knew it, that was that. We were about to descend, ready for lap six. The final lap of our second set. 15618_10153094182473258_3315477707437790933_n
Just waiting for some mates.

Lap 6. We started lap six feeling weary. Though Bec, Tanya, Dave and Martin had left us, we were joined by our other friend’s Bec and Sam. This would be by far the hardest lap for Purdie and I. This one felt like a never ending grind to the top. Each pedal stroke hurt. I just wanted to get to the top… I knew that the sooner that I got there the sooner that it would be over. I ended up riding the second half solo, whilst Purdie rode with Bec and Sam. Purdie was hurting. I felt bad that I had left her. But I needed to get to the top. For my sanity, and hers too. The last three kilometres of the climb are the worst, I felt like I watched my garmin like a hawk as each metre passed by. The relief I felt when I crossed that mark at the top was amazing. It was only a 25 minute decent to our next big break. As I waited at the top, I got a text message from Purdie. She needed food and I had just eaten my last piece of fruit cake. I felt terrible that I didn’t have any, so I scrounged a banana from a stranger (thankyou) and rode three kilometres to where she was to deliver it. Purdie got to the top and we decended like mad women to Base Camp, sat in the room and ate everything in sight. Without stopping for breath I ate two sandwiches, two pieces of fruit cake and smashed a can of lemonade. We sat there on the floor, looking at each other, not speaking a word for what seemed an eternity. Once we came to, we laughed. I think that’s what bonking feels like! We filled our water bottles and with new energy in our legs, we set off once again. 1454606_10153094182553258_6568630474620730341_n
Questioning life

Lap 7. It was 2pm and the Domestiques had began their support ride. As we rode, we bumped into our friend Monique, who we rode with until the top. She was a welcome distraction and set a perfect pace for us to follow. She provided much welcomed inspiration with her epic stories of racing across America. Lap seven flew by, a combination of distraction and excitement that the end was near. We knew that after this lap, we only had 1.2 laps to go! Purdie and I had a good laugh at each other this lap. Laughing at the fact that we managed to let ourselves bonk in such a manner and also at the fact that we were nearly there. We were nearly at the end! There were so many supporters on the road at this time who rode with us for various amounts of time. Everyone was excited and we were smiling from ear to ear! There was a huge crew at the bottom at this stage, Janet was handing out baked goods and heaps of people cheering us on…One more lap. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Food thanks to JK

Lap 8. Our final full lap. We were so excited for this lap. Joined by our Wednesday crew, Manni and Bec (again), we smiled from the top all the way to the bottom. We were smiling, but our legs were screaming. I felt like mine were on fire. I had been grinding away at an average cadence of 60 for just about 15 hours now. I was starting to fatigue both mentally and physically. The distraction that Bec and Manni provided was an amazing help in getting us through. Seeing our fellow everesters pass us on the decent for their respective laps was encouraging too, everyone was so happy with the knowledge that it was almost over. We had almost completed our Everesting.  As we approached those final 3km I could see a familiar car in the carpark up the road. It was my friend Meg. She had driven all the way from Melbourne to see me come past on my final lap. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt at this moment. I stopped and gave her a sweaty hug and she pushed me off up the final 3km. I can’t thank her enough… Purdie and I had a little hug when we reached the top. We had done it. Only 0.2 of a lap to go. We signed the board for the final time and sluggishly accelerated off up the Mt Donna Buang climb for the final time. 10665830_10153094182688258_8512311464232267535_n
The Wednesday crew ft. Andy van Bergen

Lap 0.2. This was it. We had just under 4km to go. I had mixed emotions – so happy that the end was near, and utter relief that the end was in sight. Those 4km ticked the slowest of the whole day. We turned the pedals in sync, going so slow we were almost going backwards. We were cooked. We crossed the line together, breathed a sigh of relief, high fived and decended that bad boy (or girl) for the last time. At the bottom there was a crowd, cheering us on. Purdie and I proudly signed the board for the final time. 7:59PM. Doneski. 1925293_10153094182898258_2322567944719081057_n
Signing off at the end of a long 20hr day.

The end.
What an unforgettable 20 hours we had on that mountain. Sharing this experience with a group of women from all walks of life, levels of experience and all with different stories to tell. Although we all rode in solidarity, we rode together with the ultimate and almost unthinkable goal achieved – we Everested. There were some that didn’t get to the end, but they fought hard to get there and tried their god darn hardest. I hope that our feat has inspired and encouraged women to dream, believe, push themselves, and ultimately get a bike and ride it. I have raced many hard races in my short cycling career, this was the hardest thing I have done on the bike up until now. We waved goodbye to Donna at 9:30pm. We stopped off and demolished a pizza on the way home, and I vowed never to do that again… (well, for this year anyway).

The Thanks.
Thank you so so much to all those that came out and supported me, both on and off the bike – you know who you are. Thanks so much to Andy (and Tam) from Hells500, to the Warburton Community. Thanks to Specialized for giving me the opportunity to be an ambassador – representing Specialized women around the world. Thanks to my team Specialized Securitor for supporting me and our sponsors, Specialized, Securitor Financial Group, Adidas Eyewear and Capo Cycling. Thanks to my super coach for letting me do this crazy thing… and finally, thanks to Purdie who supported me wholeheartedly in the lead up to the everesting attempt and at the last hour decided to join me on the road. I’m not sure I would have been able to do it without you. Couples that Everest together, rest forever together! (we didn’t even argue once, although we did get a little hangry at 9:00pm before we ate pizza). Pro photography thanks to Ron @fairflyer and Andy @fameandspear.

On a final note, Purdie and I wanted to make this ride something special and give something back to the cycling community. We want to dedicate this ride to raise money for START Foundation, Ride for the Adelaide Hospital which Purdie is participating in April. If you have a spare few dollars, please head over to their website using this link and donate to Purdie Long. 10414451_10153094182748258_6302043880185292974_n Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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Photo: Grace Phang

The stats (my stats)
Everesting check my Strava file here.
Distance 283km
Elevation gained 8848m
Moving time 17:05:06
Average cadence 62
Average speed 16.6km/hr
Average power 103w
Calories 7040
Temp average 16C
Elapsed time 20:03:00
Suffer score 394
Friends – many
Non riding friends – 1
Food
1 peanut butter and jam sandwich
1 vegemite sandwich
1 avocado and cheese sandwich
3 bananas
8 slices of fruit cake
2 cans of lemonade
 and much much more

The Tourmalet double (epic)

The Tourmalet Epic

The day started off poorly, one it was raining and two my cleats decided to crack it and would not let me clip in. Our departure was delayed as I conducted some roadside surgery to fix the issue while the others stood out of the rain.

We had a horrible headwind for the 24km to St Marie, a little village at the base of the climb. Mike, P and I groveled our way there. Our legs were still feeling smashed. Not surprisingly really, we have covered quite a few kilometers over the last few days.

So the Tourmalet. Many say that this is the hardest climb, as it is the highest mountain pass in the Pyrenees at 2115m. You can tackle this beast from two sides – one starting from St Marie and the other from Luz-Saint-Sauveur.

They both dish out their fair share pain.

We started our ascent from the St Marie side first.

I was going to give this side a crack and then ride easy with P on the other side. For me, similar to my attempt at Luz Ardiden a few days earlier, I’d say rather than the climb itself – that it was the the conditions broke me the most.

I started off hard – we as hard as I could with smashed legs, with the knowledge that the first 4km were relatively “easy” at an average gradient of about 4%.

Once this easy part was over, the real climbing started. I found it hard to sit in a comfortable rhythm, there was a howling headwind and the rain was not letting up. I was groveling, wondering if i’d actually make it up to the top. I just kept ticking along, forever blinking to get the salty water out of my eyes.

As I climbed higher, it got colder and the rain turned to a sleety hail. I was approaching La Mongie, a ski village about 4km from the summit. My mind was playing games with me, I considered turning around, I was cold, but I pushed on and tried to keep a solid tempo….well that was until I cracked and decided it was time to put my arm warmers on, pulled them out of my pocket only to realise they were inside out. Bugger. I tried a couple of attempts at turning them inside out whilst still keeping tempo but failed. The rain and wind was so strong that I was struggling to take one hand off the handlebars.

I decided that I had to stop.

This was going to ruin my Strava QOM attempt. But, the last thing I wanted was hypothermia! A minute later, I’d turned them inside out, awkwardly heaved them up my wet arms and was rolling again. Wow. In that time my legs has seized up and were screaming.

Only 4km to go. Thanks god.

Visibility was not that great,  I was in the hurt box. That was until a car came past me full of a family. They were supporting their dad who I had passed half way up the climb. They drove along side me yelling “allez allez” as encouragement. I was getting my second (head) wind. I had 1 km to go, they speed off, kicking their son out of the car and the boy proceeded to run along side me until I crossed the line! So cute! He was so happy for me to get over the line. One of the great things you see over here is that kids are so into cycling. On every climb you see boys and girls, 8 years old on massive bikes, climbing faster than you. Its great to see.

Anyway. I reached the summit broken and cold. Questioning whether we would actually descend and climb the opposite side, especially in those conditions. I didn’t enjoy the climb at all. Our support vehicle was at the top with our warm clothes and food. I was the first up, so had first pick of the delicious hot chocolate and banana bread that our hosts had prepared for us.

20 mins later P, Mike and I were all huddled in the car, trying to decide if we would risk the weather and go down, then back up the other side. We would make the decision once we descended, and reached the town of Luz.

We were ready to go and bumped into the one and only Jenny Macca! Such a small world!

The decent of the Luz side was breathtaking. The weather on this side was the complete opposite of the St Marie side. The sun was out and there was a crisp, blue sky. I would say that this descent rivals Col du Aubisque in terms of beauty. Because of the change in conditions, the decision was made that we would go back up. This side was slightly longer that the first, and with 100m more of elevation gain. We were still feeling smashed, so we rode together, taking it easy, taking photos and just taking it in.

I’d highly recommend climbing this side of the Tourmalet over the St Marie side. Although less popular, it is definitely the most beautiful.

We got to the top, navigating rogue sheep along the way, and descended back into the cloud on the St Marie side, starting our journey home. 24km home, with a downhill tail wind. Thank god! After 100km and two sides of the Tourmalet, I was not sure if i’d actually make it home.

We stopped off in a little town called Bangeres where we bought some cheese, ham and a baguette and proceeded to demolish our little picnic whilst sitting on a pot plant out the front of the Patisserie! That baguette was the best thing we’ve eaten all week!

Well that was the best way to end an epic week here in the Pyrenees. 123km, 3400m elevation, 6 hours in the saddle. Off to Nice next for some sun, and then to Bormio in Italy for some more climbing action.
Can’t wait!

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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.

**

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.

**

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

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.