Tour of Bright, exceeding my own expectations

This is just going to be a short post. Mainly because I’m tired, but also because I’m typing this on an iPad as my computer has cracked it at me and… also because Brenton Canty has challenged me to a “blog post” race (pity this isn’t Strava because this might be the only chance I get at beating him).

Exceeding my own expectations
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Images by Verita Stewart – GoPro Hero 3+

So I have been hanging for Tour of Bright all year. Last year was my first ever stab at A grade racing with Total Rush and I finished within top 15 in a field of about 40, which I was pretty stoaked about. I actually wrote a blog about my experiences for Peloton Cafe, you can read it here. I spent the year looking forward to racing Tour of Bright  with the hope to improve my result.

I have had a big year – racing a full NRS season, had a change of teams and have been training my butt off with my super coach, seeing improvements here and there. I was starting this tour with a lot more kilometres under my belt, a new team and a lot more race experience than last year – that’s for sure.  So was hoping for a good result all round.

My lead up was good. My elbow has recovered from the TTT crash at Goldfields. I was rested.  I had two new stealth looking bikes which Total Rush had just built for me during the week. All that was left was to get to Bright and get on with it!

We had a full team here, though not an official team entry (we all supported ourselves to get here) we had some team goals and personal goals to achieve. The Super Coach was racing too, making her race comeback! My goal this year was to finish top 10, which the coach thought was achievable. Anna-Leeza wanted to give GC a good crack, Liz wanted to have a crack at the sprinters jersey and Soph and Jaz were in for a smash fest. Overall, we wanted to nab the team’s classification and work together to practice executing our race plans.

Day 1: 13.5km ITT  

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Image Verita Stewart

The TT was all that could be expected. 20 odd minutes of pain. It was the first ride on my new TT bike, so was nervous as to how I would do. I set out a little hard, and was probably pushing a bit above my average, but settled down into a rhythm and tried to keep my cadence high. After the roundabout I concentrated on keeping a steady pace up the climb. My legs were full of lactic and I was looking forward to the fast downhill section to spin the legs. Spin the legs I did. Nearly running out of gears ad trying to keep my power up. The final 2km was a slog. My legs were burning and all I wanted to do was get over the hill to the finish. Before I knew it, race over. Average heart rate 199 bpm. To my surprise I set a new PB, shaving 30 seconds off my time from the year before. What a start. I finished 11th. AL smashed it and nabbed 3rd possy. Soph was hot on my heels, as were Liz and Jaz! Time to recover and put our feet up.

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Full results here.

Day 2:  92km road race finishing on Tawonga Gap climb

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Racing VRS road race was a rude shock indeed. The bunch was very sketchy and we were confined to half the road. It has been a long time since I have raced in these conditions (NRS you have two lanes and full road closure) and I found it really hard to hold a position or sit comfortably in the bunch. I spent most, 90% of this race on the back of the bunch. The very back. I really only made an appearance at the front at the beginning of the climbs. The first QOM I rode in the gutter, over logs and gravel to get myself where I should have been. I was in such a bad mood. Stewing that I was doing such a crap job of holding my position.

The girls did a better job at holding a position than me, Soph and Jaz sat at the front and controlled the race, AL sitting in saving her legs for the climb and Liz priming herself for the sprints. The race wasn’t very eventful, just a few attacks here and there. Liz took some sprint points along the way. I was still on the back. I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t make it to the front in time for the final climb. But as we passed through the feed zone, Jaz appeared and pulled me back up to the front! Perfect timing.

With that help, I was able to enter the climb towards the front, with AL. The race was on from there. We sat at a solid pace until the hairpin, when I think Miranda attacked and strung us out. Her and Lucy Bechtel comfortably rode away leaving us all to chance. I just rode at a solid pace, passing people when I could. I caught up to Laura from Suzuki Brumby’s and Kate from Total Rush. We rode together for a little bit, until we got to about 2km to go we split up. My legs were burning… I just wanted to get to the top. Dreaming of peanut butter on rice cakes! Kate was hot on my tail, but I managed to come over the line, IN 3rd POSITION! I couldn’t believe it. My best finish ever! I was so happy. I exceeded all my own expectations. I didn’t think that I could finish on a podium. At all. High fives all round.

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Miranda won, followed by Lucy 2nd. AL finished top ten and the girls not far behind.

The rain came in on our ride back to Bright and pretty much stuck around until the morning.

Full results here.

Stage 3: 50km road race, shortened from the summit of Mt Hotham

WOWSERS. My legs hurt. We were on the start line, then Nekminute I was nearly dropped in neutral at 47km/hr. My god it was the fastest 25km I’ve ridden in a long time. It was a bunch smack down. I was hanging off the back in a similar fashion to yesterday. Again, the girls were doing a great job at the front. Liz nabbed the final sprint points too. I kicked myself in the butt and got myself to the front at the start of the Hotham climb, and stayed with the diminished bunch through the toughest section, The Meg. AL was there too. Along with all the usual climbers. There ended up being a bunch of about ten leading into the false flat section.

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We were all stung out patiently waiting to get to the toll booth, where the gradient kicked up for 1km before the finish. All of a sudden we were at the steep point, 1 km to go. Everyone else darted up the climb and I started going backwards. I was pushing all the power I had through those pedals and the girls just rode away into the distance. I finished 10th. Miranda won, followed by Kate and Lucy. AL finished 7th.

Full results here

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Image thanks to Jen Matthies

Exceeding expectations

Overall I finished 5th on GC. I exceeded all my own expectations at Tour of Bright. I did a better TT than I could have ever expected shaving off 30 seconds from last year. I finished 3rd in Stage 2 with my first ever A grade podium and top 10 on Stage 3 too.

It is very satisfying to know that my training and hard work has paid off for the past 12 months. I can’t wait to see what another year in my legs can bring me! Cycling is one of those sports where it never gets easier, you just get a little bit faster and a lot smarter. Thanks to my super coach for all her time and patience with me, because without her, I wouldn’t be here.

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Image Purdie Long

 

So Specialized Securitor finished 2nd on teams classification. AL finished 4th on GC. Liz got the sprinters jersey and Soph and Jaz rode their guts out all weekend. SC finished well in the bunch too. I’m so proud of the team worked together this weekend, a sign of things to come I think! What a massive start to the season.

Whats next you ask? Well, I’m going to eat some peanut butter on rice cakes… Then start looking forward to the Shimano Super Crit next weekend and then Nationals next month, it’s going to be epic!

A quick shout out needs to be had… Huge thanks to our sponsors, Specialized, Securitor FG, Capo and Adidas Eyewear who without we wouldn’t be as fast or as stylish as we are. Thanks also to Pro4mance Sports Nutrition for looking after me!

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All photos courtesy of Peloton Cafe unless otherwise stated. Images can be purchased here.

You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter @lowercasev or Strava Verita Stewart

Mansfield Crit and Mt Buller Road Race

Regular readers of The Climbing Cyclist will know how far I have come in my short cycling career. Thanks to a lot of great mentors and supporters, some awesome opportunities, a great Team in Total Rush and… a lot of hard work, too.
The hard work seems to be paying off. I’ve been training consistently for about 12 month now with my Super Coach and feeling great because of it. With two new signings in Kate Perry and Emma Scott, our Total Rush team is looking as strong as ever.

Verita does a turn of pace on the front of the breakaway.

This year is going to be a big one, with the Mt Buller Road Race the second on the VRS Calendar. My lead up to the Mt Buller Road Race was looking good. That was up until about two weeks ago, I was feeling super strong on the bike. I had some success during the last race of the Femme Vitesse crit series, where I picked up the most aggressive rider, laps leader and 3rd overall in GC (you can read about it here )… And although I has not trained specifically for it, I completed Three Peaks, in a time just under 11 hours (you can read about it here ) where my legs were feeling fantastic throughout. So I was looking forward to a strong performance in the looming Mt Buller Road Race.

My good feeling were short lived. Two weeks ago, I somehow acquired a nasty virus, that put me in bed for a solid three days and suffered what some called “post viral” fatigue for another week. I was a disappointed to say the least. I was itching to get on the bike, but my body would just not let me. Everyone told me, “I had to listen to my body”, and I did, I got back in bed. Cadel’s secret, sleep, was going to be my friend.

One week out, I mustered up the courage and got on the bike, and my legs felt like led. I felt like I was riding on 60 psi tyres. I went from feeling as strong as ever, to struggling to put out 100 watts along Beach Road.

I always place a lot of expectation on myself when racing, and this time was no different. Last year I came 4th in the Mansfield Crit and I won the Mt Buller Road Race, albeit in C grade, but wanted to prove myself and do well again. So my lead up to the race was not as I imagined it to be. My mind was saying yes, and my body was saying no. I had a goal of finishing top 5 before getting sick, now I doubted my ability to achieve top 10.

It was race day. After a pedal with the girls in the morning, I was feeling okay. I nervously lined up with my team mates Kelly and Kate, ready to go for the Mansfield Crit. There weren’t the starters that I had hoped for. I’m not sure why? There were plenty of A grade spectators on the sidelines, cheering us on! We lined up with 11 others all the same and got on with it. Our plan was to be aggressive. With three of us from Total Rush represented, there was a good opportunity to test our team tactics.

The course is quite fast considering how technical it is, with a left, right, right, left, right, right, roundabout, left, left… essentially a three sided short hotdog circuit, I was in the hurt box from the gun. I’d say that the race itself was fairly un eventful. With a break away of four establishing almost straight away, with Lizzie Williams (Specialized Securitor), Lauretta Hanson (Building Champions Squad) and Shannon Malseed (Holden) all pushing the pace from the gun. There were a couple attacks on our group of four, but we pretty much stayed together until the final corner, where the sprint started and I was left behind. There was no way that I could take on Lauretta, Lizzie and Shannon, who finished in that order. Not a bad result, my legs were definately awake now! (see the strava file here )


Finish line photo from the crit

That evening whilst we ate dinner we all sat down together and discussed the looming race . It was Kate’s first road race since taking three years off to study and it was Emma’s first A grade race after a dominating performance in B grade at the Tour of East Gippsland. This was going to be a short race, about 2 hours and 47km. The final 16km would suit the climbers of the bunch, with the gradient at about 6%. We were all feeling good, excited to be racing together for the first time.

It was a cold start on Sunday morning for the Road Race. Kelly, Emma, Kate and Myself lined up with 30 other ladies, all wishing we had worn our long finger gloves.  I had a pretty ordinary sleep the night before, and was feeling a bit fatigued after yesterdays efforts, and my legs were not feeling as fresh as I’d hoped.


Sucking up to Scotty McGrory

After a few attempts by various riders, including myself, Bike Bug-Next Gen, Holden and Hampton Cycles, it was apparent that no one would be allowed to get away. We rode almost two by two for the first 35km, Bicycle Superstore had a rider sitting on the front controlling the pace, and I sat towards the front (where I probably shouldn’t have been). Meanwhile Kate, Kelly and Emma sat in, ensuring they were a good position to start the climb.

As the toll booth loomed, the mood in the bunch changed and the pace picked up. It was on. The tempo was kept high as we climbed, which prevented early attacks. I kept turning around to see where the rest of the team were positioned, I could see Kate’s helmet bobbing around, tucked in behind Tessa. At the half way point of the climb, there were still about 16 riders together, Building Champions Squad, Bicycle Superstore, Holden, Hampton Cycles, Lizzy Williams and Tessa Fabry were all there, in the bunch… until about 4km to go.

It was getting late in the game, we were hardly going to have a sprint finish at the top… so I was nervously listening for the tell tale change of gears and the jump of the bunch. As soon as a lul in tempo came, the almost predicable happened, someone attacked. The attack went, it was Tessa Fabry, with our new rider Kate, on her wheel. I was too slow to respond, but others including Lizzie, Flick (Bicycle Superstore), Georgina Beech (BikeBug NextGen) and Shannon were quick to follow.

From then on the bunch of 16 was no longer, with a group of 6 or so up the road, myself and everyone else chasing. In the end, it was Lizzy Williams 1st, Tessa Fabry 2nd, and Kate Perry on the podium for Total Rush in 3rd! I managed to hold on to a top 10 finish in 7th place, with Kelly and Emma not far behind. Great team work saw Kate on the podium, can’t wait for more of that to come! (see the strava file here )

So despite not having the lead up I would have liked, I’m happy with how both the crit race and the road race turned out. I finished top 10. I was certainly not expecting that result, at all. Seeing Kate on the podium was awesome result for the team! That girl can climb! In hindsight, I probably spent too much time on the front as usual. The usual fears of getting dropped the main driver for me, especially considering how my legs were feeling. I think I need to get my top tube sticker back to remind me “get off the front grasshopper”. I’m working on it.

It is time for a rest week, after which I’m looking forward to feeling 100% again and to having a better lead up to the next race on the calendar, Mt Baw Baw Road Race.

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

"Get off the front, grasshopper!"

 

 

Still smiling after my first Tour of Bright

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A Grade Women’s Peleton.

As usual, I worked myself into a tizz in the lead up my first Tour of Bright. I don’t know why I was so nervous? I had been training all year for this race. On Thursday night as we drove to Bright, it dawned on me that it was real, ToB 13 was finally here. My goal had shifted a bit since I started training for it almost 12 months ago. My original aim was to race C grade. Now I was racing A grade with Total Rush-Hyster’s Women’s team for the first time. Nervous but excited to be racing with Bridie O’Donnell, Kelly Bartlett, Penny Brown and Josie Simpson for the first time!

As you know Tour of Bright, is raced in three stages, over three days. Stage 1, a 13.7km ITT; Stage 2, 91km road race over Rosewhite and finishing on Towonga Gap; and Stage 3, a 58km race up Mt Hotham. The Women’s A grade start list was who’s who of the women’s NRS field. All the big teams and big names were there, Target Trek, BOSS, Bicycle Superstore, Holden Specialized etc etc. with Miranda Griffiths (Holden Specialized) going for back to back wins It was going to be tough.

Stage 1 – The Time Trial

Tizz aside, I diverted my nervous energy into the ITT. It is generally not my strongest point, but I was there and ready to give it a red hot crack. With TT master Bridie O’Donnell on our team, I was following one of the big hitters of the field. My goal was to do a PB time by averaging 215 watts over the distance. It was an achievable goal. I spent hours sitting on the ergo in the lead up, sweating my weight in salt doing TT efforts. I lined up on the start line prepared as I could be, ready to leave it on the road. So I donned my pink skin suit, got on my bike, and rolled down that start ramp gripping those clip-ons like I have never gripped before. To my surprise, did better than I hoped! My time 20.58 put me in 14th position leading into Stage 2. I can’t believe averaged 233 watts over the 14km! Bridie took away 2nd place, behind Flick Wardlaw in 1st setting our team up nicely.

Stage 2, Rosewhite and Towonga Gap

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Top of Towonga

I was relatively calm about Stage 2 – which is quite unusual for me. We had a team meeting the night before, which calmed most of my nerves. The only part of the race I was worried about was the decent of Rosewhite gap, where I potentially would get dropped, though I had a plan of action if that was to happen.

Before I knew it we were racing, the stretch from Bright to Ovens is slightly down hill, so we picked up speed fast. After the first sprint point, there was an early break, with two riders (BOSS and BSS) off the front. The gap got out to 5 minutes at one point, and decision was made to chase the breakaway two riders. We had riders on the front driving the pace, working together to bring it back. The road from Ovens to Rosewhite is very undulating and exposed making it quite tough to be on the front, in the wind. I feeling good, although cautious that this effort was not going to overcook my legs. Before I knew it, the bunch was on  the Rosewhite climb and the QOM was approaching. The pace picked up on the climb and the front runners scrambled for QOM. I was straggling out the back hanging on as we went over the top.

As I had predicted, I was off the back in no time. The speed picked up on the decent and I could not keep up. No need to panic I thought…My team mates had said that after Rosewhite decent the bunch usually slows, so it was just a matter of working hard for a few minutes, knowing that I would get back on. I don’t have the weight or the balls to descend at the speed some of these other women can! Thankfully though, I was not alone on the decent, there was a long string of riders descending almost single file. I just followed the wheel in front and got on with it. So with the few others that were off the back, we chased to get back on. Flash by a few minutes and we were back on and we had made it to the second sprint point, I think the time gap was back to about 3 minutes at this point. A few rolling hills that were hurting the legs later, the pace was kept high as we turned the corner to begin the Towonga Gap climb. For those of you who have not ridden Towonga Gap, it is a grueling 7.6km at 6%, it is tough.

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The bunch was frantic as we turned the corner, everyone was fighting for first wheel. I was squashed out towards the back. I could see the strong climbers dart off up the climb like it was flat. I just settled into tempo and began chewing my handlebars trying my hardest to pick off riders along the way. By this stage of the race my head felt like it was going to explode with the heat, the sun was beating down on us and the heat radiating heat from the road was brutal. We passed the two from the breakaway not long into the climb. At approximately the 3km to go mark I caught up with my team mate Bridie. It was good to have her there to keep me going and focused on finishing at anything other than snails pace, because I was fading fast. Before I knew it, I was over the line. 16th. The team rode a great race, working together well to help bring the time gap back.

1st Miranda Griffiths (2:52:22), 2nd Tessa Fabry and 3rd Sam DeRiter. Full results here

Stage 3, Mt Hotham

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It was stage 3, and I was feeling pumped because of how well the team rode the day before. Today it was about getting up the mountain, though I had in the back of my mind that I would like to maintain my 15th position on GC.

Mt Hotham, the brutal 30km climb with notable pinches including The Meg and CRB hill. We rolled off and almost immediately there were attacks. This was not going to be the Sunday coffee ride I was longing for! Riders were attacking, the bunch kept responding as to not let them get away. The 10km sprint point came and went. The second sprint point Bridie went early which launched her into the climb. I was not too far behind. I must say that these girls can climb! They again darted off like the road was flat!

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There was no way that I could climb at their pace!!! I made it my mission to suck wheels and not let them go. I knew that I had to pull my all out for this one, stay with them and at least get over The Meg with the bunch. I needed to be in the false flat section with the bunch so that I could maintain a good pace. There is not much to say about Hotham, other than I chewed my handlebars and got over The Meg, straggling to keep up with the pace.

I managed to stay with them, and began the false flat section. We were strung out in single file for most of the next 10 or so kms, until the toll booth. The gradient rudely picked up. My legs said no. This is where I got spat out the back. I could not keep up with the pace. From the toll booth, to the end of the race, just gritted my teeth, wished for a few extra gears and made it my goal that I’ll be faster next year! Miranda won of course, followed by Jo Hogan and Felicity Wardlaw in 3rd.

I finished 15th in GC. I certainly did not expect that result. My (super) coach had me peaking at the right time for sure. For the first time, I felt strong all weekend. I’m most proud with my Time Trial result. It was totally unexpected especially for a 5” something with clip-ons! But all round I felt like I climbed better than I have in a long time and in general just got on my bike and rode it!

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Finish line in sight!

GC results can be found here. Miranda 1st, Flick 2nd and Sam 3rd

If I was going to sum up my Tour of Bright for 2013 it would be “consistent”. I’m still smiling two days later – I could not be happier!

Thanks to Total Rush for the continued support, my super coach, friends, team mates, room mates, Cycling Victoria, Alpine Cycling Club, and the 40 or so A grade women and everyone that made racing the great weekend it was. I had a fantastic time racing with my new Total Rush team mates. It was awesome to have a podium finish in the TT, overall we raced well together all weekend and I can’t wait for 2014 – bring it on!

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @lowercasev or on Strava, Verita Stewart.

Strava files can be viewed here: Stage 1, Stage 2 and, Stage 3

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Still smiling!

Get on your bike and ride it, up some of the toughest climbs in Victoria and smile your way to the top!

The year that was…club champs to club champs

It has been a hectic few weeks, post Tour of Murray. I have barely raced since then… just been concentrating on getting life admin done, riding my bike and riding my bike. Actually, who am I kidding, I’ve just been riding my bike…So I must apologise for the tardiness of this update.

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Over the past two weeks I have been reflecting a lot about the year that was…Surprisingly, there was a time before #pinkwasmycolour, before I lived in Melbourne, before Napoleon, before lift selfies, and before I raced bikes.

It was this time last year that I “got on my bike and raced it” for the first time, at the 2012 Hawthorn Club Championships. Thinking about this race makes me cringe a little. Mostly at the fact that I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. I mean, I had never raced before. I had not trained, ever. I was sooooo not prepared. Ha. My legs were blown off during that race. I came last, or thereabouts. Though slightly traumatised, I came away from that race determined and set myself two goals.

1. To not have my legs blown off again and;
2. To race C Grade, Tour of Bright

Both goals that at the time, seemed somewhat unachievable.

So, effectively, with the help of my super coach, those two things are what I’ve been working towards.  For those of you that have been following this blog and my cycling will know, it has been quite the year. I’ve had some wins. Some losses. Gone up some grades. Got dropped. Got back on. Got on the front. Got off the front. Climbed mountains. Learned a lot…And… had a heap of fun in the process. Along with a lot of hard work… and hundreds of kilometers, I’ve had some great opportunities come my way too.

I guess it all started with joining Hawthorn Cycling Club and through their Women’s Development Program my love for cycling spiralled, Total Rush have played an important role in that they continually supported me as a development rider and ambassador; and having the opportunity to race the National Road Series with Cycling Victoria Women’s Development Squad NRS team has made me push my limits and learn a lot about racing with the big girls in the process. Some amazing people have come into my life too, as mentors, friends and partners. They have and are contributing so positively to my life. I’m not sure why I feel compelled to tell you all this, but I guess I just want you all know that I appreciate everyone in my life… and that you can achieve your goals that you set.

Two weeks ago I raced the 2013 Hawthorn Club Championships. I did not come last. I came first! I could not believe it. By no means am I an amazing cyclist. I won’t be going to Europe or riding in the Giro Rosa. I’ve got about 100 watts and a lot of experience to gain. …and as the super coach says “patience grasshopper”.

Get on your bike and ride it, and most importantly, have fun whilst doing it.

P.S. I have achieved my gols I set last year…. Though my legs continually are blown off each and every time I race. But, I know now it is what makes you stronger, more determined and a better cyclist. And you know what…I am riding at the Tour of Bright… time in B grade.

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2012 Club Champs

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2013

No Garmin, Euro style and the fun of getting dropped

Rule 2. of the Official Rules of the Euro Cyclist (here) says:

“Training shall be based solely on feel, while racing shall be guided by sensations and instinct: that is to say, “soul.” The Euro Cyclist will never accept tried or tested scientific training methods.”

There’s something refreshing about just getting on your bike and riding it. No speedo, no cadence, no distance, no heart rate, no nothing. So Euro, right?

I mean, that’s how it used to be done. Before a race, you’d pull on your woollen jersey, fill your bidon with champagne, rub some embro on your legs, have a cigarette, and then ride your bike, really fast.

Idea is romantic right, back to basics. My only real experience was at Northern Combine race this weekend and it was not fun.

So there I was, lined up on the start line with my new Cycling Victoria Women’s Development Squad and a bunch of c grade men, ready to race…with no Garmin. How retro was I… But…What was the hell was I going to do? Get over myself that’s what. Just bloody get on your bike and ride it.

So I did. The race started.

Next thing I knew, the hammer was dropped and so was I.

I expected more from myself. I expected to at least hang on, at the back… But I didn’t. The bunch surged and my body said no. My brain said, don’t give up.

I don’t even know how far into the race I was before I was dropped. But, it was not very far in.

1. I got dropped and 2. I had no idea if I was riding fast or slow.

As I rode by myself and wondered how fast I was going, how far have I gone, I kept looking down at my empty Garmin mount. Nothing. All I could do was keep peddling. I kept telling myself don’t give up. I was well within my right to chuck a tanty and pull the pin on the race, most people would. My pride didn’t allow it.

I had placed so much expectation on myself, I was there for the first time, racing with my new team. And I had failed… As I rode, I constantly told my brain and legs to pedal faster. I found some motivation every lap passing a friend who was a corner marshall and having the new team managers in the support cars (one of which serenaded me for the final 5km) offering wise words. But, it was still freaking hard and I was freaking out. I smiled as I thought of rule no. 46 of the Euro Cyclist –

“When asked “how are you?” while riding the Euro Cyclist must proceed with one of the following…
i. Complain about coming off a sickness
ii. Explain that one is peaking for bigger races later in the season
iii. Mention that this is a “recovery ride”
iv. Explain that one is at the tail end of one’s daily six (6) hour training ride”

Ha. Excuses , excuses…

i. I was coming off a bad flu, ii. yep, i’m peaking for bigger races in the season, iii. I wish this was a recovery ride, iv. Oh god, what if this race was going to take 6 hrs to complete!?

As fun as riding “Euro” style seems (read the rules they are hilarious), it is hard, and lonely, and not really that fun. I did not realise what a distraction the Garmin provides. You can focus on your Garmin, forget about your legs, and your brain.

As a true Euro cyclist would…I finished that race. All 90kms of it. I came dead last. I laughed as I crossed the non existent finish line (it was packed up when I crossed it) and thought to myself, how the hell did I do that?

I didn’t feel very Euro after that race. I felt deflated. Defeated. But, I was determined. I could have used a bidon off champagne though…My new teammates were very supportive. They rode fantastic races themselves. One of which came an admirable 2nd.

So, I’m not a Euro Cyclist – I need my “tried or tested scientific training methods” (Garmin) and the perceived security blanket provides. Racing guided by “sensations and instinct” is a nice theory, but very hard mentally and physically.

I did learn from that race. I did finish.

It was a test of mysoul“, and I think I passed.

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Get on your bike and ride it, by yourself, for 90kms and tell your brain to shut up. You don’t need gadgets to ride your bike, you just need to ride one.

***You can follow me on Strava, Twitter and on Instagram.

I will not approve negative comments on this blog.

Regarding my grading in c grade men. I was entered as part of the women’s development squad, so had no choice in the matter. Our entry was meant to be about learning, which we did. Most of the squad hung on to the men, one came 2nd. I had a bad day/race.

If the marshals had to wait for me to finish. I apologise for any inconvenience caused. I started the race, so I was going to finish the race.

I too will be a volunteer at some stage, and I will wait for any stragglers. No complaints.

Welcome to B grade. There are no mountains, but we’re going to blow you away, then bury you in a riverside grave.

I have had the fantastic opportunity to write some guest post for The Climbing Cyclist ‘s blog. Click here to read the post. It is the same as the one below, just so that you know….

I’m new to cycling so most of my cycling goals are small. But one of my big goals for 2013 was to be promoted from C to B grade by the end of the season. The end of the season. I was promoted on Wednesday. I think it will be one of those moments that I’ll remember forever.

I was sitting at my desk, at about 8:30am, and bing bing, a text message. Someone was congratulating me on my promotion. Huh?! I had read the final start list the night before but that had obviously been changed. I hadn’t been informed, until the text message came through, which was fine, because I was stoked! I had reached my end-of-year goal, only four months into the year. But, I also felt as if I had all eyes watching me this weekend, questioning my elevation to B grade.

I have been riding well, feeling strong, and I’ve got some good results under my belt. I can understand why I was promoted, but I’m a stress-head so with news of the promotion came a heap of worry. For two reasons:

  1. My past two road races (my only road races) finished at the top of mountains. I like mountains. The Tour of South West is flat. Do I like the flat?
  2. My race prep was stalled. In the lead-up to the tour I had a week off the bike after injuring my knee. So I had not ridden my bike for the whole week.

Was I really ready for B grade? Fast forward to Friday.

I sat in the car on the way to Warrnambool with my super coach’s voice ringing in my ears: “You’ve nothing to lose, so stop stressing and just go and ride your bike.” My fellow Hawthorn Cycling Club (HCC) B Graders had been offering me reassurance and advice. They were just what I needed; a reality check. It was true, I had nothing to lose. I was just going to get on my bike and ride it, with my friends.

Stage one. The road race.

I’ve done a road race before, twice. Up a mountain. Not on the flat, so a 65km road race on the flat was a daunting prospect. The race started at Wangoom, 15 minutes from Warrnambool where we were to do four laps of a 17km course. The profile showed a few pinchy “little” climbs, one of which had QOM points on offer. A tiny hill, phew; something familiar!

The warm up was fast, because we arrived later than planned. Before I knew it, we were leaping off the trainers and I was on the start line with 15 other riders. We were racing.

We hit the road and hit a wall, of wind. My lord, the wind. I don’t like it. Who does? It pushes lightweights like me around like a schoolyard bully. I tried to find shelter in the bunch, but it was hard; everyone else had the same idea. I kept HCC ladies in sight — they were my “great wall” windbreakers.

It was my first B grade race and I could see that the dynamics were very different to C grade. I knew the HCC ladies were going to try and shake things up a bit throughout the race. I had to be alert to what was going on. Bam. They went for a break early. But the bunch responded and chased.

I got the feeling early on that these B grade ladies knew exactly what was going on. They were tuned in, something that I wasn’t. I just needed to keep up. I was feeling a little out of my depth. Was the wind getting stronger?

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Photo Credit: Jo Upton Photography

Before I knew it we were 7km into the loop. The QOM – a 700m climb at 3.8%. My HCC ladies rode with me, one alongside and one at the front, protecting me from the fierce headwind. We had a loose plan to get me up and it was coming together, or so we thought.

We were powering along with the bunch. I stood up out of the saddle to sprint and … I was a kite caught in the wind. I think my bike actually lifted off the ground for a second. I felt like my lycra was catching the wind like a sail, but I was not on a boat. The wind was ferocious and coming straight at us, up the road and over the crest of the hill – right into us.

I sat back down, shocked. I could not pedal like this, being blown backwards. I felt defeated while the others powered up grabbing QOM points. The race rolled on and we continued to battle the wind. I tried to move around, to get out of the wind, but I always seemed to end up near the front, or in the wind. Before I knew it, we were going for sprint points — lap one was over.

The following three laps played out much the same: crosswind, headwind, QOM, crosswind, headwind, crosswind, sort-of tailwind, sprint. The HCC ladies continued to shake things up, trying to make breaks, and trying to get me up that QOM without me being blown sky high. No matter what we tried, it did not work. The bunch always responded and always stayed together.

Road Race

I don’t know whether it was that my legs just didn’t have the power to get up, whether the wind was throwing me around too much, or whether I just going too early. Perhaps the first of those — I was definitely outclassed on the power stakes. But it was fun trying to have an impact.

The last lap was fast, we all stayed together and I rolled over the line 7th, behind Grace Phang (SKCC), Nicole Schneller (SKCC) and Maartje Munsterman (SKCC).

Click here to see my Strava file from stage 1.

Stage 2. The Individual Time Trial.

ITT 1

Fast forward 3 hours and it was time for the individual time trial. My first ITT. The wind had picked up, if that was even possible. Riders were taking deep ‘section’ wheels off their TT bikes. The organisers had done away with the start ramp because of the wind. I was worried.

There was going to be a crosswind, tailwind, short headwind up a climb and then a crosswind home. I was looking around for bricks; I needed something to weigh me down. Collectively, my bike and I were way too light for 65km/h gusts. How was I going to stay upright?

While other riders were taking TT bars and deep-dish wheels off their bikes I was putting them on (well, the Total Rush mechanic was). Was this a good idea in the wind? Coupled with the fact I’d never ridden with TT bars before, and the fact the semi-deep-dish back wheel was bound to catch the wind. I was probably mad. Was I going to stay upright, or end up with the cows in the paddock? Oh well, at least my Amira looked fast, even if I wasn’t.

I was pumped. I sat on the trainer. My legs felt good. The TT position, which I had never ridden in, felt good. My goal: focus on riding a constant tempo, even up the slight climb.

So, there I was, on my pimped-out bike, being held up on the start line. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … I was off. Once I passed the shelter of the start line the crosswind hit. I gripped those TT bars tighter than before. Stay upright. Focus. Pedal.

ITT 2

I had broken the 12.7km into three chunks, so I could manage my energy levels. I kept glancing down at my Garmin to check the distance, speed and cadence. Things were going well. I was hitting my targets. The next time I looked down, my cadence had dropped out! I could not believe it. What was I going to do now?

Ignore it. I didn’t need cadence anyway. Just keep peddling. Don’t grind. Pedal. Then I heard a noise, a loud noise. I glanced right and I was being overtaken by … a harvester! Only in the country could I be doing a TT and a harvester overtakes, blowing hay and what-not into my face. I stopped laughing and closed my mouth — it was too dry already to be filled with hay.

I turned the corner and the tailwind came, finally. I knew this was where I needed to make up some time. I picked up a heap of speed … and managed to overtake the rider who was let off before me. About 1km later the pinchy little 7% climb rudely appeared and there I was climbing and grinding in the saddle, into the headwind. I heard a familiar Garmin beep; I was being overtaken by Grace Phang (SKCC), riding faster than ever! She rolled over the crest of that hill, and faded into the distance.

Before too long there was only 1km to go. I rode hard and then I was done. Spent. Finito. The taste of lung was in my mouth and my chest hurt. Job done.

The results were predictable, with Grace Phang (SKCC) first, Carolyn Phillips (Southern Masters) second, Elizabeth Douueal (Warrnambool) third … then me… 6th. What?! I was absolutely stoked with my time (23:03) considering I’ve never done a TT before.

Why did my cadence drop out? Because the magnet blew around the opposite way in the wind!

Click here to see my Strava file from stage 2.

Stage three. The crit.

Crit hill

The criterium course took us around a local cemetery which was rather spooky. It was also well played by the organisers because they didn’t have far to go to bury riders after the race! We rocked up to the course early, set up the Hawthorn Cycling Club tent and trainers and started our warm up.

I was feeling relatively calm about the crit. Unlike the road race and ITT, I had a few more C grade crit races under my belt and knew a little more about crit dynamics. In saying that, I was still worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up. One thing I learned from day one of the Tour was that these ladies were strong, and they knew what was going on.

The crit was going to be hard. From the start/finish line there was a short 70m straight, a sharp left, then a 7.5% climb for 300m that might have played to my advantage. With uphill comes down hill, and the crit course veered down into a sharp left, into a fast straight, a sharp left and then a slight incline back to the start/finish line.

The course was only 1.2km in length, but it was pretty technical and could get very fast. The nature of the course meant that the climbers could tackle that hill, and the sprinters could make up ground on the straights. And that is exactly what happened.

Crit 1 cemetary

The race started and we were immediately thrown into the climb. It was not that bad. Imagine the Hawthorn teardrop with a little more pinch and about 100m longer. It was manageable. My heart was jumping out my mouth as we whipped around the course, my legs were burning … but I thought to myself “I’m keeping up, just keep peddling. In fact, why am I on the front again?”

The race had a strange sense of rhythm to it: the climb, the descent, the straight, the corner, repeat. We followed this rhythm for the next 30 minutes.

Two laps to go and I was on the front again. Mistake number one. Bell lap. I turned the corner and I went to get out of my saddle and the gasket blew. Mistake number two. I was rolling backwards instead of bounding uphill with the rest of the field. I watched as the bunch rolled over the crest of the hill and I had to pull something from nowhere and pedal faster. Again, I laughed at myself; “this is what blowing a gasket feels like.”

I gained some speed on the downhill and managed to get over the line. I was probably last; I’m not sure. I was spent.

Click here to see my Strava file from stage 3.

The time on the trainer post crit gave me time to reflect on the weekend’s racing. I tried my hardest in the road race, managed to hold on with the bunch, but could have stayed out of the wind more. I rode the ITT well, considering how windy it was. But far out, that crit broke me, I have never had that feeling before. The blow-out feeling.
Trainers
Photo Credit: Cycling Victoria

I sat on that trainer battling embarrassment about going backwards up the hill and knowing that I should have managed myself a little better. But that is racing and I will take it as a lesson for next time.

I can’t describe how happy I am with my overall performance at the Tour of South West. I placed 6th in the general classification. I could not have asked for a better result. I am in the right grade. Why, was I so worried? I survived the flatter course, my knee held up and I kept up. I will take notes for next time: think position, oh, and manage myself better.

But this Tour was about far more than just me. This weekend represented something very special for women’s cycling. Participation. Eighty-five women entered to race the Tour, which is very impressive indeed. Regardless of results, we did the most we could for women’s cycling this weekend, we participated. We showed that we want to race; that we want to be treated as equal with the men. This weekend, we were.

I’m looking forward to the Northern Combine Women’s Series this season. The first race is a crit on National Boulevard on May 11. Come on ladies, get on to it.

I’m so lucky to have the people in my life that I do. The people that encouraged me to take up cycling in the first place, my mentors at Total Rush and at Hawthorn Cycling Club, my coach Bec Domange and my fabulous friends. They have all contributed in one way or another to get me to where I am now, reaching my personal goals and racing with women from around Victoria and Australia.

And what an introduction to B grade! I rode hard, into the wind, around a cemetery and then blew a gasket … and learnt a lot! Until next time, get a bike and ride it, into the wind, with a bunch of like-minded women. It will change your life.

PS: I must apologise to the rider who I snot-sprayed on during the road race. I’m really, really sorry.

***You can follow me on Strava, Twitter and on Instagram. Click here to see the full results from all grades in the 2013 Tour of the South West. All photos courtesy of JXP Photography, except where noted.***

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.