National Capital Tour: the hardest one, but my best one yet

It was a quick turnaround between events. Before I knew it, we were in Canberra for National Capital Tour, the hardest Tour on the calendar.

I had spent the past 5 days between Amy’s Otway Classic and Nat Cap Tour recovering from the smash fest that it was, and stressing about my elbow, which still wasn’t 100%. One week had passed and I still wasn’t able to get on my TT bars without pain. With the first stage of the Tour being an ITT, I was worried that it would ruin my chases of a top 20 finish. That worry aside, we had a strong team, with little Claire, Jaz, Cass and Kimbers (her first race back after injury and wielding the home ground advantage) ready to put our climbing legs on for the weekend. Zeke tour master Mechanic and Super DS Bec were there to support us. It was going to be a great weekend of racing and consuming our weight in peanut butter, honey and bananas.

Day 1 – Stage 1, 17km ITT
We woke to a blue sky and zero wind. Perfect conditions for an ITT. Let’s just say that I didn’t have the most ideal time trial I’ve ever had. 1. My elbow was still sore and 2. I slightly misinterpreted the course map and veered left one corner too early. That cost me probably 30 seconds of braking, turning around and trying to get my speed up from the biggest-big-dog-big-ring possible. I spent the next 5km cursing myself and pushing 30 watts too many before I realised I was on the way to implosion. Which almost happened, after the turn around I was cooked. I had gone too hard to make up time and then was rapidly passed by another rider – they had managed to get 1 minute on me in about 10km. I managed to finish in 20th position. This tour had us starting at the crack of dawn, on one hand it was a pain because it was cold, on the other it was awesome because we had the rest of the day to relax. So we did just that. Spent the arvo packing our TT bikes back up, laying horizontal, consuming peanut butter and honey (on rice cakes) and preparing ourselves for Stage Two’s epic race.

In the end the victory was taken by Ellen Skerret (Holden Women’s Cycling), Bridie O’Donnell (Total Rush) and Alison Rice (Suzuki Brumby’s). Stage 1 results can be found here.
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PDitty Images

Day 2 – Stage 2, 120km road race, finishing on the Honeysuckle climb
5:00am and the alarm went off. Race start was at 7:30am and a balmy -1 degree. Claire had come down with a head cold and scratched from the race, so we were down to a team of four. This was going to be a hard day in the saddle for the following reasons: a) The race is 120km b) there are 7 QOM and sprint points c) There are 7 categorized climbs d) we climb 2500m of elevation e) There is a nasty hilltop finish after 10km climb… enough reasons?
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We did not have a race plan as such. It was going to be one of survival and for Cass and I to get to the bottom of Honeysuckle climb with the front group. There were a couple of climbs that could split the group along the way, including Mt McDonald and the Three Sisters so it was important to stay alert and stay with the group. We knew that there were some strong teams in Suzuki, Boss and Holden who would put the pressure on, the race would be on from the gun.

Almost cruely, 9km into the race was the first climb and the first QOM point. Yep. Feel that lactic burn. 10 km later I found myself off the front. On a solo stupidity mission, as the peloton let me dangle out like a carrot in front of a donkey, I was probably the donkey. They let me stay out there for enough time for me to pick up a sprint point, then was reeled in on Mt McDonald by a little Boss rider, then on the crest, the group got me too.

I can’t remember too much of the rest of the race. There were some attempts at getting away, we were covering everything we could. There was a nice dead section where Kimbers took the opportunity to go back to the team car to feed us. I felt so pro as she sidled alongside with a jersey full of bidons! Before we knew it we were at the pointy end of the race and tension was building. I was so busy pedaling that I didn’t even realize that we had already climbed over the Three Sisters. While we were sleeping, Lisa Keeling (Bicycle Superstore) and Emma Viotto (Suzuki Brumby’s) went up the road. Perfect. That meant that Holden would have to chase. We chased for the next few kilometers before the bunch launched into the bottom of the climb. Riders, including me, were being shelled.

I trailed off the front group of 15 or so riders who set a tempo too fast for me. Cass darted off into the sunset. Somewhere along the way we caught Lisa and Emma, and the predictable was playing out – it would be Ruth and Ellen 1 and 2. So I just kept riding,  picking off who I could. Gee Honeysuckle is a biatch. It has sections that feel like 20% and you start to feel like you are going backwards. I ended up finding a second wind and managed to crest the hill in 10th position and 11th on GC.

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It was a Ruth, Ellen and Alexandra Nichols (Suzuki Brumby’s) that rounded out the podium. Cass came in 13th, Kimbers 29th and Jas 29th. We were smashed. We spent the arvo in the hotel pool, eating and sleeping – wondering how the hell we were going to back it up with the double day which awaited us.

Stage 2 results can be found here. See the Peta Stewart video from Peloton Cafe here.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Day 3 – 80km road race around Lake Burley Griffin AND a 38km (brutal) criterium at Parliament House
We had nothing to lose today and everything to gain. We had a very clear game plan: 1. Be aggressive, attack and try and get in a break, 2. Take the win 3. Move me into 10th on GC. On the line we were tired, but so was everyone else. We had a job to do.

As soon as we were rolling we knew that it was on. The girls had a couple of stellar stabs at getting away, only to be chased down. Eventually, when Jess (Total Rush) launched, it did get away. Georgie (BikeBug NextGen) and our Jas joined her up the road and they rolled turns and got a lead of up to 1.20! Holden and Suzuki started to get on the front and bring them back with 2 laps to go. Race plan was going well. The girls stayed away for 80% of the race, taking every single time bonus along the way. As soon as they were absorbed into the bunch, Cass attacked again – just to keep everyone honest. At the pointy end of the race, Kimbers launched her way up to the front. I knew that the only way I was going get a few more seconds was to finish in the front of the group. So I did just that – moved up. There were a few corners leading in to the uphill sprint, Kimbers was in prime position and bam – sprinted for the win. I managed to finish with a few seconds up my sleeve and moved up to 10th on GC. Race plan achieved. I can’t describe the feeling of elation when you realise that your race plan has worked. We jumped around with excitement, with Zeke, Claire and Bec (who had been biting their nails in the team car all day) as the reality sank in. Kimbers WON! The girls did a great job responding and attacking. Jas spent most of the race off the front, came in 20th and Cass rode soooo well coming not far behind.

Watch the Peta Stewart video on Peloton Cafe here. Stage 3 results can be found here.
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Photo courtesy of Mark Walker Photography

Stage 4. Parliament house criterium
By the time we got to the criterium, we were all cooked. I was nervous as all hell. Unlike club crits, in the NRS if you drop off the back of a crit, you are pulled off the course and given an average time. I knew that to retain 10th on GC I’d have to finish the race. This course was hard, one side was uphill, one downhill. 40 laps, 38km. My legs didn’t want to do it. I had my usual pre crit combo of a gel and a can of V and I was as ready as I’d ever be.

The race was on. Just keep going, I looked up to see how far we were into the race… 5 laps… It felt much, much longer. 35 to go. I tried to stop myself from counting down and concentrated on staying towards the front. This was not working like I’d hoped. Ellen, Ruth and Allison Rice managed to break away on the first lap and the bunch was left, sort of chasing. Kimbers was on the front trying to rally more troops to bring them back. I tried and failed to join her every lap and pretty much stayed in a stagnant position. I was in the hurt box. There was no way I could have moved up, as much as I tried to go and help her. It ended up being like that for the rest of the race. As the laps counted down, half the field was shelled. I was still there. Just.  Ellen, Ruth and Allison rode their way to the podium. Race over and I looked down to see my Garmin, still at 0. I had forgotten to press start. Oh well, I didn’t really need it to tell me that my heart rate average would have been 200 and my watts very high.

Stage 4 results can be found here.
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hoto courtesy of Boss Racing

Race over and the mad rush began to get the bikes packed up and get to the airport. By the time we did do that, I was bonking big time. My legs were shattered, my brain was not functioning. I was relieved to get home, eat two bowls of muesli and pass out. I love going on tour and recounting what we ate – this one we consumed two jars of peanut butter and honey, 2 packets of rice cakes, 3L of milk and 10kg of bananas.

We finished 6th in teams. On GC I finished in 10th, Cass 13th, Kimbers 28th and Jas 32nd.  NCT certainly lived up to expectations. It is definitely the hardest race on the calendar. I’m so proud of the team. We worked so well together, we did our jobs, executed our race plans and had a great time doing it. And I had my first top 10 finish on GC. This was the hardest one, but my best finish yet! Can’t wait for the next race, the final one on the calendar, Tour of Goldfields. More peanut butter and honey, more rice cakes, more bananas…. and more gels.

Until next time. Get on your bike and ride it! (PS I finally took my throbbing elbow to the doctor, diagnosis…bursitis.)

Full results can be found here.

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Photos taken on GoPro Hero 3+ 

Sunshine, Prosecco and Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley

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

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

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

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

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

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Photo courtesy of Jo Upton Photography

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

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

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

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Photo courtesy of Con Chronis

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

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Photo courtesy of Con Chronis

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+ Vsport Australia

Luz Ardiden, cooked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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