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

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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PDitty Images
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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.

Sam Miranda, NRS Womens RR Stg 43, 24/08/2014
Photo courtesy of Con Chronis

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

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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

Italy, where the real climbing began

It has been a while since my last update. I guess I’ve been having too much fun. I’m not going to say much here, I’ll try and upload some photos instead.

So we arrived at Bormio Tuesday hoping for the same sunny skies that we had in Nice.

Well, that was not going to happen. It was raining.

The Hotel that we were staying at, is where fellow Victorian cyclist Danielle Garden works as a bike guide. It was awesome to have a friendly face to pick us up from the station and spend the next 5 days with. Danielle holds most of the QOMs around these parts and is quite the climber. She had challenged me to beat Emillio, another tour guide up the climbs. I wasn’t so sure.

Our first day started in sun shine and ended in torrential rain and a 30km decent home.

Mortirolo and Gavia

Stelvio and Bormio 2000

130km Valley loop

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It was going to be baptism by fire.

Mortirolo and Gavia, a 100km loop with 3000 m of elevation and a climb that averages 10% for 14km. In terms of climbing, Mortirolo was going to be the most challenging. I was looking forward to it. One of our tour guides, Elmillio, a skinny little climber, that speaks no english, had challenged me to this one. I gave him a head start (only because I needed to take some clothing layers off)., then began the climb. This was the steepest climb I’ve done. Relentless gradient, that made the legs burn every stroke. You only couldhave one speed this climb. I had no gears left and my 28 was being used to its full capacity. I came within about 50m of Emillio with 1km to go. But he heard me coming and turned the gas on. I had nothing. I didn’t catch him. He won.I completed the climb in around 1.07. Not too shabby for my first go. The 2nd climb of the day, Gavia, I did with P. Half way up, the weather turned for the worst and we had a wet 30km decent home.

Stelvio was the next challenge. Arguably the most famous of the climbs in this area, it has 30 something switchbacks, 20km but a more manageable gradient of something like 8%. The cat and mouse challenge that Emillio and I were playing was on again. This time he gave me a 30 second head start. He only caught me as we were going through the tunnels, mid way up the climb, as I was bonking. I still had 10km to go. I got on his wheel, for about 1km. Then I was not. 2/3 of the way up, the gradient flattens off. I must have had my second wind, because I caught Emillio and overtook him. Going into the last 3km I had about 500m on him. He was hunting me down. 20m from the top he overtook me and we sprinted for the line. He won, by a tyre. But yeah, he did give me a head start. I climbed in about 1.25. After the Stelvio, we dragged ourselves up Bormio 2000, just to get some extra kilometers and elevation in.

The next loop we did was just a quiet 130km ride down the Valley, and up a small climb. It was a picturesque little look, where we passed through farm land, apple orchids and small towns whilst meandering along a bike path. Again, the weather turned and we had a pretty miserable 80km in the wet. The final 1/2 was up hill. We were happy to get home.

The other side of the Gavia was next. It was about a 14km climb, at 7% or so, with some tricky 14% sections, but also some flatter sections at 2-3%. This was going to be my chance to beat Emillio. He was feeling tired, and I was feeling ok. We started off together, I quickly rode away from him. And didn’t see him until the end. We sat in the bar, waiting for the others when the weather turned again. Thank god that Danielle had driven up to meet us with our clothes for the decent, instead we got in the van and got a dry lift home. This side of the Gavia is my favorite, it had heaps more to look at, was greener and the gradient  more enjoyable.

Our last day. Danielle’s day off. She took us up the best climb so far. Cancano. We cruised up, taking photos along the way. It was definitely the best climb so far. It was not long. It was not steep. But it was beautiful. Numerous switchbacks, tunnels, a lake and even ruins of a castle or something at the top. The view looked over the switchbacks we just rode up, and Bormio in the very distance. This was only a short day like yesterday, but definitely one of my favorites so far.

I swear that I have ridden more in the wet on holiday here, than I would have in Melbourne! That is for sure.

Huge thanks to Danielle for looking after us this week. What an awesome place to ride your bike, find more information on the hotel we stayed at here.

We’re in Lake Como now, for some supposed R&R. I think we’ll find ourselves some cool places to ride, as well as cool places to relax.

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All photos taken on a GoPro Hero 3+ camera, with LCD screen and all the accessories. #vsport #gopro.

You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev

Nice, Col Du Madone and an epic adventure

So after spending 6 days in the Pyrenees, it was time for a change in scenery. Purdie and I head off on the train, to Nice. Where we would spend some time riding and relaxing.

It was a huge shock in temperature for us. Nice was about 30 degrees! It was great!

Our first climb to conquer was Col du Madone. Made famous by the one and only Lancy pants. He said he knew he could win the Tour if he rode it in 12 minutes. Well, I certainly didn’t ride it in that time. I rode it in 16 minutes or so, in the searing heat!

Our second adventure was going to take up on a loop, which we loaded into the Garmin with the hope that it would direct us – well, we ended up lost, North of Nice, and forever climbing. Lets just say that once we ran out of food and water and were 50kms in the middle of nowhere, I started to panic a bit. The Garmin was telling fibs and lucky for Strava segment explorer – things could have got ugly.

We made it home anyway and spend the rest of the time at the beach or eating delicious  food near the beach.

Our next stop is Italy. We’re headed to Bormio – to ride the famous Gavia, Mortirolo, Stelvio and many many more.

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All photos taken on my GoPro Hero 3+

 

 

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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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.