Sunshine, Prosecco and Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley

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

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

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

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

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

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Photo courtesy of Jo Upton Photography

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo taken on GoPro Hero 3+ Vsport Australia

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!"

 

 

South Gisbourne Saturday, Skinsuit Sunday and a weekend of 6ths

Hawthorn Trophy Race – Northern Combine Women’s Series Race Two – South Gisbourne

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Well. What to wear? I distracted myself with some serious fluffing on the morning of the Hawthorn Trophy Race. I stood, staring at a pair of leg warmers for a good twenty minutes before putting them in my bag. I wanted to bail. But it was the second Northern Combine Women’s race, so I couldn’t, could I? No, come on…support women’s cycling and all. Just get on your bike and ride it.

I had raced the course once before. At last years Hawthorn Club Championships. I cringe when I remember that race. I was all fresh faced, nervous and excited. It was my first race. Ever! I did not know what to expect.

All I can say about that first race, is that it was torture… probably the hardest riding I had done up until that point. I was so new to cycling. I was naive. I was not prepared. Had done absolutely no training…. I was used to just getting on my bike and riding it, and not very fast.

I was in a world of pain. I was dropped. I had never peddled so hard in my life. I thought about giving up. But I didn’t, I finished… I was exhilarated, on an adrenaline high. You live and you learn. Despite the fact that the race could have broken me, it made me want to get better and made me want to race my bike. In a strange, strange way. I’m sure that was where I picked up the cycling bug.

But today, I wanted to bail… because… well, I did not know what to expect.

That sounds silly because, well, I did know what to expect. I knew the course, I knew it was hill-descend-repeat, I knew it was going to be tough. Very tough. My brain was harassing me again. What if I was not better, what if it was going to the last time I race there, what if I can’t keep up.

On the start line I gave myself a pep talk. Told myself to get over it. Everyone is probably feeling the same. This time, it was different for me. I had been training, it was not my first race, I am better now.

Fast forward 55km and 1 hour 48 minutes.

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I rode as best as I could. I did the things I wanted to do, like give the climb a good effort, and all the things I was not supposed to do, like stay on the front too long. But I rode hard, I rode to my strengths. Of course I could have done a few things better. Manage my energy levels for one. The last lap was tough. Physically and mentally. I was mentally drained by that stage and the prospect of smashing it up the last hill was daunting, everyone else seemed so fresh. I probably psyched myself out of it in many ways, bloody brain. The course had a distinct pattern, a rhythm, of decent, climb, repeat.

That last lap I did not replicate my pattern. Especially on the last little climb. Usually I would punch up the first section, then on the second section put some more power. This time I punched up the first section, and then ran out of gas. My gasket blew again. Just like Tour of South West. Great.

Bummer hey. Not that I was even close to the front anyway. That last little section, the section I want to be good at, the hill, I bombed it. You live and you learn. Just like I did almost a year ago after the club champs. This time I rolled in 6th, B grade women. The race did a lot for my lack of motivation of late. It reaffirmed a few things for me.

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Almost 12 months on and the race was still torture. The funny thing is, of course it was going to be. In reality, racing is always going to be tough. If it is not tough, you either are not peddling fast enough or your in the wrong grade. Each time you race, you will be pushed to your limits. It is never going to be easy. It is racing. You train for this. You train hard to be able to push yourself. Each time you move up a grade, it is because you need to be challenged.

I’m glad it spurred me to start training and racing. I’m so happy with my progress to date. You know what? You can never know “what to expect” going into a race. As someone once said to me “try to plan, but expect the unexpected”?

I’ve just got to get over my doubts and get on my bike and ride it, and try not to blow a gasket. I need to get out and have some fun on the bike.

Results can be found here.

Skinsuit Sunday SYCA-Cross

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I was exhausted after the previous day’s racing and needed some fun on the bike. So I blew off my scheduled hill efforts and opted for some SYCA-Cross cyclocross. In hindsight. It was probably just as hard as hill efforts!

Cyclocross racing is kind of like a criterium race, in that you do multiple laps of timed, short course, but it is frantic. Throw in a few barriers, requiring you to mount and dismount, bunny-hop or stack. Throw in a variety of terrain, mainly mud, gravel, grass or whatever then hell you can get your bike and ride over. It is a crazy mix of mountain biking and cross country and road riding. It is addictive. It is well, the hardest racing and the most fun racing you will ever do. You will fall off. You will love it.

So I joined a few skinsuit clad cx-ers route en route to Mill Park where  Whittlesea Cycling Club  was hosting SYCA-Cross. We all rode out together, looking like a weird bunch of colourful cyclists riding weird road bikes with knobby tyres.  I was out of place. I had the colour. I did not have the skinsuit. That must change! Despite my not fitting in with appropriate cx attire I was pumped. Looking forward to some bike fun.

We got to the track early. So had heaps of time to take advantage of the coffee van and Beatbox Kitchen Burger Van. We also had heaps of time to cut a few laps of the track. The course was awesome, very technical, windy, with grass, a few little pinchy climbs, gravel, mulch, hay bails, logs and a bmx track!!!

Fast forward three hours and we were racing. Actually some were racing, I was scrabling!

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The stronger riders were straight off the front and I was left peddling frantically to try and catch up. Think scramble, people, riding bikes everywhere, sliding, weaving, stacking, on-off-on. There I was, my heart beating at 200 bpm, weaving, sliding, jumping, stacking, sweating!

The feeling I  get during a CX race is so hard to describe, it is a mix of pleasure and pain. I love the adrenalin, it is fun, but it is hard and it hurts. My attitude towards cx racing is very, very laid back. I’m not taking it seriously. I’m doing it for fun, and a laugh. I do not worry about placings. I worry about staying upright and negotiating barriers!

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I just got in my bike and rode it, like crazy for 40 minutes. I think I came 6th… again. We had an awesome day on the bike. I loved every minute of it. Sometimes a fun day out on the bike is just what you need!

Results can be found here.

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What’s next? SYCA-Cross is a four race series, I’ll do them when I need the laughs and same with Dirty Deeds, if I get a costume together – I’ll do them too.

Next on the list: Pink skinsuit. Pink Stackhat.

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A note on litter, a wrapper in the face and some handy hints on how to store your on bike rubbish

So. Littering.

a) It is illegal.

b) We are reminded not to litter before every race.

That’s it. We’ve been told and we no better. So why do I still see people, particularly cyclists littering? Today I saw a guy unwrap a chewy, roll the wrapper up and throw it on the ground. This triggered something that I see quite often. Cyclists throwing or spitting their wrappers on the ground, when training, when racing…and now i’ve even seen it whilst communiting. The question still becons. Why?

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Photo Credit: INRING The Inner Ring

My god the more I think about it the more it annoys me… I’m so very sick of seeing aluminium foil balls, gel wrappers, energy bar wrapper, plastic bits blah blah, stroon all over the road. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, but why is it still there?

I’m sick of seing people rip their packets open with their teeth…spitting little peices of plastic out their mouth. Spitting is not accidental either. The peices you spit out not only end up hitting me on the face, they end up ultimately the ground. I’ve seen you do it. The wrappers don’t dissappear to the place that your odd socks go. They end up on the roadside, with the cigarette butts and McDonalds wrappers from careless drivers. The people that litter these items probably annoy you too, are you like them?

So here is the lowdown… The Commissaire always instructs riders to be aware of their disposal of litter prior, during and after an event, as it is an offence to litter the roadways in Victoria. They do this because it does not do anything for the environment, it does not make Cycling Victoria look very good that the cyclists they support trash the courses… the crux of the matter is that it is illegal.

…And clearly outlined in Section 45E of the Environment Protection Act 1970:

Deposit of litter generally
(1) A person must not deposit any litter unles:
(a) the person deposits the litter in a place–
(i) that is provided for the deposit of litter; and
(ii) that is appropriate for litter of that size, shape, nature or volume; or
(b) the person deposits the litter in or on a place in such a way that it cannot leave the place without human assistance and the person–
(i) owns, controls or is in possession of the place; or
(ii) is acting with the express consent of the person who owns, controls or is in possession of the place; or
(c) the person is authorised to deposit the litter by or under an Act or a Commonwealth Act; or
(d) the deposit of the litter is an unavoidable consequence of a lawful activity; or
(e) the deposit is accidental and the person does everything that is reasonably possible to retrieve the litter.

Penalty: $282

So there you go… $282. If you got busted by the cops – you probably couldn’t even win that back. That’s worth a new helmet, or kit, or a pair of Sass and Bide Jeans. Just save some $ and put your rubbish in your pocket.

Like I, and most people do.

Oh but I don’t even think about the litter because there is  no time in a race? Wah Wah….The heat of the moment littering is no excuse. Just because you need food. right. now. at. that. second. – does not cut the mustard with me. Knowone has time, we are all in the same position. I manage, most other people manage. You can too.

So you I might think i’m crazy. Because I have all the rubbish from my bars and gels after reacing on the weekend (refer Fig.1.). That was a hard race, there was hardly time for fluffing with wrappers. But OMG I managed to hold on to them all…The wrappers (Fig. 2.) and tabs the freaking fiddly little tiny minisscule (Fig. 3.) from the top/tabs of gels – the stuff you spit on the ground. That gets blown into my face. The tabs don’t dissappear. They are litter. You could be fined. I managed to not spit out the plastic bits, get them… and the wrappers and put them up the back of my jersey. I took them home, to put in the bin. It was not hard.

I don’t want your plastic bits in my face or on the ground. Don’t spit them, store them. Here’s how…
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Fig. 1. My rubbish from the weekend. Note I still have the fiddly little gel tabs.

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 Fig. 2. This is litter.
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Fig. 3. So is this.

I’m thinking that some of you obvously need some help to assist you not to litter. So here are some hints on how you can store your rubbish (Fig. 4.):

Step-By-Step
1. Put the rubbish up your leg. If it is too itchy there;
2. Put it down the back of your jersey, it will hold between the elastic waistband and the back of your bibs. If t is too itchy there;
3. Put it in your jersey pocket. Allocate one specifically for rubbish. If it is too hard or gooey;
4. Put it up the front of your jersey, it will hold between the elastic waistband and the front of your knicks.

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Fig. 4. How to store your litter.

Look. To be honest. Most of us don’t litter, but it is the few of us that do that ruins it for everyone. It is our environment. We like to ride in it. So respect it. Simple.

If the concept of taking your litter home with you is too hard….I suggest maybe you should change your attitude.

You (probably) don’t throw litter out of your car window, or on your nature strip at home, in a national park, in the street, you probably don’t litter at all, except for on the bike. Chucking your wrappers and spitting bits of plastic bits is no different. The funny thing is that you probably like to recycle, use green bags, keep cups, and save wrapping paper, buy greenpower, turn off your lights and commute to work you get the picture… So moral of the story is.  Just don’t litter.

Think before you spit your torn off peice of plastic off the bike, because it will end up in my face, and on the ground… I, and the environment won’t be happy, it is illegal and you could get fined. You are told not to, so follow my simple instructions and just store your on bike rubbish.

Get a bike and ride it, then dispose of your litter responsibly.

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.