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
image3

image2
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  

image1
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.

A31B7294

Full results here.

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

A31B8153
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.

A31B8266
image4

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.

_JXP0127

IMG_5744

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

image7
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.

image5
image6
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!

3B2A3359

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

Still smiling after my first Tour of Bright

_JXP0044
A Grade Women’s Peleton.

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

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

Stage 1 – The Time Trial

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

Stage 2, Rosewhite and Towonga Gap

_JXP0420
Top of Towonga

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

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

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

_JXP0429

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

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

Stage 3, Mt Hotham

_MG_1755

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

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

_JXP0038

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

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

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

_JXP2387
Finish line in sight!

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

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

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

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

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

_JXP2404
Still smiling!

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