When asked, “How have you found your first professional road season?” I have to sit back and think about it for a moment…
I have really enjoyed spending time with a different team (from the track); new faces and change of scenery with completely different team dynamics. I’ve also enjoyed some of the challenges the road racing has given me, both physically and mentally. Although some of the track racing is more physically intense, the length of the road races requires intense concentration for an extended period of time. Yes, it may be easy rolling at times, but in a split second, someone might attack whilst you’re out of position and this can mean it’s game-over. I’ve struggled with that side of things and that is something I can definitely improve on.
I spent a lot more time getting “road fit” which really saw me struggle through many of the hillier races throughout the first half of the season. After the high of winning China’s Tour of Chongming Island I soon met Thüringen, a 7-day stage race in the hills of Germany. Though my teammate Emma Johansson came home with the yellow jersey, I underwent my own inner, daily battle trying to convince myself that I could get over the next hill with the bunch. If I could have given myself a nickname for that tour it would have been “yoyo” as I to’d and fro’d, forwards and backwards through the bunch. I’d consistently be one of the last four riders to crest a hill, have to force my way up through the bunch on the downhill to try and help my team defend the yellow jersey (by covering moves or team time-trialling to bring back a break) only to shoot straight back through the bunch up the very next hill. This was extremely taxing on me, both mentally and physically. Not only was it tough to get through the stage, but to go to bed that night knowing you had to face the exact same conditions the for the following six days was completely exhausting.
I couldn’t simply ‘pull out’. I had a team of five other girls who needed whatever help they could get from me. Even if it was just to cover one move for the day, this would relieve a fraction of their efforts. After all the help they had given me throughout the season, I owed it to them to get on that start line and give it my absolute best.
There was a rather funny moment one night after dinner when I headed upstairs to see my teammate, Loes relaxing in the room. I was exhausted and fell onto the bed, “Only two more days!” I sighed, rather loudly. Due to the thinness of the walls separating our room from our DS, Macca (Dave McPartland)’s, this sigh was heard by many more people than I had intended, including our masseuse Maja, my teammate Spratty and Macca himself. Apparently they found this pretty funny. I have a feeling they knew just how much pain I was going through!
At the end of the week, I got to watch my teammate stand on the podium with a huge smile on her face and bright yellow jersey. To know that I had helped her achieve this (in some small part) was really satisfying. The ever-so-slightly scarring week was really worth it in the end.
A few weeks later I faced my second major tour, la Route de France. This 8-day, far less lumpy tour was much better for me than Thüringen, however it wasn’t till two more weeks had passed that I understood the benefit of slogging my way through these tours.
In the last week of August I raced the Lotto Belisol Tour in Belgium. The first stage was a team time trial along an undulating 21km course. This was my first team time trial with Orica-AIS and my second to date. I was under pressure because this was my only chance to impress the team management if I wanted a shot at making the team for the Team Time Trial World Championships. To my delight, I actually felt pretty good! It was tough but I really felt at home in this type of race (due to my background in team pursuiting on the track). I could gauge pace, felt comfortable on the wheel and I finally felt fit on the road.
During the second stage I was able to do a lot of work for the team over the first half of the hilly circuit. I felt like superwoman for a bit there, but these efforts did catch up with me from mid-way and I grovelled over the final 30kms. This was still a positive step for me considering the terrain, so this race, combined with the team time trial from yesterday gave me confidence that the pain of the previous month was finally paying off.
The third stage was a flat sprinters stage. It was a perfect race for me; a fast, smooth, flowing course. I felt pretty good and managed to get third in the bunch sprint. I was slightly disappointed as this was my chance to take a win for the team and I had really hoped to be more of a contender against Skil-Shimano’s Kirsten Wild.
I put that behind me and thought about facing the fourth and final day; a hilly circuit headed 4 times up the famous ‘Muur’. The aim for the team was to try and break up the GC by launching attacks to hopefully set either Emma or Loes up for an overall podium result. After the first climb my teammate Sung Eun Gu attacked, I countered and Loes attacked over me. Loes got away solo and a chase group of ten (including me) formed behind her. She put in a stellar effort and managed to stay away for 40kms before Lululemon’s Van Dijk stormed past my chase group to bridge over to Loes with Emma on her wheel. Meanwhile I had been given a dream ride, sitting on the back of my group praying that my teammates stayed away. This meant that every time we came up to the dreaded “Muur” I was relatively fresh within my group and the hill actually wasn’t too bad. A large bunch of 30 caught my group as we went over the climb for the last time and unfortunately caught the leading three with 10kms to go. It was going to come down to a bunch sprint, so we formed a train; the plan was for Jessie to start the lead out through the town, Loes to start from the bottom of the hill, Me, to do the final lead out up the Muur and the Emma, to take the win.
But it didn’t turn out that way.
With 200m to go, I looked behind and realised Emma had eased a bit and had given me a gap. I already had lactate through my eyeballs but this unbelievable scenario made me grovel my way through the final 150m’s. Watching the replays I don’t think I have ever looked worse on a bike. Rocking backwards and forwards, trying to get my legs to pedal just a few more strokes up this stupid, cobbled hill. I remember feeling like a mouse being chased by a bunch of cats, just waiting for them to be upon me.
I won that race and I will never forget it. It was a perfect example of how if a team commits selflessly towards a common goal, success can be achieved. Although it wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for (to win the general Classification), we gave it everything we had. We put ourselves in the race, made the most of our opportunities and came away with both 1st and 2nd. I am so proud to have been a part of this team.
My season finished with a bronze in the Team Time Trial at my first Road World Championships. It was an absolute honour to have had the opportunity to race towards Florence with five of my teammates. I’m not ashamed to admit that I went there hoping to win Gold. We changed our team up and had perfected our order. We felt fast as a team and I believed that we had a good chance at trying to reduce the gap to Lululemon from previous races and possibly take the win. At every previous race, we lost the most amount of time to Lululemon during the first half of the race. Our tactic was to go out hard. If we wanted to win, we were going to have to match their pace and then go faster. We did just that and were within 2 seconds of them at the first time-check. Unfortunately we couldn’t hold on and ended up losing 1.5 minutes to them by the finish. We also slipped 22seconds behind Rabobank, coming home in third place. This was disappointing, but we knew that we had given it our best shot and could walk onto the podium with our heads held high. Specialized-Lululemon deserved the victory; they were just too damn good.
Off the bike, I’ve found the freedom of living in Spain with my boyfriend really refreshing, however I have also struggled with the lack of routine that home provides which has structured my past for so many years. I have been a little unmotivated at times when I have had big gaps in my racing schedule but I am very thankful for the support I have received from my friends, family and the wonderful cyclists in Girona who have become my second family. I also am very lucky to have my incredible sponsor, Bureau Veritas who also noticed the value of support and provided me with a trip back home to Australia to visit my family mid-season.
Right now it feels really strange. After racing nearly every week, I feel as if there is another one just around the corner. It’s hard to think that my time on the road with Orica-AIS in 2013 is now just a thing of the past.
So to answer your question, my first year on the road has been challenging. I have had a ball, but I have also struggled. As the saying goes, “without rain, nothing would grow” and I know I have definitely grown into a completely different bike rider thanks to the management and the incredible ladies on this team.
Therefore, a big thank you goes out to Macca, Maja, Nico (mechanic) and my lovely ladies, Loes ‘appelstroop’ Gunnewijk, Emma ‘lucky-pin’ Johansson, Amanda ‘Smurfette’ Spratt, Jessie ‘Speculoos’ Maclean, Melissa ‘movie-quote’ Hoskins, Gracie ‘movie-maker’ Elvin, Tiffany ‘key-to-my-heart’ Cromwell, Shara ‘constantly-eating’ Gillow and our own gangnam-style, kinder-eating Sung Eun Gu!
Follow this blog to find out my road plans for 2014. Now it’s time to hit the track!