The first half of my debut professional road season was an eye opener to say the least. Excitement and frustration took turns in the front seat however I have definitely enjoyed the time spent racing with the crew at Orica-AIS.
The majority of my twenty race days were vomit-inducing, but these handle-bar-stem chewing races have been completely worthwhile as I’ve had the privilege to race alongside such a supportive and successful team I was able to help the team onto a number of podiums, whilst I also had the opportunity to stand on the top step myself.
I’ve learnt a number of valuable lessons, the greatest being the strength of a well-oiled, fully committed team. Whilst I have dabbled in road racing in previous years, it still surprises me just how formidable a team can be if they decide to work together.
A particular example of this teamwork was evident during the Chinese Tour of Chongming Island, held from May 8-10, 2013. After winning the overall in 2012, Melissa Hoskins was meant to be the sprinter going into this year’s tour, and rightly so. Unfortunately due to an array of sickness and injury rendering Mel off her bike for a number of days, I was called upon to be the replacement sprinter. Needless to say, I was not very prepared.
Despite my lack of experience and relative “newness” to the team, a decision was made to work for me, based on a select few road race results from 2011 and 2012. The entire team backed this decision and were more than happy to give up their own chances at winning in order to have one, common goal; getting me across the line first.
The tour was raced over three short stages, each with two preme sprints and a final sprint, all with time bonuses for the first three across the line. The majority of the racing was pleasantly easy. I soon realised that this pleasurable rarity was due to my teammates working their ‘butts’ off at the front of the bunch, ensuring the peloton stayed together. It wasn’t until a sprint came up that I was forced to lurch into gear. Considering this was my first experience with a proper lead out train, the first two sprints went relatively smoothly. I came second in the first preme and won the second. The feathers became ruffled however, at 1.8km to go.
Fighting to keep my spot in the Orica-AIS train, a particular Chinese rider forced her way through an invisible gap, knocking my handlebars and sending me into the gutter. If Christopher Reeves could have seen me fly, he would have given me his leading role as Superman post haste. I don’t mean to brag, but it was impressive; not only being thrusted high into the air, but plunging straight into the comforts of a meter-high hedge. Although disappointed at the lack of photographic evidence, I was extremely lucky. Had that hedge not lined the road, I would probably be missing a few front teeth and the skin on my face.
Jessie Maclean waited for me to make sure I was ok, and put up with a frustrated Nettie as we rode back to the finish line. Luckily the crash was inside the final three kilometres so I received bunch time, however those ever so precious bonus seconds were dwindling away. The team managed to set Emma Johansson up for third so we still had another card to play the following day.
The second stage was slightly more eventful, with a breakaway of thirteen riders during the middle part of the race. Although starting my sprint too early on both occasions, once again, I managed to place first and second in the two preme sprints. The biggest mistake however, was yet to come.
During the final sprint I was on track to have a perfect lead-out, however when I saw a fast-moving surge of riders on the right side of the road, perhaps due to a lack of experience with lead-out trains, my natural instinct was to ‘jump’ over to these riders and get ‘amongst the wheels’. Despite having an incredibly on-form, final lead-out girl, Emma Johansson ready to unleash in front of me, I panicked and ‘jumped’ across. Thankfully, the experienced Emma noticed and covered my mistake by ‘jumping’ over to me so I could sit back in her wheel. Despite the cover-up, all the ‘jumping’ back and forth took its toll and I could only manage a grovelling third place behind Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) and Chloe Hosking of Hitec Products.
I did not know what had just happened. Why had I reacted that way? What was going on in my head? Had I just cost my teammates the stage, let alone the entire tour? It wasn’t a lack of trust in Emma’s ability; I know how damn good she is. All I could put it down to was that I was inexperienced with lead-out trains and I fell back into my old habits of jumping onto the wheel of a faster moving rider as I would on the track, or at a race without teammates by my side.
The biggest and most important message I learnt that night was “stick to the plan”. The plan was to do a lead out. It didn’t matter what any other team did, we were going to focus on ourselves. If our plan didn’t work, the plan failed and we could devise a new one, but at least we were all fully committed to one, common goal.
Although now sitting in second on the General Classification (GC), six seconds behind Chloe, we still had a chance. It may have been slim, but it was there. If I could win every sprint and Chloe place second each time, I would win on count-back. Bronzini would also be one to watch as she sat just four seconds behind me.
Chloe won the first two preme sprints on stage three. I came second in the first, but it was my third placing in the second sprint which really hurt. I had been given a perfect lead out from my team, but hadn’t been able to finish it off. This meant that Chloe had now increased her lead to nine seconds and I would have to win with Chloe finishing off the podium if I was to win overall. Needless to say, there was no point thinking about what the other teams we going to do, we could only focus on ourselves.
Despite coming third, the team did not change the plan. The girls rolled around between the sprints with one notion; do the same again. This was our strongest point as a team, so we were going to focus on doing our lead-out in exactly the same way.
This time, everything went perfectly. The sprint train could not have been faulted and I finally nailed the sprint, taking the win along with the ten bonus seconds. As I rolled across the line, Emma Johansson yelled,
We looked around and she was nowhere to be seen. Our minds were madly ticking over; ‘Had I won?!’
By the time we rolled to a stop, we’d worked out that I had indeed, won by ONE second. How completely unbelievable! After three days of racing, a crash and countless mistakes from me, we had won by just one second. We were over the moon. It was honestly a fairy tale ending.
Not only was China brilliant in our teams’ success, but it was also an ideal opportunity for me to learn and grow as a sprinter. With nine chances to get it right, China was the perfect opportunity for me to gain experience sprinting with a professional team on the professional circuit. This tour also allowed me to experience the true value of a committed, dedicated and faithful team. To have a team back me in as their “girl” with little accomplishments and experience on the road was incredible enough, but the part that really impressed me, was how they stayed ‘behind me’ and ‘true to the goal’ even after I made so many mistakes. This gesture and team motto (in a sense) has had a major impact on me and this moment will stay with me for the rest of my career.
Without being corny, I am so blessed to be racing with this team and I’m looking forward to each and every opportunity I get to join these girls throughout the second half of the season, whatever this may entail..
…bring it on!