October 1, 2014
After a dismal performance in the Orica-AIS Team Time Trial (TTT) trials just two days out from the Sweden World Cup, my dreams of riding the World Cup (and with that the TTT World Championships) started to slip away. I had targeted this event post Commonwealth Games; it was the only reason I had hung around in Europe for the last month. I know the track can zap your ability to perform simultaneously on the road, however I didn’t think it would affect my TTT as much as it did.
As expected I was out of the World Cup and would probably head home to Australia a few days later. We just had to sit tight and make sure the girls raced a smooth race in Sweden, just to be certain. I was so average in the trials that I was certain I’d be heading home; I even entertained the idea of having a sneaky holiday on the way home and started googling “Island Hopping Croatia”. It was a good thing I didn’t book anything because the race certainly didn’t go to plan. Two girls were dropped before the half-way mark, which meant that the team had to ride the majority of the race with just four people. We came 4th and were more than 3.5 minutes off the winners over a 42km race. This result certainly threw a spanner in the works.
Due to my track background, I have the ability to produce a lot of power, which is ideal for team time trialling. What I lacked wasn’t my power but my endurance, which would come with time. As I had only had 3 weeks of road after a strong track block, our Director Sportif, Gene Bates took this into consideration and believed I had the potential to gain this endurance by the time the World Championships arrived in 4 weeks time. Sweden WC hadn’t gone to plan, so Gene had to come up with a different plan… I was back in the game.
On Saturday the 23rd of August, I was given a challenge; despite an unsettling lack of road fitness, I was named in the 6-rider team time trial squad for Orica-AIS to race at the world championships in Ponferrada, Spain, and had 28 days to get fit in order to do so. I was given the spot over other teammates and was under pressure to prove it was the right decision. I effectively called the following month, “Project Team Time Trial”.
I believed I could do it, but I knew it would be a big challenge. It also meant that I would be taking the spot of another teammate, of whom I knew wanted to race so badly. I couldn’t stuff this opportunity up, both for myself, for the team, and for those missing out.
I went into a 4-week long specific training regime in Italy, full of painful ergo-sessions, motor pacing and a week-long racing stint in Holland. I worked closely with Gene, and felt like I was getting fitter and faster, however it’s tough to simulate a team time trial, and therefore I couldn’t be certain about how I was going until I headed into Spain with the team, four days out from the World Championships.
To my relief, I felt great. We had two days of specific team efforts prior to competition and I felt like a different rider to the ‘sloth’ in Sweden. The team, consisting of Melissa Hoskins, Valentina Scandolara, Jessie Maclean, Emma Johansson, Amanda Spratt and I was going well; we were going fast, we liked the course and we came up with a pretty solid team plan.
The 36km course was quite technical and could be separated into four parts: The first 10km was straight and slightly downhill, the second 10km was relatively flat, the third was undulating and quite technical, whilst the final 6km included a long, dragging uphill before a short, steep decent to the finish. Amanda (aka Spratty) and my job was to do even turns for the first section, reduce our turns through the second before doing long, hard turns leading into the hill. Due to my ‘larger’ physique, I’m not as efficient at going up hills. The chance of me being able to stay with or contribute to the group up over that hill was quite slim and considering the finish was so close we decided that Spratty and I may as well use ourselves up by then and aim to leave four, slightly ‘fresher’ riders to finish the final 6km.
Although our plan didn’t quite work out (as racing plans hardly ever do), we were able to make amends easily out on the road. Everything was going smoothly. We were up by 21seconds on Boels Dolmans at the first time check and equal to Rabobank (who came 3rd and 2nd respectively in Sweden). Spratty and I started to reduce our turns as planned and by the second time check at 22km we had increased our gap on Boels to 36seconds. It was almost time to start increasing my turns, when I realised Jessie (Jmac) had missed the wheel.
We are given assigned positions in the TTT based on both aerodynamics and the strength combinations of riders. We try to space out our stronger riders, with weaker ones in between to ensure a smoother pace is kept. I was sitting on Jmac’s wheel and knew that she was having a good day. After 28kms of racing she had been pulling long, consistent turns the entire time and hadn’t dropped the pace once. After pulling her turn she had mistimed getting back on the back of the group, which hadn’t been helped by the technicality of the course at the time as we were going through a series of roundabouts. After you swing off the front of the group, you drop the pace a touch in order for the team to come past. She had obviously dropped it a fraction too much and couldn’t pick it up in time, which put a huge strain on her, especially after 28kms of solid racing.
I looked back and had to decide whether to go back and get her and use up my saved energy to get us both back on, but that would risk us both getting dropped at the same time. I listened for the call over the radio from Gene, our Director Sportif in the car behind us. We’ve since discussed this moment and in hindsight he would have called for us to ease up a fraction, but he was unsure if Jmac had blown and had instead said we were ‘down to 5’. It’s a tough situation. It’s hard work for the team to drop the pace and start back up again, so if Jmac had indeed blown and didn’t have more to give then it would have been a waste of time. We made a decision out on the road and stuck to it.
It’s surprising how much a of a difference the sixth rider makes. If each riders aims to do 20s turns on the front, your recovery would be reduced from 100 seconds to 80 seconds. It doesn’t sound like much but after 30 minutes of racing you really notice it. Spratty was starting to suffer, so losing Jmac was tough on her. She dropped off a couple of kilometres later, and sure enough, the words came through the radio, “Nettie, you’re going to have to do the hill.”
Thankfully, due to our original team plan, I had shortened my turns through the previous section and had only just started my longer turns so I was relatively fresh. If this had all happened a few kilometres later and I had given my all by the bottom of the hill, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Instead, I shortened my turns again and focused on putting everything into trying to get over the hill as quickly as possible, but careful not to push over the limit. Once you go into the red zone, it’s very hard to come back.
Emma Johansson stepped it up a notch. She and Mel had been pulling long turns all race and were demonstrating their consistent form from the past few months. It made such a difference- having a second rider pulling long turns at this point in the race really helped ease the pressure on Vale and I.
I grovelled over that hill and tried to hang on as best as I could down the other side. My heart rate hit a maximum of 189 out there (with an average of 183 over 45minutes) which was no doubt due to that bloody hill! We came through the finish with the fastest time, with only two teams left out on the course. We had made the podium! We were stoked and had had a cracker of a ride, regardless of the mixup out on course!
Specialized Lululemon stopped the clock at 43minutes and 33seconds. They finished 1min17s in front of us; a gap that had been considerably reduced from Sweden. We had really stepped up, especially considering both Spratty and I were filling in for our stronger, injured teammates Loes and Shara, both due to broken bones.
Unfortunately Rabobank crashed in the final kilometre. It was devastating to see. This was not what we wanted at all. We wanted to put forward a challenge and see if we could come out on top. The times between us were very close, both teams were down to four riders at similar points on the course and it was an even game. Poor Anne Van der Breggen broke her hip and Annemiek Van Vleuten needed stitches in her leg. Both of their world championships were over. Anne was in the form of her life, winning road races left, right and centre. This was her year. Annemiek was also amongst the favourites in the upcoming timetrial, it was so disappointing. I hope they both have a very speedy recovery.
Astana BePink filled out the podium in 3rd, Optum Ladies in 4th and Boels Dolmans in 5th.
We were so happy with our race. We had put so much time and effort into the TTT with Gene this year. We’d had 3 camps and had finally managed to put it together on the day. After the disappointment of 4th in Sweden, this was magic. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy for a silver medal! Of course we wanted gold, but to see the margin between us and Lululemon be pulled back so significantly in just a months time was really promising. We are headed in the right direction! Full credit to the ladies at Specialized Lululemon; they honestly are all class. Three world titles in a row can’t really be overlooked!
Personally I was stoked with my ride. It was such a relief. After accepting Gene’s challenge 28 days ago I must admit I had a couple of days where I had doubted myself. But I had made a commitment and couldn’t turn around. I did give it absolutely everything and thank goodness it paid off. I was far from the strongest out there, but I know I made a difference. And after surviving just 8km of a 15km trial in Sweden I guess you can say this was certainly an achievement! Even though there was a bit of pressure I am so glad I got the opportunity to race the TTT and finish off the 2014 road season with Orica-AIS on a high!