As I type this update I’m sat in the back of a cramped van, travelling between Luxembourg and the Orica-AIS base in Italy. I’m about to spend a few days training on the Italian roads before jet setting off to Japan for an ‘invitational promotional keirin’. From there I’ll head over to China to meet the girls for both the Tour of Chong Ming Island and China World Cup.
So far, I’ve had five races, two tours, eleven race days, been a part of six podiums, stood on the podium once, crashed once and had one DNF (did not finish). I had a late start to the road season but I am starting to find my road legs and have already learnt so much from my experienced and supportive team.
Here are a few words on my journey as a professional road cyclist so far.
The transition from track cyclist to ‘roadie’ has been an eventful one to date. It has been exactly two months since the Track World Championships finished in Belarus and although I am reasonably satisfied with my progression, I am still lagging in the fitness department.
Unfortunately illness rendered me off the bike for two weeks following the championships, which meant I had to pull out of my first scheduled road race; Padova, in Italy. It also meant that I had less time to try and build up my road fitness base before the majority of racing began. Though frustrating, this is part of the sport; you have to learn to deal with it, get over it and try and get back into training as quickly as possible.
On March 20th the Orica-AIS team headed to our base in Italy for a team timetrial camp. Whilst it was good to get the timetrial bikes set up, it was also a good opportunity to get to know the team on a more personal level. My team pursuit background allowed me to adapt to team time trialling very quickly, however when we did a course reconnaissance of the Citiglio World Cup course (a course of which the girls would be racing on a few days later) I soon realised that my form was not quite up to scratch! These girls can ride! Though we had a tough few days, it was great to be a part of the team again and it definitely gave me a kick up the backside in regards to my training!
Holland’s Energiewacht Tour was my first race as a professional road cyclist. In 2011 and 2012 I spent two months racing with the Australian Institute of Sport’s women’s track cycling team, so I had a basic understanding of what to expect. I remembered Dutch racing as being hard, but I forgot just HOW hard it can be. The first stage certainly was a shock to the system.
Stages 1 and 2 (110 and 105km)panned out similarly for me; I managed to make the first few ‘splits’ of the peloton but missed the final winning split, which was very frustrating. This was partly due to fitness, but mostly due to my positioning in the bunch. Positioning is crucial in Dutch racing; splits can happen at any stage on the typically flat and windy courses. If the rider in front of you drops the wheel, your race can easily be over as quickly as it began.
Stage 3a was a 21km timetrial. I competed in three timetrials between 2007 and 2013, so I wasn’t expecting much of a result. As Loes Gunnewijk was sitting in 3rd in the general classification (GC), my job was to get through the timetrial with some energy left in the tank to help her out in the evening road race. Although I was unsure of what pace to sit on, I came 12th, which was a really nice surprise! Although I put in a solid effort, I did leave a little in the tank and this certainly gave me confidence that my form wasn’t as bad as I had thought!
Stage 3b’s 77km road race was pretty uneventful. Breaks went and came back, but the stage came down to a sprint. I managed to get 4th, behind Wild, D’Hoore and Hosking, which was further reinforcement that I hadn’t lost too much form throughout my sickness.
Stage 4 was epic. It was one of the hardest races of my life. The team spent the day trying to help Loes defend or improve her 3rd position on GC. The team and I turned ourselves inside and out in a race full of attacks, splits and counterattacks. I even made the first attack of my life and ACTUALLY got in a break! Although it makes me laugh now, I certainly wasn’t laughing then. I was in a world of pain. But Loes told me go, and whatever our experienced, Dutch team captain Loes says, goes! Loes had a brilliant ride and managed to move up into 2nd by the end of the 135km stage. I learnt a great deal about road racing during this stage, lessons and details I certainly won’t forget!
The final stage was a 99km race around a 14km circuit. Our Korean teammate Sungeun Gu managed to get in a breakaway of 8, which stayed away until the finish. This was perfect for us as it meant all the bonus seconds (which were given to the first three placegetters) would be taken away from the GC riders. Loes was sitting in 2nd at the start of the race and was only three seconds in front of sprint queen, Kirsten Wild. Specialised Lululemon were too strong for us to be able to take 1st from Ellen Dijk, so we were pleased for the break to get away. Gu came 2nd and Loes came 2nd overall! It was a great end to a LONG week.
I was secretly glad Energiewacht Tour was over. The first two days were damn tough. I woke up each morning feeling as if I had been hit by a bus. I actually felt better on the third day for stages 3a and 3b, however the final two days really took it out of me. I was knackered.
I took me a good 5 days to recover from the tour. I didn’t really feel ready to race again, but I got the call up the following weekend to race ‘Gelderland’ as a fill in for a sick teammate. Gelderland was a one-day race in Holland, with five sharp hills between kilometres 20 and 41, before a flat, windy 85km circuit to the finish. I certainly underestimated the challenge these hills would give me. I managed to get over the first few ok, but I used up too much energy trying to stay with the front group and (in cycling terms) ‘blew’ on the third or fourth hill. I completely blew up, struggling to gain momentum or stay with any group that passed. Thank goodness I managed to recover enough to stay in the last bunch which caught me on the final hill. My bunch caught the front group with 50km to go. Despite teammate Shara Gillow being away solo for 50km, she was caught with 4km to go and it came down to a bunch sprint. I ended up running out of legs (combined with spending too much time in the wind during the final kilometres) and couldn’t do much for the team. I was pretty disappointed as I was the sprinter and my team deserved better than that. With a bit more efficiency sitting out of the wind in the team lead out, things would have been better, but the bottom line was that I ‘ran out of legs’. Perhaps the 140km distance was too much, or perhaps ‘blowing’ in the hills cost me later on, either way I came home knowing that I needed to be fitter.
I had five more days training in sunny Spain before it was back to the Netherlands for another one-day race. Borsele was a flat 125km race around a 25km circuit. This race was full on, right from the start. After 3kms, the race turned left along a long, narrow crosswind section. The bunch split to pieces and there were crashes left, right and centre. Unfortunately Gu was brought down in one of these. Although stuck at the back of the group I managed to avoid kissing the tarmac and slowly but surely worked my way up through the bunch. I made the first split of 40-50 riders, but after 26 kilometres, a touch of wheels whilst travelling at 52km/hr caused a crash at the front of the group, creating a domino effect and taking out at least twenty riders. I came down and landed quite solidly on my hip, but managed to come away relatively unscathed. My teammate Gracie Elvin was also brought down and lost a bit of skin, but luckily she too was ok. We had to wait for spare bikes and spent the best part of 40kms chasing in a small group to try and get back on, but the race was all over and we were forced to pull out. Luckily Loes, Spratty (Amanda Spratt) and Mel Hoskins were still in the front bunch and Loes ended up taking another 2nd for the team. It wasn’t a bad day after all!
The following day, a few bruised bodies had to pick themselves up and drive to Belgium to race another one-dayer; Westhoek. Westhoek consisted of two laps of a 40km circuit with two short, steep hills, and four laps of an 11km circuit with a 500m cobbled section over the finish line. I have ridden on cobbles in Holland before, but not in Belgium; these were SOMETHING ELSE! Gee they were hard! I managed to get over the hills and had a crack at covering moves over the flatter sections. My legs were feeling pretty good! I had a mechanical with 13kms to go but managed to get back up to the front with a few kilometres to go. After it was obvious it was going to come down to a bunch sprint, the plan was to try and get Emma Johansson up for win. Due to a lack of organisation and lack of positioning she and I ended up coming 9th and 11th. This was pretty disappointing. The team was certainly better than that. We learnt a crucial lesson about organisation and will make sure it doesn’t happen again!
I spent four days in Maastricht on the border of Belgium and Holland training with Spratty before heading to Luxembourg for my second tour of the season, Elsy Jacobs. A sore throat dared to show its face during our time in Maastricht, but luckily disappeared before things could escalate.
The first stage of Elsy Jacobs was a 1.8km prologue. The weather turned sour and made the slightly technical course a challenge for even the best of bike handlers. I started mid-way through the 120-rider field and posted a time of 2 minutes 31 seconds. To my surprise, only two riders bettered my time; none other than Annemiek Van Vleuten and Marianne Vos! I was pretty shocked! Yes, due to my track background I physically had the capability of posting a fast time, but I didn’t believe my technical skills would be up to scratch, especially as this was my second race on a timetrial bike! I finished one second behind Marianna and two seconds behind Van Vleuten. This was a really nice boost for the confidence! The Orica-AIS girls rode incredibly well, with 4 in the top 10, giving us multiple options for possible GC riders for the rest of the tour.
Although I took home the young-riders jersey, this was short lived as the hills of Stage 1 took their toll. Stage 1 consisted of a large, relatively flat 75km loop and five 10km loops with two steep, sharp hills. I tried to help out the team as best I could in the first part of the race but by the time the hills came, I didn’t last long. I finished the race in the third group while my teammates battled it out in front. Emma Johansson managed 5th and moved up into 2nd on GC, with Spratty into 3rd.
Stage 2 was raced over the same 75km loop as Stage 1, but with five laps of a slightly easier circuit. This 102km stage finished in a bunch sprint, however the final corner was nasty, tight and off camber and was renowned for causing crashes with 350m to go. Despite the fighting and sketchiness of a frantic bunch, Emma Johansson demonstrated her strength and skill and came around the corner cleanly, managing to get 3rd in the stage. Vos won the stage and the overall, with Bronzini 2nd and Emma 3rd on GC. This was a pretty good result for the team.
Although my preparation for these first few races wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped and my fitness trailed for a few weeks, I’m finally starting to feel better on the bike. I need to do a bit more work in the hills, but that can wait until after China. I’m really enjoying the racing and I’m having a ball with the Orica-AIS ladies. They really are a lovely, welcoming bunch of girls and have definitely made me feel completely welcome. The support staff have also been great fun and have definitely provided the team with some quality entertainment between races!
Anyway, enough rambling from me! Time to get some sleep, recover over the next few days and get ready for the next journey; Japan and China!