From the Crit
With a sore throat and feeling weak and feverish I was wallowing in self-pity on Friday. Friday morning I wasn’t even a sure starter for the Crit. I was thinking perhaps it best that I rest up and save my strength for Stage 1. However caught up in the moment and having enjoyed cheering on the Cat 2 waves as they flew past our little ANZA camp, I didn’t really want to miss out.
The women’s competition was small (28 starters) however the quality of the field was very good. Mavs had fielded a team four strong girls (Grace, Serene, Sarah Clark and new girl Veronika). There was also Christina Liew from Cycledelic, Sarah Jeanne Fraser, super-triathlete Kath Haesner, and some unknowns in a big team called Project 852 down from Hong Kong.
We were four ANZA girls (Lizzie, Lenka, Vanessa and I) and we nervously grilled the Cat 2 boys for tips on the course before lining up for our start.
I didn’t know it at the time, however it was even before the Crit started that I got the first of what was to be many pieces of good luck. Serene Lee’s (one of Mavs’ strongest) bike had not shown up at the venue. She was forced to sit it out and thus was taken out of the running for the GC.
And then we were off! The neutralized wave started at a sensible pace and we quickly discovered what the boys had described, the route was definitely hilly and there were lots of twists and turns. This was going to be hard! There were plenty of spectators lined up along the roadside and congregating at various vantage points, which certainly added an element of excitement.
Suddenly the first lap was completed and the race was ‘live’! Sarah Fraser and Grace from Mavs instantly broke away at full sprint. ‘Bloody Hell its game on already’ I thought dismayed but I didn’t think twice about taking off after them. They put some distance on me as the course wound up the hill and around the turns, and by the time I reached the top they were 30-40m away and I was feeling the pain of being a little unwell + a sprint up a hill and I was breathing very heavily. I knew I didn’t have the strength to be the one to catch them. No problem, I thought, plan B, I shall just fade back a little and merge with the peloton. I looked behind me for the rest of the girls. ‘SHITE, where the Hell is the Peloton??’ I had assumed that we had all gone together with the break, but as it turned out the peloton was much further behind me than I was behind the lead girls.
For the next couple of hundred meters I was reflecting on how I had gotten myself into this pickle and trying to decide on what Plan B should be.
Then suddenly Kath Haesner appeared (this was my second piece of good luck). She’d chased alone from the peloton. Kath is strong; she put her head down and powered away at a quick and steady pace. I jumped on behind and things were looking up again. I took some turns at the front in the early laps but we soon established that we went much faster when she was leading. We had glimpses of the girls in front, but we soon lost the girls behind. On the last lap Ståle and Kaz (Saxobank) called out some times for us; the breakaway girls were only ten seconds in front, the peloton was more than ninety seconds behind.
With 500m to go we finally caught Sarah and Grace but we were no match for their race smarts and sprint power. It was Sarah, Grace, Kath and then me over the line in fourth place. The peloton and the rest of ANZA’s girls rolled over two minutes after us.
I had given it everything and was really happy with the result. I felt so bad that I had to lie on the grass and try not to throw up.
I didn’t realise until afterwards that Lenka had crashed just before the finish line. Luckily she and her bike were ok and both escaped with flesh wounds and she bravely jumped back on her bike to cross the line in still a good time. A girl went down right in front of her and much to Lenka’s horror she rode straight over the top of the fallen rider.
Its always fun to hear someone else’s perspective and I discovered later from one of the girls in Project 852 that she and her teammates had had no idea that there was a breakaway group at all….
Rider of the day: Kath Haesner for reeling in the break Sarah and Grace had made on us in the Crit.
Honourable mention: The Cat 2 guys for staying a bit longer at the Crit venue to cheer us girls on.
The peloton got off to a sensible start, taking it a little easy as we warmed up and ‘got to know’ each other. Grace from Mavs punctured after just 20km, but this was not the last we would see of her. As it often seems to be, the intensity and the pace picked up as the terrain became harder. We hit the Red Road and the stakes were suddenly raised. It was the first opportunity to split the ‘women from the girls’. Lizzie and I were riding comfortably in the front part half of the peloton, and I was confident that Lenka was still with the main group, however I was worried about Vanessa, who had had limited time to train due to heavy work commitments.
We might have lost a few girls on the Red Road however I’m pretty sure most of them caught us again as the pace slowed dramatically as we rode along the coast. Grace was back in the game after changing wheels and hustling hard to catch us.
It was here that our water support appeared and there were many thirsty girls looking for full bottles. Our water support was in fact excellent for the entire Stage 1. One only had to put up a hand and a bottle was instantly there.
After the first ACE sprint our pace dropped down to the low 20s and I genuinely began to worry that the Cat 3 peloton would catch us up. Sarah Fraser tried a couple of moves to fire us up, with some success, but then around the 50km mark she called out for an allen key. I had no idea what was wrong but she spent the next few kms hanging on to the support car whilst someone fiddled with her bike.
Kath Haesner was clearly starting to become worried that we might never make it to the finish line if we didn’t start riding faster. So she took the front again and with good support from a strong 852 girl the pace picked up significantly. We were off racing again!!
It was a few km later that I saw Sarah again riding beside me. I did a little double take and saw that she lost her seat! She was alternating between standing and sitting on her cross bar and pedaling. I was impressed but I knew with 70+km to go that she wouldn’t last long and that her stage was pretty much over (more good luck for my cause!).
Kath was doing a super job of time-trialing off the front and her pace had us whizzing over the little rollers for many kilometers. At one stage she moved ahead of us and put about fifty meters between herself and peloton. We were all starting to fatigue a little and I think if she had decided to press on and leave us behind then we might have all been prepared to let her go. Instead however she eased back and rejoined us. Perhaps there was just still too long left in the race to try to go it alone.
It was around this time that we starting picking up Cat 2 guys who had dropped off the main group. Every couple of kms or so we whizzed by another guy. ANZA seemed to be overrepresented and I think we passed/picked up between six and eight ANZA Cat 2 guys.
Meanwhile I had been ‘cramp management’ for quite some time. Several times I came within a hairs’ breath of ‘death cramps’, in particular nearly seizing up completely on the last KOM. Luckily for me Lizzie was always riding nearby, looking strong and steady and as cool as a cucumber. She was there to tell me to buck up and suck it up which definitely helped me grit my teeth and keep forcing my legs to go round. It also helped that a number of other girls were clearly also suffering. A few were rubbing their thighs, others were shaking their legs, and our pace over the rollers had slowed significantly. It seemed like no one was keen to push hard up a hill anymore, not even Kath.
20km to go! 10km to go!! 1 km to go!! I was at the front with 900m to go, side by side with an 852. 500m to go! We flew around the bend and down the straight. At 100m to go I was pedaling like crazy but the eight or ten girls behind me all swished past seemingly effortlessly. I was on the far left and I could see Lizzie storming at great pace down the far right. She was amazing, and whizzed over for third place. A terrific result on what is without a doubt the toughest stage of the tour. Mavs took first and second, and Grace won the Yellow jersey for Stage Two.
I had nothing left and was totally wiped out. I had had to give everything plus some to push through my cold. I stumbled into the staging area and stood there for a while, dithering and staring blankly, before I was saved by Raoul, who clearly recognizing a dribbling mess when he saw one, took my bike from me and pointed me in the direction of the drinks tent.
Sarah Fraser rolled in only about ten minutes after the peloton. No one could believe she’d managed to do so well for so long with no seat.
Lenka rolled in couple of minutes after that. And then after a little while Vanessa was also safely home. The heat and the hills and the distance make Stage One an incredible physical challenge. Just to get through is an achievement.
It’s after days like that that you appreciate the simple things. My long hot shower was wonderful. The huge bowl of hot chips that Ståle and I gobbled up (smothered in so much salt that on an ordinary day it would have stopped my heart in an instant) tasted divine. And I spent a lovely two hours lying comatose in my room.
Despite all this I still felt awful with my cold stubbornly hanging around. I was very envious of all the happy chatting and laughing people exchanging war stories at the event dinner on Saturday. I felt like a zombie in comparison.
Rider of the day: Kath Haesner for picking up the pace and time-trialing off the front, pulling the peloton along for the better part of the last 70 kms.
Honourable mention: Sarah Clark (Mavs) for giving up her wheel at the 20km mark and soloing the remaining 115km after her stronger teammate Grace punctured.
Question mark? Did Sarah Fraser really ride the 80km to the finish line without a seat or was she pulled by motorbikes for much of the way as alleged by team Project 852?
At the end of Stage 1 I was in third place behind Grace and Kath Haesner, and we still had our two minute jump on the rest of the field.
I’d slept a bit better, but I was still feeling sorry for myself and I dragged my heels to breakfast. Knowledge is power they say and there was a great relief in knowing that Stage 2 is a significantly easier ride than Stage 1.
The Mavs had the Yellow jersey and it was clear right from the start that they would protect it aggressively. Sarah Clark took the lead and set a nice and easy pace of around 30km. With the clouds taking the sting out of the sun and the practically flat terrain, it was shaping up to be a lovely Sunday recovery ride.
Before the 54km ACE sprint Christina Liew clearly grew tired of the status quo. She led her team in wave after wave of aggressive attacks. We were all forced to sit up and take notice – we had a race on our hands after all and everyone was on guard. The 852 girls also threw their bit into the mix, and started doing their own surging. The group was alive and kms were flying by.
Lizzie and I were riding sensibly. We had our eyes glued on the Mavs and on Sarah Fraser in the Green (she had borrowed Laura’s bike). We stayed away from the front and let Mavs do the work in closing the breaks. Their need to protect Grace’s Yellow was perfect for us.
Before I knew it we were at the Check Point. Just 15km to go! As the peloton slowed down to carefully negotiate the speed bumps Christina pushed through for another attack. She was not going to let us relax for a second.
Seven kms to go and disaster struck!! Lizzie went down on one of the steep climbs after clipping another girl. I was behind but managed to move out of the way. The peloton did the ‘gentlemanly’ thing and slowed right down to make sure she was ok. ‘Keep going’ Lizzie shouted to me. So I jumped back on and raced back to the spot I’d been holding near the front of the peloton. I had my fingers crossed that all Lizzie needed to do was to pick up her bike and jump on and get going.
We dropped four or five girls doing some crazy speeds through the hills of the last section; however they did well to catch us again on the straight before the turnoff to the hotel.
2km to go and there was still at least ten to twelve girls left in the peloton and Kath was bringing us home at a steady pace. There was nothing to be gained by breaking too soon – it was definitely going to be a last minute sprint to the finish.
200m to go and it is me, Serene and Christina side by side. Then GO! GO! GO! The two strongest sprinters in the field, Grace and Sarah, came from behind and powered past us with ease. It was impressive to watch how quickly they blasted away. Serene was next but was losing ground fast to the two leaders, and I rolled over in fourth after giving it everything I could.
Grace from Mavs took line honours and first placing in the GC. Terrific riding from her in each stage! I beat Kath Haesner over the line in the sprint finish meaning I ended up with second over in in the GC and Kath took 3rd.
It was a terrible shame that Lizzie fell. She’d done brilliantly in the Stage 1 sprint finish and would have no doubt shone again in the sprint for the line in Stage 2. It turned out that she needed some minor work done on her bike and that cost her several minutes. Lenka selflessly waited with her and rolled over the line just after Lizzie. Vanessa backed up well after a long day yesterday and she too made it safely home.
Rider of the day: Christina (Cycledelic) for turning a chilled Sunday ride into a proper race with her relentless attacks in the second half.
Honorable mention: Sarah Clark (Mavs) for protecting her team’s Yellow jersey all day.