Cancelled flights, broken bikes, tears and triumphs

So the other day I won my first bike race since my tumultuous year in 2016. The actual ‘winning’ part I’m not so focused on, but what I’m prouder of is my ability now to manage and adjust when faced with adversity and challenges throughout this journey back to full health. This morning I woke up to a message from Cam Mcfarlane, a good friend and the backbone of my local Cycling Club Brunswick. Cam witnessed me riding my first track bike down at Brunswick Clinic 20 years ago, he also witnessed me bed ridden and unwell ‘hiding under the dooner’ as he described it last year in June. I still remember Cam sitting at the end of my bed unpacking my ‘survival pack’, which included all the essentials, wine, cheese, and chocolate. Acts of kindness like this is what makes life worth living. During my ‘dark days’ I was facing suicidal thoughts intensely for weeks on end, something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But my family and friends kept the fire faintly burning inside of me which I am so grateful for. Not everyone is so lucky.

This guy rocks!

This guy rocks!

The false portrayal of life that social media displays can adversely affect ones’ perception on happiness. But It has its purpose and I must accept this fact. Behind the scenes, HB Supermint has faced some problems, all teams do, that’s just the hard cold fact when dealing with low budgets, team understaffed and overworked, multiple personalities, competitive females, personal v’s teams aspirations, and living in close proximity to one another for long periods of time. Can you imagine leaving the office with your work colleague, arriving home with them to then share a meal and a bedroom? It’s a unique circumstance this bike racing world. But luckily, I’ve been blessed with a great group of girls and I sincerely enjoy the individuality everyone brings to our team, staff included.

Post race antics

Post race antics

The tension was high after Winston Salem Classic, our results falling short again, 3rd in the criterium and 4th and 5th in the UCI 1.1 road race. Learning to race with new teammates takes time, the ability to understand individuals race styles can be tricky, and the breakdown of communication is generally the catalyst to where things go south! I could identify that my mind was beginning to negatively spiral at this point and I needed to change things up. So, I decided to ‘sit out’ of the next 2 races and get myself back on track into a good headspace. This is where I experienced more ‘acts of kindness’ and the goodwill of strangers. My host in Winston Salem Barb welcomed me to stay as long as I needed and she looked after me like an over protective mum. We enjoyed each other’s company and shared stories over long walks, meals and glasses of wine. I could see that the company was good for the both of us. Barb lost her Husband to cancer 2 years prior and I could see her grief on a day-to-day basis. I think at one stage, we both were in tears, loneliness being the common denominator.

If you look closely, Barb is on her tiptoes....haha!

If you look closely, Barb is on her tiptoes....haha!

I came home to this sitting on the table. Barb was watching live stream and had typed out what the commentators were saying about me... I had to get a photo of this!

I came home to this sitting on the table. Barb was watching live stream and had typed out what the commentators were saying about me... I had to get a photo of this!

The family next door

The acts of kindness continued and I was invited along for a weekend away at Lake Lure with Barbs neighbours Doug and Jill and their 2 young children Joseph and Renee. Lake lure is famous for its appearance on the movie ‘Dirty Dancing’, one of the dancing scenes shot lake side on the jetty. The weekend was spent cruising around in a $85,000 speed boat with my new family, occasionally stopping to take dips in the pristine, cool water or holding on for dear life on the donut behind the boat. The nights were spent chatting about life with Doug and Jill over good food and wine whilst sitting on the balcony looking out to the lake. I managed to get in some great training around the area, surrounded by solid climbs with stunning views of the lake in all directions. Out on my bike I could clearly reflect on all that was good in my life right now and be grateful for the people and opportunities that have been surrounding me thus far. Another core value I am trying to live by, gratefulness.  

Joseph and Renee ready for some donut action

Joseph and Renee ready for some donut action

My bedroom view

My bedroom view

One great thing about the cycling community here in the US is the Aussie entourage. Because I have no ‘home base’ here in the states, I was at a loose end to where I was going to go from Lake Lure. I decided to send out an SOS to Lauretta Hanson, a fellow Victorian who is racing for UHC this year and based in Asheville, North Carolina (50km away from Lake Lure). Both Lauretta and the United Healthcare team came through for me, providing me with a bed and roof over my head for a week. Thankyou!

Lauretta and I talking about making our own bread probably

Lauretta and I talking about making our own bread probably

I then flew to Washington DC, Virginia to race with 2 teammates at the Airforce classic. It was my first-time racing with Julie Kuliecza who has been sidelined from injury all year. This was both a hometown race for Lindsay and Julie and I was welcomed into Julie’s parents’ home for the weekend. We rode as a small but tight unit and I came away with 3rd overall for the weekend. But our main focus was to just have fun and race our bikes and we certainly did that. Julie and Stu took the stray (aka me) in for the remainder of the week at their home in Richmond, Virginia with their 3 dogs, Brisket, sandwich and banana. The names depicting the quirkiness of the whole family. I had such a relaxing and enjoyable time getting to know all 5 of them and I left with a new-found tolerance of dog hair.

Small but 'tight' crew at Airforce classic. Andy, Lindsay, Julie and me

Small but 'tight' crew at Airforce classic. Andy, Lindsay, Julie and me

I think I have found my quirky match here with Julie

I think I have found my quirky match here with Julie

After 2 cancelled flights from Richmond to Milwaukee, 430am wakeup call, 3hr delayed overlay in New York and then one broken bike in transfer, I finally arrived 3 hours prior to stage one of The Tour of Amercia’s Dairyland. You could say I was at the end of my tether and I was ‘just’ holding my shit together. My anxiety and stress were reaching pressure point at this stage, and like my forks, I cracked and fell into a blubbering heap. All I could think was, I want to fly home. Jono listened to my melodramatic rant and then went and fixed my bike, swapping in a spare pair of forks. Easy fix. I kitted up, cried some more and road to the race 60km away with the GPS directing me on roads I had never been on. My ‘old self’ would have thrown in the towel and shut off from the world, lying in a pool crumbs and then hating myself for giving up. This year I’m learning to sit with these ‘uncomfortable’ feelings on a regular basis. I’m not reacting to them but instead recognising them and being ok with just ‘being’. Throughout my life, my impulsive nature and over thinking has fuelled unhealthy behaviour and coping mechanisms. For the first time, I feel somewhat ‘in control’.

no explanation needed

no explanation needed

A few tactical errors caused me to lose both the race and a podium, finishing 5th. Riding over the line I veered straight to the nearby ocean and jumped into the water fully clothed to cool off the steam that was blowing out of my ears. I then began to cry out of frustration and exhaustion. Coincidently at this moment, an old teammate from Vanderkitten rode past and stopped to give me some encouraging words and a hug. Thank you Jeanie, that meant a lot. I then cowardly made my way back to the team van to apologise for my mistake. The team weren’t even worried. A perfect example of my ‘over thinking;’.

The following day I was determined to not make the same mistake twice and HB Supermint worked like clockwork in stage 2 of TOAD. I was finally able to execute a win for the team. Praise the LORD!  Day 4 we lead the competition and look forward to some money rewards by the end of the week...cha ching! $$$ 

Rocking the leaders jersey, jono's hand in tow

Rocking the leaders jersey, jono's hand in tow

Sensory overload

Sensory overload, that’s how I would describe New York City.

When I sat down at my parents dining table this January, with my yearly calendar sprawled across the table, the first block I planned was my mid-season break. I have learnt (the hard way) over the past 3 years racing professionally abroad, that having the ability to ‘turn-off’ from my job, allowing my body and mind to rest is crucial to have longevity in this career. And really, what better place to distract myself from my current life as an athlete, than taking myself to NYC with my old team mate and good friend in tow, Loren long legs Rowney.

Its essential for me to feel like a 'normal' person during my breaks. Allowing myself to have a drink, going to bed late and the most important thing, no schedule!

Its essential for me to feel like a 'normal' person during my breaks. Allowing myself to have a drink, going to bed late and the most important thing, no schedule!

Scheduling a week off the bike, away from team post Tour of California seemed to make sense. By that time, I would have been ‘going’ or ‘turned on’ since January and I realise now that 3-4 months is my limit in staying focused on a goal before I must stop, reflect and reset. TOC was a race I hoped to perform well at, as it was my first world tour event since I left Europe mid-season in 2016 (excluding Cadel’s Race 2017). I also went into TOC with no expectations, only to enjoy being back at the top level and be proud of how far I have come in a year. This time last year I was too anxious to leave my parents’ house. Now I was tackling hectic bunch sprints with the best in the world.

How crazy life can be.

This was taken about 200m from the line stage 3 of TOC where I finished 6th. You can see I had nowhere to go, hoping a clear run in front of me would appear magically 50m from the line.

This was taken about 200m from the line stage 3 of TOC where I finished 6th. You can see I had nowhere to go, hoping a clear run in front of me would appear magically 50m from the line.

Hagens Berman Supermint had an extremely successful TOC. I managed to win the ‘most courageous’ jersey in the opening 120km road stage. Personally, I was trying to get a ‘head-start’ up the final climb from the mountain goats and would have appreciated some company. But instead, I ended up solo off the front for 20km enjoying the stunning view Lake Tahoe had to offer. The following day I had 4 mechanicals in the space of 30min and was motor-paced back onto the peloton just before we hit a 7km climb. That day I felt more courageous. The Final 2 stages were set up for the sprinters and I was excited to be back racing with the fastest girls in the world. The more hectic and technical the sprint, the better for me. Stage 3 and 4 didn’t disappoint in the ‘hectic’ part. Finishing 6th, losing my lead-out lady Peta to a mechanical 3km from the finish. Peta losing 3 spokes to another rider’s pedal lodging into her front wheel going 50km/hr. Luckily, she has some crafty bike skills otherwise Peta would have lost a lot more than spokes! The final stage was a criterium around downtown Sacramento. Shit didn’t get real until the final lap, and the actual ‘fight’ is always 2-3km from the finish (the part that no-one sees). I had Peta and Scotti 3km to go and then I lost Peta’s wheel 1km from the finish. I stayed calm and went for the next best wheel, Bronzini from Wiggle Honda. 400m to go I found a clear run with Peta in front, and in that moment, I decided to get Peta to go early and jump the Sunweb train. Without hesitation Peta accelerated hard and we lead out the sprint, forcing Wilde and Riviera to respond and start their sprint early. So much of sprinting is about timing and position. The day before I felt as though I couldn’t fully ‘open up’ in my sprint because I was boxed in. Today I wanted to try something different. The result didn’t shuffle much, finishing 7th. But looking back at the video, 4-8th position were all so close. I feel proud of how our small, but gutsy team took on the challenges of the week. For me now, I get to pack the lycra away for a week and bring out some actual real clothes. Neeeeeew Yooooooork here we come!

All smiles before the QOM stage 2. Today was COLD!

All smiles before the QOM stage 2. Today was COLD!

The 'boys'. This group worked tirelessly into the wee hours throughout the whole week. Thanks!

The 'boys'. This group worked tirelessly into the wee hours throughout the whole week. Thanks!

The Subway

One man recites scriptures from the bible. The ‘diva’ showcasing a glamorous Mani Pedi has Christian rock blaring from her phone on loud speaker. Her music fills the carriage with Hallelujah on repeat. She sings freely out loud, showing no care or judgement from the audience that surrounds her. What a refreshing sight this is. Next to the diva sits a white, grungy looking male. He holds a novel ‘Literary Epiphany’ in front of his red, unkept beard. Contradictions are everywhere I look here in NYC. People aren’t worried about how their perceived. It’s a city that welcomes individuality. Free of judgement and trends. This certainly is a breath of fresh air. So easily we can get caught up in our own ‘little’ world.

At this exact location the following day a drink driver plowed into pedestrians near time square killing one and injuring 20.

At this exact location the following day a drink driver plowed into pedestrians near time square killing one and injuring 20.

It’s a different feeling being the ‘minority’ in public. Now I know what my good friend Josh feels being a black man in Melbourne. It’s crazy to think that the colour of your skin can make you feel uneasy or uncomfortable, changing people’s perceptions of who you really are. Society has conditioned us to think that the colour of your skin represents a certain ‘type’ or ‘behaviour’. If we were all blind, life would be somewhat easier without all this unnecessary superficial bullshit. Personally, I will continue to go against the grain and look for the best in all people despite their race, religion, colour and sexuality.

I cherish old friends dearly. Spending time in Brooklyn with mate Adam was a much neededbreak from the cycling world. Meeting his partner Drew was extra special also.

I cherish old friends dearly. Spending time in Brooklyn with mate Adam was a much neededbreak from the cycling world. Meeting his partner Drew was extra special also.

These buskers in Central park were from Australia

These buskers in Central park were from Australia

Self- awareness and life values is something I consciously addressed in the second half of last year. Being back in Melbourne at my parents’ home gave me the time and space to really reflect on how I came to such a dark place in my life. Through writing, I have gained confidence in myself and my ability to handle life’s difficulties. My life is more coherent rather than chaotic. I can see myself solving problems rather than besetting them. Instead of anti-depressants organising my thoughts, I have turned to writing, which has provided me with a heightened sense of self with a more optimistic outlook on life. Something I came across the other day made me realise that I gradually had a loss of ‘one’s self’ whilst racing for Orica-Scott in Europe.

“For loss is a universal human experience, something we all must learn to deal with. Sharing our stories of loss, and accepting loss as a common feature of life, helps us “enjoy the good moments all the more”- Isabel Allende

You must experience hardship throughout your life so you can truly appreciate the highs. I would never wish for my past to be any different, my experiences build my character and I look forward to many more peaks and troughs along the way.

You cant take yourself too seriously in life

You cant take yourself too seriously in life

Procrastination at its best

Procrastination: The avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones.

Really? Trolling Facebook and Instagram is pleasurable? That ‘instant’ pleasure fills me with a brief euphoria but fades as quickly as it arrives. Social media is a necessity in my job. Supporting our sponsors and increasing our teams’ exposure worldwide are all important steps towards growing our team. A small team like Hagens Berman Supermint is currently running off ‘the smell of an oily rag’. But to their credit, every rider on the team is receiving a salary. This is not always the case in the pro women’s peloton. Like most things in life, money brings opportunities. The more resources, support and equipment a team receives, the greater opportunity the team has for success. In cycling, money does feed success.  But a question I’ve been asking myself lately is, does success bring happiness?

Let’s get back to refreshing my Instagram feed.

I always have this tug-of-war with social media. Being on the road, away from family and friends, I tend to lean on it more than I would like, mainly to stay connected with life back in Australia. But it also feeds my insecurities and fears. This part I hate. I must constantly remind myself to defer immediate gratification for the sake of my long-term well-being. At my last host house, I came across an insightful book, ‘Writing as a way of Healing- By Louise Desalvo’. So much of what Desalvo spoke about or quoted from other writers rung true to me. Incorporating creativity into my day to day life, through writing, is something that I have realized I need.

 “living in a consumerist culture like ours, I guess it’s important for us to feel miserable. If we felt centered, we’d be creating and making, which means we wouldn’t be buying. To write, I’ve learned I have to resist the screwed-up norms of our culture.”

The past 4 weeks for me have been a hard racing and training block. I raced two 5 day tours in New Mexico and California and a one-day crit in Dana Point. But I have noticed that I’ve been avoiding taking time to sit down and write a new blog. I know now why, I find re-visiting races I’ve already done incredibly tedious and boring.  So, I’m not going to talk much about my racing, instead I’m going to talk about real life stuff.

There's something about rocking chairs that inspire me to write

There's something about rocking chairs that inspire me to write

 Let’s begin with Love…

Helen and Ron met in a literature class held by a life-long learning group in Silver City at the age of 71. At their first date, Ron recollects:

“I attempted to cook lasagna for some good friends of mine and decided to invite Helen along. At first, she was tentative to join us, but eventually she said yes. Let’s just say the lasagna was a flop, but the date resulted in finding love and a companionship at age 71”

The two love birds and their dogs

The two love birds and their dogs

For all those singletons in your thirties and forties, have faith my friends. Being alone has its perks but ‘loneliness’ is a very uncomfortable feeling to sit with. Something that I have experienced lately. It’s important to have periods of solitude, but ultimately, we humans aren’t meant to be alone.

Helen was my host in Gila, Silver City New Mexico. When I found out she was 75 years old, I almost fell off my chair. The spriteliest, healthy, switched on ‘older lady’ I have ever met. I spent almost 3 weeks at her gorgeous homely abode. Her boyfriend Ron would come over at dinner time and we would chat around the table sharing a meal and stories. Before meeting Ron, Helen attempted the dating sites for 6 months. Her main criteria, ‘to be physically fit’. At her age, the dating site interpreted this as, ‘to be not terminally ill’. Helen quickly realized online dating wasn’t for her.

My first podium in the US- 3rd in stage 4 of Tour Of Gila

My first podium in the US- 3rd in stage 4 of Tour Of Gila

Jono and I getting pumped by a 75 year old in tennis

Jono and I getting pumped by a 75 year old in tennis

The tough decisions in life...which burrito should I have?

The tough decisions in life...which burrito should I have?

From Gila, Jono and I drove south to Dana Point, California. A 10-hour road trip in a car with no aircon, temperature, 35 BILLION degrees. This situation is a perfect example of the short falls of a stretched budget. To repair the air-conditioner was on the ‘low priority’ list. The drive was memorable to say the least, I can’t decide what was worse, the heat exhaustion in the car with the windows up, or the wind burn and noise from having the windows down? On a positive though, I did find out that if your crutch is cool, it drops your core body temperature. Filling up XXX large plastic cups with ice and sitting them in my crutch was a welcomed relief from the beaming sun through the windshield. The company and tunes were on point though.

Sunsets, definitely the best part of our road trips

Sunsets, definitely the best part of our road trips

 

Not too sure whats going on with my shorts there.. it was windy!

Not too sure whats going on with my shorts there.. it was windy!

Dana point reminded me of MAMMALS on steroids. A significant number of wealthy middle aged men in lycra, escaping from their family life to pursue their hobby of cycling. Staying true to the saying ‘all the gear and no idea’. I was lucky enough to be dropped off at a mansion for my short stay in Dana Point. The owner of the place, not even present. He was riding in Majorca at the time. My chariot let me down but my castle certainly didn’t.

Well so I thought...

Think of the most embarrassing thing to happen when you first arrive at a stranger’s home, the lingering log, aka blocked/broken toilet. That moment when you wait for the water to begin to descend, but instead it keeps rising. Panic sets in and you close the lid hoping it will disappear. Shit happens even in a mansion people!  In the end, Dana Point Criterium certainly disappoint and I went away with 2nd and my wallet full.

Almost took the win at Dana Point, getting rolled just on the line.

Almost took the win at Dana Point, getting rolled just on the line.

Next stop, Redlands Cycling Classic. A 5-day tour incorporating a range of technical and challenging stages. This was my last preparation for Tour of California so I was keen to get a solid block of racing in. The week provided us with scorching conditions in the first 2 stages, the mountain stage taking many victims including myself. The last 5km of the climb I rode shivering with goosebumps. Signs that I was completely cooked. It felt like the longest 5km of my life and to finish me off, kids were yelling out “can I have your water bottle?”. But at the end of the day, I can look back and laugh at all these experiences which build my character. As the tour went on, the weather became cooler and I felt stronger, snatching a 3rd in the criterium on stage 4. As a team, we are still trying to put the pieces together to get a win under our belt. It’s a process that will take time. I’ve been through this process with my old team Orica-Scott. Patience and persistence is the key.  

Enjoying riding with fellow aussie, Lauretta Hanson in the US peloton

Enjoying riding with fellow aussie, Lauretta Hanson in the US peloton

The ‘misfits’ our new team nickname, are a bunch of unconventional people all coexiting under the one roof. it is necessary for us to trust and acknowledge one another despite our differences. It kind of works in a weird way, like organised chaos. We accept one another, flaws and all, as much as they cause disagreements and stress. We all carry our own baggage and issues, who doesn’t? But we support one another when things get tough and we try to be thoughtful and respectful even if our own ideas are compromised.

It’s the night before The Tour of California. This will be my first World Tour event in over a year. It’s time to put my big girl panties on and get shit done. Peace out!

 

 

 

 

Sweet home Alabama

You can never get too comfortable in my profession. The unpredictability of cycling can bring a mixed deck of cards to the table. Alabama dealt me a few unlucky cards but at the same time I had some aces hidden in there too. The Alabama folk are very southern, polite and respectful when spoken to, ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am’. I can’t help but think it stems from their religious upbringing. There’s a church on every corner, and I haven’t encountered an atheistic host family yet. You could also say they’re quite Sheltered, rarely traveling outside their state. My Aussie accent intrigued many of the locals, and at times I had strangers sitting and chatting with me because they loved my accent that much. ‘gurl, I could just listen to ya alllll day’, one shop assistant said to me... haha!

My home for the week in Anniston

My home for the week in Anniston

We were brought to Anniston for the Alabama Cycling Classic. The Sunnyking criterium on the Saturday evening and Mcklelan Road Race the following morning. A short turnaround! Truthfully though, Peta, Liza and myself came for the $15k purse and I was chasing extra race days. This event wasn’t a part of our teams’ schedule so it was optional to do. The strongest team with a full squad were UHC, they are generally the team to beat and it was going to be a hard task. The Criterium seemed to be straight forward, a 1.2km 4-corner circuit with an uphill drag into the finish of downtown Anniston. But once the race began, it was far from straight forward. It was carnage! 10 minutes in, there was a crash in the finishing straight, the race was neutralised while they scraped bodies off the cement. The race commenced and the chopping and skiddish temperament continued. The desperation and lack of skills I felt in the peloton was scary. To add to the stress, we were racing at dusk, the sun setting into our eyes down the back straight, making it very difficult to see. Coming around with 18 laps to go, there was a massive pile up, mid-pack. I saw it unfolding in front of me and had nowhere to go, instinctively unclipping and landing on the human pyramid. Then quickly turning and sheltering myself from the bodies and bikes to follow from behind... stacks on!!!). Luckily, I only had a few abrasions and could jump back into the race after the second neutralisation. After a crash its always mentally tough to refocus and psych yourself back up for the sprint. By this stage, it was dark and I was cursing myself that I didn’t run the clear lenses. The shadows from the street lights were affecting my spatial awareness. Coming around for bell lap I found Peta’s wheel but within seconds I lost it. I didn’t find it after that, instead, Liza found mine and going into the 2nd corner all I heard was her screech, followed by metal scraping. By this stage, I had checked out mentally. Race over. Peta sprinted to 5th, me 10th and Liza ended up in first aid getting wrapped up like a mommy.

Post-race AJ our Mechanic was the one cursing, realising he had 2 cracked frames to deal with and that being the only bike here for me in the US at this stage. But All I could think about was someone upstairs is looking out for me, unknowingly riding the remainder of the race with a cracked downtube and headtube. A scary thought if I went ‘full gas’ in the sprint, I might not be writing this bog.

By the morning, Jono had wrangled up a bike my size from another team to lend and AJ had to get to work late into the night to build it. Makes you even more motivated to face the days’ challenges when you have such a dedicated and supportive team behind you . We were down to 2 riders for the 105km Road Race, Liza pulling out of the race to rest and recover. The race incorporated a 35km road circuit (racing 3 times), with 2 distinct climbs, a steep 1.3km QOM and 3.5km hwy drag. The remainder was majority flat or downhill. 5 minutes before the start I was casually doing a bike set-up, changing seat height and handle bar tilt. The old Lizzie would have been HIGHLY strung by this, but instead today, I was grateful that I was able to even race, thanks to the team owner of DNA. The whistle blew and Peta and I casually sat at the back chatting away during neutral. Next minute, the ratchet on my helmet popped opened and my helmet fell forward. Wtf!! Now my helmet? Luckily Jono had a spare helmet in the car and I had time to stop and swap helmets before the race began. Like predicted, UHS started the flurry of attacks 5km into the race and the one that stuck Peta managed to roll into. Because of our limited numbers, I had to ride conservatively, saving my legs for the possibility of when/if it would be brought back. So that made my day somewhat relaxed, Peta on the other hand was riding like a machine, driving the break and animating the race on the QOM. On the second lap, 2 mountain goats flew up the QOM, Ruth from UHC and Kristabel from Cannondale, bridging across to the break. They continued their onslaught on the final lap and rode away from Peta’s group, Ruth winning the race. It’s safe to say this girl is on fire! Peta managed to sprint for 4th and I sprinted to 10th, 2nd in the bunch kick to Erica Allar. We came away from the weekend with mixed feelings and results but more importantly we left with a heavier wallet. First stop, Wholefoods!!                                    

My adventures in the US thus far has already brought great memories, especially the people I have met along the way. What a unique experience travelling across the country, leap frogging from one host house to the next. I’m sort of like a hobo, travelling across the country, finding a bed where offered. So far, this lifestyle is bringing me happiness and fulfilment, engaging with different types of people from all walks of life. No host house is the same, that’s what makes things interesting. My favourite part about my most recent host house in Alabama were my daily chats with Kelle’s 80-year-old mother, Mary-Ann (I think that’s her name, I called her nanny). The only time nanny surfaced from her one bedroom granny flat was generally to suck down a few ciggies, working through a pack a day. My initial interaction with nanny was quite sad to be honest. She complained about being cold and in pain. But what stood out more was her longing for company, whilst the trashy TV blared on in the background. She tells me she gets so lonely out here, makes me grateful for the freedom and youth I still have. I don’t want to grow old.

Nanny and me

Nanny and me

This encounter made me question my unhappiness in 2016, which lead to an epiphany. One of the biggest factors for my unhappiness and depression last year was lack of human interaction. I guess the seed began to grow whilst living in Italy with the language barrier, my limited Italian not getting me far in conversation. I couldn’t really get to know anyone, the only engagement being ‘how are you? hi and bye’. That’s not to say that I didn’t try to learn the language. I had an Italian teacher, practised every day and engaged with the shopping attendants in my limited Italian as much as I could. But the constant travel and crossover with other languages made any form of consistency difficult. ‘No man is an island’.

The sunsets make the drive worth it

The sunsets make the drive worth it

The teams next race is Gila in Silver City, New Mexico. A climber’s race at altitude. A first for me,  racing and training at altitude, time to buy some straws at the next truck stop to breathe through. Who knows, maybe I’ll be a climber by the end of 2017. My chameleon tendencies aren’t always a bad thing. It’s the 3rd day on the road for AJ and me. It’s his birthday today, 26 years old. We have 3hrs left on our 2,400-km road trip from Alabama to New Mexico. Equivalent to driving Melbourne- Sydney and back. Just a few blockies...

A truckers life

A truckers life

Check out this week’s foreign artist recommended to me by Justin our Photographer

Artist: Grebz Favourite Song: Konb (thanks Justin for the intro)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debut race with Hagens Berman Supermint

Before you lose 5min of your life reading my blog, let me inform you that I won’t be giving you an in-depth count by count recall of my races. Rather, I’ve decided to focus on the people and encounters I experience along the way, briefly brushing over the racing part. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please continuing reading. Firstly, some background info

Who is Hagens Berman Supermint?

Hagens Berman is our main sponsor who are a class action law firm based out of Seattle. The company has been sponsoring several cycling teams for over a decade now, mainly the ‘underdog’ teams such as under 23 and women. Or to put it more bluntly, the teams with no money! So where does the Supermint fit in with all of this? Dental hygiene comes to mind, toothpaste sponsor maybe? Finally, I’ll have those pearly whites I always wanted. To my disappointment Supermint is purely our brand name, no free toothpaste and dental appointments. Initially Jono Coulter, the team owner and Director sportif (DS) wanted just mint as our team name. Jono comes from Brisbane Australia and is a true blue aussie, slang and all. Mint means awesome or rad. Unfortunately, mint was already taken so what’s one up from mint…SUPERMINT!

The master mind behind the business is Lindsay Bayer. Let’s be honest here, my initial thoughts upon meeting Lindsay was, “how the hell am I going to put up with nutter for the whole season?” She would be the first person to point out that she can be a total bitch. Not only does Lindsay manage the team but she also rides for the team. Not to mention her fulltime government job. But if that’s not enough for one person, why not throw in one last commitment, running a podcast, ‘the dirtfield diaries’. Let’s not forget her 30min core workout she does religiously every day, sometimes right in front of you in the kitchen while you eat your breakfast. Just to make you feel even more inadequate about your lack of abs.

Both Jono and Lindsay do a terrific job of juggling the different roles within the team and I see now how their individual strengths compliment these roles perfectly.  

Lindsay and Jono talking business

Lindsay and Jono talking business

Who else makes up the team?

We have 11 riders and 4 staff on our permanent roster. The other crucial staff to our travelling circus is AJ the red bearded mechanic (what is with all my mechanics donning a ned Kelly beard? And lastly, our hipster, vegan photographer Justin, that loves eating raw broccoli on toast for breakfast. Now that’s just going too far.

All riders other than Peta and myself are from different parts of the states and generally have full or part time jobs to go home to after racing. I don’t want to forget our most valuable assets to the team, the volunteers. Doctor Baker has been with the team now for the second year running. He not only looks after the health of the staff and riders but also doubles as a soigneur, prepping bottles and standing in the feed zone in his scrubs! Katy our host in Little rock selflessly gave up her time to help the team with massage and feeding also. Your efforts are much appreciated. Thank you!

Katy our little superstar in the feed station

Katy our little superstar in the feed station

AJ and Dr Baker checking our bikes

AJ and Dr Baker checking our bikes

Justin our Photo whizz

Justin our Photo whizz

First stop, Little Rock Arkansas- Meeting the HIA-Velo bike sponsor

One of my most enjoyable parts about racing in the US is having the opportunity to meet and stay with local families. After a massive long haul flight, you’re always feeling fragile. Peta and I were welcomed by Eli, Katy and Neil’s 16year old son. He was home alone with his younger brother Cole. They lead us to our rooms (their own rooms that they gave up for us for our 2 nights there). Not long after, their mum Katy arrives home. Katy is a petite, trendy and softly spoken lady. Far too young to have a child in their teens. She makes us comfortable in her homely abode. Later, Neil arrives home from work and starts cooking us dinner. I’m still gobsmacked by the generosity and kindness these families show to strangers they have only met just hours ago.

Over dinner we start talking about travel insurance and Peta asks what one did I go with…. I scratch my head, and think to myself, ‘do I even have travel insurance?’ This conversation then moves onto international racing licences. ‘Shit! I don’t think I even have that either!’

This is a typical Lizzie thing to do…remember to pack my felt pussy slippers but forget the most important things! To add to my problems, I discover my bike has cracked in transit. So, my first hours in the US involved me discovering that; I had no bike and no license. Two crucial things I need to race in 4 days’ time. At this point I had to call on my breathing techniques I’ve learnt from meditating and yoga. But unfortunately breathing slowly and mindfully wasn’t fixing these problems anytime soon. Luckily, Peta jumped into action and immediately contacted Cycling Australia to get the ball rolling with the process of my Licence. Within 1hr we had emailed all documentation needed for the licence to be processed and thanks to CA I had my international licence 24hrs later. Thankyou Renee from CA and Peta.

Now to resolving the bike situation. Luckily, we were visiting the HIA Velo headquarters the following day so the team could arrange a carbon repair before race day. During the visit the team had a personal tour, learning about the different stages of the building process of the frames from scratch to complete. All materials are sourced locally and built under one roof, avoiding outsourcing from other countries. Something HIA Velo feel proud to be doing. Not to mention the traditional shaped frames ride like a dream and look neat.

 

TVDD1928.jpg

From Little Rock, the team drove south to Fayetteville, arriving at Cindy and Pauls host housing. This couple are no strangers to hosting cycling teams, but never a women’s team. I think both Cindy and Paul weren’t ready for the complete takeover of their kitchen and fridge for a week. Paul couldn’t believe how heathy we ate, and any chance he got, he was waving pastries and wine in our face. Luckily Peta took one for the team. Over dinner one night we found out that Paul is an Olympian, representing the Czech Republic at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in Salem Kayaking. He’s now a keen (mammal) cyclist and runs a restaurant fulltime. His wife Cindy is a bubbly little American lady that is fit as a fiddle. I felt she was training harder than most of us during our stay, punching out double sessions of runs, yoga, riding and gym. Go Cindy!

Paul and Cindy both got out on their bikes with us during the week

Paul and Cindy both got out on their bikes with us during the week

Initially there was a lot of unknowns signing with Hagens Berman Supermint. One of those being about the rider combination for success. Already knowing that Peta Mullens had been signed, I knew that we both obtain similar racing styles and strengths. Punchy, savvy snivellers, taking opportunities when they arise. Off the bike, I’m learning that we couldn’t be anymore opposite. Only common denominator, we both have bogan/tomboyish tendencies. We are the Yin and Yang, Walmart V’s Wholefoods, Kellogg’s special K over of Kale, organised and somewhat disorganised.

A week has passed and Peta has managed to resist the golden arches. I’ve knocked back multiple glasses of red wine; our differences are rubbing off on one another for good, not evil, and these Aussies mean business!

Our first race together is Joe Martin Stage Race UCI 2.2. Because it’s a ranked event (1.1- World Tour eg: Flanders), our team can gain points towards being ranked world-wide. Something a new team needs to strive for recognition and gain invites to bigger races like the Giro or the Women’s Tour. Joe Martin consist of 4 stages; Stage 1: Uphill 5km Time trial, Stage 2: 100km Road Race, Stage 3:110 Road Race, Stage 4: Criterium (1hr circuit race).

The team brought 8 riders to this race and went into the event with some high hopes of contesting for the GC and potential stage wins.  ‘Scotti’ our mum and hometown girl of the team notched up some great results last year at this same race so we were backing her for GC. For me, coming off my first solid 2-month strength block since I returned from Europe in May 2016. Personally, I had no expectations for results, instead, allowing myself to slowly adjust back into racing. The Uphill TT was a harsh opener but I managed to get through it finishing 29th-, clocking the exact time as Peta. A confirmation that we are very similar riders. Our top placed rider Scotti finished 13th, 45sec behind the winner from UHC, Ruth Winder.

Stage 2 was majority flat apart from ‘the climb that’s not really a climb’, from Ernie’s (Scotti’s husband) interpretation. We had a team plan to be aggressive on the ‘the climb that’s not really a climb’, making it hard enough to then shoot Scotti or Lindsay off the front in a breakaway. Upon entering the climb something substantial got caught in my rear wheel that fed through my brake pads (just when the hammer went down). I had a few teammates try to unhook it but it was wedged good and proper. I made the decision to risk riding with it still attached. In hindsight, I should have gone back to the convoy to get it sorted before we started climbing the looooong hwy berg. 10km in I was tailing the back end of the bunch struggling to keep up. Not realising that the rubber tyre stuck in my wheel was adding 20+ watts to my climb. At that point, Scotti launched off the front, myself off the back! I rolled back to the team car and got AJ to unhook the tyre and within moments I was working my way back through the convoy to the peloton. Scotti was pulled back by UHC 30km later, Lindsay countering solo before being caught 1km to go. Was a technical tough finish and Peta managed to get up for 5th, myself 6th.

Stage 3 suited me a lot better, made up of two laps of a punchy, technical circuit. Today the team wanted to commit to a lead out train for Peta, a fast flat 6km run into the finish. Unfortunately, we were down one rider, Scotti pulling out with a fever prior to the start. Our Beth Anne spent most of the day in a break but was caught 8km to go, feeing perfectly into our lead out plan. With 300m to go I was 3rd wheel, Peta 4th. I left my jump too late and we got swapped either sides finishing 4th and 5th. Lesson learnt.  

 

T'was a special day wearing the green and gold stripes in the last stage of the criterium

T'was a special day wearing the green and gold stripes in the last stage of the criterium

Stage 4 brought us a technical, hilly criterium, finishing on a 200m steep climb

(16 times). Generally, a race of nutrition because of the nature of the course. Multiple attack was made but nullified and it came down to a small bunch kick. 400m from the finish I had Peta on my wheel, all I heard was just f#*ing GO!! I gassed it to the final corner leading her into 200m climb in prime position. We gave it a red-hot crack but the better rider won on the day, Ruth Winder (UHC) winning the stage and the tour.

Bell lap!

Bell lap!

As a team, we went into this tour with high hopes and came away with 11th GC, and several top 10 finishes. Just outside the UCI points. Personally, I was content with race and my form is building. It’s great to be back racing and doing what I love and can’t wait to get out there and do it all again in a week’s time. Next Stop Alabama.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the land of the free

Back to where it all began in 2014. The year of the comeback kid, no fear and no idea.

 

 

There’s something about long haul flights that bring out my reflective side. I’ve just spent the last 2 hours fidgeting in my cramped prison of a seat, my foot being knocked by every passer-by. Back seats I thought were cool, but not in an aeroplane. It’s Punt Rd at peak hour, bodies bumper to bumper, only one road to take, destination, the shitter. I hate Punt Rd.

 

So I’ve given up trying to sleep, instead I’m appreciative of the opportunity to close my eyes for a couple of hours, unlike those nutters riding the indian pacific wheelrace! These crazy cats are surviving on less than 1-2hrs of sleep a night, meanwhile riding over 300km per day for more than 2-3 weeks. I tilt my Akubra to you men and women. Go Sarah!!

Instead of trying to become a contortionist in my seat, I’ve opted to sit up and use my time productively. I’m quite experienced on long hauls now, I’ve worked out you need to break it up into different blocks. Like planning your day.

Morning: reading or writing

Walk, stretch and toilet stop

Lunchtime: eat and movie time

Afternoon: nap with podcast

Walk, stretch and toilet stop

Evening: more movies or computer stuff whilst listening to music

But let’s be honest, we all end up watching 4-5 movies back-to-back like zombies, too tired to do anything else…all whilst snacking on processed food.

Now, back to the reflection part.

I’m returning to the ‘land of the free’. Hmmmm? Not so sure the people of America are feeling free atm with Donald Trump as President…WTF!??!  But hey, let’s not focus on the negatives, so many positives await.

  •  I get to race my bike with my new team Hagens Berman Supermint around the USA for the next 3 months with a bunch of rad new people. I’m back under the care of my (big cuz) team manager, Jono Coulter (previously manager of Vanderkitten).
  •  I get to reconnect with homestay families I met on my travels in 2014
  •  I get to explore more parts of the world and engage with people from different cultures and communities.
  • And lastly, but most importantly, the fire in my belly has been lit once again and its slowly burning brighter each day.

What will 2017 bring me? Bad coffee, I already know. But what’s changed for me?

To be honest, I feel great pride in my recovery process and the rebuild that I have done within myself over the past year. I certainly haven’t been alone in this process and I have several people I want to thank for helping me get to where I am today. Having the black dog barking at my heels throughout 2016 forced me to re-evaluate life, but with hardship, comes change and change I see is always a good thing.

I go into my third Professional Road Season with a few more tricks in my bag to bring out when times get tough. I also have an incredibly supportive team that have my wellbeing as the number one goal first and foremost. Thank you, Jono Coulter and Lindsay Bayer, for believing in me. My support crew back in Melbourne has been critical to keep me on track, both physically and mentally. Cycling is a tough sport and doing it alone is unsustainable. I realised that it’s ok to ask for help, the more people to Lean on and learn from the better. Building and sustaining meaningful relationships is what life’s all about right?

Peta and I have boarded our final connecting flight to Little Rock in Arkansas. Our plane is quite fitting to our location, probably the littlest thing I’ve seen in the country thus far (my undrinkable coffee was almost bigger!) It’s been a long 25hrs, MELB-LAX- LAX-HOUSTON, HOUSTON-LITTLE ROCK but the finish line is finally in sight. Time to discuss who’s leading who out!

 

You can follow the teams adventure over the next few months @supermintusa

I will endeavour to post regular blogs on my website to keep both myself and my audience entertained. So, feel free to join in my adventures. I’ll also be sharing my favourite albums or songs of the week, and would love for people to share their own killer tracks on my webpage comments feed. There’s nothing better than discovering new music.

This week’s nomination was recommended to me by my old coach. Marv has a broad and eclectic taste in music that not all people appreciate. But I certainly do.

 

Artist: Jim James

Album: Eternally Even

Fav song: The World’s Smiling Now

 

Thank you,

My family, but especially my folks  for putting up with their 33year old child back living at home

Jono Coulter- Mad dog

Michael Ingliss- The Mind Room

Steve Hurl and all his crew- Hurls Fitness

Ken Ballhause my new coach- Adaptive Human Performance

Scooter- Impact Massage

My mates, especially Angus, Kirsty, Mike, Nick and Amanda, Danni, Paul, and josh  

The boys at Bike Gallery

The cool kids at Saint Cloud

 

 

 

 

Winning isn't easy

Upon reading my teammate Loren Rowney’s brave blog touching on mental health, I have revisited and added to this piece I wrote in December 15’ while I was staying at the AIS in an altitude house. 

It’s fair to say, I have experienced my share of ‘dark days’ over my 32 years and I would like to share my challenges, lessons and triumphs with whoever cares to read. 

Part one: The black dog

If you asked someone to describe me in my 20’s, they would have painted a very different picture to who I am today. 

 ‘Lizzie had her struggles, although she was always up for some fun and risky behaviour. She could be unreliable at times and flake out, then disappear for days or weeks on end’.

That’s how I would describe myself in my early-mid 20’s. Looking back, a lot of my behavioural patterns circled around my severe depression and anxiety. The anxiety became more prominent around the age of 19 when I was racing at a national level for the VIS (victorian institute of sport). At age 20 I was granted a scholarship with the AIS and I was to travel os to Italy to race with the National Women’s Road Team. At that point my performance anxiety was unmanageable, and my coping strategies manifested into an eating disorder. My mind was derailing my cycling career and consequently I decided to hang up the bike to address my mental health issues.

Initially, leaving cycling left a massive void in my life as my whole identity was tied up in it. Those first few years post ‘lizzie the cyclist’ were tough. The black dog seemed to linger and my anxiety manifested into agoraphobia. I became a prisoner in my own head and isolated myself from family, friends and life in general. I somehow still managed to complete my degree and land my first teaching job at 22. But once again, my anxiety around work/people became too debilitating and I began to self-medicate during this period. It wasn’t too long after this that I left my job. Many lessons were learn’t during the first few years post cycling. Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness were felt strongly during this period and I just couldn’t understand how to feel any different. There was no defining moment where I realised ‘'hey, I’m better'’, but instead the ‘dark days’ became less and I started to seek help to talk through my thought processes. Drugs were trialed but never worked for me (stubbornness contributed to this). But I can say that health and fitness played a pivotal role in my wellness. I am person that needs to to exercise for those ‘happy’ endorphins’ to be released. Making smart food choices and being outdoors in nature are all preventative measures to keep me on track. Not to mention surrounding yourself with good company and positive people that wouldn’t ‘trigger’ me.

I have 'been there’, caught up in that vicious cycle;  depression - self medicate (let that be food, drugs, alcohol) - guilt - self-hate- repeat. It’s not a fun place to be in but one reason why I’m writing this blog is so I can give hope to anyone out there that is going through similar situations like what I have described and to reassure you that IT WONT LAST FOREVER. 

12 years on, I’m now into my 2nd year as a professional cyclist for Orica-AIS, racing at the highest level possible. I’m happy :0) 

Lago Maggiore- 30min ride from my apartment in Italy. With natural beauty like this, how can't I be happy.

Lago Maggiore- 30min ride from my apartment in Italy. With natural beauty like this, how can't I be happy.

Part two: Character Building

Life experience has definitely prepared me for what I am doing today. I've learn’t to manage my anxiety a whole lot better these days but it still comes and goes in times of pressure and stress. It can also be unpredictable and pop up when life isn’t that hard. Pre-season preparation was a ‘challenging’ time for many reasons, personal and professional. It has became a somewhat ‘character-building’ experience. I tend to rack up a fair amount of ’tears in the bank’, consequently from a lot of ‘Km's in the bank’ (google saddle sores). And not to mention the solitude and hours to think while out on the road (the aspect that cracked me when I was 20). Since returning from Europe in mid October from my first professional season with Orica-AIS, my coach took me through a 2 month solid preseason block. Marv has witnessed quite a few of my ‘cracking moments’  and is not always the most tactile when reassuring my current state. For example, some of his comments included; 

‘'If it was easy, everyone would be doing it’'

'‘Being a professional athlete is one of the hardest jobs going around’’ 

But actually, lets face it.. most of the time he would just start laughing. At this point I would crack even more and curse at him. He would then proceed to laugh even more!

Through October and November my training schedule incorporated multiple sessions a day, involving a lot of gym, plyometric (jumping up hills, running up stairs, hopping down hills etc) and speed training on the rollers (google if you don’t know what rollers are). Generally my days began on the rollers in my apartment block carpark, waving to all my neighbours going off to work. In the evenings I was back on the rollers doing sprints. One morning my neighbour left in his car to me on the rollers, and on his return in the evening I was back on the rollers. He yelled out out, 'I left you there this morning!… you haven’t been there all day have you?’ We both laughed.… 

Then there were days when torrential rain wouldn’t even stop Marv from venturing out on the motor bike with me grovelling behind him. Where I literally ate dirt that flicked from the back wheel into my face for hours. These are ‘moments’ that aren’t captured but they are the moments you remember when you cross over the finish line in first place.

December was spent living high (the natural way). 2 weeks, 14hours a day in a bedroom, Steel bunks, airtight room, solitude…and no, I’m not describing JAIL but altitude training at the AIS in Canberra. I spent 2 weeks living at 3000 metres, while training at sea level on the roads in Canberra. This was the first time I had experienced altitude and boy oh boy, it was a shock to the system. I had come off a 1000km week training camp with Orica-AIS in Bright, so I definitely wasn't feeling too fresh. At altitude your body is having to work that much harder due to reduced amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere, also known as 'thin air'. The first few days were quite interesting for me. Because of my state of fatigue, everything was magnified, including my mental state. Initially I was quite anxious and my body wasn't sleeping. This gave me time to google 'anxiety at altitude' in the wee hours of the night and send distressing emails to my coach to inform him that I have come to the conclusion that I wouldn't be a responder to altitude....lol! I can laugh about it now. Luckily the tremendous support team at AIS were on top of things and Hamilton, the head of physiology reassured me that these symptoms are normal and I should back off the training for a few days so my body could adapt to the altitude. By the end of the first week I was starting to feel 'somewhat normal' again but I was definitely tired most of the time, both on and off the bike.

My little altitude chamber for the 2 weeks.. Thank God for that window!

My little altitude chamber for the 2 weeks.. Thank God for that window!

Forfeiting 2 weeks being at home in your off season is a gamble because we spend 8 months away from home already. All you want at the end of a season is to surround yourself with family, friends and familiar places, so you're recharged and ready to go for the following season. But these are the sacrifices we make as athletes to push the limits and strive to be better. I don't want to leave any stone unturned in 2016.

Post altitude house, I had a couple of weeks of training where I was 'floating' on the bike. I could push bigger gears for longer and racked up some PB'S training behind the motorbike in the Dandenongs. It was an amazing feeling, and well worth the anxiety and stress I experienced in Canberra. My job can bring me so much joy, but also so much pain and angst. Its a crazy life but I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

I had someone monitoring my sleeping for the first few nights to make sure my heart beat didn't drop to low (just to add to my anxiety..hahaha!)

I had someone monitoring my sleeping for the first few nights to make sure my heart beat didn't drop to low (just to add to my anxiety..hahaha!)

My early season hard work has payed off thus far, racking up a few stellar wins in Australia and my first UCI 1.1 podium in the Women's Tour Of Qatar. Lets keep this momentum going into the European Season, next stop Belgium- Het Niewsblad. Time to pack the ugg boots!

In this moment I was thinking about all the 'hard yards' and sacrifice I had put in over the summer and embraced the moment.

In this moment I was thinking about all the 'hard yards' and sacrifice I had put in over the summer and embraced the moment.

All that jumping up and down hills, stair runs, hurdles, maximum leg presses, power cleans, squats, glute activations are starting to pay dived ends in my sprint. And not to mention a bloody good lead-out train and final sling shot from powerhouse Gracie Elvin.

All that jumping up and down hills, stair runs, hurdles, maximum leg presses, power cleans, squats, glute activations are starting to pay dived ends in my sprint. And not to mention a bloody good lead-out train and final sling shot from powerhouse Gracie Elvin.





The drought has broken

I should start to thank the rainy days here in Gavirate, as I’m forced to slow down and take in all that I have experienced and achieved this year. I just finished reading the last blog I published in March. How things have turned around for both the team and myself in the last 3 months. The spring classics brought nothing but injuries, bad luck, disagreements and frustration to Orica-AIS. Coming into 2015 Orica had seen a full revamp, injecting a number of new riders and consequently new personalities. Like in any work environment, it takes time to understand other colleagues 'work processes' and adjust to their idiosyncrasies. It’s the same for professional cycling, but it’s even more intense because you don’t clock off at 5pm but instead go eat dinner with them, sleep next to them and wake up to them! So you can only image how stressful this living environment can get when the team isn’t performing well. There have been a few instances over the past months where I have questioned my decision to pursue my dream as a professional cyclist.  I always come back to the same point - I love racing my bike. Plus, I get to travel the globe, generally wake up at late, eat heaps, sleep even more and have massages on a regular basis, so really in retrospect, my life doesn’t seem that bad. On a serious note, when I’ve been pushed to my physical and mental limit it has brought on growth and positive change that I would have not experienced if I hadn’t been faced with these challenges. This year has allowed me to understand myself better as a person foremost, and secondly to develop my ability to be a loyal teammate and friend. Racing for Orica-AIS has taught me to be more accountable, honest, selfless, patient, forgiving, thoughtful and most importantly punctual (although I’m still working on that final point). So anyone out there that wants to improve on one or all of these personal characteristics, I encourage you to become a professional cyclist….or instead, join a cult.

The whole team together for the first time in Tuscany in May

The whole team together for the first time in Tuscany in May

We had a car club sharing our accommodation in Tuscany. Look at these beauties

We had a car club sharing our accommodation in Tuscany. Look at these beauties

 

Since my first World Cup Drenthe (the disaster race), I have completed 2 more World Cups, Cittiglio and Flèche Wallone. Both these races went a lot smoother than my first and the courses suited my racing style a lot better. I even got myself ‘in front’ of the race in Flèche for a brief moment, bridging across to an American rider that was in a solo breakaway. This was short lived and the bunch swallowed us up 30km from the finish. Although it did create the top teams to waste energy on the front to bring us back (this was my job for the day, the sacrificial lamb as they say). 

Having a 'crack' in Fleche Wallone

Having a 'crack' in Fleche Wallone

 

Energiewacht Tour 

I have also completed 3 stage races, Energiewacht Tour in April, Luxembourg in May and Bira just the other week. I put my hand up for Energiewacht Tour in Holland because I knew I had to go back and face my fears of ‘Dutch racing' and gain more experience on flat, hectic (large pelotons of up to 170 riders) and windy races. This turned out to be a brave move as Energiewacht has a reputation of being a very tough tour hosting gale force winds, rain and echelons. My goals for this tour included, fight for, and hold good position in large pelotons, learn how to ride echelons correctly, and get my bitch face on. To give you a brief description of what the racing is like in Holland. Well, imagine you have to catch the only boat home and there are only 10 spots on that boat, but 150 people want to get on. So it’s a race to the port and the entry is a 'bike path’ sized road. It’s desperate, people are taking massive risks, women are screaming at you to move out of their way, but all you can think is, ‘I have to get there first’. That’s Dutch racing. If you miss that first break where the road narrows and the crosswinds hit, you've missed the boat. And you drown. I died a number of deaths that week but somehow came out the other side unscathed even after a near miss of flying over my handlebars into the canal. Lucky for the canal fence, my front wheel wedged into it and stopped my momentum and I had the time to grab onto the fencing and pull myself back down to earth…I missed the boat that day and almost got hyperthermia. But Holland isn’t all bad. The bakery goods are incredibly tasty; the bread is on another level! I also was given the opportunity to ride my first ever Teams Time Trial. That was a special day for me, and to top it off, we just missed out on the podium coming 4th with 3 virgin TTT members. Marv was a proud dad. That was our best team result that week, so the feeling around the team was fairly melancholy. 

Teams Time Trial- I'm second from the front. 

Teams Time Trial- I'm second from the front. 

Tour of Luxembourg

This tour was a different story for both myself and the team. The style of racing was much more suited to me, circuit style courses (laps) on undulating terrain. The tour began with a 6km prologue which was pretty much up a 2km climb, flat for 2km and then the run down into the finish. I was first off the rank for our team and I managed to clock the fastest time, despite making multiple technical mistakes. The coaches’ response was “that was a shocker! Imagine if you took the shortest line and cornered correctly, you could have won it!" I learnt a lot that day about the right line to take by following my teammates Mel Hoskins and Kat Garfoot in the team car during their prologue - both experts in their field.  Both Kat and I finished in the top 10 that day so I felt confident going into day 2. As the tour went on our team went from strength to strength with Spratty sprinting to 3rd place in a four women breakaway, a long awaited podium result for this hardworking and diligent athlete. Day 3 was spent racing in torrential rain, at times I felt like I was actually in the sea swimming, not riding my bike. With 20km to go we had the whole team in a select group of 25 riders, which gave us the luxury of being the aggressors. Kat timed her attack perfectly and rode away with 3 others to finish 2nd in the stage. She almost managed to steal the overall tour! Post race, the 'baby wipe’ shower didn’t seem all that bad after our team’s successful tour. As we alI wiped grit from eyes, the same feeling resonated around the team, Orica is BACK! Now to the next battle, the 7-hour car trip back to Italy. 

grimacing NOT smiling in the prologue 

grimacing NOT smiling in the prologue 

Un cafe nero- liquid energy

Un cafe nero- liquid energy

Our team were carrying some newfound confidence going into Birra, knowing that we CAN be there contesting with the best female cyclists in the world. I had come off a solo win in Switzerland, my first European win! This was a smaller one-day race, a circuit style course (9 laps of a 9.2km circuit) that featured a punchy short climb with technical narrow farm roads. Perfect for me. We had a strong team and knew we had multiple options with our riders. On the 2nd last lap, I attacked on the decent, knowing that I could ride it faster than the group of riders that were there. The only gamble was if I could hold off the peloton for another full lap. The team did a fantastic job of slowing up the bunch for that final 10km’s and I managed to stay away. You bloody ripper! And it was the first win for the team this year. Then to top things off, Gracie Elvin won 5hrs later in Belgium. Our drought was well and truly broken, and it was pouring!

Wooohooo!

Wooohooo!

Our lil 'pocket rocket' Vale winning the bunch sprint for 2nd. 

Our lil 'pocket rocket' Vale winning the bunch sprint for 2nd. 


Durango- Birra

So after 2 wins and multiple podium results, as a team we knew that winning Birra or taking some stage wins was a real possibility. Birra was a 5-day tour but it also included a one-day race, Durango the day before the tour began. The Durango course had 2 solid climbs, ranging from 5-7km and gradients up to 15%. The final climb was only 15km from the finish so we knew that the selected group that crested over that final climb first would generally stay away for the run into the finale. Our plan was to have numbers going over that final climb which would allow either Emma Johansson or Kat Garfoot to attack near the summit and extend that gap on the decent into the finish. Now in bike racing, circumstances can change instantly and the team plan can quickly go out the door. But today it was Orica's day. Everyone played an important part in the race, from early on when Rachel Neylan had to control the pace so an early break didn’t blow out to an unreachable mark and then Vale and Spratty forming a breakaway over the first climb. And then it was both myself and Kat’s shot at 'turning up the heat’ on the final climb. All these individual efforts forced other teams to chase and allowed Emma to sit in and conserve her energy until the right moment when she could put in one ‘solid' attack at crunch time when everyone is at their limit. 500m from the top she went, by this time I was dropped from the select group and could see the move go. Only one other Claudia (Rabo-liv) could follow her. As predicted, Emma and Claudia stayed away until the finish and she convincingly won the 2 up sprint. I came across the line a minute or so later bleeding and in shock after crashing (50km/hr) on the decent 10km from the finish. I guess I took that hairpin corner a little too quick and my back end slid out from beneath me. Luck was definitely there for us that day as I walked away with only a few scratches and some ripped knicks. 4 of us finished in the top 10 and we went into Birra with what looked like the strongest team. To briefly sum up Birra, we had 3 riders in Emma, Kat and Spratty that rode very strongly all week. Emma won 2 stages and Kat had 2 podiums, marginally missing out on winning the 2km prologue to Anna Van Vluten. Like Durango, the team rode superbly as a unit and we went away winning the team classification, and Emma Johansson finishing 3rd overall. 

Happy days after our win in Durango

Happy days after our win in Durango

The stunning basque country of Spain 

The stunning basque country of Spain 

Reflecting on my own performance, I went away from Birra a little disappointed I couldn’t be there at the pointy end of the races with the top girls. Now I’m only more motivated to train harder and smarter. Racing the highest level this year has shown me that you can’t get by on ‘natural ability’ alone. I’m learning how to train properly, no more snivelling (meaning: sucking off other riders slip streams), as my coach puts it, ‘I’m training you to be able to push wind’ (which pretty much means, making me as strong as humanly possible). Unfortunately there are no shortcuts to this process. Only time and handwork will get me there. I find it funny how that my posts on social media are ‘happy snaps’ of my glorified life. But behind the scenes no one sees the tears rolling down my cheeks from pain and exhaustion in training, and frustration and disappointment when I don’t reach my goals. Also adding to the fact that my main support network (partner, family and friends) are on the opposite side of the world sometimes only intensifies the emotions and challenges. But I chose this path and I’m going to continue following it as long as I’m moving forward, not backward. Now to face my next challenge - the Giro Rosa, the biggest and longest (10 days) stage race on the professional women’s cycling calendar. You can follow our teams progress in the Giro Rosa through my daily updates written by;

E L L A  C Y C L I N G T I P S

www.ella.cyclingtips.com.au

Giving Spratty a piggy back across the field due to her allergies (well thats what she told me) #teamwork 

Giving Spratty a piggy back across the field due to her allergies (well thats what she told me) #teamwork 


A day to remember- Dutch Love

Dutch racing well and truly slapped me in the face over the past weekend. I left Amsterdam airport with scabby knees, my confidence broken, sadness for my teammate Emma Johanson’s misfortunate crash resulting in a broken collarbone and a general feeling of overall disappointment as a team. Like in any job, if you don’t hit targets, and performance is lacking, consequences await. And just like a business, if you have success, there will be increased profit, and greater investment opportunities. Orica-AIS really only needed one big win to lift the teams morale and get that confidence flowing throughout the riders. Unfortunately we haven’t had that win. For me, I felt pretty helpless in these races, everything about them was so foreign to me. The roads, the obstacles, the weather conditions, the racing style etc. It was like I was back at Brunswick Cycling Clinic learning to ride my first fixed wheel track bike at the age of 14, being beaten by 10year olds. Marv my coach did warn me about the ‘Dutch style ’ racing, and all they wanted to see from me is if I could get through each race. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to just get through it, I want to be in the race”. I realise now what they meant. 

My first World Cup Race Ronde van Drenthe was probably one of my worst experiences I have had in a bike race. So what better idea to relive the whole experience through a blog.ha!

Going into this race, I was noticeably stressed for a number of reasons. Firstly I had been sick all week with a cold, secondly I hadn’t ridden or even seen the course and lastly it was my first ever World Cup. Knowing the course and being ready and 'well positioned’ in the peloton for what is coming up is a huge part of having success at these races. To help with this, most riders write notes on tape and stick it to their head stem. My day started with me leaving my sticky notes stuck to the wall of the campervan. I was already going into this race with limited knowledge, now I was pretty much riding blind! My bad luck snowballed from this point and it didn’t help that I was ridiculously nervous, causing me to be ‘jumpy' on the brakes. 10km into the race as we were entering the first climb the ‘Vamberg’ (the only hill in the 140km course- man-made built over a rubbish tip), I managed to clip a wheel in front of me due to a sudden brake ahead. This is pretty easy to do in the peloton as we are riding extremely close to one another. Its requires constant concentration because the roads change from double lane, to single lane and even to bike track sized paths. This all could be in the space of 1km. You also have to be wary of the traffic islands and road dividers, which makes the bunch swell and narrow with limited time to spare. The screeching of brakes and girly screams generally is an indication that something is ahead. Another obstacle, also referred as, (please excuse my french) “form fuckers” as Marv explained to me, are concrete poles that create a narrower pathway on the road to force cars to slow down. Marv has witnessed riders smashing into these poles on numerous occasions, one girl yesterday actually. Then there’s ‘death valley’, the large cracks in the centre of the road that skinny race tyres love to fall into, but struggle to get out of. There have been many casualties in Death Valley. 

An exagerated version of Death Valley 

An exagerated version of Death Valley 


Our team from the left: Loes, Spratty, Emma, Vale, Me and Gracie

Our team from the left: Loes, Spratty, Emma, Vale, Me and Gracie

So as I watched my front wheel lean dangerously sideways, I accepted the fact I was hitting the pavement. This happened mid-pack of about 130 riders. About 4 of us went down and I managed to get tangled up with another rider. Once untangled, I had to put my chain back on and then jump back on and begin my chase. I felt like it was deja vu of ‘La Course’ with Marv screaming instructions at me of how to correctly ride the car convoy. In World Cups teams are allowed to have race radios, so I had Marvs voice ‘literally’ in my ear. After about 10min, I managed to make contact with the peloton. Now to the hard part, trying to move up to the front. After surfing the back of the bunch for another 20min, struggling to find gaps to move up we hit a short cobble section and instantly in front of me 3 girls hit the deck. I had no where to go and tumbled over the top of them. By this stage, I had blood running down both knees and a ripped kit. Flustered and shocked, I sprung back up and started chasing…AGAIN! It took another 15min to catch the main peloton. I knew I had to move up because it was far more dangerous being at the back without vision of what's coming up and with nervous and less experienced riders accumulating there. I saw my chance to move up by cutting over someone’s front garden as we were taking a sharp left turn. I wasn’t the only one with this idea! As I was bunny hopping back onto the road someone ran into my back wheel, bending my rear derailleur hanger causing a horrible sound. The hanger was knocking the rear wheel spokes with every revolution. I knew I had to stop and get my spare bike. Now depending on what number Marv has drawn for the car convey decides how long you will be waiting on the side of the road. We had car no 8, not so bad but also not so good. After about 3min I was back on the road chasing the peloton, at this point my mental state was wavering…. I had Marv once again barking instructions at me about riding the convoy correctly. Tears were welling up behind my glasses and all I wanted was to stop and get into the car. But I knew in myself if I had quit at this point, I would never forgive myself. I wasn’t going to be cracked by Dutch racing. I put my head down and slowly made my way back to the group after about 20min.

I had one role going into todays race and it was to hit the front at 52km taking as many teammates with me before the first big cobble section at 56km. We were about 45km into the race, at that point I thought to myself, "I have to do my job” or I haven’t achieved anything today. So with all my guts, I squeezed my way to the front hitting the wind for the first time. My confidence lifted and I thought, “I’m back in this race”. It was an absolute shit fight to get to the cobbled section first (at this point the peloton is travelling over 60km/ph and everyone is jostling for position just like a bunch sprint). Loes our Dutchy was driving it hard on the front like a trooper. I was sitting about 10th wheel and Emma found me. I rode towards the front and dropped her off. As we entered the cobbles the team were all well positioned, including me! I was pumped. Nek minnit…..my back wheel locked up and I couldn’t pedal. I had to stop because something was seriously wrong. As I turned around to hopefully fix the issue, my heart sank as I knew it was irreparable. The rear derailleur somehow managed to snap off and lodge itself into my back wheel. As I stood there waiting for Marv and Pat a photographer came over and took shots of me, bloodied and broken. I was very close to giving him the finger. Pat the mechanic jumped out with a wheel, thinking it was a puncture and took one look at my bike and then faced Marv and gestured a cut throat signal. The remainder of the day was spent being thrown around in the back seat of the convoy race car by Marv’s ‘very safe’ driving. To think that travel sickness was going to finish me off? Our soldiers dropped one by one and we were faced with Emma being outnumbered by other teams in the remaining 20km of the race. After the race I was having a teary moment in the camper van with Marv and suddenly there was a knock on the door. It was the media looking for Lizzie Williams. I had won the first ever UCI Sufferfest award. This award is given to the rider that has experienced the most suffering in the race. As I walked to the media area wiping my tears away, I had a little chuckle to myself. At least my suffering was acknowledged, it brought a little bit of light into a pretty dark day for me. Although I did feel like I was going to accept the wooden spoon prize (or encouraged award…even worse!). After my interview I headed back to the carpark, only to see both team vehicles driving off into the distance. After 45minutes of loitering in the carpark freezing my tits off (it was 4 degrees), I resigned to the fact that they weren’t coming back for me and I had to negotiate a lift with my fellow opponents Velocio Sram. That was definitely the icing on the cake. This was a day I should have stayed in bed.

Being interviewed after the race

Being interviewed after the race

My consolation prize, RealPagne Champagne 

My consolation prize, RealPagne Champagne 


A new year, a new career

A wave of anxiety rushed over me as I signed the contract in the Middle Park Hotel room.  “What the hell am I getting myself into?”. It was day 2 of the Orica-GreenEdge training camp. I was staying in a Hotel in my home town, which firstly felt really strange, I was exhausted from the previous 1000km week on the ‘Share the road Tour' for the Amy Gillet Foundation ( thats not to say I didn’t have an absolute ball) and I felt nervous about being the new kid on the block. It was a bumpy ride since arriving back from my first taste of the European road season for 2014. Learning to ‘switch off’ mentally in the off season is something I definitely need to work on next time it comes round. But really, I had never experienced an ‘off season’, apart from that 10 year one I had. Looking back now, I wish I ate more donuts and watched the sun come up.

What a fantastic experience I had on the 'share the road' tour in November. Thanks to the great company and the 'meter' space the drivers gave us out on the road from Brisbane to Airley Beach 

What a fantastic experience I had on the 'share the road' tour in November. Thanks to the great company and the 'meter' space the drivers gave us out on the road from Brisbane to Airley Beach 

cheese in the sandwich between two superstars... and sidebottom of course!

cheese in the sandwich between two superstars... and sidebottom of course!

My build-up to the Aussie summer racing season was a little disjointed, injuring my back in the first 2 weeks, which then highlighted all my weaknesses and my 'lack of' proficiency on the bike (supposedly I’m lopsided). It has been ‘challenging' to say the least, but with the help of the team at the Victorian Institute of Sport in Albert Park, I have the confidence that I’m becoming a stronger, faster and more proficient athlete. Another aspect I have had to adjust to with my new found life is that my passion has become my job. Riding has always been a social activity for me, but now my riding is structured, specific and…..HARD! I had to really look within myself and ask the question, “do i want this?” and the answer is HELL YES! Receiving my first pay check from Orica was a memorable day. I no longer have to juggle being a teacher AND a professional cyclist. I count myself one of the lucky ones. 

please don't judge... I got to ride with the PM. I actually had to push him because he  dropped his chain. I said  "Tony, I bet you haven't been pushed by a girl like this?" he responded "I am pushed by women all the time!"

please don't judge... I got to ride with the PM. I actually had to push him because he  dropped his chain. I said  "Tony, I bet you haven't been pushed by a girl like this?" he responded "I am pushed by women all the time!"

Training camp with the troops. On top of buffalo here, note Gene (team manager/coach) on his tip toes

Training camp with the troops. On top of buffalo here, note Gene (team manager/coach) on his tip toes

The summer of bike racing comes alive over the months of January and February in Australia. It kicks off in Victoria with the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic, followed closely by the Australian National Road Championships. We then head to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under and then back to Victoria for Cadel’s Race and finally finishing with Oceania Championships in Toowoomba QLD). It’s exhausting just typing all these events, let alone racing them all! It’s always a tricky time to have so much racing so soon after the European road season (as I personally found out). Having a month off riding my bike 2 months prior to a heavy racing block isn’t exactly ‘good preparation’, but its crucial for all Aussies that do race overseas through the year to have this time to rejuvenate, more so mentally than physically.

My debut race with Orica-AIS was the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic. This event is definitely up there as one of my favourite races in the summer calendar. It’s always held a special place in my heart as this is where I won my first and only National Championship. The 4 day criterium series was first introduced to increase the profile of cycling through encouraging summer holiday goers to come and watch a blur of lycra whiz past the Bellarine Peninsula. The aim was to increase tourism and provide more traffic for local businesses within the Geelong region.

blast from the past!  Me as a young 19 year old donning my new National Champs jersey

blast from the past!  Me as a young 19 year old donning my new National Champs jersey

To be brief with the overall race report, as a team we kept our opponents honest and made a race of it everyday. I managed to podium in the opening race and Gracie Elvin had a ripper stage 2 in the ‘hellish’ 40 degrees and gale force wind conditions, winning in a spectacular solo performance. I was learning to ‘hit the wind’ a lot more than normal racing with my new team, so much so that I was feeling wind burnt! I finished 3rd overall for the series and we won the teams Category.  We all felt confident going into Road Nats for the following week. 

Spatty, myself, Gracie and Loes celebrating after Gracie's solo victory

Spatty, myself, Gracie and Loes celebrating after Gracie's solo victory

We went into Nationals with a diminished team with only 3 starters, Gracie, Spratty and myself. I was starting to realise the new responsibilities that came with being apart of such a high profile team. Also the expectations from others... teams, race organisers, media etc. OricaGreenEdge was going into this race with the previous 2 years of back-to-back wins from Gracie Elvin. All eyes were on us to pull off another win. It wasn’t going to be an easy feat, there were some strong candidates in the field that had noticeably ‘good form’, Mullens, Neylan, Kitchen and Gillow to name a few.

We had a clear plan, spratty and myself had to initiate early breaks and Gracie was to play the waiting game. Changing my approach to racing was something I was learning, Marv’s favourite term being, ‘bring the race to you!’. Being on the back foot is what we wanted to avoid. So we went ahead and gave this plan a crack, I had a short time off the front with 3 others in the early laps of the race, and once caught by the peloton, allowed Spratty to launch a solid attack which she held for over 40kms. Unfortunately no one bridged across to help which made her day bloody tough. Eventually she was swallowed up by the peloton and then the real fireworks began. The winning break happened on the 2nd last lap, all 3 of us unfortunately missing it. Once away, Neylan and Mullens held their gap and they fought out the final 13kms, Mullen for the win.

Me and my uncle Mick after the race. It was a special day to have my family come and watch me race. More so because 3 months ago, Mick broke his neck playing footy. To have him standing there giving me a hug filled me with  great joy.  He's now known as the "miracle man". 

Me and my uncle Mick after the race. It was a special day to have my family come and watch me race. More so because 3 months ago, Mick broke his neck playing footy. To have him standing there giving me a hug filled me with  great joy.  He's now known as the "miracle man". 

It was morbid affair in the team bus on the way back to our accommodation. Our race plan hadn’t worked, but at the end of the day the strongest rider won, kudos to Peta. Personally, I had to put things in perspective. This time last year I entered Nationals for 'shits n giggles’ and rode as an individual having 3 months of training under my belt. A year on, I was sharing the responsibility of being one of the favourites to win the bike race. It was a big jump, but growing quickly and learning the trade has been a crucial part of my journey in becoming a professional cyclist. At times, it feels overwhelming and I’m searching for the exit door, but once things settle, as I’ve learnt they always do, I feel like I’ve stepped one foot closer to becoming a better athlete and a more resilient person. 

My number one supporter, my Dad Tony.

My number one supporter, my Dad Tony.

One skill I’m working on is “letting go” of the past and focusing my attention forward. Replaying race scenarios through my head of what "I should have done” only causes me to lose sleep and dwell on the unchangeable. So after a few days feeling like a pancake, I climbed out of my pj’s and repacked my suitcase for Tour Down Under in Adelaide. The TDU is an important tour for both the men and women’s OricaGreenEdge team because all the important people that help make this team run are present in Adelaide. Gerry Ryan has been the backbone of this team since he established it in 2012. Orica ( the largest provider of commercial explosives and blasting systems to the mining and infrastructure markets) then approached Gerry and said they were interested in financially investing in GreenEdge, and now they have signed until 2016.

We went to TDU with a full team, injecting some serious horsepower into the team. Firstly our ‘'lil Italian'’ Vale Scandolara and our ‘’trackie'' Mel Hosking. This was the first time I was racing with these girls and I was excited! Two sayings I seem to hear a lot in team meetings (generally from our dutchie rider Loes) is firstly, ‘'put em in the gutter’’ and secondly, “and when they’re in the box”. Please explain? For people out there that have limited knowledge of bike racing, lets just say if you get into these two predicaments, you’re generally screwed. Being "in the gutter” means the peloton is strung out in a line, single file generally, while one team is rotating through off the front at a fast pace. This strategy best works in windy conditions, hence the “dutchies” noticable excitement when she talks about this stuff. Personally, I have limited experience with gutter action but I did know that I was thankful that I was going to be imparting the pain, rather than being on the receiving end. When other teams were “in the box”, meaning at their physical limit, thats when we were going to launch someone off the front.

Lead out train bell lap. Photo credit to Kirsty Baxter. This phenomenal  lady gives up her own time and money to come and support the Australian women's peloton. Thanks kirst!

Lead out train bell lap. Photo credit to Kirsty Baxter. This phenomenal  lady gives up her own time and money to come and support the Australian women's peloton. Thanks kirst!

The TDU is a 4 day event comprising of 2 road stages and 2 criteriums. Lucky for us, there was a suitable section in the first road stage where our "gutter plan" would be effective. And in style our “lil italian” rode off the front of our echelon to claim her first victory for 2015. This time our team plan had paid off and geez it felt good. For the remainder of the Tour, our first objective was to hold onto the leaders jersey which we did. We then had the flexibility to go for stage wins. For the first time in my cycling career, I began to understand what “teamwork” was. Mel Hosking stamped her authority in the 2nd stage, out sprinting the likes of 2xworld champion Georgia Bronzini and current National Criterium Champion Kimberley Wells in front of a packed crowd. The final stage allowed us to showcase the strength we had within the team, leading out Mel to her second victory of the week. That was another first for me, being apart of a successful lead out train…I actually felt like I won the race. We came away from the week winning 3 out of the 4 stages and taking the leaders jersey. Safe to say, there was smiles and champagne all round.

Defining moment when I realised Mel had won the stage and Vale had won the Tour

Defining moment when I realised Mel had won the stage and Vale had won the Tour

So I was now nearing the end of the summer racing season with only 2 events to come. Cadel’s Race and Oceania Championships. To be a brief as possible as this blog is getting out of control (due to condensing 2 months of racing into one post), procrastination is the culprit. Cadel’s race had many “gutter action” moments due to the tough conditions, dead roads and head/cross winds. We played all our cards right but not even our ‘“lil pocket rocket italian” couldn’t go with the winning move in the last 10km. Once again, the strongest rider won on the day, congrats to Rachel Neylan for her first ever win, and what a victory it was. It’s quite funny that I’m more nervous about getting dropped by my own teammates than my opponents (I guess thats a good thing right?). As a team we finished 2nd, 4th,5th(me), and 6th. I feel chuffed to say that I pulled my weight that day and managed to pick up some sprints and the QOM along the way. Arrrrh, my nerves have subsided for another day… 

Need to work on my technique of spraying the champagne #novicemistake #nothumb

Need to work on my technique of spraying the champagne #novicemistake #nothumb

I didn’t have the same nerves going into Oceania Championships because the majority of my Team were already starting the european season at the Tour of Qatar. I had the luxury of racing for myself which meant, conserving myself for the finale. And predictions were met, the small peloton of about 30 girls didn’t really start racing until the final 35kms. This made for a very “slow” and “uneventful” first 70km. We were back racing around the dead roads of Toowoomba so the scenery of paddocks, dirt and a few lonely goats couldn’t distract me from my boredom. Unfortunately this is what happens when its a very small peloton, there are no teams and everyone is racing for themselves. In the final 10km a group of 4 (including myself) got up the road. It came down to a bunch kick between Kitchen, Neylan, Garfoot and myself. Despite getting popped on the last climb 1km from the finish, due to Neylan’s persistent attacks, I managed to crawl my way back onto the girls 500 meters from the finish and put in one last massive effort, rolling 2nd over the line behind Lauren Kitchen. Riding back to the van, I breathed a sigh of relief that my summer was done and had now 24hrs to spend with my loved ones before I was to fly to Europe to start my next block of racing, the Spring Classics.

Scouty McScout Feeding me. Go you good thing!

Scouty McScout Feeding me. Go you good thing!

Last photo opportunity for my proud mum before I take on the world!

Last photo opportunity for my proud mum before I take on the world!



From Fairhills High School to the World Road Championships

This time last year I was probably 'politely' telling one of my students to 'please not talk over the top of me' while I was trying to explain on the board how to structure an essay. Looking back now, I would have been that kid that was giving the teacher the shits. The students at my school didn't really know that I liked racing bikes (teenagers tend to be only interested in themselves or their mates), and they definitely aren't interested in their boring teachers life. But after 'La Course', I managed to get their attention....on TV! One of my fellow colleagues, Kristy told me that my year 7 english class were disappointed that I didn't mention them in my interview after the race.....There you go, thats proof about my previous statement...lol!

I was happy to hear that the kids knew what I was doing, and that is following my dreams. Lets hope I'm an inspiration to the kids at Fairhills, and I encourage them to follow their hopes and dreams, no matter what circumstances or curve balls life throws at them. I was known as the 'sporty one' in the english staffroom. Well known for my ridiculously healthy lunches, mainly consisting of salads, rice cakes and tuna. My colleagues were always so flabbergasted with my weekends adventures (racing or riding stupid amounts of km's), and at morning tea they all persisted for me to indulge in a homemade cake or dip and chips. Most of the time I gave into their haggling. I miss your salsa dip Leanne! I guess my colleagues saw first hand my 'transformation' from teacher to cyclist, and once I got the hunger back their was no stopping me!

have also realised these blogs are becoming somewhat ‘therapeutic’ for me, allowing me to process this crazy journey I’m on.Since leaving Melbourne on May 26th I have raced 37 days out of the nearly 4 months of being away, in the US, Canada and Europe. In Europe alone, I have managed to survive 4 big stage races with my 'limited' base, Thurigen (7 day Tour of Germany), Route De France (7 day Tour of France), Trophee D'or (6 day Tour in France) and Ardeche (5 day tour in France). By Ardeche, my body was telling me to STOP but my mind pushed me along to finish (Marv pretty much scraped me off the pavement on that final day). I definitely can say I experienced new pain thresholds during that week in the stunning backdrop of the Ardeche region. So much so that I rode off into a side street after crossing the line after the epic 140km mountainous stage to quietly cry to myself..... and that speaks for itself, as I ain't the crying type! 

tongue out, a character trait that has been passed down to me by my dad

tongue out, a character trait that has been passed down to me by my dad

spent!

spent!

Tapping away and envisioning the finish line.

Tapping away and envisioning the finish line.

I did manage to lead the points category for a day, but this was 'short-lived' to say the least.

I did manage to lead the points category for a day, but this was 'short-lived' to say the least.

Overall, my debut to European racing has been a success. I managed to finish 11th at Thurigen, 12th at 'La Course', 8th at Route De France, 4th at Trophee D'or and 15th at Ardeche. But that's enough wind blowing up my own arse, let me share with you some interesting facts. Tears were shed at 4 out of the 5 races, I hit the pavement 4 times, I've had only one puncture in the 2 months I have been here, ( I give praise to the team mechanic Patty for his meticulous work on our bikes), I've traveled more than 7,000km's by car across the Italian/French border, all whilst enduring Marv's painfully long stories. I have managed to eat my weight in baguettes and cheese while racing in France and in Italy I had Tomatoes in every meal.

It's been a steep learning curve for me here in Europe (an excuse for all my whinging). And as Marv said to me at my first tour in Germany, 'you're having to learn everything that goes with professional bike racing in a few weeks, what most riders learn over years'.  The most important lessons I learned over the past few months is firstly, don’t make the same mistake twice,  secondly, do your job for the team and be honest and open with your teammates and coaching staff.  Lucky for me, I have had the most supportive and understanding team around me, who has shown me patience and guided me forward. Thank you Marv, Donna, Pat, Goretti, Bruce, Gracie, Sarah, Rachel, Flick, Katrin, Jenelle, Jess M, Louisa, Jess A, Loren, Tiffany and Carlee for being an ace unit! 

Winning the team category at Ardeche

Winning the team category at Ardeche

Seeing Mont Blanc for the first time...by the 4th trip to France, I slept through it all. 

Seeing Mont Blanc for the first time...by the 4th trip to France, I slept through it all. 

Happy days..

Happy days..

So I didn't have the best race in the World Champs in Spain 2014. Got caught up in one of the biggest crashes ever seen in women's racing. Lucky I have 9 lives and I'm back doing what I love.

 

 

 

 

 

European Training Centre- Gavirate

European Training Centre- Gavirate

Beautiful lake that the ETC looks onto

Beautiful lake that the ETC looks onto

See you next year Gavirate!

See you next year Gavirate!



"Mate, its a bloody bike race!"

As the rain falls heavy outside my apartment, I sit back at my little brown kitchen table in Gavirate and begin to process the past weeks events, the main spectacle being ‘ La Course’.   I have finally stopped replaying the last kilometre of the race in my head while drifting off to sleep every night, accepting the fact that bike racing is as much a game of chance than it is of skill, fitness and speed. 

 

For the National Team, La Course ended up being a happy/sad affair, with one of my teammates Jenelle Crooks crashing badly in the last 3km.  I wasn’t to know this until late after the race when I couldn’t find both, Marv (national coach) or Goretti (our swanny) who had escorted Jenelle to the Hospital.  You never like to find out that one of your teammates went down, but like I said before in previous blogs, this comes with the territory.  And ‘La Course’ was such a special, iconic event, that desperation was displayed all throughout the race, everyone wanting their one-minute of fame! Jenelle spent 3 days in hospital recovering from dehydration, hyperthermia, severe concussion and a possible ‘minor’ heart attack! The doctors were concerned with high levels of a protein in her body that usually is prevalent after a heart attack.  Pretty freakin crazy hey! But good news is, Jenelle is now back with the team, recovering here in Gavirate, but unfortunately she will be heading home early to get some much-needed love from Ma and Pa.  

Top: Jenelle recovering in hospital. Bottom: Driving to the race

Top: Jenelle recovering in hospital. Bottom: Driving to the race

My experience of the day was a little different to that of Jenelle’s, let me back track to the morning of the event, which definitely felt different to any other race I have prepared for.   When I woke up in my Hotel, I wasn’t nervous, but instead felt more excited and overwhelmed with joy.   Probably the best place you can be in before a race.   Entering the Champs Elysees in the team car was a memorable moment, behind my sunglasses I was holding back tears.   I quickly snapped back into ‘game on’ mode as crying is only for girls (growing up with 6 older brothers does this to you).   We had Brad McGee looking after our team for ‘La Course'.   Brad is a former Australian professional cyclist and is now the head coach for NSWIS.   In 2003 he won the prologue of the Tour de France, and lead the race for 3 days.   As you could imagine, Brad brought a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to the team that day.   

Everyone in our team had different personal goals for the race.   Because we are a development team, we weren’t placing unrealistic expectations on one another or ourselves, but instead Brad told us to relax, have fun and enjoy the experience.   Personally, I was going into the race to win… typical me!   Although, I had know idea how I would fair against the best in the world because I had never raced at this level.   Needless to say, I was aiming for a top 10 finish, conserving myself until the final bunch kick (sprint).   This is why I seemed to not exist in the race until the last 3km.   

Predictions were met about the intensity and aggressiveness of the race.   It was FAST and the surface was ROUGH! The hands took a real beating over the cobbles, but I had so much adrenaline pumping through my body that the pain became a distant memory.   I remembered Brad mentioning the option of riding in the gutter towards the Arc De Triomphe.   There were pros and cons to this.   The benefit was, the surface was smooth, the disadvantage was, the line was narrow and your pedal went uncomfortably close to hitting the gutter.   I decided to ride the gutter and found an excellent groove in doing this, as it gave my legs and body respite from the shudder of the cobbles.   It also gave me another aspect to concentrate on, holding a very still, straight position on the bike to avoid hitting the gutter.   

For me, this worked for a number of laps and I sat mid-pack comfortably.   But, like all bike races, things can go south very quickly.   There were a few large cracks and potholes along the gutter line and I managed to hit one at full speed.   I thought to myself, “shit, I think I’ve punctured my tyre!” and my predictions were correct.   Slowly, my tyre deflated until it was dead flat.   I immediately raised my hand to notify the neutral spares vehicle and slowed to a complete stop.   Suddenly the Aussie team car came screeching up to me, this has been the only time I have enjoyed Marv’s revhead mentality.   As I watched the peloton drift away, I thought to myself, I hope this isn’t the end of my race.   Pat my team mechanic swiftly jumped to my aid and before I knew it I was chasing the bunch through the convoy of cars.   Now, I have never done this before, so I was learning on the job as you speak.   Chasing a peloton of 120 girls going 45kph+ is a tough gig to say the least, and to top it off I wasn’t using the convoy correctly.   Luckily enough I had Marv drive up to me and yell “sit behind each car for 20sec and then move to the next”.   I was trying to weave through them all without resting… stupid me!  At this point, I knew if I didn’t give it my all, I would be out of the race.   It took me about half a lap to get back to the rear of the peloton and probably about 15min to move up and recover! Looking back, that was the hardest part of my race.   I was very lucky to get back on, as many other girls that punctured didn’t make it back.   

For the remaining of the race I made sure I surrounded myself near the sprinters, Bronzini from Wiggle, Vos from Rabobank and Wild form Giant.   I knew I didn’t need to waste any energy getting involved in the game that was happening at the front of the peloton.   I just had to sit and be patient.   Now if you ask my mum, patience isn’t one of my strong points.   I started to think, maybe I should attack on the second last lap up the climb towards the Arc De Triomphe.   I started to move towards the front to make my jump coming over the finish line.   Suddenly the bell was being rung! It was bell lap, I’d somehow missed a lap (memory isn’t a strong point either).   Shhhhhiiiit! All I could think was, time to move up and find good position.   I found myself riding the gutter again, this worked very well for me and I found myself in the top 20 going around the Arc De Triomphe.   

There was a break of about 8 girls up the road coming into the last 4km.   I was sitting second wheel in the chase group and the Hitec rider in front of me did a massive turn and dragged the whole peloton to the leading bunch.   I really started to believe I could finish off well at this point and I held third wheel coming into the last 2km.   But then the Rabobank steam train came whizzing past me and instinctively I tried to hop on board.   This, I found a ‘little' challenging as the rest of the sprinters had the same idea.   I somehow ended up on the World champ, Marion Vos’s wheel.   But I didn’t have all of her wheel, I was sharing it and not out of choice! The yelling began, but like I said in the interview, I wasn’t ready to give it up.   I wasted a lot energy sitting half in the wind and when going 50kph, you notice this!

As you can see in this screen shot, i'm fighting for Vos's wheel!

As you can see in this screen shot, i'm fighting for Vos's wheel!

Last 2km of race, 1,2,3 and 4 Team Rabobank. Things are getting hairy!

Last 2km of race, 1,2,3 and 4 Team Rabobank. Things are getting hairy!

Moving through the tunnel I lost a few positions and looking back, that was where I lost my opportunity to contest the final sprint. Going under the 1km mark, this is where the girls really began to get their claws out. I was sitting just off Kirsten Wild from Giant. To paint a picture of this this girl, she stands at about 176cm tall and weighs 75kg. She’s got more than 20kg’s on me and a hell of a lot more racing experience. I witnessed her killer instinct moves, hip and shouldering her way out of a position she no longer wanted to be in. As this happened, the girls on either side of her went south and west and then to top it off, a crash happened very closely to the right of me. By this stage I was quietly ‘shitting my pants’ all of the while still trying to move up. In these situations, you have to make quick decisions and hopefully they are the best ones. I made the choice to take the outside line into the last corner, following a known sprinter, my arch nemesis from America Corryn Riverra. I knew she was a fast finisher but looking back, I was too far back to even contest the sprint. I followed her wheel like glue out of the corner and suddenly she changed her line, knocking my front wheel. At this point, I was certain I was hitting the deck but somehow I held it up and fought my way to the finish, placing 12th just outside the top 10. After the finish, I took my time riding back down the Champs Elysees, taking in the incredible atmosphere and reminding myself of what I had just been a part of, The Tour, the pinnacle of professional cycling and a new era for women’s cycling. Stopping to say hi to the numerous aussie’s in the crowd made me proud and grateful of where I come from, you could say it was the icing on the cake! 

Sprint Finale! Leah from Canada 3rd, Kirsten 2nd and Marion 1st. You can see me between Kirsten and Marion

Sprint Finale! Leah from Canada 3rd, Kirsten 2nd and Marion 1st. You can see me between Kirsten and Marion

A familiar face, Dom the camera man from Melbourne coming up to say hi after the race.

A familiar face, Dom the camera man from Melbourne coming up to say hi after the race.

Taking in the festivities post race

Taking in the festivities post race

A signal of the arrival of the mens peloton around the Champs Elysees

A signal of the arrival of the mens peloton around the Champs Elysees


The highs and lows of bike racing

It’s been a while since I last updated you folks on my travels. I could come up with a number of excuses why I haven’t posted a blog, but it comes down to the simple fact of procrastination! I do have to keep reminding myself thats important to keep BOTH the mind and body active to create equilibrium and sanity! It’s been nearly a month since my last blog which was in Tulsa. ‘Shazza’ the Vanderkitten team van have traveled 2,641km ( and for all my newly acquainted american friends, thats 1,635miles) across the US and all the way into British Columbia, Canada. My time with the team has flown by, so much that suddenly I’m now sitting here writing this at my kitchen table, 9017km away in a small town called Gavirate in Italy. 

I’d like backtrack to the previous weeks events, sharing some of my highlights and factual points, while also trying to provide you with an interesting read. I won’t be recounting my races like I have done in past blogs, but instead share some ‘behind the scene’ stories that are still vivid in my mind. 

Lets go back to the event we traveled to from Tulsa, North Star GP, Minnesota. The biggest and most coverage stage race in America. I would have to say this Tour was my most memorable, successful and enjoyable race in the US. This 5 day stage race incorporated an ITT (individual time trial), 3 criterium’s and 2 very LONG road stages (150+km's in torrential rain and gail forced winds). As the week went on, I found my confidence and groove, landing myself on the podium in three stages, including finishing off the tour, winning solo on the ‘brutal’ Stillwater criterium course. So brutal that I managed to cause myself a migraine (first one ever!) after the race that lasted 6hrs, missing out on the celebrations and dance-offs that following evening. The final results saw Specialized Lululemon rider Carmen Small winning the Tour with Alison Powers the current 3 time US National Champion followed closely behind her. I finished 4th overall GC, which was a very pleasing result given after stage 1 i was sitting 29th! #needtolearntotimetrial#

The hill was so steep I couldn't even manage a 2 hand solute! 

The hill was so steep I couldn't even manage a 2 hand solute! 


Gillian and I celebrating the win, and relieved the pain is over

Gillian and I celebrating the win, and relieved the pain is over

A spectator took this shot after the race and sent me it via twitter. This lady came up and congratulated me and i said 'give me a high five!'

A spectator took this shot after the race and sent me it via twitter. This lady came up and congratulated me and i said 'give me a high five!'

As a team, Vanderkitten had our most successful results to date, including Gillian Charlton my teammate, also winning the last road stage. The media exposure we received at this event, not only benefited the team but also my own international racing career, where i definitely got people talking about the ‘comeback kid’. I'd also like to mention a massive thank you to our host family Kristopher, Kelly and their 2 boys, Miles and Henry. They went above and beyond their duties as hosts, Kris cooking for all 8 of us, kelly taking time off work to come cheer us on, and the boys for sharing their rooms and entertaining us! 

from left: Kristopher, Henry, kelly, Miles, me and Gillian

from left: Kristopher, Henry, kelly, Miles, me and Gillian

From Minnesota, a dwindled team drove on to Wisconsin to compete in a few stages of the Tour of American DairyLand. This tour is well known for its large prize pool, so my aim for the week was to gather whole foods spending money for the weeks ahead. Now if you haven’t heard of the whole food supermarket chain, well thats probably good because you won’t go bankrupt! picture a small independent health food shop and then multiply that by 100. A massive organic supermarket with way too many options to choose from and also a sit in restaurant. This week allowed me to give both my mind and body a rest, racing only on the saturday/sunday. After a week sleeping in Karen and Johns basement, I felt reenergised and ready for the next block of racing to come. I also managed to win the 1k sprint prime on the saturday with a superb lead out by Liza ‘Lizard’ Richetto. We certainly put a gap in the field that day! 

Liza stomping on the front! as you can see, we did put a massive gap in the peloton.

Liza stomping on the front! as you can see, we did put a massive gap in the peloton.

After a restful week, Kate and Myself flew to Boise Idaho, where we were to spend some time training in half altitude. We were greeted at the airport by Liza’s mum, a bubbly, energetic little lady who we were staying with, including her kidlings, Walter Jackson, Missy and Pookie (dogs) and Rupert her cat. Boise is where Liza grew up (Jono our team manager is married to Liza), so we were well looked after during our time here. Boise quickly became my favourite city in the US,  providing me with great training routes, funky cafes and an overall chilled vibe. A shout out to Remi my training buddy for the week, and if you ever visit Boise, you must visit his very uber cool fine dining restaurant called STATE&LEMP. Very Melbourne!  And coincidently we happened to dress almost identical the night we visited the restaurant..weird!

matching brown shoes and belt, blue jeans and check shirt..and hair in a bun!

matching brown shoes and belt, blue jeans and check shirt..and hair in a bun!

Beautiful Boise....I miss you!

Beautiful Boise....I miss you!

from left: me, Kate and Miranda. Saturday night fun... the sun doesn't go down until 10pm in Boise during the summer!

from left: me, Kate and Miranda. Saturday night fun... the sun doesn't go down until 10pm in Boise during the summer!

Boise had sadly come to an end, and once again we were back on the road, bound for Canada! I was very excited about finally visiting Vancouver, a city I have heard so much about. The team had a 3 day race in Delta (30min out of Vancouver city). This was to be my last race with Vanderkitten before I was to jet set across the globe to Europe to meet the Australian team. The setup was a little different here in Delta in regards to the host housing. We were all allocated our very own host family, all houses positioned 500m from one another. I definitely drew the longest straw and ended up with the most lovely couple, Bruce and Nicki. This was the first time they had hosted a cyclist and it definitely won’t be an experience they’ll ever forget! Bruce and Nicki were volunteering at stage 2 of the tour so i was keen to put on a show, and also give them bragging rights in their neighbourhood street. Well, I did keep my end of the bargain and put on a spectacular show, but not for any good reasons. Unfortunately my clean run from crashes and misfortunes ended here in Tour De Delta. Lets just say, I tried to wash the concrete with my skin! Our team had a plan for me to go for the crowd sprint prime and the win, so i was to sit back and wait to pounce when ready. The primes are called randomly at any time during the race, usually the big $$$ are towards the pointy end, which in this case it was called at 3 laps to go. I managed to win the 1k prime but then had to back it up and go for the win in 2 laps. I was sitting 4th wheel going into the last (very tight) corner, behind the current 3 time Canadian National Champion Leah Kurchman. I knew I could contest her in the sprint but I wanted to get the jump on her, so I chanced it and took the inside line, ‘full gas’ and nekminitt….i was sliding into the barriers. Apart from taking off a lot of skin (and half of the peloton) I was ok. My worried Canadian parents were standing over me while i was being patched up by the medics in the gutter. Not the best day out on the bike but this comes with the territory. I decided to sit out for the remaining stages of the tour, due to my banged up hand. This wasn’t so bad as I enjoyed being in the convoy commentating during the the last stage. Our team rode fantastically and managed 2 top ten results. My last night with the team was wonderful, all the host families and their riders joined together and had a BBQ/pool party. Many of the neighbours hadn’t met one another so it was a lovely experience of people coming together and making friendships. And that’s what life is all about!

I'm smiling here, but really crying inside

I'm smiling here, but really crying inside

My lovely Canadian parents, Bruce and Nicki

My lovely Canadian parents, Bruce and Nicki

Bruce and Nicki's children

Bruce and Nicki's children

The family of skunks living in Bruce and Nicki's backyard

The family of skunks living in Bruce and Nicki's backyard


Tulsa Tough

Tulsa, its been short but sweet. We’ve had 3 days of non stop, ‘balls out’ crit racing, definitely my style of racing! But here we are, 6 ladies and Jono crammed in the VK van on the road again, travelling to our next event, Northstar GP in Minnesota. 

Multitalented Gillian trying out her mechanical skills after the van filled with smoke

Multitalented Gillian trying out her mechanical skills after the van filled with smoke

Tulsa Wrap up

We were spoilt rotten at Peter our Hosts house, having our own rooms and multiple bathrooms to share. Like most host families, Peter is a bike enthusiast, and has hosted professional cycling teams in the past ( just quietly, I think we’ve been his favourites). Peter owns and runs the Famous 'Brady Theatre' down town in Tulsa, a beautifully restored building that holds concerts and productions. Peter and Heather allowed us ladies to take over the house and most importantly, the run of the industrial sized kitchen. Miranda was in her Element! 

We arrived a few days earlier to support some of the major sponsors for this event, one being Saint Francis Children's Hospital. The VK team made a visit to the hospital to cheer up some sick kids, ran a cycling clinic for the Tulsa Divas (a women’s cycling club), and attended pre-race media requirements. The Hospital visit was definitely my most memorable experience.

Saint Francis Hospital visit

Saint Francis Hospital visit

Peter and I and the dogs. To the left of the photo was our 'wing' of the house. Beautiful place!

Peter and I and the dogs. To the left of the photo was our 'wing' of the house. Beautiful place!

Go Hard or Go Home!

We had 3x60min criterium races over 3 days. The courses were all very different but the race intensity, atmosphere and energy were all the same. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the crowd, check out the photos below. Stage one, referred as ‘The Blue Dome’  criterium, was fast and flat, but had multiple corners that winded through the streets down town. The pro women didn’t kick off until 8:15pm so half the race was under lights! This was my first international Criterium and Tulsa certainly turned it on for us (10,000 deep crowd). The race was full throttle from the gun, and pace never really let up. No breaks stuck and it came down to the bunch kick. UHC lead out 5 laps to go, snaking all over the road like a bunch of hooligans! Background knowledge: United Health Care- pay their athletes, big budget, UCI team and one of the most dominant teams in US cycling. By bell lap, UHC had strung out the whole peloton and everyone was riding single file. I managed to chop into their train  , sitting pretty at 3rd wheel, but couldn’t hold onto it for the last corner, costing me a podium. Finished 6th overall, so good result for me, but poor old Gillian our main sprinter didn’t see 1 lap to go so missed the boat…it happens people! Second day was less technical, situated just near Peter’s Theatre in more of the industrial area downtown. My roll today was to get Gillian into a good position to contest the bunch kick in the final sprint. Mid-race, a break got away (without VK represented), which had some strong riders, including Coryn Rivera from UHC (one of their top sprinters). We were forced to change our race plan, and suddenly we had the whole team on the front (bar me) to bring back the break. Everyone on our team worked their arses off and we successfully caught the break at about 6 laps to go. I on the other hand didn’t hit the wind once, Gillian and I decided during the race that I would save myself for the final sprint. Bell lap I moved up, and once again was able to push myself into 3rd wheel (surrounded by UHC). I was beginning to develop an arch nemesis, Coryn Rivera. We jostled for position and she got the elbows in and in a blink, I was pushed back to 6th wheel. In the final 500m, the rider in front of me lost contact with the top 4 (when the front group is going at full gas its almost impossible to make up ground), which ultimately cost us a spot on the podium. I finished 5th and Gillian right behind me at 6th.  

Hanging out with one of our loyal VIP fans Erica

Hanging out with one of our loyal VIP fans Erica

The last stage of Tulsa Tough is probably the most famous, well known for the crazy crowds, wild parties and the nasty climb called 'cry baby hill'. Every lap you accented a short, steep and very narrow climb, where you almost took out intoxicated fans screaming and throwing beer all over you. It was insane, but fun! This type of course definitely suits my style of riding, power climbs, sharp corners, obstacles (crowd) and not to mention wet roads. I went into this race with confidence that I could take the win (self-beleif is crucial when competing at this level). As the rain fell during my warmup, I watched riders in the race before us dropping like flies on the final, sharp and steep right hander going into the finish. Almost every lap Someone slid out (not the best pre-race entertainment). When we hit the startling, the clouds parted and the sun appeared, a blessing from above! The roads began to dry up and I started to feel excited. Our team had a ripper of a race, we were definitely the most aggressive team out there, causing UHC to chase our riders, Korina and Gillian that made timely attacks throughout the race. I calmly sat in the top 10, spinning up crybaby hill every lap. Except when I heard the commentator yell ‘$1000’ for a sprint prem lap. I thought, 'what the hell! we need petrol money so I’m going for it!’ It was also a good practice run for the final sprint and I was able to hold off other competitors to win the cash. Coming into bell lap, I found Coryn Rivera’s wheel as I knew she was a favourite (last years winner). I knew I had to try something different and try to get the early jump on the UHC train. So thats what I did, seeing an opportunity on the 2nd last corner, I dove into a gap about my handle bar width, taking the inside line, which put me in the lead. I tried to hold that position but Coryn got the front before the final corner. I followed her wheel as closely as possible through the corner and out, but just didn’t have that extra 1/2 metre in me to take the win in the final 100m. It was a great result for Vanderkitten (financially too), I finished 4th overall in the event and we can safely say we can arrive at our next destination with a full tank of gas! Next stop: Minnesota for Norths Star GP ( 5 day stage race).

Taking in the atmosphere up crybaby hill

Taking in the atmosphere up crybaby hill

Bell lap up crybaby hill. Me versus the 'Blue Train' UHC

Bell lap up crybaby hill. Me versus the 'Blue Train' UHC

Coming out of the last corner, glued to Coryn Rivera's wheel. She's quick! Currently holds 58 National Titles...freak!

Coming out of the last corner, glued to Coryn Rivera's wheel. She's quick! Currently holds 58 National Titles...freak!

After our race we went and joined in the craziness on crybaby hill. Found this along the way......

After our race we went and joined in the craziness on crybaby hill. Found this along the way......

Fantastic Philly

The team travelled south from Kutztown to Wilmington, to our next host house, where the Smolko family lives. For general knowledge, host families play a massive part in making the professional womens cycling scene possible. Without their generosity and kindness, teams like Vanderkitten would not have the budget to compete nationally/internationally. Not only do you receive accommodation for free, you also are welcomed into the local peoples homes and lives and the overall experience is so much richer. Mark, Jenny and their two kids, Ally and Ben welcomed 5 girls and Johno, our team manager into their home. Ben and Ally gave up their rooms and slept in the basement, Jenny allowed us girls to completely take over her kitchen for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Mark took time off work to chauffeur us around. What a family!! Plus the perks of having the family pets around, Logan the cat and Remy the brown lab. 

From left: Ben, Me, Mark and Ally. The mum of the house Jenny is missing from this photo

From left: Ben, Me, Mark and Ally. The mum of the house Jenny is missing from this photo

I knew I was in my element when the race began descending at 70kph, dodging riders, pot holes and water bottles that were being flung from other competitors bikes. To tell you the absolute truth, I was chuckling to myself, while grinning ear to ear. This was my first international race and it was a UCI 1.1 event (highest level ranking race in the world), hahaha! I certainly don’t do things in halves. Philly Cycling Classic is its name, one of the biggest one day races in America. I had mixed feelings going into it, as I knew I was in top form from current results in Australia, but I was going into unknown territory having never raced internationally, riding in such a large peloton (120+ riders), and experiencing jet lagged at a whole new level during that week. My doubts were immediately eradicated once I had my whole team back me to go for the win. What a privilege it is to step into a new team, and in less than a week, have trust and belief in one another. Priceless! (just like the add on tv). 

Inside scoop

5 laps of a 12mile loop around the city of Philadelphia, look I’m already talking like a yank! which included the Manayunk 'wall’ where the race finished at the top. Living up to its name, the hill is steep, but not long enough to create massive damage in the peloton. On our team we had Myself and Miranda Griffiths from Australia, Gillian Carleton from Canada, Kate Chilcott from New Zealand and Amy Charity and Elle Henderson from the US. I can honestly say, these girls rock! Jono isn’t so bad either, doing the job of 4 people, that being, team manager, mechanic, DS, driver and how could I forget, team mascot! Its been a seamless transition into the Vanderkitten team because of them. Before arriving in America, I didn’t know much about the Vanderkitten womens pro cycling team, other than Miranda the ‘mountain goat’ Griffiths from Australia rode for them. I now know that firstly, Vanderkitten is a clothing apparel created by a Guy named Dave Verrecchia. He saw a niche in the market for ‘fashionable’ fitness attire that his wife and friends could wear while exercising. Later came the kitten logo, inspired by his angry pet cat, Aphelia. Secondly, Vanderkitten has VIP fans that follow the team all over the states. This was noted when strangers were stopping our team in the street to take photos.The amount of cheering I heard during the race, 'GO VANDERKITTEN’ was crazy. 


From left: Jono, Gillian, Elle, Me, Miranda, Amy and Kate

From left: Jono, Gillian, Elle, Me, Miranda, Amy and Kate

 

Race report

I want to avoid the whole minute by minute recap on the race, as I know blogs about bike racing can get boooooring! So here’s a snippet. Race was fast from the get go, we averaged 40kph for almost 100km. Everyone had a role to play and each person executed their role to the best of their ability. Amy and Elle were to be the aggressors early on in the race, making breaks or covering attacks from threatening teams. Gillian was prepared to bury herself every lap 5km before the climb (until she blew), to assist our strong climbers, Miranda, Kate and myself to find good position. And for the final lap, Kate and Miranda had the role of leading me up the climb to the finish. My role was to conserve as much as possible before the final climb, while staying out of trouble (crashes) by riding good position at the front of the field. Like in most races, every team has similar plans, get to the front before the climb, keep the pace high to string out the large field, hold good position etc etc. Alison Powers (fresh off winning the US National Road/Crit/ ITT Champs),freak.. I know! broke away early and stayed away long enough to win both the Sprint and QOM jerseys. Everyone in our team were active throughout the race, Elle shot herself to prime position within 5 min of the start, Amy got into breaks, Miranda made quality attacks, Gillian the ‘steam-train’ Carleton motor paced me to the front of the peloton a number of times, taking on the whole Astana team train at one point, then proceeded to string out the field before the 2nd last lap of Manayunk….love that shit!  who doesn’t love the underdog. Meanwhile back in the main pack, a massive crash occurred and Kate and Miranda got caught behind sprawled bodies. Thankfully they didn’t hit the pavement themselves and were able to chase back on, but to the detriment of spent energy for the final lap. I had positioned myself well throughout the majority of the race, never dropping further back than 30 deep. I climbed over Manayunk ‘wall’ with the top 10 riders each lap, but in hindsight, I should have conserved a little more. Being my first ever international race, I rode overly cautious which expended me both mentally and physically. Coming into the final lap, jostling for position was pretty gnarly. The Specialized Lululemon train started 5km from the base,  stringing out the field and left only a select group of about 10 that cornered going into the last 1km of the race-that went straight up! I was out numbered by teams Lululemon, Astana, UHC and Optum, and hit the base at about 8/9th wheel, too far back to win the race. I gave the ‘wall’ one last crack and passed a few riders towards the crest of the hill. Evelyn Stevens (Lululemon) crossed the line about 15 metres in front to win the race, 2nd was Lex Albrecht (twenty-16) and 3rd Lauren Hall (Optum). I rolled over at 6th, 8sec behind the winner. Overall, our team were stoked with the result and look forward to improving at our next race in Tulsa- a 3 day criterium series. 

Post race relief

Post race relief

Riding up Manayunk 'wall'

Riding up Manayunk 'wall'

sitting down for our 'well earned' lunch 

sitting down for our 'well earned' lunch 

Howdy from Pennsylvania!

So the adventure begins, after 27hrs of travelling, with approximately 5hrs of sleep = Lizzie the space cadet!

I've had 2 days to morph back into my normal self, staying in a small town called Kutztown in Pennsylvania. My host Bob is a passionate man that loves all things cycling. He's a secondary maths teacher and coach, so we have a lot of common ground, which made the 2hr commute from the airport less painful. We now have 10 people staying in his house, so its just like my days of backpacking around the world, sharing communal space, privacy is out of the question and eye masks and headphones are a must! I have met 3 teammates thus far, Miranda Griffiths (aussie), Kate Chilcott (kiwi) and Amy Charity (yank). Jono (aussie) the team manager, arrived last night in the Vanderkitten team van, so my first ride on the US roads will be today. For the next 6 weeks we will be travelling in the van across the country, racing most weekends. Our first stop is Philly this Sunday 1st June, one of the largest UCI races in America. Wish me luck and game on!

Lizzie

Making friends in Kutztown. Almost ran over this lil guy!

Making friends in Kutztown. Almost ran over this lil guy!

Me and My first Host Bob, absolute champ!

Me and My first Host Bob, absolute champ!

Testing out the new bike

Testing out the new bike

Loving my new kit, but especially my suitcase with an 'in-built' seat!

Loving my new kit, but especially my suitcase with an 'in-built' seat!