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.
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).
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.
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.