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.
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!
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!