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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.