Saturday was the Celtic Classic de Femme, the women's version of the infamous Grafton to Inverell and my first race back from what ultimately was a fizzer of a season in Europe.
After suffering from 'severe hay fever complications' disguised as the flu in Holland, a few broken ribs in Belgium and a bug that saw me creep for the Australian National team in France, I was keen to start to redeem myself and prove to myself that I could still ride a bike, and fast at that.
Unfortunately I was kidding myself in thinking that it was possible on 2 weeks of proper training against the strong talent which was tearing up the domestic scene back here in AUS whilst I was battling it out in Europe.
The day before the race I flew up to Port Macquarie to meet AIS cycling buddy Lauren Kitchen and together we trekked over to Inverell for the start of the race. On the way we drove over a 45k loop which was a new addition to the course and I'm thanking my lucky stars we did. The loop contained several graveled sections of road and a 1k section of dirt that had never actually been sealed. That, with a combination of more craters and other loose surfaces on the road, made me keep my Zipp wheels firmly sealed in their bags - never to see daylight on this trip.
The morning of the race we packed into the Swift and drove to Glen Innes for the start of the race. There I met up with some familiar, and new, friendly faces and rocked up to the start, buzzing -feeding off the atmosphere that comes with bike racing. Stopping for a pre-race coffee at Maccas
About 10k into the race, I rolled to the front of the peloton where we were greeted by a herd of cattle spread across the road. The commissaires didn't put out a flag, or yell at us, so I glued myself to the back of the lead car as the cows were running across the road and had big f off horns and I figured they would be pretty game to take on a big 4WD… I rolled past the herd still glued to the car followed by ‘Sweet As’ rider Sally Robins when I looked behind and saw we were clear from the group. The comm was still with us so I figure everything was OK and decided I'd tempo and give myself a head start on the climbs, as my legs felt average to say the least, and hopefully the dirt before the bunch caught me. I reached the end of the dirt at the 20k mark when the bunch caught me and a couple of riders decided to have angry words to me about attacking through a herd of cows and when a rider had crashed.... Apparently a rider crashed towards the back of the peloton as I was glued to the lead car and I didn't notice!!! I felt bad that people would think I'd do such a thing- they obviously don't know me very well, I’m not completely heartless! That aside, we were coming to the end of the first lap when the new Virgin RBS Morgan women's power house team started doing repeated attacks and counter attacks. My legs were feeling decisively average and I was glad that other people were willing to chase them down and give me a chance to sit on. Coming into the straight run to Inverell, we ran into the base if Waterloo, which was where my tow rope snapped and I got dagged from the back of the group. The thing about hills is that there is nowhere to hide- you've still actually got to get your butt over it, the draft of the other riders isn't going to do that for you. I was then groveling my way up the hill desperate to keep the peloton in sight- didn't happen. Fortunately enough I caught up with Imogene Vize and together we swapped off into the nasty headwind and my race quickly got placed in the 'well at least it was good training' category. We did see the peloton at the final climb up Wire Gully and came agonizingly close to jumping on when the mountain goats attacked for the final KOM points and I dropped back like a sack of potatoes.
We rode the last 20km of the race by ourselves and crossed the line a few minutes down on the main bunch… The race was taken out by dark horse Loren Rowney (MB Cycles) who placed 3rd in the u/23 Nationals RR in January from Jo Hogan (VIS) and Simone Grounds (Bundaberg Sugar) edged out Kirsty Broun (Virgin RBS Morgan) for 3rd.
First race done and dusted, and although it didn’t go nearly as well as I’d have hoped, it served as a big reality check and a slap in the face. This time last year, I had just come off riding for the Australian National team in the Giro Donne and the Tour Feminine en Limousin... A lot has happened since then and I’m stupid to think that after everything that has happened in the last 12 months, I am still able to ride at that level. I am still hanging onto that moment where I rolled off the start ramp in the prologue at the Giro in my first race wearing the Aussie colours, I know I will reach that level again but for now I have a few more months of ass busting training to do to try and make myself competitive again. I’ve got a couple of solid camps coming up and am feeling positive about the next few months. I know I have a lot of work to do leading up to Nationals but I’m confident I’ll be able to pull something out somewhere lol
Until next time