Last Thursday May 2, Andrew and packed our van to the roof (yes, literally) and headed to the NSW Tweed Coast for my first NRS race, Battle on the Border (I’m calling this my first NRS race as I crashed out last year’s Battle on day 1). The tour is the second on the women’s NRS calendar but as a solo rider (not part of an NRS team) I can’t afford to travel to most of the other races.
This was one of the reasons I was keen to do well and show my potential at a national level. My keenness was matched however by feelings of doubt and copious amounts of stress and worry. I knew I had to trust my training and preparation but I was failing miserably.
Andrew and I arrived at the Mantra on Salt Beach Resort around 2 o’clock that afternoon. We quickly found out they had booked us in the most far away suite they had and I swear we had to walk about 5kms* to reach it. Anyway, that’s what you get when you get the 3 for 2 special!
After unpacking we located a supermarket, did some shopping and cooked dinner. I then popped down to Salt Bar around 19:15 for the rider briefing and collection of race packs. I was happy to hear police were enforcing rolling road closures for the entire race, a big improvement to last year’s horrifying first road stage with oncoming traffic hurtling towards us.
As the evening progressed, my nerves increased. The weather was not helping me to relax either, with showers and strong wind gusts throughout the day and evening. I went to bed early after prepping my race bag, food and water bottles, hoping the next day would bring clear skies, strong legs, powerful lungs and a fearless mind (and maybe a few puppy dogs for good measure).
My day started at 5am and lo and behold – the skies were blue! After managing to eat two bites of cereal, we drove down to Murwillumbah for stage 1, a 93km hilly road race. My race was to start at 8am, leaving from the Murwillumbah Showgrounds. After a decent warm up and going to the toilet about 30 times, I lined up with the other NRS women at the start.
The first 5 kilometers or so would be under neutral conditions, however these first kilometers proved to be the scariest and most chaotic as all 55 girls were trying to get to the front at the same time. I tried my best to defend my spot but wasn’t very successful. Luckily we hit the first climb of the day around the 15km mark which certainly helped to thin things out a bit. The pace was on straight away but I managed to stick with the bunch and made up a fair few spots as well. I didn’t realise until we were way past the first KOM and I looked back for the first time, that the field had been split in half! We continued with a steady pace through windy canefields until we hit the second KOM of the day around the 63km mark. Ruth Corset (Pensar) and Miranda Griffiths (Holden) attacked on the first KOM and were still going strong off the front somewhere. A third girl in the break had been dropped and was back in the bunch. The second KOM wasn’t very challenging and I got up and over without problems. A nice super fast descent followed and I was feeling ok. I just needed to hang in there and look after myself, and remain attentive. Everything went according to plan and after a somewhat half hearted sprint on my behalf I crossed the line in 11th place 50 seconds down on eventual winner Miranda and her breakaway companion Ruth. Kat Garfoot won the bunch sprint to take 3rd on the stage.
The field splitting up on the climbs. Photo: Brad Gooda (Facebook).
After a cool down on the trainer Andrew and I head back to Salt to do nothing for the rest of the day. The weather was great and we enjoyed lounging on our deckchairs, admiring the view. I wanted to give my legs as little to do as possible as tomorrow was going to bring a painful 9.3km individual time trial in the morning and a hilly criterium in the afternoon.
Saturday was yet another beautiful day. I checked my TT start times the night before and a 9:47:30 am start time meant I didn’t have to get up too early. The TT would be starting from the Murwillumbah Showgrounds again, same as last year. After arriving at the Showgrounds and about to sign on at registration, I found out my starting time had been brought forward by 20 minutes! Not cool! This meant I wouldn’t be able to do my full warm up and the added stress did not do my already nervous state of mind any favours. Anyway, I dealt with it as best as I could and lined up at 9:26am instead. During warm-up, my legs weren’t feeling great but I was hoping they’d come good in the TT. They didn’t. I struggled through the entire course, and even ran off the road at one point! I did not do my amazing S-Works SHIV TT - “Black Caviar II” - any justice. I placed 26th in the TT and lost quite a bit of time. Note to self: more TT practice!
Hey, at least I looked pro!
I felt really deflated after my poor TT performance and decided to go back to the resort to get some rest before the 3:30pm criterium at Murwillumbah. I had something to eat, moped around a bit, engaged in a lot of negative self-talk and had a brief snooze. I felt even worse after my nana-nap. Then Andrew and I then drove back out to Murwillumbah for the crit.
I was super nervous about the criterium, worried about crashing and getting dropped. My legs still felt terrible and I could barely find the motivation to start warming up again. I decided to not push myself too hard in the warm-up and just spin my legs a bit and see what happens. Lining up at the start my nerves were through the roof. I just wanted it to be over and done with. However, a great results from my friend and fellow Bicycle Riders Morningside rider Simon, who placed 4th in the Masters B race, inspired me to do well.
Feeling good in the criterium. Photo: ESI Photography.
Miraculously my legs felt great during the crit. It was a tough, technical little circuit with a few twists and turns and nice punchy hill followed by a fast descent. There were a few crashes early on, all of which I managed to avoid. The race was under neutral conditions for quite a few times after each crash, and it was a little hard to get into the swing of things. Girls were getting dropped left right and centre. All I wanted to do was hang on and don’t lose any time. Around the 30min mark, there was a big crash right behind me and the race had to be stopped. Unfortunately this also meant we wouldn’t get any results marked and so the stage was basically scrapped. A real shame. Luckily the girls involved in the crash were all ok after being checked and treated by paramedics.
I was buoyed by riding well in the criterium and felt a little more relaxed that evening. I went to bed early to prepare for the final stage, a 77km road race, starting and finishing at the Mantra resort.
The next morning the sky was looking grey and the tarmac looked wet. Ominous looking clouds were drifting in from the ocean and judging by the palms swaying, the wind had picked up as well. This was going to be a cracker! I knew both Pensar and Holden had a good shot at taking overall honours and it was going to be a showdown between those two teams, with the Apollo-VIS, Polygon and Specialized-Securitor teams likely to be in the mix as well. For me as an individual rider, it was going to be a matter of hanging on and to try and finish with the main peloton.
The start of stage 4, leaving the resort under neutral conditions. Photo: Jemma Brown (Facebook)
As soon as the neutral flag was dropped the race was on. Attacks were launched straight away but the field wouldn’t let anyone get away. There was a steep little climb early on and the bunch started to thin out already. I managed to get over the climbs without too much trouble, but wasn’t feeling as strong as I normally do when climbing. I was in the front bunch going over the first KOM but wasn’t expecting another climb so close after the first one. Lulled into a false sense of security, I decided to have something to eat and drink when all of a sudden the road was going up again. I nearly lost touch with the front bunch but fortunately, with a little grit and determination, made it back to the main bunch. There were some more attacks when we hit the flat sections but the bunch remained attentive and shut down any moves before they had a chance to develop into breakaways. Some more attacks were launched on the second KOM, mainly by Ruth and Miranda – both fighting to take out GC honours. Following the KOM was a wicked descent with a few hairpin turns, heaps of fun!
Then it was a super fast run home, reaching speeds over 55kph on the highway, helped along by a nice tailwind. The paved sections and many roundabouts on the road leading back to the resort created lots of gaps as riders prepared themselves for a hectic sprint finish at the resort. Ultimately it was Chloe McConville who outsprinted her competitors and Ruth Corset had done enough to take out the tour. I finished the stage in 14th place, only 10 seconds down on the winner. I placed 17th overall on GC, a good result for my very first NRS tour!
It was a weekend of both physical and mental stress, with plenty of ups and downs. Racing by yourself can be a little demotivating at times but I received many encouraging words from fellow competitors, friends and even complete strangers during and after the races for which I am very grateful (you know who you are).
I have also received a tonne of support from the best sponsor ever, Bicycle Riders Morningside and in particular from Simon Sirotti. Without his knowledge, expertise and patience I would not nearly be as comfortable and efficient on my bikes as I am today. Both my S-Works Amira and SHIV TT ran like absolute clockwork throughout the tour, not missing a beat over the rough and pot-holed country roads.
Simon lining up for the Stage 1 and giving us a bit of blue steel!
I’d also like to say a special thank you to my coach, Kim. She’s been instrumental in getting my fitness and confidence up to a national level.
And last but not least I’d like to thank my husband Andrew, who’s always there for me when I need him and who out-performed a thousand soigneurs during Battle, acting as my psychologist, chef, mechanic and chauffeur.
Till next time,
(*may be a slight overreaction)