I struggled to get to terms with my performance in Stage 1. The Tour of Bright 2008 will remain in my memory as the great battle with my mind. Or should I call it: My head – my biggest enemy?
I went through all stages of emotions from denial via frustration and anger to eventual acceptance: I’m not a climber.
Stage 1: Ovens – Rosewhite Gap – Tawonga Gap – 79 km (49 Miles)
I was calm and collected at the start. There were no nerves this time. I had slept well the night before.
View over Bright from our holiday unit
The first twenty undulating kilometres were uneventful as everybody just rolled through at a steady pace. This was expected so I mostly sat in and only once I hit the front of the bunch of 25 girls. I wanted to conserve my energy for Rosewhite Gap, the first climb of about 4 km length. My goal was to not get dropped on the very first climb of the Tour, like I had two years ago.
Two kilometres into the climb and my goal looked achievable. The pace was steady, on the upper end of what I was able to sustain but I was hanging on. However, this changed quickly as the front girls upped the pace a notch or two and before I knew it I was hitting the red zone and started loosing the wheels in front of me. It was the most frustrating experience. I looked up and saw the bunch splitting into two groups. I was just dangling off the back of the second group and worked hard to try and close the gap. All I achieved was keeping the same distance. I went over the top with two girls in sight and started flying down the mountain the other side. Big chain ring and pedalling through wide swooping bends and every time I came around the next corner I was expecting to see the other girls but only encountered empty road. Hitting over 50 km/h I didn’t dare pushing my luck any further on an open road (not closed for oncoming traffic) and a descent that I didn’t know.
Coming down the last kilometre of the descent the open valley allowed wide views, overlooking long stretches of road and I could make out two coloured dots in the distance that were the girls I was chasing. They were at least a kilometre ahead of me. The leading group had disappeared. I looked back and saw girls a long way back. I didn’t want to wait for them and I didn’t want to waste energy riding 30 km into the crosswind all by myself before reaching the bottom of the second, longer and steeper climb: Tawonga Gap.
In fact I didn’t want to ride anymore at all. All I wanted to do was throw in the towel, hang up my bike for good, and stop cycling altogether. I was done with it, completely over it. I had enough. Taking up competitive knitting sounded like a good alternative. For a few kilometres I was fighting the urge of just climbing off my bike and abandoning the tour there and then. I was so disappointed that my goal of a top ten finish had burst like a soap bubble. I knew I was in 19th place on the road.
After a few more kilometres of feeling angry with myself for not having tried harder on the climb, I finally decided that there wasn’t much point in being upset and that I should start focussing on the task at hand. Right! The girls were still about the same distance ahead of me. I wasn’t closing in but they weren’t getting away from me either. Looking back, there was nobody. I was travelling at about 32 km/h. OK. To catch them I had to go faster than them. I increased the speed to 35 km/h. That wasn’t feeling too bad. I tucked down into a time trial position, hands on the hoods. 36 km/h, 38 km/h – it felt ok. I actually started feeling pretty good. I looked up and there they were, only some 50 m ahead of me. I had bridged the gap without even giving my brain another chance to get all negative.
The three of us started working together and kept an even pace all the way through the valley, sharing the work on the front. Nothing was said. We hardly even looked at each other. Kilometer after solemn kilometer flew pass and I started looking out for the feed zone as my sports drink in my bottles tasted too sweet and I was dying to water it down.
That was probably a mistake as I took extra weight on board just before the climb. The second climb of the day started out well. I stayed with the other two girls for a long time and only when one put the pressure on a little, the other girl and I cracked. I reached the top again with both girls in sight and I was happy with my effort even though I hadn’t been able to stay with them. I lost sight of them on the downhill again and finished the stage in 19th place, some 20 minutes behind the winner.
Stage 2: Individual Time Trial – 15 km (9.3 Miles)
Stage racing is all about recovery and I didn’t have much time. I had a mere three hours between the finish of Stage One and my start time. So back to the holiday unit, quick shower, into the compression tights, eat and drink heaps, mount TT bars onto the handlebar and it was already time for a good warm up.
I felt tired and worn. My mind once again was resisting putting my body through the pain and the first ten minutes on the wind trainer felt like I was trying to force two wooden legs into performing some sort of circular motion.
The timing however was almost perfect. I had five minutes to spare when I arrived at the start area, not more than that. My head finally cooperated and when I rolled down the start ramp there was no hesitation. I clicked through the gears, settled into the time trial position and just rode. The legs felt stiff on the uphills but I was closing in on my 40 second lead (the 20 second girl hadn’t shown up). I felt comfortable using the bars despite the fact that I had not trained with them, hardly used them in the past 12 months and there was a strong cross wind. I passed three girls, which felt great, and got overtaken by three, which felt crap. I was happy with my time of 28:19 minutes, which gave me 17th place. Not quite smoking but not a bad result with 100 km already in my legs.
With the focus back on recovery for the rest of the day I was still struggling with feelings of disappointment and failure. Bruce must have noticed that I was feeling down and he pointed out to me that the Tour of Bright is one of toughest races on Australia’s amateur cycling calendar, if not even the toughest.
Later that afternoon Mick and I went down to the club house to check out the results. I was surprised to find out that the winner of my grade had finished Stage One some six minutes faster than the winner of Women A. In fact, the first four or five girls in my race would have taken place 1-5 in the supposedly faster A-Grade race. Go figure! I overheard a woman at the club house saying that some girls had attacked and gone unusually hard on Rosewhite Gap.
However, I really only made peace with this year’s tour when I was standing on top of Mt Hotham the next day.
Conclusion: Maybe there wasn’t anything wrong with my performance but rather with my goal?