Stage One – Sprint Points
The reason I never mentioned sprint points in the Tour of Bright is simple: Never before have I been there to contest the sprints! Rosewhite Gap, the first climb in Stage One, always sent me backwards and prevented me from being with the leading group.
This year, when after the lull of Kiawa Valley our leading group of ten approached the Tawonga grocery store and life came into our little bunch, I chased. Of course, I regretted the effort a few kilometres later on the ultimate climb of the day, Tawonga Gap, but I collected four points for second place and when the other girls caught up to us and I heard friendly teasing shouts from behind “Come on you sprinters. Get on with it!” I smiled. Who would have thought I am a sprinter? I guess the one-eyed is king amongst the blind so I can be a sprinter amongst climbers and just being mentioned in the green jersey competition was worth the fun.
Now, from memory Tawonga Gap is incredibly steep and long. Tough! A struggle! Really painful! Grinding! Slow!
They must have flattened the road a little since last year’s tour. Already Rosewhite Gap had been kinda easy, and once again I found my rhythm and was actually making my way up. The really skinny girls were further up the road and went on with the business of climbing this 7.5 km but I kept two girls in sight.
I loved watching the other girls climbing, their cadence much higher than mine and somehow more effortless than me but I was actually climbing, too!
My legs hardly ever cramp and of all the things I had feared, considered and prepared for – crashing, bonking, dehydrating, giving up mentally – cramping hadn’t even entered my mind but exactly that happened with three kilometres to the top of Tawonga Gap. I was able to keep pedalling but in great fear of the quads, hamstrings and calf muscles ceasing up completely. Even descending the other side my muscles kept contracting painfully and when two girls overtook me on the downhill I tried to jump on their wheels but all I could do was nurse my legs to the finish line, trying not to cause muscle damage and live to fight another day, or in this case another stage that was only a few hours away. I finished Stage One in tenth place.
Stage Two – Tough going
The best recovery techniques in the world wouldn’t have helped with my lack of motivation in the afternoon. I can’t even exactly describe this feeling of bone squashing soreness and nauseating tiredness and only my brain kept my listless body moving. Somehow I managed to shower, squeeze into compression tights, eat and drink, mount the time trial bars and change the wheels (I decided to race my Corima Aero wheels in the time trial rather than Alberto’s Zipp 303 that are better suited for climbing), everything in very slow motion, and then I lied on my bed unable to move and too exhausted to sleep. Forty minutes before my start and I needed to get moving – dress, get on my bike, warm up and race at threshold for about 30 minutes. The thought made me feel sick. I hadn’t recovered a bit.
I told Alberto that I couldn’t do it. He shooed me into action, simply ignoring my complaints. My body and brain responded like it had done so many times at 4:30AM in the past couple of months and almost on auto-pilot I found myself on my bike.
There was also an additional saddle sore problem that made it almost impossible to sit down.
I saw Alberto’s disapproving face.
What a whiner, I thought to myself.
I knew I wasn’t helping myself by putting up so much inner resistance.
I knew I had to step up and get out and race this damn time trial as hard as I could and that’s what I did.
27:42 min and 8th place, 37 seconds faster than last year! I remained in 10th place in the general classification.
Stage Three – “You look like you’re enjoying this”
There was a lot of talk about sprinting that night in our holiday apartment. Everybody had an opinion and advice on my race plan for the last stage but in one thing they all agreed: “Go for the Green Jersey!”
The big shed in Smoko (close by is also Freyburgh and Germantown) marked the first sprint and I was positioned perfectly. I saw the little yellow 500 m sign flying pass from the corner of my eye and I was winding, winding, winding … and went … too early. Sue won and thanked me later for the lead out. “I drink red” I yelled out to her when she passed me the next time in the rolling paceline but I don’t think she heard me. With her two points for third place the previous day she was now sitting on eight points. I had eight kilometres to calculate that only a win in the last sprint could see me wearing the Green Jersey at the end of the day and only if Sue did not place in that sprint at all. Slim chances! Sue looked determined to fight and there was a long 30 km climb just about to start so reason won and I saved my legs. Sue went on to win the sprint in Harrietville, which I thought was an outstanding effort.
I went on to climb Mt Hotham. I thought I’d be nervous. I wasn’t. I thought I’d be one of the last girls to get up this beautiful mountain like last year. I wasn’t. The white-haired commissaire called out from his car window that I looked like I was enjoying this. I was.
I felt great. I loved every moment. I had my rhythm. I climbed.
The bunch had strung out as soon as the climb had started. Just as I had anticipated. I counted six girls ahead of me, an exhilarating thought to be seventh on the road. It didn’t matter that I lost sight of the leading girls before the first KOM at the MEG.
I started battling cramps again but strangely not even that worried me.
All that mattered was that I was climbing this mountain that inspired awe whenever I had mentioned the Tour of Bright to friends and colleagues and cyclists in the lead up.
And I loved it.
Some might think I didn’t go hard enough.
I caught up to the girl ahead of me – Erica, she introduced herself – and another girl, Beth, from the B-Grade bunch. Erica, Beth and I swapt turns and kept each other company to the National Park toll booths where the real fun began.
The steepening road didn’t hurt as much as I remembered from last year. Muscles were cramping but I managed by changing my pedalling style and if it wasn’t for the cramps I felt amazingly strong. I was conquering CRB Hill, that 10% monster within the climb and my speed merely dropped below ten kilometres per hour. Darn right, the most humiliating moment of last year’s race and here I thought to myself: “Bring it on. I’m not scared.”
The last two kilometres the road kicks up to a crescendo 9.2% and that was the only time I feared my legs would betray me and let me down by ceasing up completely and forcing me stop. I could pedal but I couldn’t put any more power out to accelerate. Erica slowly pulled away and I had to let her go. So strong before and now there was nothing I could do.
But not even that really bothered me. I was fascinated by the views and my metamorphosis into this new positive me and when I rolled over the finishing line I thought to myself “Maybe I will get the hang of this thing that is climbing.”
It took 2:42 hours, eleven minutes faster than last year. 7th place.
I hadn’t dared to hope for a top ten finish. Truth is that I had lined up with no expectations at all. To finish in 8th place in the general classification is just an overwhelming result after the year I had and AMR and I started making plans for 2010 within hours of crossing that finishing line on top of Mt Hotham.
I deeply hope that AMR will toe the starting line with me then and with great expectations, too.