Lights, Canberra, Action! The Canberra Junior Tour is one of the best junior tours in the country, and, as always, we had a fabulous time! With 27 entries in the Under 17 women’s category, including seven entries from New Zealand and a depth of field arriving from all the eastern states, it was impossible to pre-select who the favourites might be.
The first event was the race of truth, the time trial. Riders departed every 30 seconds for fifteen kilometers of maximum effort. Sarah‘s departure time was early in the event. She overtook a NSW friend early and then caught some time on a fellow Victorian, but it was impossible to judge how well she went compared to others who departed later. So we were very happy when the results came out with Sarah in third place, behind Claire from Queensland and a young Kiwi girl, Mckenzie.
The afternoon road race was 38 km long. Uliara Crossing involves a long, steep descent with an acute turn at the bottom onto a narrow dilapidated bridge. Dodgy in the best of conditions, everyone aims to be first in the pack, to avoid being caught up in another rider’s errors. But being first involves going fast, and that alone can bring a rider down. All the girls made it through safely, to start the huge ascent for the first Queen of the Mountain. QOM honours went to Claire, followed by a Kiwi rider. Then there was fresh air to a group of four, followed by Sarah in a group of five. Eventually these three groups rejoined, but split again at the next QOM on the return journey, this time with Claire emerging solo at the top of the long, steep hill. Claire worked alone to return victorious to the finish line, with a group of four Kiwis vying for second place, followed by Sarah in the third bunch, in eighth position.
At the end of Stage 2 Sarah was sitting fifth overall, only 20 seconds out from second overall, with Claire having over 50 seconds on the field.
Stage 3 on the Sunday involved a 52 km road race, through Uliara Crossing and beyond. Unlike Saturday, the weather was cold and wet. It was Canberra’s first rain in two months and the roads were slippery. Not good. One girl went down at the Crossing, and this time I was not in the lead car, but waiting, worried, (I knew there had been a crash) back at the stadium finish. After the first QOM, the Kiwis played their trump card and formed a wall across the road. They waited for Mckenzie, who had dropped off on the hill, to catch, allowed her through the wall, and then the peloton, including the yellow jersey holder, Claire,watched as Mckenzie and the lead car disappeared out of sight together. It was really difficult to get through the wall, but eventually Claire managed to get through. Sarah encouraged Claire to chase, as her yellow jersey was at risk, but every time Claire had a go, she was irritated by the NZ riders sitting on her wheel, and her chase would halt. Sarah’s goal was to hang on at every hill, and although she did drop off, she always managed to chase back on. Even when Sarah’s chain fell off and became jammed, with help required from a follow car driver, she again managed to chase back on.
Back at the stadium I watched Mckenzie come in two minutes ahead of the field. I was very relieved to see Sarah’s orange helmet appear over the rise at the top of the crit course. She was sitting eighth in an eight rider sprint for second place. Sarah’s friend, Alana, took out sprint honours and second place, with Sarah hot on her heels, contesting third, but missing it by a tyre width and picking up fourth place. A great effort!
The final stage was the Criterium. Wet. cold and slippery. I simply wanted all the girls upright! The commentator did not help, with Collarbone Corner brought to our attention each lap. After 25 minutes, there were two laps to go and Sarah was sitting at the back of the large field. A dangerous place to be..I had memories of her crashing at Road Nationals. Move forward I urged…Sarah never hears me, but she did exactly that, and somehow, with half a lap to go, she was leading the field. The leader of the field rarely wins the Crit, but, hey, it is the safest place, and exciting to watch as well! The girls came at her and she managed another photo finish for third place, but once again had to settle on fourth. A grand effort, and all riders upright!
The overall tour placings put Mckenzie first, followed by Claire, then another two Kiwi girls and Sarah in fifth place. Many thanks to Peter Blackshaw, who sponsor this great tour, and all the Canberra volunteers, who make this event such a racing highlight.