J11, J13, J15, J17… NRS?!

Some warned me it would be fast, others warned me there would be a lot of yelling, but no one warned me how FUN it would be! My first senior road tour was a blast!

The tour was located in East Gippsland, and although I’ve heard some bad weather stories over the past few years, this time, the weather was perfect! Funnily enough, the last time I visited this part of Victoria was ten years ago, also for a cycling event – the Great Victorian Bike Ride back when I was six!

I lined up for my time trial at 8:25am, well warmed up and very excited. Apart from the fancy start ramp, lack of TT bars, and the disc wheels wherever I looked, it almost seemed like just another junior tour! The course was great – lumpy but still fast. I gave it my all to finish 29th out of 40 riders, 72 seconds off the winner and just 20 seconds outside the top 15! I was happy to achieve my original goal of not finishing in the bottom 5, and to have a benchmark to strive for during the rest of the tour.

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Saturday’s 8km time trial. Photo: Phoenix Cycling Collective

It all became a bit more REAL when I lined up for the 72 kilometre road race a few hours later. It was awesome to be part of such a great field, with riders coming from all across Australia! But I knew this stage was going to be a tough one, as it was my first ride, let alone race, over 60 kilometres since I had glandular fever last month. It was also a little scary being the only Under 19 rider! I wasn’t racing any of my usual competitors, and I just had to hope muscle memory and mental toughness would kick in for the last part of the race!

We started out on a long downhill, the field spread out wide across the whole road. This race was already very different to any I had done before, with riders bringing their teammates to the front and attacks appearing as soon as we left the neutral zone! Apart from the impressive breakaway duo of Taryn Heather (Specialized Women’s Racing) and Jade Colligan (Nowra Velo), the bunch stayed relatively calm and remained together. The real challenge came when we left the 18 kilometre circuit and headed home, via the 900 metre Stones Hill. At an average gradient of eight percent, the hill did its job in sorting out who had legs left and who didn’t. Over the top emerged five hillclimbers, led by Lucy Kennedy of the High5 Dream Team. I managed to stick with the second group of six riders, which was a nice surprise! We were soon caught by another group and together, we worked hard to catch the girls in front.

The finish came after a long uphill drag followed by a left-hand turn into a sharp climb. We had caught the leaders and I was feeling surprisingly good as the ‘3km to go’ sign came into view. I was just wondering how to move up to the front and into a good position for the sprint when another individual rider, Margeaux Thompson, kindly offered to show me the ropes and drag me up! It turned out to be great timing – as soon as we reached the front, there was an attack! I managed to follow it, and although we were swallowed up soon after, it felt awesome to be off the front with only 1.5 kilometres to go! Unfortunately, my race plan came crashing down when I resumed my position in the pack. A touch of wheels directly in front of me meant that I had nowhere to go, and so I hit the crashed bike and flipped over my handlebars. This was the same way in which I separated my shoulder two months ago, so as I was ‘mid-flight’, I was definitely expecting the worst! Luckily, my physio exercises must have paid off, since I only ended up with a few bruises and could finish the race, claiming bunch time. The sprint continued without me, and as I pedalled up the road, I saw the dominant Holden Women’s Cycling’s Shannon Malseed take out the sprint ahead of Ruth Corset (Rush Women’s Cycling) and Jessica Pratt (High5 Dream Team).

Today, I was feeling more confident. I had stayed with the bunch the day before and surprisingly, the crash actually helped me to overcome my nerves by giving me my sense of immunity back! Not every time you crash do you break something, so it was onto my next goal – attack!

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The start of the road race. Photo: Phoenix Cycling Collective

I attacked three times, but unfortunately I only had breakaway companions once, and when I did, we were chased down quickly. After 46 kilometres, on the third and final lap, the pace increased and the tempo stayed high all the way up until the sharp final pinch. High5 Dream Team took out the 1-2, with Sam de Riter edging out her teammate Lucy Kennedy, followed by Rush rider Ruth Corset. I followed through with the remainder of the bunch, spent but upright!

It turns out that the key to NRS General Classification success is to be great at time trials, as there are no time bonuses at stake. Louisa Lobigs held onto her 2 second lead from Stage 1 to win the tour, over teammate Shannon Malseed. Wonder-Mum Ruth Corset was hot on their heels – she’ll be one to look out for come the next round of the NRS! Great job to everyone who raced this weekend, and a big thank you to my selfless mum and brother for all of the support, as well as to the commissaires and volunteers (especially First Aid!) You were all awesome! Next up, Tour of Mansfield and the famous Mt Buller climb!

View the full results here.

– Sarah Gigante

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The leaders of the NRS after Round 1. Photo and feature image: Ernesto Arriagada
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