Tour of King Valley Race Report

Riders: Bridget Bremner, Emma Chilton, Kirsty Deacon, Lizzie Stannard, Rebecca Stephens

Staff: Jessie Maclean (Director Sportif), Chris Dennis (Team Manager)

 

Friday August 31

Stage 1 – 1.6km Individual Time Trial

Getting warmed up for the ITT.

Getting warmed up for the ITT.

It’s days like this that you really question your sanity and life choices as a cyclist or cycling support staffer. Stage one could be summed as approximately two hours* of getting set up, kitted up, warmed up, psyched up, for a race effort lasting roughly two and a half minutes. And it was all done in pouring rain.

Everyone from the team got around the twisty 1.6km course in very wet conditions with no problems and we all sat around 15-20 seconds down from the stage winner, Ash Ankudinoff.

*Two and half hours if you decided to put Velotoze on.

 

Stage 2 – 30 Lap Criterium

Double stage days are always good fun, especially in the wet. All that lovely damp kit to peel off and then squeeze into a few hours later, delicious. The team decided to get out of the rain and spent the break between the prologue caffeinating and refuelling in Albury and then returned to the same course for the afternoon criterium.

Our race plan was pretty simple. We didn’t expect the course to be particularly selective given it was wide with gentle, sloping bends so we just wanted to get through with everyone in the lead bunch, with Emma given the choice to contest the final sprint if she felt good.

Getting stuck into the Stage 2 Criterium. Photo credit: Image Writer Jean-Pierre Photography.

Getting stuck into the Stage 2 Criterium. Photo credit: Image Writer Jean-Pierre Photography.

This race possibly looked a bit dull as a spectator. There were a few attacks, but nothing stuck for long at all and the pace was really only on in the laps leading into the final sprint and the intermediate sprint. The peloton ‘washing machine’ was set on high. With no one pushing the pace on the front, the wide-open course allowed for plenty of pushing up/getting washed back action and I found myself comprehensively caught up in the spin cycle for most of the race.

Luckily the rest of the team raced much smarter than me and Emma and Lizzie were well positioned in the final lap. A crash on the back straight brought a few riders down and slowed down anyone caught behind. Emma was in front of the split and was in the top ten wheels going into the final corner until another crash caused a small gap in the top 5 wheels and in the end Emma crossed the line in 14th place.

Saturday September 1

Stage 3 – 112.4km Road Race

The road race did not kick off for the NRS women until 1.00pm on Saturday so the team enjoyed a sleep-in and whiled away the morning at the team house drinking too many nervous coffees and eating a truly impressive amount of toast and bananas.

Everyone was pretty pumped for this stage. We’d had an excellent team meeting the night before where we’d studied the heck out of the course map and agreed that the race would probably only get properly spicy when we hit the first dirt section of the race. The key thing to know about this stage is that it has five sectors of unsealed dirt roads and two climbs, one of which occurs in a dirt sector.

So, you could look at it as a race in three parts. Part one is the first 28 odd kilometres and is pretty flat and uneventful. The second part is where all the fun stuff happens from kilometre 28 through to 80 - this is where all the dirt sectors appear as well as both climbs. Team manager, Chris, dubbed part two ‘The Excitement’* in the team meeting and term stuck. Part three was then the remaining 30 or so kilometres of flat, sealed roads on the run into the finish.

Our plan was to look after Lizzie and Emma in part one of the race and make sure we were all up the front when The Excitement started. We anticipated that Lizzie would make it over the long climb with the lead bunch and the rest of the team would slot into various chase groups behind depending on how fast we got over the main climb and would then assess the wisdom of burning energy to try and re-join the front of the race. Once we were through The Excitement our goal was to ensure Lizzie finished in the front group.

Some parts of the plan worked, and others definitely didn’t. At only 5km into the race, two riders went on the attack – Jemma Eastwood from Holden Gusto and Kate Perry from Specialized. We had agreed in our meeting not to get involved with any attacks that happened this early in the race. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. We got a time check just before The Excitement kicked off telling us that Kate and Gemma had built an eight-minute lead. I don’t think we were the only team in the peloton kicking ourselves at that point.

The Excitement lived up to its name. There was mud, gravel, rocks, pot holes, all sorts of fun. The whole team came through the first dirt sector unscathed and in contact with the peloton. The bunch was going over the first climb at a steady tempo when a touch of wheels in the group brought a couple of riders down. I had to stop and unclip about 500 metres from the crest as did Emma. It was a terrible time to get separated from the bunch – on the other side of the climb was a short, fast descent into a corner which then turned immediately into dirt and the longest climb of the race. Everyone delayed by the crash had to go full gas to re-join the peloton. I only caught onto the back of the main group about 500m into the climb and managed to hang in there until about 2km from the top.

As the top of the hill finally appeared I found myself in a little chase group that picked up team mate, Kirsty, and a few other riders as we descended the other side. We started rolling hard turns and, a few minutes later, spotted two riders just in front. One of them turned out to be Lizzie so, knowing we didn’t have any riders in the break or the lead group, we picked her up too and kept the pace up as we urgently needed to re-join the lead group of riders in order to keep Lizzie in contention for the stage, and the tour.

Kirsty, Lizzie, myself then worked with the other riders in the group and busted a gut to close the gap between us and the next group ahead on the road. This was probably the highlight of the stage really – it was some excellent team-work to be part of and the hard work paid off when we re-joined the lead bunch on the road with about 20km left to race.

Jemma and Kate were still off the front but we got word that they were only around two to three minutes ahead. The make-up of the lead group really hampered the chase effort from this point on. The entire Specialized team were present, as well as riders from Holden Gusto. The remainder of the bunch, including our team, couldn’t find either the will or the way to mount a consistent, coordinated chase effort to reel the breakaway back.

A few attack efforts were launched but it kept coming back together and before long we were hitting the final few kilometres of the race knowing for sure we were racing for third place. After a quick chat, Lizzie let us know she fancied a go at the sprint. With less than 1km to go, Kirsty launched a last-minute flyer into the final corner before the sprint. She didn’t get a gap but strung out the bunch and made the pace high in the wind-up for the sprint finish into the Sam Miranda winery. Lizzie managed 14th place, I rolled over in 20th and Kirsty was in 22nd.

Unfortunately our two other riders, Bridget and Emma, had a pretty ordinary day out with multiple punctures and mechanical issues ending their races early. Luckily, they were allocated finish times to match the last rider across the line and allowed to start the final stage.

*Referring to the toughest, gnarliest, part of the race as The Excitement totally tricked my brain into getting excited about it instead of worried about it. Thanks brain science!

Photo credit: Image Writer Jean-Pierre Photography.

Photo credit: Image Writer Jean-Pierre Photography.

Sunday September 2

Stage 4 – 92km road race

After a ripper team dinner on Saturday night where we joined forces with all the Vie13 KOM Financial Advice development girls who were racing the VRS events, we propped our eyes open for the final team tactics chat of the tour.

Emma was fired up after being foiled by mechanicals in the race that day. Lizzie was hopeful her climbing legs would make an appearance on Sunday so we built a race plan around these two youngsters of the team.

We didn’t want to watch the podium ride away up the road again so agreed the team workers (lead by Kirsty, assisted by me and Bridget) needed to be up the front and on patrol as soon as the flag dropped to ensure we were represented in every move that went. Emma and Lizzie would play it cool in the bunch but be ready to go hard on each of the three climbs of the day to make sure they stayed with the lead group over the hills.

The sun was shining for the first time all weekend when we rolled up at the Sam Miranda winery again ready to rumble on Sunday morning.

I think every other team had a similar chat to ours over dinner on Saturday night. No one wanted to let any moves go up the road on Sunday without having a rider in it. The attacks came thick and fast from the start all the way to the first climb but nothing was getting away, every attack was jumped on by half a dozen riders or more and no one could get any clear air. We hit the lower slopes of the first climb and the pace was kept at a solid tempo by the Specialized team on the front. Quite a few riders were dropped, but after the crest and the descent were done, the pace came off and many people were able to re-join.

A few more attacks were attempted before the second climb of the day, but nothing was sticking. The second climb was a short power climb but still steep enough to split the bunch. I couldn’t keep up the pace and found myself in a little chase group. Emma and Lizzie both stayed with the lead group of climbers and disappeared into the distance.

They filled us in later on what happened for the remainder of the race at the front. Grace Brown from Holden Gusto had launched an attack on climb two. She got away on her own and held off the lead chase group over the final climb and then all the way to the finish, a pretty impressive effort given she was being hunted by the entire Specialized team plus the remaining riders in that front group.

Lizzie was part of a three-rider group that tried to bridge across from the lead peloton to Grace, but they were reeled in by the bunch before the final climb and the group was altogether for a bunch sprint for second and third place about a minute after Grace reached the Sam Miranda winery to take first place.

Emma was ready to give the sprint a red hot go but found herself a little bit boxed in before the final turn into the winery gates but still pulled off 7th place which was a really encouraging result – plenty of good vibes to build on for better results at the next NRS event in less than two weeks, Amy’s Otway Tour!

Last but not least, Vie13 KOM Financial Advice Racing Team had two members racing the NRS event as individuals. Kerry Jonker was brought down in a crash in the criterium and couldn’t keep racing – she’s back on the bike now though! Maddy Beevors ticked off her first NRS tour and came through the experience physically unscathed. The team also had a number of riders racing the VRS road races and had some excellent results in Women’s B Grade. Saffron Button, Amber Collins, Alice Debney, Ally Durr, EJ Macdonald, and Rebecca Thomson enjoyed some great road racing across the weekend and Ally Durr took the win in the Sunday road race! Exciting times ahead.

Race report by Rebecca Stephens. Words and images subject to copyright.