I have decided to concentrate more on Road Racing rather than Mountain Biking this year. To race at the National level with the best girls and teams in Australia means you have to be at your best come race day. For me, this meant I had to be 100% dedicated and focused on my training. Most of the national rounds consist of an individual Time Trial, 2 or 3 consecutive days of long road races, normally around 100kms or more, and a criterium race which is at very high intensity (30mins + 3 laps after the bell) around a 1km circuit.
Unable to race in the first round of the Women’s NRS in Tasmania, Round 2 was held on the Gold Coast in Tweed Heads. This race is known as the “Battle on the Border”.
We flew out of Newcastle on Friday afternoon – almost missing our plane (Michael’s fault). We arrived around 5pm and registered at the Mantra Hotel on Salt. We met up with some fellow Novocastrians who were doing the support races and had a tasty meal at a local Italian restaurant. Following the race briefing, we went back to our lovely accommodation (Cotton Beach – Casuarina) which was just a small walk to the beach to prepare for the following day.
The first day consisted of a 7.6km Individual Time Trial with me having an 8.20am start time. We left our accommodation at 6.20am, arriving at Murwillumbah Show Ground at 7am to allow a solid warm up on the rollers and also to sign on the big board (I felt like I was a pro at the Tour de France). It was quite warm and to be honest, I was pretty intimidated with all the girls in their teams and their TT bikes and aero helmets etc. Not having ever raced a Time Trial before, I just focused on what my coach had told me. I crossed the Start/Finish in 11mins.58secs, 1min.40secs down on the leader and 59th out of 67 starters so not too bad considering.
The first road race for the weekend was not long after the TT at 11.00am and started from Murwillumbah. It was a hilly 97km race (2 x laps of a 48.5km circuit). Not having ever raced at National level on the road before, I was extremely nervous. The line-up of 70 odd girls, mainly consisting of teams with 6 girls in each, made for a pretty intense start. There was a lot of fighting for position at the front of the peloton. A lead car and motorbike led us safely out of town under neutral conditions onto the open (but closed) road. At around 3kms, we were “released”. The pace picked up and there were attacks being made immediately at the front. I was positioned in the middle of the peloton with eyes peeled for any sudden movement. The pace soon steadied and I was feeling more comfortable, until around 15km in, a girl suddenly came in between myself and another girl on my right, brushing me and my handle bars. I moved to the left and she completely lost her balance hitting the deck hard and taking 3 other girls down while forcing me to crash on the grass. I got up frantically but not hurt and rode fast and hard with the 3 other girls back up to the main group. Petrified at this stage, I just decided to stay at the back of the peloton and get my confidence back. As we hit the hills I was climbing really well and passing a lot of girls. Quite a few riders were dropped and the descents were very fast and flowy. 76km/hr in fact. I began to feel more comfortable as we came in to town to start the 2nd and final lap. There were 2 more crashes within this lap, the worst one only 10km out from the Start/Finish which I narrowly avoided. Shaking my head I just wicked up the pace and got on the back of the main group finishing 28th.
Sunday’s road race started from Salt Park, only a 10 minute ride from our accommodation. We had more good weather and this race was 85kms (2 x laps of a 42.5km circuit). Unfortunately, I still felt really nervous going into this race after Saturday’s crash fest. Having to back up after a Time Trial and a 97km road race, I wondered how my legs would feel. The pace was not as frantic as Saturday and any attacks made were quickly shut down as we headed out into the scenic country side – it seemed no-one was getting away today. I found myself dropping off a bit on the climbs today and having to work very hard to get back on to the group on the descents. There was one section of road that was super bumpy and the down hills were quite technical with some hairpin corners (a lot of girls over shooting these corners). Again, a lot of girls had already been dropped. Approaching the 2nd lap I went to swap over my water bottles and to my horror, my second Drift water bottle (I need a new one Robbie & Josh) was not in the cage. NOooooo!. It must have popped out on the bumpy road section. I began to panic, wondering whether I would even finish the race with at least 40kms to go. As hard as I tried, I began to lose touch with the peloton. I was having an anxiety attack. Fortunately, a Suzuki Team car could see my distress, came up alongside me and filled up my water bottle. Being calmer now I absolutely stomped on it to bridge the gap. No sooner had I made contact, I was dropped again as we climbed the main hill. At this stage there were a number of women dropping off the back and I feared we would not be able to re-join the group. After crossing the top, I used all my mountain bike skills down the fast descent in hope of getting back on to the peloton. Myself and 3 other girls worked together, picking up about 10 other riders who had been spat out the back of the main group along the way. The pace was not fast enough for my liking so I drove it hard on the front for about 6km, finally reaching the main group with about 10km to go until the finish. I was pretty much cooked at this stage so I just made sure I stayed in the main group, crossing the line in 39th. I was happy with that considering at one stage Ithought I would not even make it to the finish.
After Sunday’s race I had climbed to 31st in the General Classification (GC). I knew I had to race well in the Crit on Monday to try and move further up or risk dropping down the standings. Even though I was exhausted going into this race, I felt nervous once again. Having only ever raced 2 crits I knew the pace was going to be intense at the least. I had a great position from the start but the pace was so fast, the girl in front of me began to drop the wheel in front of her. There were so many attacks off the front of the race which kept the speed of the 1st group very high and there was nothing I could do about it. Not having a lot of sleep Sunday night was definitely a contributor. I was in the hurt box and a hip injury I was carrying into this race was not helping. The group was split into about 5, me being in the 2nd group. The tempo allowed me to find a race rhythm, and I was starting to enjoy the sweeping, undulating circuit, entering and exiting corners a bit faster than the girls in my group. Unfortunately our pace was not enough and with a minute to go, they pulled us from the race, therefore finishing 3 minutes down on the leaders and coming in at 27th position. I was bitterly disappointed with my performance but knew I just didn’t have it in me today.
My General Classification at the end of the 3 days was 24th out of 67 riders and only 5min.55secs down on the leader. Not bad for my first National Road Race. In fact I’m ecstatic!
The experience was amazing and I have learnt a lot over the weekend, especially in the crit race. I will take this experience with me to my next NRS round – The Santos North Western Tour in June.
- Nicola Hogan