It is a week after the Canberra Tour and I am still in the ‘should have, could have, would have’ mindset. Should I have gone with the attack at the top of Mt McDonald, could I have dug a bit deeper on the Three Sisters, would I have won my first tour if I were more experienced? I found it difficult retelling the race to family and friends last week. Those who were following my progress across the weekend were curious to learn what happened and how exactly did I lose a 94 second lead.
I started drafting this blog at 5:30am on Monday morning. I had been kept awake at night replaying the races in my head. There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ from the three-day, four stage event. But I hope that I will soon be able to move past all that and be happy that I took a stage win, a second, wore the leaders jersey for a day, and finished the tour on the podium. This time last year I was a triathlete and somehow convinced my coach to let me enter Womens B Grade. I won that and then somehow convinced my coach to let me switch sports. A year on I was only 16 seconds shy of another tour win in Womens A Grade.
I am not a climber so went into the tour with the sole goal of winning the time trial. I was a guest rider for Team Suzuki and with one of their star riders on a break from training we were left without an obvious GC rider. Our coach John Forrest decided we would wing it for a bit. We had some ideas but results in the first stage – a 50min criterium – would determine our plan for the weekend. With one lap remaining the experienced Bron Ryan took the lead and I found her wheel as planned. With 350m remaining she signalled for me to go left and I launched my sprint a little prematurely. I later learnt she just wanted me to sit on her left. Amateur. Despite gapping the field into the finish straight, I was passed on the line. With the generous time bonuses on offer I started day 2 second on GC with a 25sec buffer and only 5sec behind tour leader Loren Rowney.
Part of me wanted to be racing B Grade. Shorter races = fewer hills. I had to survive a challenging morning 110km road stage if I wanted to have a crack at the TT that afternoon. At one point during that race I asked a teammate if there was a time cut-off because I was struggling. In the months before the tour I suspected our coach wanted to kill us in the hills around Cotter and Uriarra. We had motor-paced every meter of road between Stromlo and Tidbinbilla and were well prepared for our home tour. I knew the hills I usually got dropped on during training, and had my fingers crossed that the bunch would stay together so I could have another crack at a sprint. I was second-wheel leading into the home straight but made the mistake of trying to take the inside line around the last bend. Meanwhile half the field went wide and I sprinted to seventh. Top-six were awarded time bonuses so I just missed out. This bumped me back to fifth on GC and with 20sec to pick up in the TT.
I had three other housemates racing so there was a bit of trash talking before and during the weekend. With two in Mens A and one in Mens C there were people coming and going and eating and resting at all times of the day. Housemate Ben Hill somehow convinced me to let him borrow my TT bike. This was dependent on the time gap being sufficient to let me get it back for my start. It was a nervous wait in the week before the tour for the start times to get posted. He was off at 3:10pm, which gave him 1hr23min to finish before I required my bike. Luckily for him I am a ‘W’ and right down the bottom of the list. He got 12th in the TT on my superfast Orbea Ordu and finished the tour in 8th so I will claim some of that. I picked up the 20sec required and rode a bit extra into my competitors to find myself in the very unfamiliar position of leader going into the final stage.
Team Suzuki had two cards to play in the final 80km road stage with junior Allison Rice second on GC and 54sec back. Every other team were over a minute down so we had a fair idea what their plan would be – attack and drop me. Before the race there were three points where I suspected it could be game over – Pierces Creek, Mt McDonald and the Three Sisters. They were all climbs and I knew if I got over with the bunch then there was a chance I could stay in white. We recruited NTID training partner Ailie McDonald to help keep everything together and she did a fantastic job in the first real break of the race.
I barely just survived over the first KOM at Pierces Creek. I was dagging off the back on the return trip up Mt McDonald. And then the attack happened and when Grace Sulzberger rode away I was poorly positioned and took too long to decide what to do. Only VIS rider Kendelle Hodges was prepared to go with it. Bundaberg Sugar rider Zoe Watters asked if we were committed to the chase. Hmm. Good question. I had hoped the bunch would just chase the pair down but once we got our act together, only four riders were prepared to drive the bunch so we made up little ground. I had spent myself in that chase and when we reached the first and hardest Sister I was really struggling. I thought that was it. The bunch rode away. The race convoy started to pass. But my coach decided I still had something to give. He yelled something from the window of our team car and I started to chase. It was a solo 10km time trial hoping that the bunch would catch Grace, and I would catch the bunch. Neither happened. But I had done enough harm minimisation to prevent anyone else jumping ahead of me on GC. Teammate Allison Rice rounded out the podium.
1 Grace Sulzberger 7:40:30
2 Rebecca Wiasak +00:16
3 Allison Rice +00:37
4 Gracie Elvin +00:39
5 Loren Rowney +00:44