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Mersey Valley Tour

I tried my hardest to get left off the Suzuki-Bontrager team for the Mersey Valley Tour. I convinced our team manager that after a full track season and an enjoyable three weeks off the bike in February that I am still not a climber, would not be ready in time, and he’d be best placed to select another rider from our strong roster. I got a late call up into the team when one of our riders withdrew, so did a couple of rides in the hills, continued my pursuit training and polished the dust off my time trial bike which hadn’t been out of the garage since the Women’s Canberra Tour in July last year.

At the Mersey Valley Tour in 2012, I got pulled from the course on the Stage 3 road race at Sheffield. It was raining, cold, and my back wheel was slipping up the climb. I had done my job by delivering our climber to the Kimberley Fire Station climb in second wheel and from then it was race over. I collected some juniors who had crashed on the descent, caught up to some junior boys who had also got pulled from the race and together we all rode back into Sheffield having skipped the second lap. I guess the DNF is sometimes part of the life of a domestique and I feared that I might repeat that this year.

I can’t quite believe that I am about to say this, but the 2013 Mersey Valley Tour has just become my favourite – I loved the new courses and format, the racing was aggressive, fantastic organisation by race director David Walker and his team, nice to get a stage win, happy to be there for the climbs, and stoked to feature in the overall GC after failing to finish the Tour last year. It was also rewarding to see our under-19 girls ride so strongly for world junior selection.

I was really flattered to read on Peloton Café the night before the opening time trial in the Mersey Valley Tour Previewthat Lisa Jacobs had tipped me for the win. The pressure was on. I assumed that after a track season racing the individual pursuit, and almost 10 months since my last time trial race, that I would be overlooked for the in-form riders who had placed at the Australian Championships and Oceania Championships in the past few months. I counted eight to ten riders who could potentially win.

There was a nice write-up by Lucy Hinchey, photos by Mark Gunter and video highlights by Oliver West where my excitement at winning is evident and captured well. I had no expectations for the next two road races, though a couple of friends gave me the confidence I could retain the yellow jersey. Before the race I had joked that the Vie 13 yellow jersey would need to have super climbing powers woven into it for me to get around that course. I struggled up the Kimberley Fire Station climb, but was still there when the leaders crested the QOM. This was a new and unfamiliar experience. I enjoyed the group sitting up and taking the opportunity to eat and recover. I relaxed a bit too much. When VIS enforcer Chloe McConville bombed past after chasing back and quickly went after the solo breakaway with a couple of others, and then when Lisa Keeling attacked after her, I watched it all unfold. I chose not to go with the winning move, sat in and waited, hoping that the only other team that wasn’t represented, Polygon, would chase. They didn’t.

Together with two of my teammates, Laura Meadley and Emma Viotto, we began driving the chase. This meant that by the second time up the Kimberley climb I had used up all my super climbing powers and watched the mountain goats glide away. We ended up with a group of about eight, including a couple of juniors who were keen to get to the group up the road. We all swapped off and succeeded just in time for the final climb up Bridle Track Road.

I elected not to drive over the Sunday course with my team on the Thursday before the race. I tend to race one day and one tour at a time and from what I had heard, it was the hardest stage we would race in the NRS. I figured I’d hang on for as long as I could and hope that when I did get popped, that I would have some company for the pedal to the finish line. It turned out that my super powers stayed with me, despite not wearing yellow into the final stage. It was however nice to get back into the Suzuki-Bontrager colours for the final road race.

There were a couple of fruitless attacks from the Pensar team in the early stages of the race, which were shut down. The field mostly stayed together for the first half of the race, until some fast descents, which resulted in some nervous girls and a couple of crashes on the wet road. The field splintered on the descent into Gunns Plains and a small group of about 20 had formed by the base of the Gunns Plain climb. Photographer Mark Gunter posted a photo to twitter during the week of this climb which gave me an idea of what I’d be in for. I was fortunate to have Tassie local Amy Cure in my group, talking through and preparing us for the remaining climbs.

In the finale from Penguin to Ulverstone, I turned my head to look for some direction from our follow-car. The driver was signalling to go, so I went for it. The course retraced the return trip from the time trial on Friday so I knew I could keep it above 50km/hr and by then my group had lost a bit of motivation – though we were still working pretty hard. They let me slip off the front and I finished 12th, only a couple of minutes behind the winner Grace Sulzberger. Turns out we need to work on our sign language.

I am back in Canberra now for a day – to work, train, get a massage, and board another plane on Wednesday morning for the next round of the National Road Series – the Battle on the Border in the Tweed Valley.

Rebecca Wiasak