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Y'all ready for this?

Three years ago I sat on a park bench at the Australian Institute of Sport with the national road coach Martin Barras who told me I wasn't ready to race overseas. I thought I was ready. I wasn't ready. I had been vying for selection in a development team that was a feeder into the AIS Road Program. The successful girls won a trip to race in Europe and I so desperately wanted a ticket.

On the AIS selection camp eight months later, Marv asked a room of hopeful female cyclists who was ready to race in the European peloton. I raised my hand. At that point I doubted myself. I wasn't quite sure I had come far enough in that eight months, or if I would cope in the international peloton. But if I didn't think I was ready, then what hope did I have of convincing the selectors that I was ready. Confidence was my only option. And I was full of confidence at that camp, until the point I was eliminated. I was sure I was among the best riders on the camp, but I still wasn't good enough in the selector’s eyes. I was devastated.

At the end of that camp, Marv politely told me to go to the track. In the two years that followed, I won medals at four Track World Cup events, across both the Individual and Team Pursuit, and was in the team that set the current Australian Record in the Team Pursuit. It was the best advice I had been given. I had been eliminated from the road camp because I couldn’t climb. And the truth was, I still wasn't ready.

This year I raced in Europe for the second time, and the first time under the guidance of Marv. In 2013 I spent five weeks with the Australian National Road Team, in mostly local kermesse and criterium events in the Netherlands. I recorded some top-10 results and finished every race I started. In 2014 I spent 10 weeks with the Australian National Road Team, in UCI ranked events including three Road World Cups. I recorded mostly DNFs and one win.

I felt strongest in my first race of the season, the GP Comune di Cornaredo in Italy. It was 11 laps of a technical 11 kilometre circuit. I didn’t finish. I had been asking myself "what happened?" It's also the question I was asked by both my parents and then my boyfriend who is also an elite cyclist. How do you make the final selection and then get dropped from that lead group?

My legs had not experienced that intensity or duration of racing in six months. My previous road race was the National Capital Tour in September. In those six months the longest race would have been a 25km Points Race at the Track Nationals in January.

I had worked hard – maybe too hard – in a small break of five riders for two laps, taking pressure off our team and leader. Had I been complacent? My job was not done. But I was of no assistance in the finale as I spent the penultimate lap skipping around dropped riders and bridging. And then repeating that until my legs could no longer take me to that last wheel in the bunch. With 14km to the finish I was pulled from the race.  A race official, and final car in the convoy, drove past and signalled across his throat. To clarify, he also verbalized the instructions "your race is done".  

I didn't understand that in Europe once you're out, you're out. I had never been dropped from the main bunch before. I was in the final 30, but would not record a time or place. Nor would I complete the full race distance. Of the 124 starters, only 24 finished. Chloe McConville was our best and only finisher in 15th. I was disappointed that I had left her isolated in the finish. The last thing I asked her with three laps to go was if she would like a hot tea. It was a rude introduction back to the European peloton and the beginning of a series of races I would not finish.

This is the Europe I had been warned about. Maybe I am still not ready? I spent most of my time dodging crashes. My text messages to loved ones back home often read, “Finished safely.” I felt it was a win if I survived and a bonus when all my skin was intact. In two trips to Europe, (and a side trip to China), I have returned to Australia with my skin in its original condition. This year I brought home a yellow jersey after winning the opening prologue at the Gracia Orlová in the Czech Republic. I’m also tied for the World Cup sprint jersey after winning both intermediate sprints in the Tour of Chongming Island World Cup last month. At some points during the trip, I had a very strong desire to become a roadie. But for now it’s back to track.

Rebecca Wiasak