If you haven’t already, check out part one of Gracie’s world championships diary here.

The 2013 World Championship road race in Toscana promised to be tough and it definitely delivered. As the underdogs, we Aussies had to ride opportunistically and make the most of the bigger teams’ tactics as the race unfolded over the very difficult parcours.

We had a few cards to play and all of us did the best job we could on the day. Our leader Tiffany Cromwell had a stellar ride and was rewarded with a top 10 result. We have come away happy with our preparation and racing in the final race of the year.

My formula for feeling good on race day is a recovery day two days out — comprising a 1.5 hour easy ride — a pre-race-day drill ride the day before that includes some short hard efforts to get the body fired up, and a 20-minute spin on the rollers on the morning of the race. I felt better and better each time I got on my bike, and was confident I could give my all once the race commenced.

We began our 140km race in Montecatini Terme and had a good crowd to watch the teams sign on and be presented and to cheer us on as we rolled away. It felt like we sat on the start line for an eternity today! There was noticeably less chatter than at a usual race, and girls were leaving their bikes with teammates to make last minute toilet breaks as nerves were getting the better of them.

Our team was the fourth-ranked country to be called up so we were right near the front, which is a good way to start!

Once the whistle was blown, the bunch speed rose quickly as we snaked out of town. There was a short climb only 6km into the race and I made sure I was near the front in case anyone decided it was a good place to attack. There were no attacks or even slight surges in the bunch, and it was barely felt by most riders’ legs.

For the next 40km the road was almost dead straight and completely flat. The roads have all been freshly sealed in preparation for the racing so the bikes cruised along even faster. There was a slight but noticeable head wind, discouraging most riders from making any aggressive moves.

Lauren Kitchen and I remained at the front to ensure we didn’t miss anything. There were a handful of attacks but nothing was organised and everything was neutralised very quickly.

It was clear that the stronger nations wanted to wait and start the game once we hit the circuits in Florence. I made sure I was still near the front when we were 10km from hitting the finish line for the first time, as there were many corners and even come “clinkers” to navigate through the city. The bunch strung out a lot and it was an effort to stay up there.

I found Shara Gillow and took her to the front so she was safe and in good position before the start of the first main climb. I stayed up there with her as I knew I was going to need a bit of a head start once we started to go uphill. Cyclists affectionately call this “sandbagging”!

I grabbed a bidon in the narrow and hectic feed zone at the bottom and then tried to find my rhythm. Though I felt fresh and strong, my body was feeling a little bit heavy and once we began climbing I knew I was going to have to suffer.

The Americans had organised themselves before we hit the first lap of the hilly circuit and built the tempo as the 4km climb went on. I had drifted through the bunch and was just starting to feel the lactic burning at halfway. I breathed calmly but heavily and just tried to spin my legs and not over gear it.

I saw the 1km-to-the-top arch but I was really in trouble then. I looked around and there was no-one behind me! The pace increased again and I just couldn’t hang on. I had to watch the bunch of about 45 riders pull away from me.

Tiff, Carlee Taylor, Shara and Amanda “Spratty” Spratt were all still in the lead group. I was happy and relieved that they were all there, but definitely disappointed in myself for not being able to keep up. The team didn’t select me for my climbing abilities and I had done my job well leading into the circuits, but I still had some hope of hanging in there a little longer.

Once I crested the top of the first main climb, a big group caught me and I slipped in for the remainder of the race. We all knew there was no way we would ever see the lead group again. I decided that I would keep riding for as long as possible and enjoy the atmosphere. It is the last race of the season and the crowds were great, so I had nothing to lose in spending all of my energy.

My group was pulled out with one lap to go so I was able to stay around and watch the exciting finish. Spratty hadn’t quite made it over the first climb either and was in the group in front of me. Amy Cure had been unable to be in a good position and was with my group from lap 1. Lauren did a great job with the early work and her day was done once we hit the circuits.

Shara showed her climbing strengths early on but was unable to maintain the pace after the third of five laps. Carlee had one of her best days and was super valuable in helping Tiff once the serious attacks started. And Tiff, our own pocket-rocket, had an amazing day and not only matched the best riders in the world but had a crack at attacking herself.

Talking to the girls after the race we all agreed that even though it was a tough day we all really enjoyed the race and felt happy that we did the best we could as a team. We left everything out on the road. It was a great experience and we can learn from what we did well and from our mistakes. We had a really good vibe in the team and all supported each other on and off the bike.

Carlee was really happy with her day: “It’s a great feeling when you sacrifice yourself for a team mate. Tiff did a great job and I am really happy for her and also happy in myself for doing a good job too.”

Tiff was also grinning after her efforts and said:

“It was really hard, but I think we left it all out there. We had an impact on the race and I am proud of what we have achieved. You know you’ve given everything when you are sick after the finish! The atmosphere on the course was awesome and it was a great event.”

The atmosphere after the race was really nice too. We have the luxury of using the big and new (and now famous) GreenEDGE bus for before and after the racing. The men may be used to using it but we loved it!

The fans also had access to the team parking area and so there were many people walking around, making us feel a little bit famous, as well as asking for bidons, gloves and jerseys!

There were also plenty of familiar faces that I was happy to see and chat to, including my own family who have been holidaying over here and spending time with me. I was thrilled to have them see me in the biggest race of the year and I think they really enjoyed the whole event too. Having familiar and Aussie voices cheering you from the sidelines is awesome, so thank you all for that!

carlee

We are all content now to finish the season with nothing left in the tank. We had a nice dinner together after the race and ate a lot more dessert than mains! There is no racing left on the Elite Women’s calendar for this year, and the next season will begin in February 2014. Although the Aussies have to do it tough and begin on the first day of January!

All of us are beginning our breaks from training and racing and making our way back to Australia in the coming weeks. Most of us are heading back to our European bases tomorrow so will have to watch the men’s race on TV!

Thank you for sharing our journey and supporting us along the way. It really does mean a lot when we receive nice messages from home. I am already excited to start the next season of racing, but for now I will enjoy some time off and indulge in a few of my favourite things!

Arrivederci from Florence.

Click here to read the first part in the series. To read more of Gracie’s work, check out her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.