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Sarah Knights is a member of the Bikebug-Nextgen cycling team. Currently sidelined with a broken hand, Sarah embraced the opportunity to ride shotgun on a recent team training camp. Noticing several readers have asked for increased NRS coverage in the comments section, Sarah reached out and offered her services – putting together this piece for us out of her team’s camp.
Bikebug-Nextgen is a Melbourne based women’s NRS cycling team fielded by an eclectic bunch of courageous women. I say courageous as to ride at the level they do whilst persuing careers in their chosen fields takes a lot of courage and determination. This is not unique to the Bikebug-Nextgen team, as many of the women in the NRS field are in the same situation. But what makes this team unique when compared to the majority of NRS racing teams is that the entire team, bar one member, all live in the same city, giving the team opportunities to train with one another on a regular basis.
The Labour day long weekend in Victoria saw such an opportunity for the team to come together for some quality training in the picturesque surroundings of the Victorian Alps.
Arriving at the accommodation the night before, the team set about deciding what route they would take for the next days training. Whilst a large number of cyclists had converged on the area to complete the famed 3 Peaks Challenge, the team set off on some of the lesser travelled roads in the area. After some deliberation, the first route was chosen – from Smoko to Beechworth with the return via a beautiful climb up to Stanley, a tidy 160km ride.
I was relegated to the trainer for the weekend following a crash which had resulted in a broken hand. Not one to let much get in my way, I got up early, did my ergo session, then jumped in the car to support the team on their journey. It was an insight into what the life of a DS must be like on the road. I had riders throwing gloves, arm warmers, and sweaty vests at me through the car window (including one sweaty vest thrown in my face!).
The first 40km of the ride were rolling hills, on quiet country roads, a picture perfect backdrop on what had turned out to be a beautiful day. Turning away from the flatlands the team hit the bottom of the Stanley climb together, but soon separated as the road kept pitching upwards.
From where I was seated the Stanley climb looked challenging, especially for the non-climbers, some of whom were zigging and zagging up the long 10 percent section. It was on this climb I became aware of the climbing ability of one of the guest riders for the weekend, Prudence Rothwell’s sister, Jess. I was amazed to see that Jess was out climbing our specialist climbers.
Jess is a world class race walker who is gearing up for Olympic selection for Rio, joining the team for the weekend for a bit of cross training. Jess is an inspiring character, with huge drive, especially in the face of injury, of which she has her fair share of stories. At the moment Jess is hampered by a severe hamstring tear which will need surgery, not that she showed any sign of it on the climb.
Being driven runs in the Rothwell family, and Prudence has had her own mountains to climb. The Cadel Evans Road Race saw Pru involved in a dramatic crash less than 10km into the race, leaving her with a broken collarbone. Less than five weeks on and Pru is back, collarbone healed and eager to get her form back for the remainder of the NRS season.
The team got up and over the climb and despite being last up the hill (an honour usually going to myself), Pru was the first into Beechworth, and looked pretty excited to have the hills for the day behind her. The team headed straight to the famed Beechworth Bakery for some much needed refuelling. I had a chuckle as our DS Stu looked on longingly as I devoured a pepper steak pie in front of him. Apparently he can’t ride with a pie in his stomach?! I have never let that stop me from eating pies on rides before! But I’m sure Stu will make me pay for that once I get back riding on the road. I shudder at the thought of hill efforts.
Refuelled and content, the team continued on their way back to Smoko, happy in the knowledge that it was mostly flat to downhill for the majority of the ride back to base. Post-training it was time for some serious recovery, swimming at Joops Jetty in Harrietville, followed up by a feast of local freshwater trout for dinner.
The next day the team backed up the previous days ride with an ascent of Mt Buffalo. This particular climb is deceivingly difficult as it is quite long and relentless. As with the day before, the team broke up and rode their own tempo to the top. Jess rode support with Pru today, giving an interesting contrast on climber versus non-climber. You can see Jess in the picture, obviously finding the going incredibly easy, blowing a kiss to the camera, easy pedalling in the big dog, whilst Pru is small ringing it, out of the saddle, battling the mountain.
Watching the riders tackle this long climb I reflected on another inspiring member of the team, Liz Hall. Less than two years ago, Liz was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would be after going through such a harrowing time. Watching Liz in races, knowing what she has been through, you would not expect her to be consistently mixing it up in fields where the average rider would be 20 years younger. But she does, time and time again.
I set myself up at the top of the climb, experiencing the elation of achieving the short term goal of reaching the top of the mountain with each of the riders. And with that the ascent of Buffalo was done, there was nothing left but to descend and head back to base and back to reality.
As for the rest of the season, the team will line up for the second NRS race of the season, the Tour of Adelaide in April. We are a team with a lot of heart and we love to show it!
Claire Homsey (Manager)
Stuart McKenzie (DS)