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by Verita Stewart
February 10, 2016
Photography by Tim Bardsley-Smith
WOMEN'S CYCLING BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORBEA
The Summer of Cycling in Australia is a jam-packed period of racing. We warm up with prestigious events such as the Cycling Victoria Tour of Bright and the Shimano SuperCrit in December in the hopes of finding peak fitness for the biggest month in Australian cycling: January. January is when it all happens — the Road National Championships, Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic series (Bay Crits), Santos Women’s Tour and Cadel’s Road Race — all in one month. This makes for a very exciting but long start to the racing season. It’s only February and we’ve raced two of the seven National Road Race Series events already!
This year the Santos Women’s Tour and Cadel’s Road Race were extra special as the events received a UCI status for the first time. With UCI points on offer, the races attracted pro teams such as Orica-AIS, Wiggle Honda, Hitec Products and Cyclance Pro Cycling. With a star-studded startlist, these races were bound to be raced at a higher level compared to the regular NRS peloton. As predicted, the addition of pro teams didn’t disappoint, with Orica-AIS showing dominance and taking the honours in both Cadel’s Road Race and the Santos Women’s Tour.
While the Summer of Cycling is an exciting time for racing, it also comes with complications for many riders. This is due to the fact that the majority of the NRS peloton are not full-time athletes and most women have full-time careers, study and/or family to juggle. Due to such a concentration of racing over this period, it can mean taking all of your annual leave for the year in January alone just to go away and race. Well, that’s been the case for me at least. In addition to work commitments, for the women in the NRS who have children and family commitments, the summer is a particularly tough time to spent time with the family while also trying to go for training and travel interstate to race.
To be competitive and enter this summer racing period in peak fitness, we need to make a fair amount of sacrifices, too. Whilst our family and friends are enjoying the Christmas period relaxing, and generally indulging in food and alcohol, many cyclists are in their peak training blocks. I know I was up early every morning to get my training in before the obligatory family celebrations. Then while my friends were celebrating New Years Eve, I was in bed at 9:30 p.m. ready to get up on New Year’s Day to drive eight hours to Geelong for the Bay Cycling Classic series. Not that I would change any of this in a heartbeat, but it is the reality of racing at this level.
I’d say most of us use Bay Crits as a bit of a fitness test, and to get some high quality intensity in the legs before the Road National Championships start. Bay Crits didn’t disappoint, they were the predictable smash fests as usual. Perfect for the racing we had coming up and good bunch experience and confidence builders. The Nationals was a great start to the year for my team, Specialized Women’s Racing. Not many would have predicted that we would nab one National jersey, let alone two. Sophie Mackay won the National Criterium Championship, and Jenelle Crooks won the U23 Road Race. Equally as impressive, Kate Perry came fourth in the Elite time trial, not far behind a podium full of professional cyclists. Nothing like setting the benchmark high early in the season.
At the completion of last season, most NRS teams would have made some roster changes. Changes in the team personnel mean the teams are fresh, still learning how to ride together and gel on the road. The intensity and demanding nature of the summer cycling calendar is also a good chance for the NRS teams to test some tactics, practice lead-outs, feeding from the car and generally find the team’s groove – that’s what we did anyway.
Racing with the pros is an experience to say the least. Not only do we have our legs smashed off by their strength and aggressive racing style, but we also learn a lot from them in terms of tactics and race dynamics. I used these races as an opportunity to observe how they move through the peloton, how they communicate, feed each other and ride together as a cohesive unit. Having the opportunity to race with them gives valuable experience to those NRS riders with aspirations of making it as a pro and heading overseas to race one day.
The summer of cycling is about having fun, and starting the season off with some competitive events. We reap the benefits of great weather, building our racing skills and fitness that will see us through the season. The NRS season has begun already, with most of the series aggregate points going to pro riders, it will be interesting to see the standings after Mersey Valley Tour in April.
While the pros have started their season and have headed back overseas, we are starting to set our sights on our next domestic events, returning to the routine of training, work, study and life off the bike. The NRS season has begun, bring it on!
The tagline to Verita Stewart’s personal blog reads: “Not a professional cyclist, yet” and it’s the “yet” that’s most telling. Verita is a Melbourne-based cyclist riding for Specialized Women’s Racing. She has quickly made the jump from commuting to recreational riding to racing.
She now juggles full-time work with full-time NRS racing. Verita is full of stories and smiles and snark – and will bring all three to you on Ella. Follow Verita on twitter and instagram and strava.