While the rest of the world is still freezing, summer is in full swing here down under as the 2011 season gets underway. I can’t believe that we are already at the end of January. It was such a busy month of racing, training and, of course, socializing in Australia.
New Years Day many of the top Australian riders and a number of internationals embarked on a journey to Victoria for the Jayco Bay Criterium series. Herald as the fastest criterium series in the world, the 4-day series is always a great way to feel the lungs burn and get some early season racing into the legs.
2011 was my 7th time racing the series currently in its 22nd edition. Although in the past I have had strong results, I had never managed to step on the top step of the podium. This year was different. I have always liked to describe the bay crits as a big training camp. Many people use the early season racing for training and incorporate training rides or café cruises in the morning before the race. There is always plenty of time to catch up with people and go out for lots of dinners; it really is a fun week.
I was once again fronting up on the start line with the Honda Dream Team. We started the series strongly winning the first stage with Rochelle Gilmore in the Geelong botanic gardens, a good little course with a power climb around the back and a fast finish. Peta Mullens had also taken hold of the sprint classification jersey so we were looking good.
Day 2 we headed around the bay a bit to the town of Portarlington. Portarlington is probably the toughest course of the series as it is fast, technical and you are either climbing or descending. This year we had an added obstacle of 100m of narrow footpath, which at first looked like it was going to turn into a crash fest, but surprisingly ended up being ok. I missed the team meeting the day before as I was out catching up with a friend for coffee, but when I returned I was told I was up - they wanted me to go for the win. Normally I’m the domestique of the team so when I was given the opportunity I took it and went for it. Slightly ambitious I attacked after about 4 laps of racing and managed to get a gap and charged away. During the time up the road I had a maximum of 2 others join me, but managed to flick them and ride away solo in the last 15 minutes of the race. Since I nearly lapped the field I had plenty of time to enjoy the win, and at the same time I took over the lead in the sprint classification. It only took 7 years to stitch up a win, but it was nice and a great way to start the season and put the confidence back up.
Stage 3 was back in Geelong, an evening race along the waterfront on a hotdog circuit where we continued our winning streak. It was a really exciting and hard race as it was on all day. The other teams tried to throw everything at us to put us on the back foot, but we worked hard to always stay in a winning position. In the end we organized ourselves for a perfect lead out delivering Gilmore to the line for the win with Mullens holding on for 3rd. With Gilmore still in yellow and unbeatable for the overall title heading into the final day, things were looking good.
Stage 4 was back towards Melbourne in the bayside town of Williamstown. I rode down there from Geelong with the boys along the highway, probably one of the scariest rides you’ll do, and if you don’t get a puncture, consider yourself lucky. The race itself was a pretty uneventful one, as many were resting up for the national titles starting the following day. The last part of the race things began to heat up, but the stage was once again set for a bunch kick. German Judith Arndt caused upset to our winning streak as she took advantage of the short finishing straight coming out of the final corner first narrowly holding on to take the win from Gilmore.
We still came out on top for the second year in a row with the Honda Dream Team. We claimed the team’s classification, took all the jerseys with myself claiming the sprint, which is always a laugh as I am far from a sprinter, but it was just a great 4 days of racing.
The racing continued as I headed to Ballarat for the Australian national road titles, so early in the season, but the only time we can really fit them in. The criterium and time trial for me wasn’t much to write home about, but the road race was the one I came here to have a crack at and had a good old go at it.
The course is tough 10 laps of a 10km circuit where you climb about 3km to come across the top, and have a fast descent – then, before you know it you’re doing it all again. It’s a race of attrition and normally stinking hot, but this year the weather was kinder to us. A big and quality field had assembled this year and I was pretty keen for a hard race. In the past it has been quite a negative race due to the nature of the course and the conditions. Lap 3 was when the decisive move was made. A group of 8 of us went up the road and it put pressure on some of the girls behind to come across earlier than what they normally would. Our time gap grew over a few laps before it slowly came back down as we hit the business end of the race. Coming into the final lap there were 6 of us remaining with almost all of the favourites in the lead group. It was a cat and mouse game up the climb on who was to attack first, with the decision of do I go early and risk blowing and getting piped or do I wait and hope to hold them off over the top to the finish. Mid climb the attacks came, I managed to go with a few of them, but just before the top two others and myself fell off the pace. I couldn’t let the race go that easily, so I put my head down and tried to make it back to the front of the race. Lucky for me they weren’t working well together up front, so I managed to time trial back on, and hoping to catch them by surprise, I attacked straight past them with about 3km to go. Unfortunately, they were almost immediately onto me. The stage was set for a bunch kick, for me it was probably the most difficult sprint I have ever had to do. We were all similar sprinting abilities and the wind had changed from a tail wind at the start of the race to a head wind for the finish. What wheel should I take? Do I go early or late? All these questions were running through my head. In the end I stuffed up - I took Arndt’s wheel, but then got boxed in either side, and when the sprint began, I couldn’t get out and my hopes of becoming a national champion were over for this year as Alexis Rhodes took the win. Every year I get a bit closer so maybe next year I can pull it off. It has been a great start to the season and hopefully the start of a good year with my new Belgium-based Lotto Honda Team.