March 20, 2009
I am writing this diary entry as the 2008-2009 Australian National series comes to a close.
My race results recently have been like riding a roller coaster. On the low side, I had a technical at the Australian Championships in Canberra that robbed me of the chance to race to the best of my abilities and therefore truly challenge for the Green and Gold jersey. On the high side, I have been able to show my strengths at both marathon and Olympic cross country racing formats.
Four short weeks after the frustrations of the Australian Championships, the Torq Nutrition crew was assembled at the picturesque seaside town of Apollo Bay, situated on one of the world’s best drives, The Great Ocean Road. This was my first marathon-style race, and I was taken by surprise that my pre-race nerves were greater than that for cross country events, even with no other expectations other than to finish. The 100km event started by the sea and climbed into the surrounding Otway ranges. The finish line was at a once thriving forestry town that is evolving into a mountain bike destination called simply enough, Forrest.
The elite women started half an hour before the main group to prevent any pacing from the men. This didn't seem to affect the pace, as it was game on from the gun. The cash prize for the KOM was only 8km from the start and this was clearly an early goal for some of the bunch. The intensity increased on the last pitch to the money, and as I did not want to sacrifice everything early, I had to let Bec Locke go in the final meters.
However the effort by Bec was enough to drag Jo Bennett (of Crocodile Trophy fame) and I away with her, causing quite a split in the main group. The three of us swapped the lead several times as we tested each other and worked out each other's strengths. Jo was particularly strong on the climbs and had me wondering if I would be able to make a difference on this hilly course (with 2,700m of climbing).
I found my strength on a fire trail climb as the first of the male leaders came through. It was a close tussle between Australian national cross country champion Chris Jongewaard and my teammate Dan McConnell. Seeing Dan in contention for the lead was a massive boost for my spirits and seemed to give me the extra speed I had been looking for to break away from Jo.
The course then reached Forrest, where there is the most amazing trail network. The race then passed through the feed and tech station to head out for a 22km relatively flat (compared to the first 65km) section.
My teammate Luke Fetch, son of photographer Tony, came past me on this section and advised me to conserve my energies here in order to have something left for the run home. However, that section felt the most difficult of all. I just felt like I was going slow. What surprised me after the race was that this section turned out to be the most selective of the course and proved to me that I now know if I am hurting, so are my competitors.
I passed through the feed zone for the last time. There, everyone was giving me different reports on the time gap to second place, so I knew not to let up and to keep trying to push though the last 13km. I got a reminder that the race is never over until you cross the line when, on the last sandy pitch less than 2km from the finish, my chain had dropped behind the cassette. I spent what seemed like forever untangling it, while praying that I wouldn't be overtaken.
It was with pleasant surprise and relief that I crossed the line as first woman. The race was extremely rewarding for me - being able to finish such a demanding race is something I would not have been able to complete, let alone win, a few years ago.
No rest for the wicked meant that we were flying to Hobart, Tasmania, the following Thursday night to prepare for the last round of the National Series. The course was similar to the last visit here in 2007, and it also gave me the opportunity to catch up with friends whom I rarely get to see.
I had high expectations for the weekend, as I was hoping to take over the national cross country series title since I was sitting just six points off the lead. I knew that I had the short track series covered, but it was the cross country title that I really wanted to help take a bit of the sting away from the disappointment of the Australian Championships.
Travelling with the Torq team is always extremely entertaining and the laughter created from a simple Ebay posting was enough not to let the pressure of the series get to me. The race was extremely satisfying as a strong group of us were of the front together early. Then the race turned into a tussle of two by two with Australian Champ Row Fry and I battling for the lead and my teammate Jo Wall fighting with the previous race winner Zoe King trying to bridge across.
It wasn't until the last lap that Row finally was able to establish the gap needed to take the win. The tactics of the race were good enough though to take me away from the series leader Jodie Willett and for me to take over the title. The afterglow of the series title win was still bright that night as I celebrated with the team, sipping some excellent local sparkling wine (a rarity for me!).
A successful domestic season has given me the confidence to attack the World Cup circuit at full force with the ultimate goal for the year of making the Australian team for a home World Championships in Canberra. But next up is Oceania (Continental) Champs in Thredbo this weekend.