By Anthony Tan
Recently crowned Commonwealth Games road champion Natalie Bates found the going a little tough in last Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne, even though she said it didn't start off that way. "The first 50k was actually quite slow and quite steady, not much happening - that's why I was thinking, 'Oh, what's going to happen here?'" she recalled to Cyclingnews, shortly after crossing the line with countrywoman Kathy Watt for 43rd place and two and a half minutes behind an unbeatable Nicole Cooke.
"Then probably four climbs from the end, they started putting [on the pressure], I'm not sure who was being the most aggressive. Going onto the second last climb, it was quite amazing, Buitenpoort had the whole team on the front, the six of them going flat-stick before turning onto that second last climb [Côte de Ahin]. I went out the back at that point, so I can't tell you who drove it over the top, unfortunately... I don't even know who won!" she exclaimed.
When we told her, Bates said it was a 'very predictable podium' with T-Mobile's Judith Arndt taking second and Trixi Worrack from Equipe Nürnberger third. "It's the kind of climb that suits a certain kind of rider.
"That's the thing with Cooke - you can never underestimate anything that she's going to do. She's the kind of rider that can still have enough punch to get up a climb like this, she's not the kind of person who sits in and looks after herself all day - that's why she is so scary, she's capable of anything."
After her surprise victory in Melbourne almost one month ago, the 26 year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aussie from Sydney's west and sister of Australian road champion Katherine Bates says that it's been a bit of a whirlwind trip for her since landing in Europe five days before the women's Tour of Flanders, which marked the third round of the World Cup. "I got over here on the Wednesday after Comm Games and lined up for Flanders on the Sunday, which was a real shock to the system - I think [it was] the cold more than anything.
"But in saying that, this [Flèche Wallonne] is only my second big race; I did a race in Germany two weekends ago, which I won and that was nice, but much smaller race. I'm just getting the race legs back after a bit of downtime, so today was getting a bit of the cobwebs out."
But with Flanders and Flèche now behind her, the Aussie from AA-Drink Cycling Team is hoping today's fifth round of the women's World Cup in Switzerland, Berner-Rundfahrt (Tour de Berne), will see her back in the thick of the action. "I really like the course in Bern on Sunday, so I hope I can be a bit more use there," Bates grinned.