Peta Mullens headlines a five-rider Hagens Berman Supermint squad at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic that began on Sunday in Geelong. While the 28-year-old missed out on the podium, coming in fifth place, she was a constant figure at the front of the peloton in the action-packed second half of the 45-minute criterium.
"I live for this race," Mullens told Cyclingnews. "This is my favourite race of the year."
A five-time elite mountain bike national champion, Mullens has committed to racing a full road season in the United States with American-registered Hagens Berman Supermint squad. She's no stranger to UCI road teams, having been on contract with Wiggle Honda in 2014-2015, but has fully focused on the road. Her team's decision to kick-start their season with the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic, Santos Women's Tour and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race provides Mullens with a mix of the usual and the unknown.
"I'm not the only new person on the team, and we're all at very different points in our season," said Mullens. "For me, obviously I'm preparing for nationals. For the girls, they're just kicked off their season very, very early, but I think it's a good bonding experience for the team."
"It's nice to come out here when there is no pressure on anyone," she added. "We have a good time. For me, it's nice. I feel like I'm at home while in a new environment."
Two years ago, Peta Mullens won arguably the hardest day of racing at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic, soloing to victory in Portarlington. Exactly one week later, she earned her first national road title. Mullens is hoping to parlay a criterium series season start into green and gold glory once again.
"Bay Crits for me is all about a hard hit-out before Nationals," confirmed Mullens. "It's a stepping stone in that process, and it's been one every year for the last 12 years for me."
"That's what I train for every year," said Mullens. "I prepare really hard every November and December. It's tough. There are 70 girls on the start line and 10 of them from Orica-Scott, so the numbers aren't in my favour, but I've won before, and I'm confident I can win again."
Mullens may have a bit more at stake than her teammates this week, but she's not the only one chasing goals. She calls the three-day race series the perfect setting for the team to work on non-results based objectives.
"We love to go to races to win, but there are goals we can set at this part of the season," Mullens said. "We can learn each other's strengths and weakness, learn how to communicate with each other on the bike, things like that. It's nice to get those steps out of the way early in shorter and smaller races rather than UCI races when we head back to America."
Although Mullens was the most visible Hagens Berman Supermint rider during the second half of the race around Richie Boulevard, her teammates made their presence felt. Liza Rachetto led the peloton across the start/finish line more times than any other rider in the field and earned the most aggressive jersey for her effort.
"I was impressed with what I saw today," said team director Jono Coulter. "You know the Europeans and Americans can come here and not do well at all. I was apprehensive bringing the team out. Beth Ann [Orton] was in the snow in Oregon only four days ago."
"I'm happy that they came here with more form than I thought," Coulter added. "They animated the front part of the race. Liza is just off doing Ironman and was able to get most aggressive, and Peta is always dependable, no matter the situation."