To say that I was a little nervous would be a gross understatement. Yet on January 8, I still found myself signing on for the Australian National Road Race. With no expectations, but a lot of hopes, I started a race against the fastest in the country.
It all started out pretty benign, in September, when I undertook a training programme under Matt King, a former U23 National TT champ. At that stage, I was progressing rather quickly, although perhaps not from my strongest base, and Matt made the suggestion of entering road nats. Having very little confidence in myself, but happy with my improvements, I’d decided by early December that I’d give it a go. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Giro della Donna was a bit of a feeler event for road nats, and whilst it was no where near the same calibre, I expected the pace on the climbs to give me some indication of my form compared to others racing. Coming into that fondo well underdone, largely due to illness, I still managed to perform well enough to feel I could come good for January 8 with some more training.
I know that my result at nats was not outstanding. And I think I could do better if I raced it again next year. Having raced it once (some of it anyway), I’ve got a better idea of the physical preparation required to be more successful. My training up until nats had been solid – but it was difficult to tell if it would be enough, having little race experience coming into January. However, I think of more concern, something that will now be far easier, is the mental preparation.
I was a nervous wreck throughout most of December. Concentrating on anything else became quite difficult and I felt extremely selfish. And a lot of it was based around the more mundane aspects of the race – like making sure I had help in the feed zone, and being unsure about registering and when and how to warm up.
When I was 5 years old, I remember lining up for my first cross country running race. My older sisters were there and took me to the start against a lot of kids who would probably have been a year older. I don’t remember what I was scared of, exactly, but I was terrified and didn’t start that race. All the other kids ran off having a blast, whilst I watched on petrified. This time around it felt pretty similar, but I can recall going back to cross country running when I was 6, and the fun I had.
On Sunday morning, I got myself up, had a good breakfast and made my way up to the course. Fortunately an easy 5km roll from Kat and Rob’s place – friends who put me up for a couple of nights and came out to support on the day – I probably had it better than anyone else racing! In a side street of Buninyong, with the women’s road race buzzing around the course, I registered early for the elite men’s that afternoon, collecting race numbers and a transponder, with the Cycling Australia official noting that I’d come a long way to race. Whilst a lot of the professional riders may have recently travelled from Europe to contend the title, I would be the only entrant from the Northern Territory. Yes, I am Victorian born, and i’ve only been in the Territory a short time, but my racing has been concentrated in Darwin, and I’m glad to have “NT” listed next to my name.
At 11:30 or so, I’d signed on for the race. Some faces I recognised from Melbourne were signing on too, as well as all the faces you would regularly see in the World Tour races. I didn’t take a chance to talk to any of the pros – they all seemed so focused or were quietly talking to others – clearly out to make an impact on the race. But a few observations – Adam Hansen is larger than I expected, yet he still made that first climb look easy, and proved to be a good wheel to draft… I wished I’d stayed on it. Cam Meyer is exceptionally flexible and very attentive to the care of his bike – I stood in the shade behind him before the start as he carefully inspected his tyres. And many of the top riders were not afraid to start at the back of the pack and bully their way through to the front. Hansen, Meyer, Haas, Von Hoff, Gerrans and Ewan were all riders starting near the back with me.