Following my return to cycling in early December, I decided I needed a training goal. Not one to go small, I looked into the Grafton to Inverell cycle classic, scheduled for May 7th.
This is a race with a long history, in recent years women haven't been allowed to compete in the full event and have had a separate and much shorter race. However this all changed last year and women were allowed to enter the full 228km even which starts as sea level in Grafton before climbing up the dividing range (Gibraltar range) to a height of almost 1200m and continue over the New England tablelands to Inverell.
|G2I race elevation profile|
So I entered, and kept it pretty quiet initially. My training was mostly solo, others who were training for the event were racing A or B grade and while we were riding similar distances the average pace on their rides was too intimidating.
|Nothing beats a perfect day up the Buff|
Tim came back from Seattle in early April and I dragged around a few training rides as well, mostly around the Brisbane area and back of the Gold Coast.
|Tim enjoying the hills I found for him :-)|
Somehow race day came around all too fast, I was super nervous mainly because I felt that I hadn't trained enough in bunch rides. I knew I could ride the distance at my pace, I hadn't practiced the same distance being pushing to ride faster by a strong bunch. But, no more training time - it was race time.
Almost 90 entrants lined up for C-grade, 10 women all started. It was a perfect morning with fog lifting in time for our start and blue skies, sunshine and only very light winds as we rolled out of Grafton.
|Staying well-positioned in a large bunch|
The moment neutral ended a few boys went a bit silly, but after sitting at 45km/hr for a little will things calmed down – well somewhat. I found the bunch pace tough, too tough for my liking knowing what was to come. This was exactly what I had been scared about, but there was no way I wanted to ride to the base of Gibraltar range alone so I hurt, and stayed in the group.
A neutral pee-stop was welcome; the She-wee is now a not-so-secret weapon as I lined up with the boys on the side of the road while the other girls disappeared into the bushes.
|I think the early pace hurt most of the girls|
The last 10km to Gibraltar was definitely hurt locker for me, I think we averaged 35km/hr for that 70km and I was really looking forward to the climb as I was planning to ride my own pace.I was pretty happy with my riding though, I was generally well positioned within the bunch, only drifting towards the back once we neared the base of the climb.
As soon as we hit the climb I was a fair way back, but no panicking as I set my tempo and rode within my limits. Slowly but surely people came back to me and we formed a bunch, I did a lot of the pace setting up the climb which took us an hour in total.
|tapping out the pace with my grupetto up Gibraltar|
Some old hands in our bunch (including one bloke who doing it for the 23rd time!!!) called the shots – important to stay together, ride a pace that everyone can manage because we need each other with another 140km or so to go.
Unfortunately not many people in our bunch were pulling turns, one other girl in the group tried unsuccessfully to organize people but perhaps some blokes were just hurting too much.
Having only practiced musette feed the day before in a Grafton side-street, I was pleased to seamlessly get my bag from feeder who had made the trip from Newcastle just for the race. The home made bars that were road tested at training camp were all I ate, I had two gels in total and an emergency Clif bar in my pocket for the whole race but preferred the home made ones.
|Rolling through a feed zone|
Unfortunately the first 70km had done some damage to my legs and those inner thigh cramps that I have only ever had in the Highland Fling (116km mtb) made a brief showing when I tried to put in a it more power up a climb. I was super aware of this for the rest of the race, and held back a little on climbs rather than put myself into spasms.
The second feed was a smooth as the first, but multiple riders in my group missed or dropped bags in one or other feed, so there was some bar exchanging and bottle sharing happening until they could pick up some supplies.
|The Grupetto at the finish|
We started to catch some stragglers from bunches in front and thankfully some of these guys were happy to work as I was hurting. Not that I stopped pulling turns though, we just had too many sitting on for the ride.
Just 5km from the finish there is a hill, nothing steep but I knew my limits and cramp niggles would play a part and I had to let the bunch go. In doing so I gave up 4th place and settled for 5th, but to finish in 7.5 hours and 5th female overall was beyond my expectations.