I was nervous as this was to be the longest race I had encountered in my just over 6 month racing career. I had ridden the same roads a number of times and was particularly fearful of the not very long but painful Perrys Hill. On this day we would be required to climb it on 3 occasions.
I had opted to start in D grade as there was no E or F grades!!! Many of the riders who would normally ride in C grade had dropped back to D grade, and with many visiting riders from Grafton, Armidale, Port Macquarie, Macksville and other areas, the pace was going to be much faster than I am used to.
After a week of warm sunny weather, Sunday morning arrived cloudy but dry, and not cold or windy…(that’s Coffs great weather). Nix and a short jersey without base layer would be all that was required to be comfortable. An early awakening to be sure I was prepared, saw me arrive at the marshalling area at 7:30am. A quick warm up and some pre race chit chat with a few of the other hopefuls filled in the minutes until the 8:00am start.
A few days previously I had purchased some very cool and hot at the same time, Zipp 58mm carbon fibre wheels and tubular tyres. I was hopeful that just the sight of the new wheels would psychologically shatter my competitors. After all, anything’s fair in love and cycling, and I would need all the assistance I could get. There, is that hot or what…ok, maybe I am just a tiny little bit biased…
As we reach the lower parts of the hill I am leading, and I pull to the right to settle into my own rhythm allowing the faster riders to pass. Quickly many of the riders slip ahead as they are keen to get the points for the KOM category available on the first two laps. After a good effort I arrive at the summit without losing any more positions. A short distance behind is a woman from Port Macquarie, and further behind are a few more women and a guy or two. The Port Macquarie woman and I make an effort to catch the riders ahead, but after 5 kilometres or so we realise that it isn’t going to happen. Two riders just can’t match the pace of 14 working together. So an unspoken alliance is established and we work together for the next 50kms. She is a little faster up some but not all of the hills, and I am much faster down the hills. I reach 67kph on a hill I would normally reach 63kph. I put this down to my new wheels and tubular tyres. What a bargain, that’s less than $1000 for each kilometre an hour improvement!!!
In the remainder of the race we don’t catch any other riders and none catch us, so I am already working out my strategy for the finish. It might seem silly considering we are so far out of the money, but that’s competition isn’t it? About 1.5km from the finish line I slow slightly up a rise and let my associate pass. Once again in the slip stream, I take a breather as we head downhill towards another rise I have used previously to make a break. Local knowledge has its advantages. I know how hard I can take this rise and still have enough energy left to make it to the line.
As we start the rise, I jump out of the saddle and hit the power button and am quickly 50 metres in front. I keep the pace up and am nearly at the top with legs starting to complain loudly. I have a good lead but now my legs have ceased to listen to the commands from my brain. Baaad legs, do as you are told. I insist, and manage to persuade the legs to keep spinning, albeit with not much enthusiasm or conviction. But now I am over the top and using my downhill speed advantage. My lead remains until we reach the bottom and hit a short flat before the finish line. I take a quick glance under my arm and the chaser is gaining, but I am too close to the line for her to catch me, and I cross it with about 25 metres to spare.
So no prize money, but all the satisfaction of competing and giving all you have to give. My longest event yet and I performed better than I had expected. My computer showed a distance of 71.5km, 31.1kph average and max of 67.3kph. I was pleased with that result considering we only had a bunch of two for 55km, and the hilly nature of the course. Not too bad for an old girl.
But no time to rest and bask in the warm glow of achievement, as I had to immediately put the flashing light on the car and do lead car duties for B grade.
I wonder what my next challenge will be…