Most cyclists I know look forward to the Tour of Bright with a level of excitement usually reserved for Christmas or the birth of their first-born child. It’s one of the best (and toughest) weekends in the racing calendar, and Ross Walker and the Alpine Cycling Club just seem to make it bigger and better each year.
I, however, this year was looking to Bright in the same way that a pasty British tourist looks forward to a Summer gap year in Australia: it would be fun, I’d see some cool people and amazing scenery, but it would hurt like hell and most likely I’d end up drowning my sorrows in a bath of aloe vera and wondering how far away home was.
My cunning scheme of riding incognito and escaping on a breakaway as an unknown was sabotaged when I discovered that my photo had been plastered all over the race program. Despite creating an impenetrable disguise consisting of different sunglasses and a fake moustache, I was busted at the pre-tour rego on Friday night after failing to conceal my excitement at finding a Michelin man keyring in my rider pack. Life hurts.
Anyway, back to the tour. This year was probably the strongest women’s field ever assembled. ACTAS were definitely the team to watch, with Vicki Whitelaw, Bronwyn Ryan and Miffy Galloway among their GC contenders. Outside of that there were strong contenders from AIS, VIS, SASI, Prime Real Estate and R.A.C.E. Just seeing the line up made me extremely glad I had worn my brown underpants to race rego.
Luckily, none of them had the supreme support of Team Mock, a local outfit (Porepunkah-based) which specialises in pre-race nerves soothing and awesome home cooking. I’d tell you more, but I’m a little afraid they might be poached for next year’s tour by a rival team. My first weekend highlight was storming down Tawonga Gap on Stage 1, turning a corner and being greeted by a barrage of cheers from Andy, Jan, Peta and Jacob. It was awesome.
The way stage 1 panned out really took the pressure off for the rest of the tour. For a moment I thought I had missed the decisive break of the day as a group of 10 women disappeared down the road in the confusion after a crash before the first sprint point, around two-thirds the way through the stage. I was happy staying in the main bunch until I realised that all the teams were represented in the break and that I had no one to help me pull it back. D’oh! Pulling it back meant energy wasted but there was really no other option as there were some handy climbers in the break. By the time we hit Tawonga, we had regrouped, and at some stage early in the climb, a group of 4 – Vicki Whitelaw, Bronwyn Galloway, Steph McGrath and myself – broke away from the rest of the field. Maybe that fake moustache really did work. By the time we hit the bottom of the descent, our break was reduced to 3 (Vicki, Bron and me) with a gap of around 3 minutes on the rest of the field. For me, this was largely thanks to Dr Rudy’s descending tutorials (again, I’d tell you more, but…)
Stage 2 was the ITT, an event dominated by Whitelaw and Ryan. I limited the damage with a 6th place and remained 3rd on GC at the end of day’s play.
Stage 3 was the big kahuna – the Hotham ascent. It’s a testament to Vicki’s class as a tour rider that the rest of us were fighting it out for 2nd on GC even before the stage started. It was clear pretty early on in the race that it was game on for a stage win, with ACTAS and AIS/SASI launching a barrage of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the false flat part of the climb. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to get away as I did last year, so my aim was to cover any break attempts and make sure that I stayed with the leaders for as long as possible. In the end, it all broke up after we kicked at the ticket box and Vicki and Steph kept tempo, with Bron and I not far behind… to start with. Slowly but surely they edged away, then Bron faded and I ended up climbing by myself in 3rd position. I kept trying to keep the distance between me and Vicki/Steph in check, but they were looking pretty strong. It wasn’t until 500m to go when I realised I had a real chance of overtaking Steph, which I did eventually in the last 200m aided by some most enthusiastic cheering from Dr Rudy on the side of the road.