My Mt. Buninyong

Oh hey, it’s been a minute. And because it has been, let’s be honest, a little bit longer than a minute, I should probably update you.

If my life was a soap opera I imagine the narrator’s summary of the last 6 months would go something like this; in July, after La Course by Le Tour I cut my hand on glass slicing my tendons in my pinky, ring and middle finger, rupturing an artery and partially cutting my ulnar nerve. This, as it turns out, is bad.

My season was over and all I could do was wait eight weeks…

Twelve hours after cutting my hand I underwent micro surgery in Paris.

48 hours after surgery I was back in Canberra and two days after this I was seeing a hand surgeon and specialist hand physio.

My season was over and all I could do was wait eight weeks for my hand to heal enough for me to start training somewhat normally.

How much movement and strength I would get back was totally unknown. It depended largely on how well the surgery went (I couldn’t tell you, my surgeon spoke French) and how diligent I was in my rehab. (I was pretty diligent; for three months I saw my specialist hand physio and a team of physios at the Australian Institute of Sport twice a day, five days a week. I did hand exercises that included staring at my pinky willing it to bend and waving my hand around my head like I was throwing a lasso six times a day, seven days a week and I slept in and wore a purple claw 24 hours a day.)

There were tears, there were regrets, there were many times I swore at myself, but at the end of the day I had to move on and formulate a plan.

Enter my coach, Eric Hakkonssen.

“So, did you crash, Chloe? What happened?” The first conversation I had with Eric post incident was slightly awkward.

“I mean I crashed,” and I did, but I didn’t do any damage. “But I did it afterwards, I slammed my hand down on a glass I didn’t see.”

I’m fairly sure there was a moment of silence where Eric took this all in. And then we decided to make the most out of a bad situation. Together we made the decision to fit two seasons into 18 months rather than one season into 12.

That’s where yesterday’s Australian National Road Cycling Championships come into it all. I said to Eric I’d like to try and target the Nationals, the Ladies Tour of Qatar and try and hold my form through the spring before taking a break and rebuilding towards the Qatar World Championships in October.

I called him today after the race and said “Thank you, I know when I suggested this you probably thought I was crazy , but thank you for getting me ready.”

The lead up

I have made no secret of my dislike of the Australian National Championship course. If youre unsure of what the course is here’s a brief summary; it’s 10.2kilometres circuit with a 3km climb.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic championships course; challenging, gruelling, great for spectators. I’m just sure that this can also be found somewhere else in Australia and find it somewhat unnecessary that it has been on the same course for the past ten years.

With that said, this year I decided to give it a real crack. If the mountain will not come to you, you must go to the mountain (is that a saying or did I make that up?).

I came into the race with the most national’s specific preparation I’ve ever had before. This may be because I have never done any specific preparation. I sat out all but one of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic stages (to be honest I had wanted to race two but I come down with a stomach bug  the day of the second stage). Similarly I choose to sit out the criterium championship on Wednesday.

The Race

As we rolled away from the start my race plan was as straight forward as they come; hide and survive.

Sitting on the start line Tiffany Cromwell said to me that I must be serious, I was wearing a skin suit. I was serious, but the skin suit wasn’t a choice — my swannie must have gotten my leg size confused with Elisa Longo Borghini’s because my knicks gave me leg muffin top.

As we rolled away from the start my race plan was as straight forward as they come; hide and survive. For the first seven laps all I did was try to hide in the peloton following wheels I knew would be strong on the climb.

It was obviously a game plan a number of people had because the break of two — Louisa Lobigs (Holden Women’s Cycling) and Sarah Roy (Orica AIS) — extended their lead to almost three minutes.

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(C) Mr Challenge Films

I’ve raced on the Buninyong circuit every year since 2009. In 2009 I think I did five laps, in 2010 maybe 6. 2011 I was back to 5 laps. 2012 I finished (although I was horrendously dropped). 2013 and 2014 were my worst years although I can’t remember how many laps I did and last year I finished just out of the top 20 (having said that I don’t think many more than 20 finished). It’s an enviable resume I know.

So when we hit lap seven and I was still spinning away on my 29 up the infamous Mt. Bunninyong    with the lead group I really started to believe that this year, after seven attempts, I might finally be in for a chance.

As we crested the climb for the fourth last time the peloton was starting to splinter. You tell girls were starting to get tired as they started to drift in odd directions in the peloton and their actions weren’t exactly what you would call predictable.

A moment of confusion saw a clip of wheels, an unclipped pedal and a very near crash on the left hand side of the road. At that exact moment Amanda Spratt and Corset rode away.

Obviously sensing the mood in the group Orica decided to start to go to work. They had about a 2:1 ratio of riders to every other team and then a 7:1 ratio to most of the other pro riders, that being there was seven of them and pretty much one of everyone else.

Amanda Spratt launched herself on the right hand side of the road as we took the sweeping left hand corner that signals the beginning of the descent but she didn’t get far. Next Katrin Garfoot catapulted herself off the front with a Holden rider glued to her wheel.

Like when you’re madly refreshing twitter to try and get a race update the whole peloton was on high alert, everybody knew it was not a good idea to let the newly crowned time trial champion up the road.

But who would bite the bullet first?

The scattering of individual riders were poised on their pedals waiting, waiting. I imagine it felt a lot like a Mexican standoff. I guess we could ask El Chapo now what that actually feels like and do a comparison.

Lauren Kitchen pulled the trigger first. She jumped out of the group catching us off guard and all of a sudden there were three super strong riders off the front.

ALERT! ALERT!

Tiff was on the same page as I was sensing the danger and jumped out of the group. I followed her along with Ruth Corset and two other Orica riders and we bridged up to the three ahead.

A moment of confusion saw a clip of wheels, an unclipped pedal and a very near crash on the left hand side of the road. At that exact moment Amanda Spratt and Corset rode away. I watched them go.

If only you could have heard the dialogue in my head; its too early. Just sit on them and don’t do anything. Someone else will go and then follow them. You’ll never last that long out the front. 

The internal struggle was real.

One sprinter who didn’t fall victim to the dialouge in their head was Kimberley Wells. Glancing at Kitchen, then up the road, then at Kitchen again Wells realised if she didnt go no-one else would and went off after Spratt and Corset. Her explosive kick helped her close the gap quickly and the three worked together for the next lap.

As we crossed the finish line with two laps to go Spratt, Corset and Wells had caught Lobigs and Roy. I knew there were going to be fireworks. But they didn’t come until the final lap when Spratt and Corset had gone alone.

Shara Gillow showed what racing for a year with Rabobank does to someone and attacked from the bottom of the climb. She didn’t look back. Then when everyone was hurting she attacked again. In a moment of delirium I though Anna Van der Breggen had entered the Australian national championships. Everybody was eating handle bar stem.

As we motored towards the left hand corner that marks half way up the climb we swallowed up Roy and Lobigs who had been out the front since the second or third lap. My legs started to scream at me. I started to drift backwards. Then I saw my parents and heard my Dad yell, ‘stick with them, Chloe!’

In the seat. Out of the seat. In the seat. My 29 no longer seemed to spin easily. About 500 metres from the top of the climb I exploded. I think I heard someone say, ‘that’s quite a grimace’. Still I could see the depleted peloton. I knew if I got over the top with a small group we could get back.

Cresting the climb the last time I found myself with a small group of six. Whether it’s because I’m bossy, they were scared of me or they didn’t think their race was over either they agreed to work with me and soon we were channeling our inner Jensie, telling our legs to shut up, and chasing down the group in front of us.

As we hit the final corner with 2km to go we latched onto the back of what was left of the race. Who was here? Who was up the road? What place are we sprinting for? All questions I didn’t get answered until after I crossed the line.

While I was getting dropped Garfoot, Kitchen and Rachel Neylan had attacked off the front of the main group in pursuit of Spratt and Corset. They got to within two seconds. I crossed the line 35 seconds behind Australia’s new national champion Amanda Spratt in sixth place taking out the ‘bunch’ sprint.

How do I feel about that? It’s hard to say. Of course I’m struggling with ‘could’ve, would’ve, should’ve’ syndrome. I mean I watched the winning break ride away! But on the other hand I pushed myself harder than I ever have before on that course and finished sixth. It’s not so bad for a chubby sprinter like myself.

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5 Comments on “My Mt. Buninyong

  1. It’s really great that you are back on your bike and racing again. All the very best for the season ahead.

  2. Thanks for providing a great insight into the race Chloe. It’s wonderful to get such a personal account that takes fans much further into the sport than we usually get access to. Thanks for taking the time to share it and keep up the great work!

  3. I was actually amazed to see you in the race as I wasn’t sure your hand was totally OK, and I know how much you’re not a fan of the course 😁. That said, seeing the WH jersey so close to the front and realizing it was you makes me excited for your chances in Qatar. Great ride!

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