My Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Geelong in summer is pretty much every Australian cyclists second home. Year after year we flock there for the ‘Bay Crits’ and now we flock there for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. The race burst onto the calendar last year with a mass participation event on the Saturday morning, a elite women’s race on the Saturday afternoon and a elite men’s event on the Sunday.

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Immediately after the race last year I tweeted that it was going on my list of favourites. This is not any easy list to make, no Tom, Dick and Harry race makes the list. It was competing with races like Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders and the Ladies Tour of Qatar. So when it was announced that in 2016 not only was the race returning but it was being upgraded to a UCI 1.2 event I was almost as excited as Kim Kardashian when she takes a good selfie.

Side note here; a UCI 1.2 event means the race was given points which contribute a rider’s world ranking. In a 1.2 event the first placed rider receives 40 points and the points decrease down the place rankings. World ranking and points are important because at the end of the day how many points you have can dictate your market value.

The Course

Despite some initial fears where I began to think we were potentially racing on the same finishing circuit that the men tackle I was relieved to discover the course was in fact the same as last year.

The course can be split into three sections; the flat, crosswind section; the undulating transition section; and the final short, sharp climbs to the finish.

Section 1:
Starting on Geelong’s waterfront the course looped out towards the coast on flat but exposed roads. Last year this section of the course was battered by cross winds and Orica worked hard to try and split the peloton in the winds. I had warned the girls that they needed to stay on high alert here because while we may not win the race here, we could lose it.

Section 2:
The second section of the course began around the 60km mark when the peloton moved from he flat roads out towards the coast to the undulating roads that brought us back in towards Geelong.

Section 3:
The final section of the course is characterised by four climbs which come in close succession in the final 20km of the race. What’s more, just because four back to back climbs isn’t hard enough crosswinds can also feature.

The first of the four climbs is a long steady drag (this is where I got dropped in 2015) before you bomb down a descent, take a sweeping left hand corner and then find yourself on a climb that at points reaches a 15% gradient. Imagine you’re Harry Potter looking up at Hagrid your first year at Hogwarts. I imagine beginning this climb feels very similar.

Two short, equally steep climbs follow before a gradual 6km descent to the finish on Geelong’s waterfront.

Race Day

We went into the race with a pretty open tactic; try and have as many numbers as possible when we get to the third section of the course and then play from there. Communication was going to be key.

Much to my dismay nothing really happened until after the first and only QOM which came about 57km in to the race. After comfortably cresting the climb I went back to the car to grab some water bottles for the girls (I set a new team record according to my team manager; 8 bottles in 30 seconds. I’m no hero, but I will keep you hydrated). By the time I’d returned to the front the whole composition of the race had changed.

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“There’s three girls off the front,” Peta reported to me when I asked her what was going on.

It wasn’t a red alert situation — we didn’t have a rider in the break, but Orica didn’t either — but it wasn’t the best situation. For the next ten or so kilometres the gap to the three ahead continued to grow. At the maximum they gained almost 2minutes.

As the kilometres started to tick down I went back to the car once more to talk to our directors. I didn’t even need to ask the question, as soon I got back to the car Alby (Allan Davis) told me we needed to start chasing.

Me: “Just one girl?”
Alby: “Yep”
Me: “Amy?”
Alby: “Yep”

Riding up to Amy I had to deliver the news. She jumped straight on the front and started rolling with the riders Orica, Specialized and Holden had also sent to the front. Still the gap remained stubbornly above 1 minute. Lucy Garner, another of our Brits, jumped in with Amy to contribute to the chase.

As we entered the third section of the course the breakaway had been nullified. You could feel the communal thought in the peloton; what now?

We didn’t have to wait for long for the question to be answer. With about 25km to go Sarah Roy jumped on the front up a long drag and starting increasing the pace. As she did so she also moved to the left hand side of the road. The wind wasn’t strong but it was definitely noticeable and blowing right to left. The increase in pace combined with the ‘guttering’ of the peloton caused havoc.

All of a sudden girls were scrambling and the elastic band was beginning to stretch. By the time we made a right hand turn and the road eased in gradient a lot of damage had been done. Orica started to launch individual attacks but they were closely covered.

Knowing the course, knowing that we still had four climbs to tackle before I could even think about my sprint, and knowing that Rachel is one of Australia’s best hill climbers left me about as willing to do a turn as Tony Abbot to give up his archaic views on gay marriage.

With a little more than 20km to go Rachel Neylan jumped on the left hand side of the road while what remained of the peloton caught their breath on the right. I followed her and all of sudden we had a 19 second gap on the group behind us.

Rachel started to glance around to see who she had brought across with her. I’m not entirely sure if she was happy or sad to see that I was her breakaway compatriot, still she started flicking her elbow and willing me to roll through. I started to prepare my standard response, ‘Sorry, I cant, my sprinter is behin…’ Oh wait, that’s me. I’m the sprinter.

Knowing the course, knowing that we still had four climbs to tackle before I could even think about my sprint, and knowing that Rachel is one of Australia’s best hill climbers left me about as willing to do a turn as Tony Abbot to give up his archaic views on gay marriage.

Still, I had to give her credit for her persistence in trying to make me do a turn. Rach actually knows my Mum, but I’m not sure Mum has ever told her that, ‘You can’t make Chloe do anything she doesn’t want to do.’

By the time we reached the top of the fourth last climb three girls had bridged up to us; my teammate Dani King, Tiff Cromwell and Rach’s teammate and Aussie national champ Amanda Spratt. Looking around the group I couldn’t help but laugh a little. I definitely did not belong in this group of hill climbers, still I’ve always hated not being invited to things, so I was happy to join the party.

It didn’t take long for Orica to begin to one-two Tiff, Dani and I. As I covered an attack from Spratty and then another from Rach I was pretty happy with my decision not to do a turn about 5 minutes earlier.

Ah, the cruel tricks climbs play on your perception of distance and time.

The bridge across has obviously taken a bit of sting out of Dani and Tiff legs as Tiff lost contact with our leading group and Dani managed to splutter out that she wasn’t feeling very good. I covered another attack by Rach before Spratty went from the back. I missed it. She was gone. This was a red alert situation.

People talk about split second decisions and reacting quickly in cycling. I made the wrong decision not to jump with Spratty and Dani and I reacted too slowly to begin our chase. By the time we started rolling Spratty had a gap of over 10seconds.

I drove it down the descent into the third last climb and used the sweeping left hand corner to sling-shot myself up the bottom half of the climb. I felt like I could almost reach out and grab Spratty. Ah, the cruel tricks climbs play on your perception of distance and time.

As we crested the climb there was less than 15km to race. I knew that if we as a team wanted to win the bike race either Dani or I had to sacrifice our chance of winning. Knowing the final two tough climbs yet to come I jumped straight on the front and tried to pull back as much time on Spratty as I could on the descent. Dani shot past me as the road went upwards again with Rach glued to her wheel. There wasn’t much left that I could do.

I scrambled for Tiff’s wheel as she caught me on the second last climb and we rode the next few kilometres alone until a group of three caught us on the gradual descent to the finish. I ended up winning the bunch kick for 4th.

Up the road Dani hadn’t been able to close the gap to Spratty. Amanda won with a little more than 30 seconds on Rach who beat Dani out of the minor placings.

In the end, it was communication that let us down. In that split second that Amanda went we didn’t talk and the race was over.

The race drew a curtain on my stint in Australia for the year. A few hours later I was loading onto a plane bound for Qatar with the rest of my Wiggle High5 squad.

It’s been a long six months in Australia. Flying home in July with a wrist injury was far from planned but I was so lucky to receive great treatment and support from everyone back home.

While I realise a lot of the people I’m about to name will never read this I’m going to thank them anyway.

A huge thank you has to go to all the amazing staff at the Australian Institute of Sport who took me on board and saw me daily for almost four months. So to my physios Paula, Lauren, and Tony; my doctors, Dr Greg Lovell and Dr David Hughes; my gym coach, Ross; my nurse, Ruth; and Hamilton who over saw the whole process, thank you!

My hand specialist who I saw off-site, Sally Faulder, was also such a huge support and I cannot thank her enough for everything.

A big thank you to those at Cycling Australia who are the reason that I received the amazing treatment that I speak about above and of course my incredible coach, Eric, who as always rolled with the punches and helped me just get on with things.

Last but not least, my amazing parents, who had to house and put up with me for four months longer than expected.
Thank you everyone. Stay tuned for more race reports from across the ocean.

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3 Comments on “My Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

  1. Pingback: Ella Picks: Mud, tears, motors and rainbows | Ella

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