Victoria Park Criterium
All Photos courtesy of Ben Auld
Stage four had the team back in the firing line of a criterium. Two of our riders, Lucy and Victoria, had grim memories of last year’s baptism-by-fire. Gale force winds and the top three teams trying to kill each other had turned the criterium into a war of attrition. As per the previous year, there was a primary objective for the team – three riders had to survive for the team to register an overall result.
The conditions that greeted the team were practically the opposite of the year before; a gentle breeze, but stifling heat and humidity. The progression of the race was also counter to last year’s script. Our ladies had prepared for brimstone, and they got instead a very civilised opening pace. But, there was an hour to survive, so the team remained attentive to any sign of shifting tactics.
A few surges occurred at the three quarter mark, as some riders attempted to test the resolve of the peloton. Nothing was allowed much play, but the elevated pace was splicing a few riders of the tail end of the field. The last six laps however, saw a constant series of attacks from the superstars of the peloton. The net effect being that the overall pace was slowly wound up as each lap ticked by. Our ladies held their resolve even as the final two laps saw the race reach maximal speeds.
The criteriums aren’t an opportunity for us to shine, but our objective was met. Three riders without a time loss, and all four finishing saw the team hold onto 8th position overall.
Lyndoch: Into the Furnace
Some images have been sourced from PDitty Images, a photographer from Brisbane who has provided sensational images throughout the Santos Women’s TDU.
Stage three saw riders line up for 4 laps of a 25.2km circuit which began in Lyndoch. Another lumpy course, again with one hill in particular which would be a staging point for breakaways, the 100km was not the chief dilemma. The major drama was that sitting on the start line, everyone’s Garmin was registering temperatures in excess of 40 degrees. The race was going to be influenced by teams which were accessing water, conserving energy and controlling body temperature.
There was one team sitting on the start line celebrating the heat! Yep, that was Mercedes-Benz Adelaide Blackchrome. The hotter it was going to get, the greater our advantage. Being the local SA team, we have spent the last three months training through significant heat waves. Victoria especially is practically reptilian – the hotter the weather, the happier she is! Our resident British rider Lucy, wasn’t so happy unfortunately. You see, these two riders have operating temperature at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Lucy will wear short sleeves in winter, while Victoria piles on her entire cycling wardrobe.
The heat did take its toll in Lucy. During the first climb, the pace was turned up – severely stretching and splintering the field. The peloton was slowly pulled back together over the next five kilometres, just in time for the field to surge again into a savage cross wind that blanketed the finishing straight. Aimee and Victoria had handled the climb well, easily staying in the front group of 20 riders. Narelle and Lucy has resolutely chased back on with the pursuers.
Laps two and three had similar scripts, the field aggressively stretched over the climb and then again into the cross wind. The beginning of lap three was the crucial undoing for Lucy. She missed her water bottle, and the heat began taking its toll. Victoria was using her strength to filter back to the team car and access water, which she dispersed to herself, Aimee and Narelle. By the time she realized Lucy was in strife and critically short of water also, the peloton had already turned into a head wind section. Both Victoria and Lucy now lacked the strength to pull back to the team car, and then return to the peloton. Lucy headed onto the third climb critically dehydrated and severely overheating, and the savage attack in pace over the hill, saw the string snap, relegating her to a chase group filled with other heat stressed riders.
Aimee, Victoria and Narelle were not having an easy time either. A break away of six riders was formed over the third climb, with Orica strongly represented. Victoria and Aimee fought hard over the third climb to stay in contact with a small chase bunch of about 12 riders. Narelle found herself gapped from this bunch, but chased by herself for the next few kilometres to catch back on – a titanic effort. Frustratingly, there was no major interest from the chase bunch in pursuing the breakaway, and as the pace trickled down, the main cohort of the peloton again reformed. With one lap to go, and with three MBAB riders still positioned well within the main bunch, the fight for hydration continued. Narelle and Victoria both successfully took fresh bottles from the feed zone at the beginning of lap four. Victoria then spent half a lap further replenishing water from the team car for all three MBAB riders, as well as supplying the girls with packets of ice to help keep them cool.
The fourth time over the climb was outrageously controlled – the peloton seemingly resigned to a steady trot to the line. The gleefulness of this outcome was very nearly reduced to tears for Victoria and Narelle, both of whom experienced severe cramp throughout the final climb. They both somehow survived, and stayed safely tucked away in the bunch. Aimee and Victoria both finished with the bunch time. Narelle lost a small amount of time due to her cramps reoccurring as the field suddenly lurched into a gallop of the last few kilometres. Lucy rode her heart out to finish within the cut off time. The riders finishing after her were looking extremely heat stressed, and enormously relieved to have crossed the line. Stage three saw the team move up into 8th place, marking us third overall for the National Road Series teams.
Let me preface this update by broadly saying that I wouldn’t consider criteriums a major strength for this team! In fact, after stage one, we were without our two strongest criterium riders – not ideal heading into a treacherous city circuit. Treacherous because the course was composed of several funnels – junctions of the course which narrow from two or three lanes, into a single lane, forcing a sudden compacting of the field, and as was the case on Sunday night, several crossed wheels and subsequent crashes. The other dilemma posed by stage two, was the 30 minute time limit, meaning the pace and tactics were going to be fast and aggressive from the start.
Aimee had relative success with positioning – her Cairns based criterium experience shining through. However, not even her skills could adequately compensate for the maelstrom to come. The first three laps provoked a series of wave like reactions through the peloton as the funnels began to impact the field. The warning signs were there – mostly from the riders positioned on the outer flank of the field. The air was filling with the smell of cooking brakes, and riders were looking twitchy. Narelle, Lucy and Victoria were policing the back of the field, code for staying within site of an emergency exit at all times. The three were reasonably savvy enough to have identified the inner track as the safest option.
As feared, the first crash occurred, on the fourth lap and at one of the funnels. Our riders were unhurt, and utilizing their escape routes, apart from Lucy who was totally blocked from pursuit. By the time Lucy extricated herself from downed riders, she had a desperate chase to maintain her position by herself for a further nine laps, or risk being overlapped and pulled from the race. There was never any question that Lucy would dig in and survive, but it was an expenditure of energy that was beyond what the rest of the field would need to commit.
You would think that the first crash would serve as a lesson for the peloton on the care needed when approaching the funnels. It didn’t. With three laps to go, an even larger crash saw several rides hit the deck. Cowgirl Aimee (from QLD), ended up with her bike doing a wheelie stand – of the front wheel! She must have been on a bucking bronco before, because she recovered, and resumed her chase of the main bunch. Victoria and Narelle also made their way around the crash, but had a hard job in front of them to close the gap to the front of the bunch. Luckily for all three riders, they were awarded bunch times as the crash occurred in the last three laps. Stage Two thankfully over – time to shine in the hills and the heat!
A Team Reborn
The team greeted the 2016 Tour Down Under in their new badging and team colours. Inspired by the Mercedes-Benz Formula One colour scheme of silver and teal, but electrified to reflect our superfast ladies! Our ladies lined up against an international roster of teams, as well as the existing National Road Series teams. This is our first splash as a registered NRS team, and again we have done well fighting against teams with bigger names and bigger budgets!
Stage One was a 90km loop around Mt Torrens, encompassing Burford Hill and a host of lumpy pinches. The race was made difficult for Narelle heading into the third lap – having hit a rock at the beginning of the Burford Road climb, her front wheel was flat by the top of the climb. Narelle spent the rest of the race in a fight to make the time cut-off following a wheel exchange. For new team member Aimee Ingram, the race unfolded perfectly, despite initial nerves at the large filed and cramped conditions. Aimee’s plan was to try to stay at the front and position well in order to conserve energy. There was some difficulty for Aimee in maintaining position in the first three laps, with the washing machine action of the peloton constantly reconfiguring itself. The field was obliterated on the third climb, with Aimee and Victoria safely in the leading bunch. Unfortunately for Lucy, a gap was opened up by riders in front of her, and she was subsequently blocked from making chase. In the blink of the eye, the lead bunch was gone, and Lucy found herself in a large group of riders who didn’t seem particularly motivated to maintain pace. Madeleine and Jessica were also having very tough days in the heat, missing the time cut off despite enormously valiant efforts from both of them.
Despite the heat, and the length of the race, to the amazement of the team’s support crew, riders were only allowed to access water from the feed zone on lap three. With Victoria and Aimee both missing the opportunity to grab fresh bottles, water for both riders was now critically short. Entering into the 4th and 5th laps, and with the pace constantly getting ramped up over all the ascents, Victoria made the decision to get water from the team car during the flatter sections of lap 4 and 5, to cover both her and Aimee. It was possibly a critical advantage as other riders who didn’t take the opportunity to find water were starting to cramp.
The 4th time up Burford Hill left no room for hesitation, with the pace being flat out. A break of five riders did get away, and it was for Victoria and Aimee to fight to maintain contact with the chasers. Aimee very nearly missed the boat, with a gap opened up in front of her, but she worked well into her red zone to close the gap. Victoria and Aimee both finished only 49 seconds down on the winner. Overall, the team was well positioned in 9th out of 17 teams. Team presentations were held in the city that afternoon, an hour late due to a power outage, but opportunity enough for our newest rockstar to get her groove on!
Photographs are taken by legendary local photographer; Chameleon Photography
EMBA – Ozone Cleaning Specialists –Tour Down Under Team
Enormous crowds turned out to watch the final round of the tour at Victoria Park. The team was presented with a very difficult task – prevent time losses in extremely windy conditions on a tight track when the top teams would be clamouring over final standings. The early pace did not disappoint. Within the first five laps more than twenty riders had been dropped. Our girls kept a close eye on the front of the group while maintaining safe positioning out of the wind at the back of the field. As riders fatigued and fell off the back of the group, the team kept communicating with each other and jumping the flagging riders to reposition themselves so as to not get dropped as well. There were a few heart-stopping moments – a bit of Tokyo drifting from Victoria as she put her bike sideways when two riders in front of her tangled – luckily Plan B (riding into the spectators) wasn’t needed when everyone managed to untangle themselves. The final three laps was simply an exercise of survival – by now nearly half the field had been lapped and disqualified, but we had three girls hanging in, and finishing safely ensconced within the main bunch.
Most pleasingly, the team, by sheer survival and by finishing with three riders with the main bunch, did move up the ladder to finish 9th overall, a staggering achievement from a team with no NRS pedigree! Thank you to our sponsors and supporters. We hope to be back next year stronger than ever!
Team Manager Simon Veitch was joined in the team car by team sponsors representing Blackchrome, for the Tanunda-Athlestone Stage Three. They would all have an incredibly unique viewpoint to an aggressive 72km road stage which included Checkers Hill. The field was initially split after the 2km climb out of Williamstown, but the riders had all come back together for the approach to Checkers Hill. The team had only started with four riders, and all of them were within the main field heading onto what would be the defining climb of the race. All of our riders climbed incredible well. Nusha, who is very new to racing, had maintained excellent positioning up to this point of the race and led out a column of EMBA riders down the right side of what was now a very crowded road leading onto Checkers Hill. The vast majority of the field was climbing slower than we were, so our column made steady progress. Victoria was first of the team to conquer the climb and settled into a fast chase group which set to work to bring back the lead bunch. This group would collect the riders being spat out from the font of the race, but the leading eleven stayed away, Victoria’s group finishing 1min 14 seconds down. Lucy and Holly both finished in the third bunch, 3minutes 34 seconds down on the lead group. The descent from Checkers had seen Nusha safely down and settled into a third chase group. The team solidified their hold on 11th place overall, and were in striking distance of two teams in front of them, but heading into the team’s less favoured criterium format, the task of moving up in the standings was going to be a difficult one.
Criteriums are not yet a major strength of this team. Our objective for the tour was to get as much time on the road stages, and to simply minimise losses on the criteriums. Even more importantly we wanted to race injury and incident free. Unfortunately, our Team Captain had an aggressive conversation with a steel crowd barrier – and the barrier won! Using all of her experience of racing at NRS level, Lucy took a lap out and then rejoined the field without penalty. The team was able to prevent time loss for this stage, with four riders finishing with the main bunch. The Average speed of the race: 44km/hr!
The EMBA Ozone Cleaning Specialists squad lined up against the top National Road Series teams and two International teams. The only local wildcard entry, there were fairly low expectations of the squad as voiced by the event organisers. Subsequently, we were all pretty nervous and concerned that we could be well off the race pace.
Stage One was a 59km road race from Woodside to Murray Bridge, and as we expected the race was aggressive from the gun. The average speed of the race was 43km/hr – which anyone can appreciate is an incredibly tough day in the saddle. The team had very clear objectives. We expected the pace to go on heading through the climbs out of Nairne, so our priority for this stage was to not get blocked behind the weaker riders as the pace went on at the front. Our tactics were spot on! We anticipated correctly and four of our riders were able to secure positions within the front of the field as the pace went on – the field was decimated. The climb at the 35km mark saw the field split again and three groups formed. Four of our riders, Victoria, Lucy, Holly and Narelle were working hard to maintain positions within the second group.
We were chasing a gap of just over a minute to the front group when, heading into Murray Bridge, we noticed a Wiggle team rider on the side of the road getting a spare bike from their team car. As we approached, the World Champion stripes could be seen – Bronzini (two-time World Champion) had punctured and was about to rejoin our bunch! If we thought we were riding hard up until that point, the whole team was stretched as the Wiggle team started to drive the front in an effort to minimise Bronzini’s time gap. By the time our group crossed the finish line, the time gap had been brought back to 42 seconds, and with three riders holding onto the group in the last 3km, EMBA was ranked 11th after the first stage.