Roy in top 10 as Classics commence

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The professional road cycling race season officially started last weekend and member of Sydney Uni Velo Club, Sarah Roy, shared her race insights with us after competing in both world-class women’s events.

While Sydney Uni had no riders in the men’s races, our own scholarship holder, Sarah Roy competed in both women’s events, with the Omloop het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, and the Omloop van het Hageland on Sunday.

Both races are UCI (translated – International Cycling Union) 1.1 races.  That is, one of the highest standards of road racing in the world.

Sarah is a former National Criterium Champion, and currently rides for Orica-AIS in Europe. Here are her race notes, contrasting the planned race versus the reality of the ride.

Saturday 27 Feb 2016

The race: Omloop het Nieuwsblad UCI 1.1

Where: Ghent, Belgium

Temp: 1 degree

The team: Spratty (Amanda Spratt), Gracie (Elvin), Vluety (Annemiek Van Vleuten – from Holland), Tayler (Wiles – USA), Lizzie (Williams)

Race radios: Allowed

Race length: 123km

Sectors: 9 climbs (900m elevation), 5 serious cobbled sections

Time taken: 3h 20minutes (average speed 36.9km/h)

Power: 202 watts average

The Plan

Team to conserve energy in first 50km by riding toward back of peloton and to make it in front split at 65km during the passages of Cote de Triue and the Patterberg (2 climbs in quick succession). Then, be aggressive after the Wolvenberg, around 75km.  Sports Director (following in the team car) Gene to make a call over radio in relation to the finish plan.

What actually happened

We conserved early but also got stuck behind three crashes. The first 50km was a lot faster than expected due to a tail wind so wasn’t quite as relaxing or easy on the legs as hoped. The team was together in front split after 65km, which was great.  There was already one rider away and just being in the front group at that stage was quite tough. The wind was quite present as head or cross making it different to other years.  Spratty and Vluety both tried an attack but neither got away.

The Molenberg is another serious hill at 88km and we lost 2 riders there, caught out in a bad position: Spratty and Tayler. Unlucky. Vluety and Gracie were in the front split. Lizzie and I were in next bunch 8 seconds behind. It didn’t take long to catch up and see Gracie off the front with the current world champion, Lizzie Armistead and only 20km to go. I was sitting behind 3-4 riders who were chasing hard.

Armistead powered on, and Gracie came back to the bunch.  We decided not to sacrifice a rider to help with the chase, instead sat in with under 10km to go aiming for a final attack or sprint going for second place now as Armistead had the race won.  We really only had 3 riders at this point as didn’t expect Gracie to have any legs lefts after her 10km effort off the front.  After some discussion on the radio, and between the girls, we decided that we’d go for me.  With 4km to go all 4 of us were at the front but it can get chaotic and hard to stick together.

I went to the other side of the bunch sitting on the main sprinters’ wheels. Under 2km to go, Gracie came to me and protected me from the wind. Then, Lizzie came by under 1km to go and said; I’ve got you Roy. And I ‘coached’ her to the finish, yelling ‘left, right, faster, up, go, yep, I’m on, good’ etc. We were in perfect position, leading the sprint with under 300m to go, I wanted to start my sprint but remembered Gene had said it was an up hill finish and you need to wait longer than usual. So, I waited. Lizzie ended up veering left, hugging the left barricade but the road was veering right. The road was very wide, about 20m wide or more. I was on the left of Lizzie, yelling ‘go right, move right, right right riiiigghhttt’. She didn’t move right and the pelo came through on the right barricade so we were essentially 20m away from them. I went around Lizzie too late and sprinted for 8th.

Sarah’s thoughts

It’s my best result at a classics race and I’m really happy I had good legs and felt so confident about sprinting after 123km of hard racing. It’s obviously quite disappointing to not get a podium when you think it’s possible. A very different experience to last time I raced this race with a French team 2 years ago. Full Orica interview here

Sunday 28 Feb 2016

The race: Omloop van het Hageland UCI 1.1

Where: Belgium

Temp: 4 degrees

Team: Spratty, Rachel (Neylan), Tayler, Gracie, Vluety

Race radios: Allowed

Race length: 129km

Sectors: 1 big lap (~55km), 5 smaller laps (15km), 1 cobbled section, 5 X short hills (795m elevation)

Time taken: 3h 28minutes (average speed 37.2km/h)

Power: 200 watts average

The Plan

Be aggressive! Especially on first hill.

What actually happened

Rachel crashed in the first 40km, made it back in the peloton just as we hit the cobbles, but unfortunately her race ended there. Vluety attacked over the cobbles and only 2 riders could go with. Gracie, Tayler and I were in next group, filled with riders not wanting to let that go so unfortunately Vluety’s move was shut down quite quickly. Gracie then attacked and got away solo, about 10km later she was joined by a Rabobank rider for another 30km. The 4 of us covered lots of moves – riders trying to get across etc. The gap blew out to about 1½ minutes but as it was brought back Gene asked me on the radio how I was feeling. I said “Good!!!”  He said to look after myself and prepare for the sprint. The rest of the team was to continue being aggressive.

Spratty and Vluety attacked about 2 times each but the wind just wasn’t in our favour.  I looked after myself but found the best way to do so was by staying near the front especially at the hill. Soon after, there was a sharp left onto a 2km long farm road which was only 3 riders wide, with a strong cross wind.  This section ended at 2km before the finish line. I found myself getting over that hill feeling good. One time going over it, a rider, I’m not sure who, put their hand on my hip in the crease of my bent leg and pushed or pulled me back in an attempt to get past me. I used all my strength to drive my leg up in a normal pedal action against her “pull” (legs are stronger than arms), as she let go I stood up out of my seat and powered off, overtaking 5 or so people and leaving her in my dust! I’m so glad I had the strength to do that, hopefully she won’t mess with me again! A lot of riders would yell and scream in that situation.

Moving on, I found myself on the farm road for the final time in 2nd wheel, drifted back to about 8th wheel as we descended to the finish. It was a really fast finish, all down hill, even the sprint. I remember trying to lead my French team mates out 2 years ago but didn’t have the skills or confidence to ride a bike that fast. A lot has changed and this time I followed the fastest wheels into good position. Just as I got out of my seat to start my sprint from 3rd wheel at about 200m to go, I must have hit a bump and my chain jumped out of position clunking loudly in the back cassette and I had to sit back down to fix it. Meanwhile, Vluety yells so she can go instead as she was behind me. I let her through, got my gears sorted and started sprinting again finishing 6th or 7th.

Sarah’s thoughts

Another top 10. Consistency is a goal this year so that’s nice but what a shame about the mechanical. I can’t say I’ve ever been in a position to win a UCI 1.1 race like that before. I am happy with my confidence and freshness at the end of the races. Lucky, there are many more to come.

The whole of SUSF congratulate Sarah on her champion effort and look forward to following her journey this road cycling season.