The professional road cycling race season continues in the cross-winds and member of Sydney Uni Velo Club, Sarah Roy, shared her race insights with us after competing in the Gent-Wevelgem (Union Cycliste Internationale, Women’s World Tour).
Sarah is a current SUSF scholarship holder and 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:
Length/profile: 114km 5 hills but 35km flat to finish
Stats: Speed 38.3kph avg; Heart rate 160 avg; power 227W avg
Team: Vleuty (Annemiek van Vleuten) (NED), Spratty (Amanda Spratt) (AUS), Lizzie (Williams) (AUS), Loren (Rowney) (AUS), Gracie (Elvin) (AUS)
Director: Marv (in the team car)
We had 3 team goals; put it in the gutter from the gun, make the first initial selection before the climbs (~50km with all 6 riders) and finally; Loren and Lizzie to help position Vleuty and Spratty, all be aggressive after the hills and if no break away then go for lead out with me to sprint.
What actually happened
The whole peloton tried to take advantage of the wind early on and the race was ON at about 638,395km/h from the gun. Marv’s “coaching”, as Vleuty calls it, over the radio during the race was really good. He was telling us that the peloton was splitting and to keep pushing near the front. Then he’d say, “we’re taking a left turn in 1km and the wind will be behind so take care of yourself.” Then, “good job, I can see you all near the front, maintain position, the peloton is not going to split.”
As we neared 35 or so km in, the wind was a strong cross-wind. Luckily, Marv warned us in sufficient time so I managed to get a dream run into the corner before we turned into the crossy. I took the corner first wheel and started an eschelon with the riders around me. None of my team mates were there and I could hear Marv telling us the peleton was splitting, that there were 3 groups on the road. I had my fingers crossed that the girls were just a few riders behind me in my group. Then suddenly I hear Spratty say “Good job Roy”. It sounds lame but goes a long way during these tough races. A few seconds later and all of us are riding together, all 6 made it. High five.
It was a fast ride into the first climb (Kemmelberg), which was probably the hardest one out of all the classics this season. Rough cobbles, steep and takes a turn and gets steeper! Only about 200m long but enough to halve our group. Lizzie and Loren were caught a bit behind and never regrouped. Spratty, Gracie and myself grovelled into the front split. Vleuty seemed pretty comfortable at this point. After the narrow, technical down hill, we climbed a little bit again, much longer but no cobbles. Not a lot happened until we were on the 3rd climb and Vleuty attacked taking 3 good riders with her from separate teams. Perfect! But suddenly, Team Boels (probably the best performing team this season) started to chase. Marv was on the radio telling Vleuty, still in the lead group, to work it but I was on the wheels of Boels without Spratty in sight so I radioed back to Marv and said “BOELS CHASING!” The group came back a few minutes later and Marv asked Spratty over the radio to confirm that Boels were in fact chasing. This changed our understanding of their race plan.
Marv then told me to mark (Lizzie) Armistead (current World Champion, absolute machine) from Boels and for the other 3 to try attacking. It wasn’t long before we were on the Kemmelberg again and unfortunately Spratty and Gracie lost contact. The group was down to 20. There were 2 from most big teams and 4 from Boels! 35km to finish from here and they attacked the whole way! At first Marv said for me to sit on the back and go for the sprint but with all the action he then said for Vleuty and I to take turns covering any attacks that had both Wiggle and Boels together. That was pretty much all of them! There were a few times I was away with Armistead and Guarnier from Boels and Elisa from Wiggle and thought “Oh yeah, cool, this is going to the finish!” But no.
There was one stage where I was absolutely cooked, hanging off the back in a cross-wind trying to get some sort of sit. I came ridiculously close to not being able to go on, I was hurting and I wasn’t able to get in the echelon. Marv was radioing to be aggressive but I was just battling to turn the pedals over. There comes a time in some races where you feel like your wheels have turned into squares, and I had a moment where it felt like I wasn’t in the race anymore and everything just stopped. I basically had to make a decision. Something about being in the final group that gives you a little more motivation, and also half dropping a wheel and 2 riders going around you when you thought you were last wheel.
That was it. I stayed with Armistead, we rode the last 9km easy, the race went off ahead. A Canyon rider attacked solo and won, Vleuty finished 6th.
Way too tired to think much. Pumped I could dig so deep, my legs weren’t on a good day but mentally I had what it took to be in the front group – another step to go…
Bitter sweet. Everyone was really positive towards my performance but at the same time a little disappointed we didn’t have numbers at the end. Gracie was on a bad day, which happens, and Spratty was hit by a car not long ago so nobody was mad, just a little frustrated. A top 10 is still really good though.
The whole of SUSF congratulate Sarah on her champion effort and look forward to following her journey this road cycling season.