The 2014 Mt. Buller Road Race (by Verita Stewart)

This time last year Verita Stewart was lining up to race women’s C grade at the Mt. Buller Road Race. Last Sunday she raced A grade in the same race with ambitions of a top-10 finish, despite a less than ideal lead-up. In this guest post Verita talks us through her weekend, including the Mansfield criterium the day the Buller Road Race.

Regular readers of The Climbing Cyclist will know how far I have come in my short cycling career. Thanks to a lot of great mentors and supporters, some awesome opportunities, a great Team in Total Rush … and a lot of hard work too.

The hard work seems to be paying off. I’ve been training consistently for about 12 months now with my Super Coach and feeling great because of it. And with two new signings in Kate Perry and Emma Scott, our Total Rush team is looking as strong as ever.

This year is going to be a big one, and Sunday’s Mt. Buller Road Race was the second event on the Victorian Road Series calendar. My lead-up to the race was looking good … up until about two weeks ago at least.

The build-up

I was feeling super strong on the bike. I had some success during the last race of the Femme Vitesse crit series, where I picked up the most aggressive rider, laps leader and 3rd overall in GC (you can read about it here).

Although I hadn’t trained specifically for it, I also completed the 3 Peaks Challenge in early March. I finished in a time of just under 11 hours (you can read about it here) and my legs felt fantastic throughout. So I was looking forward to a strong performance in the looming Mt. Buller Road Race.

My good feelings were short lived. Two weeks ago, I somehow acquired a nasty virus which put me in bed for a solid three days and after that I suffered what some called “post viral” fatigue for another week. I was a disappointed to say the least.

I was itching to get on the bike, but my body just wouldn’t let me. Everyone told me, “You have to listen to your body”, and I did — I got back in bed. Cadel’s secret, sleep, was going to be my friend.

One week out from the race, I mustered up the courage and got on the bike. My legs felt like lead and I felt like I was riding on 60psi tyres. I went from feeling as strong as ever, to struggling to put out 100 watts along Beach Road.

I always place a lot of expectation on myself when racing, and this time was no different. Last year I came fourth in the Mansfield Crit and I won the Mt. Buller Road Race, albeit in C grade, but this year, in A grade, I wanted to prove myself and do well again. I had a goal of finishing top 5 before getting sick; now I doubted my ability to achieve a top 10.

The Mansfield Criterium

It was race day. After a pedal with the girls in the morning, I was feeling okay. I nervously lined up with my team mates Kelly and Kate, ready to go for the Mansfield Crit. There weren’t as many starters as I had hoped for. I’m not sure why, but there were plenty of A grade spectators on the sidelines, cheering us on!

We lined up with 11 others all the same and got on with it. Our plan was to be aggressive. With three of us from Total Rush represented, there was a good opportunity to test our team tactics.

The course is quite fast considering how technical it is — left, right, right, left, right, right, roundabout, left, left — it’s essentially a three-sided, short hotdog circuit.

Verita does a turn of pace on the front of the breakaway.
Verita does a turn of pace on the front of the breakaway.

I was in the hurt box from the gun but the race itself was fairly uneventful. A breakaway of four established itself almost straight away with myself, Lizzie Williams (Specialized Securitor), Lauretta Hanson (Building Champions Squad) and Shannon Malseed (Holden) all pushing the pace. There were a couple attacks on our group of four, but we pretty much stayed together until the final corner, where the sprint started and I was left behind.

There was no way that I could take on Lauretta, Lizzie and Shannon, who finished in that order. Not a bad result and my legs were definitely awake now!

Check out Verita’s Strava file from the Mansfield crit here.

The dash for the line, with Verita bringing the escape group home.
The dash for the line, with Verita bringing the escape group home.

That evening during dinner we all sat down together and discussed the looming race. It was Kate’s first road race since taking three years off to study and it was Emma’s first A grade race after a dominant performance in B grade at the Tour of East Gippsland.

This was going to be a short race — 47km long and likely to be over in around two hours. The final 16km would suit the climbers of the bunch, with the gradient at about 6%. We were all feeling good, excited to be racing together for the first time.

The Mt. Buller Road Race

It was a cold start on Sunday morning. Kelly, Emma, Kate and myself lined up with 30 other ladies, all wishing we had worn our long-finger gloves. I had a pretty ordinary sleep the night before and I was feeling a bit fatigued from my efforts the day before.

After a few attempts by various riders — including myself and riders from Bike Bug-Next Gen, Holden and Hampton Cycles — it was apparent that no-one would be allowed to get away. We rode almost two by two for the first 35km while Bicycle Superstore had a rider on the front controlling the pace. I sat towards the front (where I probably shouldn’t have been) while Kate, Kelly and Emma sat in, ensuring they were in a good position to start the climb.

New Total Rush-Hyster signing, Emma Scott, taps away on Mt. Buller.
New Total Rush-Hyster signing, Emma Scott, taps away on Mt. Buller.

As the tollbooth loomed, the mood in the bunch changed and the pace picked up. It was on. The tempo was kept high as we climbed, which prevented early attacks. I kept turning around to see where the rest of the team were positioned and I could see Kate’s helmet bobbing around, tucked in behind my former teammate Tessa Fabry.

At the halfway point of the climb, there were still about 16 riders together. Building Champions Squad, Bicycle Superstore, Holden, Hampton Cycles, Lizzie Williams and Tessa were all there, in the bunch … until about 4km to go.

Kate Perry was impressive in her first road race in the Total Rush-Hyster colours, climbing into third.
Kate Perry was impressive in her first road race in the Total Rush-Hyster colours, climbing into third.

It was getting late in the game and we were hardly going to have a sprint finish at the top, so I was nervously listening for the telltale sound of changing gears and a jump from the bunch. As soon as a lull in the tempo came, the predicable happened: someone attacked. It was Tessa, with our new rider Kate on her wheel. I was too slow to respond but others, including Lizzie, Flick Wardlaw (Bicycle Superstore), Georgina Beech (BikeBug NextGen) and Shannon Malseed, were quick to follow.

From then on the bunch of 16 was no longer, with a group of six or so up the road, and myself and everyone else chasing. In the end, it was Lizzie Williams first, Tessa Fabry second, and Kate Perry on the podium for Total Rush in third! I managed to hold on to a top 10 finish in seventh place, with Kelly and Emma not far behind.

Check out Verita’s Strava file from the road race here.

The wash-up

So despite not having the lead-up I would have liked, I’m happy with how both the crit and the road race turned out. I finished top 10 in both and I was certainly not expecting that result, at all.

Seeing Kate on the podium was an awesome result for the team! That girl can climb! In hindsight, I probably spent too much time on the front … as usual. The usual fears of getting dropped are the main driver for me, especially considering how my legs were feeling. I think I need to get my “get off the front, grasshopper” top tube sticker back. I’m working on it.

"Get off the front, grasshopper!"
“Get off the front, grasshopper!”

It is time for a rest week, after which I’m looking forward to feeling 100% again and to having a better lead-up to the next race on the calendar: the Mt. Baw Baw Classic.

Until next time, get on your bike and ride it!

You can check out more of Verita’s articles for The Climbing Cyclist here and her personal blog here. You can also follow Verita on Twitter, Instagram and Strava.

All images in the post appear courtesy of Jo Upton Photography.

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