The final stage of the ToTR saw just two of the mighty Valkyries making the 4hr trek out to Albury, due to some scheduling conflicts, but KateM and I were lucky enough that her parents live half way to Albury so we stopped overnight for a home cooked meal and some time in their outdoor hot tub.
We discussed our strategy and tactics in detail and its interesting how much we have learned just over the stages of this tour; so we had a range of strategies, contingency plans and things to avoid to ensure a good result.
My focus, as it has been the whole tour, was on seeing if I have come far enough in training to get ahead of the lovely Jen from Griffith CC after coming so much closer at Coota in Stage 4.
I was feeling reasonably strong and mostly not sore (except for some shoulder and neck weariness from smashing out some roof painting with Cheska) but not being a climber I was realistic going into the race that hills are more Jens forte than mine.
I just hoped there might be some longish, flatter sections where I could use my strengths. My hopes were a bit dashed though when I realised that the start line was basically the foot of the steepest climb (7 or 8% over Talgarno Gap) which wouldn't give me time to warm into the race. I was also pretty concerned that I had neglected to bring any of the 5000 ventolin inhalers I own...
Arriving in Bellbridge to drive to the Bethanga start line though, the hills were completely daunting, and all around us. Driving over the hilltop finish all flagged and ready to go the smooth winding roads through bright green hills looked straight out of the TDF, and I began to get pretty excited about what would be some epic hilltop finishes.
At rego I was pleased to see that the women stalwarts of the ToTR had all turned up including 15 year old future star Elle Irvine, her mum Leanne and of course Jen Massey. Along with Kate and I there was one other local woman racing who looked a heck of a lot fitter (and on a seriously blinged bike) than the rest of us.
We lined up for the start in our combined Men's D/Women's B and C bunch and the old psychological banter started "you're not a climber, these girls are all really light, you'll get dropped on the first hill"
But this time there was another voice. I channelled the wisdom of our coach and heard "pick a good wheel, get away quickly off the line and just get on a good wheel".
So, we rolled away and I got straight on a wheel of one of the d grade blokes we have made friends with over the tour and set off, thankfully he knew I was behind him and kept it manageable, but pretty soon we were at the climb.
All of a sudden the unknown woman took off and attacked straight up the steep section like it was nothing, very quickly gaining a 20m lead on the whole bunch. The blokes initially didn't react until she was really opening up a decent lead so (looking a bit stunned) they had to respond and spat me out the back.
I heard Simon saying don't panic, keep going and we will try and catch them on the descent and so I kept it at a hard but manageable pace and soon enough we were over the crest and starting to move again, and lo and behold - there was Jen, also spat out the back, with a big bloke halfway between us. This is my chance I thought.
He picked up speed to go around her, so, keen to avoid my tactical mistake at Coota where we winded up towing her back into the race, instead of sitting on his wheel, I attacked further around on his right and suddenly we were ahead and she hadn't gotten on.
GO Go Go I screamed at the guy, which to his credit - he did (sometimes being a girl is very useful) and we were smashing it down the hill. Using our TTT skills as soon as I sensed him flagging I got on the front and smashed it then called him up as I tired. It was an epic pace line chase for a good ten kms being just off the bunch and we got within 30m at one point but hit a long climb and couldn't quite get on.
My new impromptu companion was riding an italian Basso bike, and I'm sure I even heard an italian accent on him.
There was a geat moment once I marshalled him to work for me as domestique when he suddenly be came just as excited about our epic chase as me and started yelling just as much as me "Ah-come on. We a gonna chase this bunch down!!! Lets go Lets Go!!!"
So exciting and perfect for a Giro, in the style of the Giro de Italia.
Wanting to stay away I kept us working and taking turns all the way into Bellbridge and around Lake Hume till we started to come around the loop and - on an amazing fast windy descent I suddenly realised I was having the time of my life and WOoHOo I took off!!!
Turning back towards the start line I realised I'd worn my buddy out and I would have to go it alone. Crossing the start line for lap two I felt tired in the legs but surprisingly confident. I knew what I had to do, I knew I could manage Talgarno Gap again and the Long undulation to Bellbridge and just comforted myself that if I managed to stay away for all that - it was only a 2.5km climb equivalent to stromlo. So I pushed on, working to keep the effort up and focusing on a high cadence. I saw another guy from MD dropping out but otherwise I was completely alone and a huge headwind had picked up.
As I approached the final climb my head checks got more frequent. Jen was nowhere in sight but I knew I couldn't out climb her and that shed be working to catch me on the final hill.
Finally it was time and I made the left up the 9-10% start feeling dead but was suddenly buoyed by the sight of another bloke ahead. If I could pass him, that would mean I'd come ahead of three blokes and all but one of the women. So I turned on my stromlo drill focus. Stick to a cadence, stick to a consistent heart rate and keep it steady - only 2.5km to go.
Little by little I edged past him and then it was 1km to go, and then a sharp switchback at 600m for the final pinch.
Worried that he'd chase me I got out of the saddle to open the gap up - which is when I realised I could see the whole valley - and that's when I realised that the rest of the women's field was nowhere in sight.
Reaching the top was a pretty big moment for me, after working so hard to improve through this series and I was especially grateful to the Griffith CC guys for waiting around to cheer the women over the line, as the marshalls had all left and weren't there to record places.
I'm pretty proud of how far I've come. Its been tough, but the view is certainly worth the climb.
Well done to Kate who smashed C grade again and took out the C grade series.
Can't wait till next year.