Bike touring in Tasmania

April 1st, 2016

So it’ s been almost a 3 year hiatus from blogging on this site. Kids certainly keep you busy! What better way to revive this blog with an entry about our recent family adventure bike touring in Tasmania?

I first floated the idea to Dave last November about the possibility of going bike touring with the kids in 2016. It was an idea I suggested with some trepidation given the young age of our kids – Jessica, 3 and Isaac not yet 1. However, being the adventurous couple that we are and that “adventure holidays” (well , family holidays in general) have been suspended for the early child rearing years we decided to take the plunge and head to the lovely apple isle, Tasmania.

We decided the cooler month of March might be best for travel, although you never know in Tasmania – it can be 4 seasons in one day.

Prior to embarking on this little adventure , we did some test runs in Canberra and surrounds. For two successive Saturdays we planned out a 60-70km route from home. The first one being fairly local around Lake Burley Griffin so that if things went pear shaped we were within a reasonable travel distance to home. Thankfully, all went quite smoothly. It was a beautiful sunny day and as we meandered our way around the lake, stopping at Black Mountain peninsula for lunch, I found my thoughts wandering to the several years that I enjoyed racing in Europe.

For the second dry run we headed from Dunlop up to Sutton and looped back via the Federal highway service road to Eagle Hawk. The first section of the route took advantage of Canberra’s great bike paths around Gungahlin and we enjoyed our first stop at the popular Forde playground. Then it was onto the pleasant undulating country roads around Sutton and a lunch stop at Eagle Hawk . We were happy that Jess and Isaac were travelling well in the back together and aside from some obligatory squawks of discontent from Isaac and some louder shrieks from Jessica about minor incidents (such as the shade cover on the trailer Velcro coming unstuck!?) we were encouraged that our Tasmania bike tour might actually come together. Sure, we weren’t going to set any speed records, averaging 19.8km/hr, but I had to turn my ex-racing brain off and keep repeating the mantra “We don’t have to get their fast, we just have to get there…”

Given it was our first family bike touring trip, we decided it would be wise to bring along Dave’s parents as a Plan B. Sure, 2 days of dry runs had gone reasonably well but 10 days might be pushing it. Besides, Michael and Jill could have a lovely scenic holiday as they drove the route and met us up for lunch and stops along the way.

March 8th – off we go! We drove down to Melbourne and took the Spirit of Tasmania ferry across Bass Strait.

The furthest car trip we had done with kids up to this point had been Sydney to Wagga, about 5 hours driving time, so Canberra to Melbourne (8 hours) was certainly a new challenge. I had half expected that Isaac would be the tricky one to contend with and would tire of things quickly. It turned out Jessica was the one asking “are we there yet” not long into the trip. It certainly wasn’t the worst of car trips but given an incredibly hot and long day, it definitely didn’t rank as one of my favourites.

Things perked up when we boarded the overnight ferry. Jess was all wide eyed and amazed that we were all going to spend the night together as a family in a cabin (yippee) and we allowed her to stay up past bedtime as we enjoyed a lovely sunset and the night lights across Port Phillip Bay.

After a long drive, Dave and I were both looking forward to a decent night’s rest. It started out ok but once the ferry had left Port Phillip Bay the rocking began. A rocking action that should (in theory) rock one to sleep, however this was far from the case as every rock forwards was accompanied by a loud bang as something rolled around in the depths of the ship. It was one of those nights where you don’t feel like you have slept at all so when the PA system came to life at 5.45am to get us out of bed and swiftly into our cars to disembark I was very much wishing that I drank coffee. Baby Isaac probably had the best sleep of all of us… which is a problem when your baby is bursting with energy and the rest of you are feeling like death warmed up.

Sunset as ferry departed Melbourne

Sunset as the ferry departed Melbourne

Day 1
Drive to Launceston and then ride to Scottsdale

Whilst Tasmania is an excellent place for touring, we only had 2 weeks off work so we needed to condense the bike touring part to 10 days. We would have loved to have traversed greater parts of the island but decided it was best for all involved to keep our travelling circuit to the North East section. Also it was important with little ones in a double chariot trailer being hauled behind that we selected quieter, less major roads and hopped on bike paths and rail trails where possible. So we decided on a quick drive to Launceston – 3 adults and 2 kids + all out luggage piled into our car and Michael catching the bus.

From there we unpacked the trailer from the back of our car and left Dave’s parents to some peaceful scenic driving.

We began our trip on a rail trail and were only 5km into the trip when we realised that we had left my back wheel skewer on the pavement where we had unpacked. Surprisingly it hadn’t been noticed in the first 5 km until the pressure was applied on a small rise. Definitely unsafe to continue so Dave unhitched the trailer and scooted back to retrieve it from just where we had left it. Meanwhile I hand rocked Jess and Isaac to sleep by shifting the trailer back and forth whilst sitting on the pavement!

The rail trail took us through some dodgy suburbs with lots of burnt out cars and a frustrating number of anti-car barriers which would have been navigable if you just had a bike , difficult with a bike and panniers and next to impossible with a bike, panniers and a double trailer. We ended up unhitching the trailer and lifting it (still containing 2 children) over the barriers. Who says cyclists don’t need upper body strength?!

Isaac ready to take over the driving

Isaac ready to take over the driving

This undesirable suburban route and the fact that it had began to rain was not the best start to our touring holiday. Once we had stopped and refuelled the children and ourselves at a tiny general store on the outskirts of Launceston, we were on our way again. Things were looking up again as we wove our way through beautiful forests and the sun began to shine. We met up with Dave’s parents in Lilydale and were grateful for lunch and a spot for the kids to explore. At this point, Jess decided that she had had enough of the trailer so jumped in the car with Nan and Grandad heading for Scottsdale. For this 2nd part of the journey Isaac, now sitting in the centre position in the trailer like Lord Muck, havd a ball without his sister and again slept for a few hours.

There was a fair bit of road works along this route requiring us to stop at temporary lights and wait for oncoming traffic. Due to the snail’s pace we were travelling at, we struggled to make it through these sections before the lights would change and we’d find ourselves directly in line with oncoming traffic. Now there’s motivation to pick up the pace!

During our test rides in Canberra we had averaged close to 20km/hr. Now that we were in Tassie, I was reminded why I had chosen to train down here during my racing career: it is hilly everywhere. If the road is not going down then it’s going up. With a single bike you can often ride the rolling hills by getting decent speed on the descent and zooming up the other side. When carrying a trailer that is incredibly hard to accelerate and acts like a parachute on the descents. Our average speed dropped to closer to 15km/hr.

Our first night in Scottsdale provided an opportunity to go platypus spotting in the creek across the road from our accommodation. Unfortunately after staring at a number of ripples on the water and encountering noisy ducks we didn’t spot any platypi. However it was still an enjoyable walk around the boardwalk in a lovely bush setting . I slept like a log that night.

Day 2
Scottsdale to St Helens

This was our big distance day so we decided to aim to leave at 8.30am. Turns out we left closer to 9am but that’s the reality when you not only have to get yourself ready but two little ones. Isaac kept wanting to crawl around the car park whilst we were packing the car and Jessica was busying herself in the owner’s veggie garden. Nan and Grandad had a nice quiet morning to themselves as they explored Scottsdale and enjoyed rhubarb smoothies.

Rail trail out of Scottsdale. Always felt like I was copping out when Dave towed trailer as well as rack with 2 panniers!

Rail trail out of Scottsdale. Always felt like I was copping out when Dave towed trailer as well as a rack with panniers!

The rail trail at the start of this ride was quite bumpy in parts which really turned up Isaac’s discontentment dial. He whinged, bit his sister, pulled her hair and of course she reacted with as much punch as possible. I was grateful for my headphones blaring music for this section as I hauled a trailer full of yelling kids. It was slow travelling with a steady uphill gradient of about 3% for 15km but again it was enjoyable to be out riding in the cooler part of the morning, riding through stunning forests.

By the time we arrived at Bruxholm for lunch, some 3 hours later, we had only travelled 25km of the 108km trip. Jessica was definitely over it by now and begging to join Nan and Grandad in the car. Turns out she enjoyed cheese tasting, milkshakes, waterfalls and a playground visit… all before arriving at St Helens for the night.

Zac again enjoyed the solitude of the trailer and drifted off to sleep as Dave and I rotated turns pulling the trailer, travelling up and down the mountain ranges on the way to St Helens. A real treat was travelling through the bike friendly town of Derby. Once a deserted old mining town, it has been transformed into a MTB mecca and has hosted top National events. As we travelled through on the road, both of us were wondering if Isaac would notice if we suddenly took a detour off road and zigzagged through some single trails.  🙂

By 3.30pm we still had a few hours to go which would include climbing over another mountain range and the rain had begun to set in. We called the grandparents for a pick up and Dave finished off alone still towing an empty trailer so we could get the kids settled in the overnight cabins before their bed times.

Day 3
Rest day in St Helens

Loving the beach at Binalong Bay

Loving the beach at Binalong Bay

It poured throughout the night and the rain was still heavy in the morning. We faced the challenge after 2 days of riding of washing and drying a heap of clothes. (I wasn’t too keen on wearing wet knicks the next day!) The driers at Big 4 St Helens were getting a work out by many campers. Thankfully we didn’t have to endure cabin fever with the kids all day as an afternoon break in the weather allowed us to explore the town of St Helens and then go for a nice drive to the white sands of Binalong Bay. We stopped off at Taylors Beach, off the Gardens road where the kids tumbled and rolled in sand ( and Isaac ate it). Of course they managed to get sand into every crevice of themselves as well as bring half the beach into the car. Did I mention that Dave loves sand?!

Day 4
St Helens to Bicheno

This was my favourite day thus far as the road hugged the coast, the sun was out and we had a nice cross tailwind allowing to push the pace.

We had a morning tea break at Falmouth (yep, pronounced foulmouth!) where we met some friendly grey nomads who were impressed with our efforts and commended on us our useful hand signals whilst on the open roads. After a 30 minute stop we powered onto Bicheno. Along this coast there were very few reserves to stop at so we ended up having lunch on a farmers driveway. I had time trialled for a solid 35km with the trailer and was at the point of cracking it on all fronts so it was a refuel just 10km from our next night’s stop at Bicheno. A highlight of our final section was watching an echidna bumbling across the road – a sight you are most likely to miss when driving.

We arrived at the family backpackers in Bicheno and was grateful for free wifi , showers and a yummy dinner again catered  by Michael and Jill. Bicheno is renowned for its fairy penguin populations coming up onto the beach in the twilight evenings. We ventured out at dusk and sat for about an hour. Unfortunately no penguin sightings this evening – just plenty of mosquitoes.

Day 5
Bicheno to Coles Bay (and Isaac turns 1!)

We woke to steady rain and given it wasn’t a scheduled rest day, it was back to riding in the rain. Managed a later 10am checkout time for Isaac to open some presents and play with the paper before riding towards Coles Bay.

Isaac turns 1! Don't know where this year has gone :)

Isaac turns 1! Don’t know where this year has gone :)

We made good time today as I was feeling energetic and it was only 33km. Just like a race time trial really – except I’m hauling 35 kg of children and trailer. We encountered intermittent rain for the first half and then the sun peeped through the clouds as we rolled into Coles Bay. It’s an absolute gorgeous part of the world-crystal clear waters surrounded by craggy mountain ranges.

We spent the afternoon splashing around at Richardson’s beach. It was pretty fresh in the water but that doesn’t usually deter kids and we found ourselves carrying two shivering children back to our cottage. We finished the day with a celebratory cupcake for Isaac who looked pretty chuffed with himself.

Day 6
Rest day in Coles Bay

I decided that I couldn’t resist a ride through Freycinet National park and managed a solo ride up to the Cape Tourville  lighthouse. The sealed road leading up to the lighthouse is steep and reminded me of the Muur of Fleche Wallonia. The view from the top is stunning and well worth the trip. I returned with the kids in the afternoon and luckily I had Isaac held close in a sling as we were almost blown away by the force of the wind on the 600m viewing boardwalk.

 

Day 7
Coles Bay to Launceston

We had a small problem – 4 adults and 2 kids weren’t going to all fit in our car and given that we needed to cover a large distance (190k from Coles Bay to Launceston) one of us was going to need to ride. Dave planned a nice quiet cycling route that ran parallel to the major highway running from Campbelltown to Launceston. It was always going to be a huge riding day for Dave but he was up for the challenge and left at 6.30am.

Hearing the early departure, the kids were also up at the crack of dawn (there is no such thing as a leisurely morning anymore!) and we packed up the cottage and the rest of us set of for the drive. We stopped at the “Pondering Frog cafe” (just after the Coles Bay turn off) to sample their homemade berry ice cream. Nothing to rave about but Jess certainly devoured her kid’s size cone. We passed Dave as he was approaching Campbelltown and all stopped for lunch in a little park near RedBridge cafe, which had a yummy range of gluten free food. I decided to join Dave for the last 80km stretch of back country roads to Launceston. Isaac was keen for a sleep and again enjoyed the solitude in the trailer, whilst Jessica relished 1 on 1 time (or is that 1 on 2 time?) with Nan and Grandad.

We were able to travel along smooth, traffic free roads at a decent speed with a roaring tailwind. The only problem was that there were no rest areas or villages for about 50km. Fortunately Zac slept the time away. As we rolled into Launceston, I was enjoying the descent with the trailer so much that I missed Dave’s calls to turn off to our accommodation half way down. We endured an extra 5km to an already long trip to top off the day – but I’m sure Dave will forgive me eventually.

Our accommodation was in an old 2 storey B and B called Windmill Lodge which was in need of significant renovations and it was a squeeze for 4 adults, however the breakfast was amazing and given that we were still catching up on food from the epic day before, we spent a long time at the buffet. 🙂

Day 8
Launceston to Deloraine

On day 8 we travelled at a nice casual pace for the 50km trip from Launceston to Deloraine. We stopped at a small village called Carrick for the kids to play and run off some energy. This didn’t seem to do a huge deal of good as our second leg of the trip was spent having stern words with each kid as they attempted to kill the other in the trailer. I think the trip was starting to take its toll, which wasn’t too bad considering we had made it to Day 8. Deloraine is a lovely town with plenty places to stock up on food. We stayed in a nice roomy house with views of the mountains.

Day 9
Deloraine to Devonport

We had made it to our final riding day! Once again it was raining which was not at all an issue for the kids with the rain cover and the excellent waterproofing on our Chariot trailer (I’m very glad we had invested in a good quality double trailers – it’s had good use and really lasted the significant riding time and load we’ve placed on it). Dave had mapped out some nice quiet roads off the main highway which had us stopping for a break at Kimberly – a tiny village with thermal springs. Whilst the springs were not so warm, it was a nice spot with a pond for some eel spotting and trees for Isaac to peel bark from! I really felt I was loafing on this last day of riding as I was without panniers or trailer. It felt great to be free of all loads so I mixed it up with some hill sprints and short efforts. One could almost call it training again. 🙂 No I’m not planning a return to a racing career but was thinking it was going to have me fitter for the Thursday women’s ride in Canberra (the WIP ride) which we have just started.

The final 10km into Devonport along the river was very pleasant and we finished up for lunch at the Rectory – a unique cafe right near the ferry terminal. Our last night was squished into a cabin at the windy shores of East Devonport Big 4 and unfortunately not an optimal night’s rest with both Jess and Isaac deciding that going to sleep was overrated and that waking up before 6am was the new trend.

Day 10
Drive to Ulverstone and Penguin

playground at Penguin

playground at Penguin

We had coped pretty well with the 4 of us and extended family but by day 10, Dave and his parents were after a quiet day before boarding the ship home. I decided to take Jess and Isaac to the berry farm at Taylors beach just out of Devonport. It’s a cool spot where you pick your own strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and muck around in the hay bales and sandpits. From there we did a tour of the playgrounds of Penguin and Ulverstone as we wiled away the afternoon before catching the ferry overnight back to Devonport.

 

Day 11
Drive Melbourne to Canberra

Once off the ferry, we visited some friends in St Kilda for breakfast before setting off on the long car trip back to Canberra. We had all slept better on the return ferry, nevertheless an 8 hour driving trip left us all feeling like we needed another holiday to unwind. Arriving home Saturday night, it was back to the grind on Monday morning.

Berry picking at Taylors Beach

Berry picking at Taylors Beach

I can genuinely say that it was a successful first family cycling holiday and hope there are many more adventures to follow. 🙂 We already talking about our next bike touring trip to New Zealand so it can’t have been too bad.

Teaching Jessica the art of drafting

June 10th, 2013

Before setting out Jess is looking cosy in her Yeti suit though somewhat apprehensive.

 

Life in the Whitelaw family has been going well. Jessica is now 10 months old and very much loves the outdoors. It’s quite amazing to see how interested she is in the minute details of the world. We call her our “little inspector” as she enjoys inspecting the smallest specks on our carpeted floor, picking them up and twirling them in her new-found pincer grip and then finishing off with a taste. According to Jess, adults do not utilise all their senses to the maximum and everything must be tasted. A very scary thought given the number of harmful substances she could get her hands on.

Currently Jessica is not the moving type. I’m told by others that I should enjoy this phase while it lasts. You put her down in one place and she is still there 5 minutes later – observing everything intently around her and especially enjoying “people watching” at cafes. Jessica has a theory… why should I move when mum or dad can carry me around, especially when it’s in my Chariot?

We recently purchased the bees-knees of kid’s bike trailers – a Chariot, which is very appropriately named for Jessica. She loves to sit reclined in the middle of this double trailer and being quite vocal along the way. We’ve contemplated buying her a little whip to crack when she wants us to move things along.

While she’s enjoying a leisurely ride in the back, and gaining a massive energy saving from the draft, I’m slogging it out on the front. With her weight of 7kg and a trailer around 13kg, it certainly provides a nice resistance to practice leg strength endurance on the local bike paths around Canberra. Throw in a headwind, and I’ve seriously wondered whether I’m going to get home some days. In addition to an increased load, the Chariot acts as a nice little parachute!

In order to tow the chariot, I bought a new Specialized cyclocross bike which is heavier and sturdier than my road bike. I’m really enjoying its versatility for various surfaces and terrains. This bike and trailer set up is perfect for my training program and my come back to elite cycling. 🙂 Just need to start hitting some of the climbs around Canberra for some serious strength efforts.

Maybe I should try racing with the trailer – it would give Jess a great view of the race and would certainly stop anyone from sucking my wheel!!

 

Now that's just mischief personified

Now that’s just mischief personified

Mischief

December 18th, 2012
Just trouble!

Just trouble!

Where’s the manual?

August 24th, 2012

Jessica Kate or “Le Foetus” as she was known in utero (to allow us an additional entry in a Tour de France tipping competition – in which she promptly beat both her parents might I add) arrived on July 27th – 6 days past her due date.

We’ve had an exciting but also overwhelming month since bringing her home and both Dave and I have at times wondered why babies don’t come equipped with instruction manuals!

As a new parent I discovered a mix of emotions – anxiety, fear, joy and disbelief – that I had never experienced before. In hospital, Jessica had been swaddled tightly, placed between us on a comfy double bed and we had all together as a family caught up on 3 hours of valuable shut eye after an exhausting few days before/during the labour. (I’ll save you all from that story!)

On arriving home for our first night, we expected to just replicate that same scene. Swaddle baby tightly, place in bassinet next to parents’ bed and everyone would go to sleep. Bzzzt! Wrong!

The next 2 weeks were all a bit of a blur as we took turns doing night shifts to settle a screaming baby. Jessica would sleep fine for some intervals in the night – as long as she was comfortably snuggled on her parents’ chest whilst they were suitably uncomfortable. This was a tough time because neither Dave nor I are able to sleep sitting up or on our back. I was prepared for interrupted sleep but several days of no sleep each night were wearing me very thin. Sort of put the Giro Donna in perspective – at least I got to sleep between stages there.

In the end, bringing Jess into our big family bed (which prior to her arrival was not part of my plans) was the only way to survive the madness and allow us a few hours of rest.

Fortunately things have  improved dramatically in the last 2 weeks as we as parents grow in confidence and receive invaluable support and assistance from family and friends. We are all much better rested, able to enjoy couple time and both Dave and I are back into a (rather modified) exercise routine. I managed a very cruisy mountain bike ride the other day and have been enjoying lifting weights back in the gym.

Life is certainly different with a little one (duh!) but it is one that I am very much enjoying and muddling through.

We reached a milestone a couple of weeks back… we realised we had gone a whole day without taking a picture of Jessica!?! Even though the photo taking has slowed down lately we are still very glad to be in the age of digital photography – otherwise I think we would be broke after paying for all the film development. Without posting our entire family album here, I have added a few photos of Jess.  I think she is kind of cute, but readily admit that I might just be a little biased.

Until next time I emerge from my sleepless daze…
Vicki

In sling

Almost the same shape as before.

Jess

I’ve got my eye on you!

Jess

They have to tie me down to stop me getting away.

It’s true – there is life after cycling!

July 15th, 2012

We have kept my website alive with the idea that I might like to come back and blog from time to time. Whilst that hasn’t happened on a regular basis, there is no time like the present to get started and fill you in on what’s happened since I decided to retire from professional cycling.

I guess the biggest news is that our first baby is due in a little under a week! Well, I guess that depends on who you talk to. The experts all like to tell me that the first bub is always late, so I guess looking at around 2 weeks.  I sure hope not! Things are getting just a little uncomfortable at the moment and I’m kind of thinking that it would be nice to see my toes again, do up my own shoe laces without assistance and basically feel a little less like a heffalump.

Vicki

1 week to go!

I ‘spose I really shouldn’t complain as I’ve been able to remain fairly active. It’s only been in the last week that walking has taken over as my predominant exercise routine. Prior to that I was mountain biking 4 times a week and hitting up the single track close to home. The mountain bike was the natural choice for biking – at least it was after Dave managed to hunt down the steepest and shortest handlebar stem on the market. (A 30 degree, 40mm abomination with 2omm of spacers below it!?! – Dave) Now I look like a little old Dutch lady on her way to market – all I need to complete the image is a basket on the front. I don’t think I could get further away from the position I have been racing in for years! At least I managed to squeeze another couple of months of cycling in – I have always found it the best form of exercise for my joints. Well that and weight training . Now that my ligaments have the strength of jelly and my joints seem to be exploring angles they have never achieved before I was hardly going to take up running again… that would be an injury waiting to happen!

After spending the previous 5 Aussie winters in Europe basking in the sunshine a Canberra winter was always going to be a shock to the system. Mornings are the toughest as we frequently see heavy frosts and balmy -5 deg temps.  Whilst mountain biking  in the forest and at a slower pace is somewhat warmer and less breezy than on the road, on each ride I’ve had to sit huddled behind Dave and sunggle hands into armpits when I get the chance. This is all while trying not to fall off, what with an ever growing belly and changing centre of gravity.

I’ve also being getting my cycling fix following the Women’s Giro di Italia (thanks Podium Cafe!) and the Tour de France… in that order of importance of course. It was incredibly exciting to see highlights of the awesome competition between Marianne Vos, the 2 Emmas and Evelyn Stevens. Marianne’s class as a rider and her warmth and personality make her such an asset to women’s cycling and I’m hoping she stays around for a long time.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing the sensational results of the women’s GreenEdge team. With such a talented group of riders, great direction and a team that seems to gel and work well together, they were always going to launch onto the scene with a bang. With their attacking and aggressive style of racing (which I was always a fan of myself) I think the future is looking really positive for them.  It’s almost enough to make we wish I had taken them up on their offer… almost.

On retiring from the professional scene, I was keen to remain involved in the sport rather than just become a passive observer. Cycling will always be part of our family as we really enjoy the sport and the fitness it provides but I also figured it was my turn to dish out some pain after all the ‘tough love’ I have received from my coachs throughout my career. To this end I have been studying for, and progressing through, my cycling coaching certificates.

Coaching is something that I have been thinking about for a while – I just needed some “down time” before I commenced my studies. Whilst I have an Exercise and Sport science degree and have studied coaching subjects at university, it has been refreshing to study through the cycling Australia program with mentors such as Sian Mulholland and Donna Rae Szalinski, who both just happen to be previous coaches of mine. It has been a good combination of theory and practical and, whilst it will take several years to gain the knowledge and experience required, I’m looking forward to the journey.

As part of the qualification I’m currently working towards I am now coaching a 17 year old who is based in Tasmania. I’m thoroughly enjoying working through his season, planning his weekly training programs and, of course, putting the “hurt” on another cyclist. 🙂 So far, so good and I look forward to the next 6 months as I assist him in achieving his goals, whilst also making allowance for his normal life activities like school and work.

Since returning from Worlds last year in October, I have been back into work as an exercise physiologist and soft tissue therapist. I finished up a week ago and, whilst I still felt capable of working right up until my due date, Dave suggested that it was possibly cutting things a bit too fine. I’m not used to hanging around home with nothing to do but it has certainly been nice to chill out with friends over lunch, lounge around reading and catch up on lots of DVDs. Apparently I will have my hands pretty full very soon. 😉

So there you go – there is life after cyclling!
Vicki

“So long… farewell…”

October 28th, 2011

It’s been over two months since my last blog and I’m sorry to all who regularly read my entries and have followed my adventure for the lack of updates. If you hadn’t seen my name on some results pages at my final tour in Toscana, followed by the World Championships road race in Denmark at the end of September, you may have thought I had simply disappeared. 

So it’s about time I jump on here and let you all know of my plans from here on. After a great deal of reflection on my return to Australia almost a month ago, I’ve decided to hang up the bike and ‘retire’ from the professional peloton.

Since I started cycling at the young age of 27 I have hit the cycling  life hard – initially for 2 years in Australia and then 4 years overseas in the international peloton. I’ve had a good innings. Like many athletes, the journey has been far from smooth but it’s certainly been a challenging adventure and learning experience. Sure,  I would have liked to have skipped some of the tough times, but that’s life and an ever- trustworthy Jesus Christ has stood by me at all times.

I have had so many enjoyable times, trained in some awesome parts of the world and met many others passionate about cycling, some of whom I have formed life long friendships. Even though the life of a pro can be testing and exhausting, those friendships I’ve forged with people all around the world have been really something special. I will miss these times.

It was a tough decision given there were  some very exciting proposals presented to me to continue racing next year. GreenEdge is going to be a fabulous bunch of girls and a very professional team – I was very, VERY tempted to ride for ‘just one more’ year. However, the other exciting prospect for me is to spend much more time with my soul-mate and husband Dave and reconnect with my family and good friends here at my real ‘home’. (Italy= 2nd home 😉 )

Cycling will still remain my main form of aerobic exercise (running still kills the knees and honestly if humans were ment to run, we wouldn’t have invented the bicycle ;). It just means that I don’t have to train in rain, hail or shine for an average of  3 hours daily – it will be a nice change to throw some other activities into the mix from time to time. My very clean mountain bike that I purchased over 6 years ago might finally get some decent outdoors time. Right now, I’m also loving pumping the upper body weights in the gym several times a week – all in the name of feeling healthy and fit.

I’m also getting back into the swing of my other career: exercise physiologist and soft tissue therapist. I was well established in the profession long before this cycling addiction lead to a hiatus. It has been great to be welcomed back by my work mates at Clinic 88, Canberra and I look forward to the challenge of furthering my knowledge and skills in this area. I never want to stop learning.

So that’s it for now. Thanks to all who have encouraged me in my pursuits and also been a listening ear during those tough times. My big thanks are to Donna Rae Szalinski – super coach and friend who is truly outstanding in her ability to get the most out of every individual that she coaches. Also to Sian Mulholland who first trained me to race and for Glenn Doney for recognising my talents to give me a shot at the next step in the cycling hierarchy, even though I was “too old” according to many others. 😉  Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my husband Dave who has travelled and shared this journey alongside me (even though most of the time we have been 15,000km apart 🙂 ). I have been amazed at his capacity to step up to everything including mechanic, massage therapist, driver, tactician and No. 1 supporter, all thrown into one.

I know I began things with a “farwell”, however it’s not really good bye… just from the elite pro racer thing. Cycling is a great sport and I plan to be involved in some capacity in the future. I just need a bit of a break in the mean time.

I haven’t decided at this time  whether I will continue this blog, filling it with other random things that interest me. Unlike the 3 week decision I had to make regarding a team offer for next year, I have 2 months to decide whether I will thrill you with descriptions of the application of transverse friction technique for reduction of myofascial pain. Loads of time!

Ciao ciao,

Vicki

Stelvio training camp

August 25th, 2011
Hello from the top of the world! Well, the 2nd highest mountain pass in Europe at least.

It’s been a week since we left sea level and the 7 Aussie girls and our coach Dave McPartland and soigneur Liane Wild are having a great time on this mountain.

For the first few days, it was about adapting to these new heights. Day 1 we rode 3 hours from Tirano at only 700m to Passo di Foscagno at a mere 2100m. Views from our bedroom window were stunning and we enjoyed a well earned dinner knowing that the real adventure was going to begin the next day.

Room with a view from Foscagno

 
Day 2. We rugged up in some layers as descending at 70km/hr from our hotel at Foscagno back to Bormio (1200m)  in the early morning was quite breezy. From Bormio, we cruised along as a group in the valley before doing a U-turn to face the monster mountain climb to Stelvio pass. 

The Top Gear TV crew who had some fun on the Stelvio pass (minute 3.40) described it as “15 miles of asphalt spaghetti draped on an alp.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZm8VFCKNj4&feature=share

It really is a magnificent climb and with memories of last year’s women’s Giro where we actually ‘raced’ up this mountain, I was happier to be cruising at a more sedate pace.

Day 3 and 4 were ‘recovery’ days based at Hotel Pirovano, Stelvio Pass. We brought the rollers out onto the terrace and attempted to spin out the legs which were feeling heavy from the previous days efforts. A stereo pumping out the tunes and good company made these sessions a lot easier!

Recovery day on the rollers

Aside from a few tourist shops and a cafe, a Brattwurst stand and an automatic teller machine, there is not much to distract onself up here. The weekends are quite busy with loads of motorcycles testing out the switchbacks. Our hotel is also the place for summer skiing. Just a short cable car ride takes you up to 3400m and lots of SNOW!

Shame we can't ski while we're here. Our short hike - to take advantage of even greater heights!

 
Day 5 started with a tricky descent down to the town of Bolzano. We then enjoyed a casual 25km loop around the countryside filled with vineyards and orchards and although we were only at 700m, I was still struggling to breathe and feeling quite tired. Living at altitude with reduced oxygen is certainly a challenge and whilst the body responds by producing new red blood cells and increased capillaries to the muscles, these changes are made over a period of time. It is possibly not until 3 weeks after returning to sea level that the real benefits are going to be felt for me. Right now it’s all about balancing the all the training with loads of ‘feet up’ time, sleep and iron tablets!

We weren’t allowed to enjoy this flat terrain for too long. To reach ‘home’ the only way was up. From a small town of Santa Maria, Switzerland we climbed the steeper side of the Stelvio pass. It has some really exposed and windy sections and the cow’s jingling their neck bells did little to distract me from the pain I was feeling most of the way up. It was mentally tough to be ‘close’ enough to the top to see our hotel but still having to count down 10 switch backs (all neatly signposted at each turn) to the top.


Day 6 was another recovery day on the rollers. We have always drawn quite a crowd of onlookers for these sessions. I guess very few have seen rollers before… it’s equipment that is generally only used by track cyclists here in Europe. They marvel at how we can be pedalling furiously on metal barrels and not be travelling anywhere. I’ve had to be pretty careful about maintaining my balance and not make a fool of myself by falling offin front of an audience. Given increased episodes of dizziness whilst up here, it would be quite easy to do!  🙂

Day 7 and 8 were more tough climbing days. Day 8 was particularly tough as it included the Day 1 climb to Fossagno. With Mel on some sort of a mission due to the acquisition of her new ‘28’ cluster, she was content to sit the entire climb on the front, spinning away with a new found higher cadence. ( I continued for the 8th day in a row on my ‘25’ and have been getting some serious ‘strengthy’ workouts!  🙂  ) From here we descended into the busy town of Livigno (1800m) where we will be relocating to next week. After travelling 5km along the lake front on the flat, more climbing was in store as we made our way to Santa Maria, to revisit the Swiss side of the Stelvio climb. Thankfully I felt better than on Day 4. We have now climbed the last section of Stelvio 4 times and those signs listing the number of  switchbacks remaining to home are certainly cracking me. It’s better just not to look.  🙂

The days out on the bike have been magical and we have been blessed with sunny weather every day. The highlight for me has definitely been the thrill of  riding the many descents in this moutanous region. The views are stunning , the roads are smooth and there are always lots of cyclists ascending who give a friendly wave.

Much rather be descending than climbing the wiggly road that leads to Stelvio pass

We have 2 more days living at 2750m and then we’ll head to Livigno where we will be able to take advantage of some more intense training and some duty free shopping…

Till next time,

Vicki

A month full of races… to a month of none

August 18th, 2011

It’s been a while since I last posted so this is going to be a big one. Feel free to skip parts. 😉

We are more than half way through August and now I have a breather after a busy month in July. Way too much of a breather for my liking, but more on that disappointment later…

It was satisfying to finally post some results on the board in the tour of Thuringen, Germany which I raced with the Australian national team. I knew it was a tour that was going to really suit my racing style, having raced there 2 years ago.  Technical and narrow roads that were lumpy – but with climbs of the shorter, sharper type. Throw in some challenging weather conditions and some sketchy pave and it’s very much a tour for the tough women. Dave has already provided you with a great summary of how the race panned out for the Aussie team and myself, so I won’t go into the details again. Only to say that I came away from the race tired but happy that I was showing some strong form.

Following Germany, I hitched a ride with the Australian team for the long road trip to Sweden for the next World Cup. We decided to break things up a little by visiting Denmark’s World Championships road and time trial courses. 

Copenhagen is a really pretty and very bike friendly city. It has an extensive bike paths and a road-side system of bike lanes for commuters. The problem was that, as cyclists, it was where by law we had to ride. Sure, we were able to sight the time trial course which takes in the city’s main spectacles and tourist attractions (even passing the palace) but it was a little challenging with full daytime traffic and bad weather to really test the course out.

The following day we checked out the road course – a little distance from the city centre and on much quieter roads. It was already well signposted and quite a contrast to the previous 3 World Championships I have competed in.  Almost completely flat – well, 2 little ‘hills’ and a nice 900m drag to the finish. ( I struggle to call it a climb!) We rode 3 laps and were able to get quite a good feel for things. It will be a very fast course with potential for a strung out peleton on many sections. Here’s hoping I will be offered a spot on the team.  Team announcements won’t be until mid September, closer to the event which takes place on September 24th.

I finished up July with two World Cups in Sweden. The first was a team time trial. I have to admit that with the various teams that I have time trialled with in the past, I haven’t had the most positive experiences.  I have often walked away disappointed that due to differing goals and expectations of the race, the team hasn’t truly clicked and individuals have put in differing levels of commitment and effort. However, today’s race was a different story. The team was composed of Josie and Mel – both track pursuitist extraordinaires, Robyn and Ashleigh – our strong South Africans, the ever reliable Cathy and myself. We rehearsed the course a few days before, established an order that was going to maximise our strengths and went out and gave our best. Our ‘best’ was 9th out of the 22 teams. A decent result,  given the lack of any team practice for this event.

A few days later was the World Cup road race. I was feeling quite tired following a heavy block of racing but knew that I could hold it together for one final hit out before a break.

 It is an incredibly technical course, with bunch positioning of critical importance if you are to have any chance of being part of the action. For more than half of each lap the peloton was strung out. With attacks going off the front, particularly before the 300 m climb each lap, riders down the back were losing contact with the bunch after only a few laps. I maintained good position and after a warm up of 3 laps was starting to feel better. 

It is important to remain mentally focused in a race of this technicality and really put in on the line to ‘sprint’ for the corners and sections where the peloton thins out. Unfortunately, I let this focus drop slightly and drifted back to mid-peloton when the decisive group of 7 riders formed, just before the climb.  I was annoyed to not have made the selection as it looked likely to succeed as it contained several Dutchies from differing teams who were working well together.

Back in the peloton it was a cat and mouse game between Emma Johansson and Marianne Vos and with Annemeik Van Vleuten in the break up ahead, it was looking very good for Marianne and her team, Nederland Bloeit. Vleuten ended up taking the win and is back in the World Cup series jersey.

The peloton of 40 odd riders were sprinting for 7th place and it was madness. Not only were there some tight corners leading into the finish but they were spotted with road furniture – signs, median strips, thick poles. After being smacked and pushed around throughout the race by a certain rider, and then finding myself near her again coming into the finish, I decided my life was more valuable and drifted further back in the final sprint to ensure I stayed on the bike.

Fast forward to this week… I am currently spending several days in Belgium, doing some regional races. The great thing about Belgium is that there are races almost every weekend during the season. One can participate without a team – just turn up with a licence and you’re set to go. Since Sweden, I had had 10 days without racing (way too long for me!) and decided that doing three races over a 5-day visit to Belgium would be a good idea to get the heart, lungs and legs firing again.

I’ve been staying in Aalst at the Lotto team house. It’s a bit of a squeeze with 5 of us at the moment –  4 South Africans and myself.  Fortunately we all get along! In addition, the latest rain and high humidity has meant a major outbreak of mosquitoes. Every night before bed we were turning the rooms upside down on the hunt for any that have made it into the dark crevices and corners of our attic space. The little pests have interrupted our sleep for 3 nights and various sprays and repellants have seemed to do very little to dent the mozzie population. Our walls looks like a mini war zone – there are streaks of blood all over the walls!

I raced both days last weekend. The first race, in Heusden, the Flemish part of Belgium was a kermesse of 95km. It’s fairly flat racing and doing a course of 5.2km 18 times can get a little tedious unless there is some action happening. I was keen for a break all day, wanting to finish the race exhausted after the lack of racing. I was in a couple in the first half but nothing stuck for more than half a lap. My team mate, Ludivine made the decisive break with 6 laps remaining and managed to pull off 2nd. Once the break had gone, it was a fairly pedestrian pace in the peloton and it acted as my cool down.

The following day we lined up in Puivelde, a town 40km from our team house. It was threatening rain (hey, this is Belgium) but thankfully stayed dry all race. It was a similar format to the previous day: 17 laps of a 5.3km circuit. This time however it was completely flat and the roads were generally narrower.

The race organisers aim to keep these kermesse races interesting by having sprint primes on the finish line on alternate laps, with 10 euros up for grabs each time. This encourages us to actually ‘race’ and rewards the early breakaway riders. I was again hunting for a break but, like the previous day, every move off the front was quickly shut down. With 1 lap remaining, a Dolmans and a Look Kleo Italian rider had a 20 second gap. With half a lap, I bridged across with Lensy Deboudt on my wheel.  I caught the 2 riders and tried to encourage them to continue to roll turns as the peloton was bearing down on us very quickly. The Look Kleo rider had sat on us and attacked with 500m remaining. Lensy and I scrambled for her wheel and Lensy then sprinted 300m from the line. I didn’t have much left to come over her, rolling in 2nd.

There was prize money for the podium places but it is incredibly frustrating…  Rather than being paid to the rider on the day the money takes a round-about route through various national cycling federations, through my team to me. This is a lengthy process and most of it gets ‘lost’ somewhere along the way, never making it to the team. So, basically, I won’t see it. Even when the cash does turn up it takes a long time in coming – on average a year.  Good thing we aren’t poor cyclists struggling to make ends meet.  Oh, hang on…

Yesterday we raced in Brasschaat. This is a yearly race that attracts quite a crowd and a lot of competitive riders. The first race of the day consists of another kermesse of 80km. Following this, the top 20 riders of this race then race off laps up and down the main street. Each time the finish line is passed, the rider last across the line is eliminated from the race. (Often called ‘devil take the hindmost’.) The last rider remaining pockets 1000 euro!

The kermesse was a 4km circuit with a 600m section of cobbles. These weren’t of the really brutal type that we encountered in the Spring classics in April, however were energy zapping enough by the time we were onto our 10th of the total 16 laps. The peloton generally stayed together for the first half of the race. Skil Koga and Vlanderen Topsport were aggressive and managed to collect some decent money for the sprint primes on each lap.

Into the second half of the race, the cobbles created several splits in the bunch but again regrouping would occur once they were completed. By the 2nd last lap, it was obvious to us all that we were gearing up for a big bunch sprint. The finish straight was very wide but was approached by a much narrower single lane after a tight corner littered with witches hats. I had sussed out this corner on each lap, deciding on the best line and also the importance of being in the top 5. I achieved both these aims and was in a good position as Skil Koga were driving a lead out for Suzanne de Goede. She took the win and I was pleased with my effort for 5th. Getting more patient in these situations I guess.

So I had made the top 20 selection and was racing on the main street for 1000 euros. Skil Koga had 5 riders and it was obvious they were going to be putting it all on the line again for Suzanne. Each lap, they would take turns driving the front soon after the U-turn at each end. I was coping well and my strategy was to be consistently in the first half of the bunch each time we crossed the line. The group would really spread across the road and with 10 riders remaining I really misjudged things and got caught in the second row and my wheel was last to cross the line. I was out!

Suzanne de Goede and Lisbeth de Voght were the remaining 2 riders and they put in an entertaining display of track stands on the last lap, neither wanting to be on the front. Eventually Lisbeth settled for the front spot, checking frequently over her shoulder. Suzanne jumped and Lisbeth was able to remain in front and outsprint her to take the win. She is obviously on form at the moment, having won the Belgian National time trial championship the previous day.

I am now typing from Brussels airport waiting for my flight back to Italy. Tomorrow I will head to Stelvio, a mountain in Italy at over 2000m of altitude for a 2 week training camp. At this time of year I would much rather be racing events such as Trophee d’Or and Plouay World Cup and then a little later the Tour of Ardeche in France.  I have a good record in these races, winning a stage and finishing fourth in d’Or and winning Ardeche last year.

My team has not selected me for any races this month and chosen to compete in the Profile Holland Ladies tour rather than Ardeche. It’s a pity to miss races I have won in the past.

I come to Europe to race my bike and so not being able to race for such a long period is not a great situation. If I’m not racing I might as well be back at home with Dave… though, on second thoughts it is still winter in Canberra!  🙂  

I travelled to Belgium in search of some racing (as I said you can enter these races without your team) and would have stayed here a little longer, competing in similar races, except the opportunity came up to join the Australian national team at a high altitude camp. Whilst I have lived for about 6 weeks at high altitude before I haven’t specifically trained up there. I decided to trial this experience for the first time and am keen to do some training with a group of Aussies. 

I don’t expect internet access to be too reliable up there on the top of the world so my email and skype contact could be a little scarce. I will be back at sea level on the 1st of September, hopefully enjoying the positive physiological effects of “breathing through a straw” for 2 weeks!

Thanks for reading,
Vicki

International ThĂŒringen Rundfahrt – Stage 6

July 25th, 2011

Another tough stage last night with the four laps of a 25 kilometre loop around the town of Altenberg including a short (400 metre) but steep (23%) climb.  Unlike the riders of the Tour de France, the women didn’t feel the need to take it easy on the final stage and raced from the gun.

Vicki’s job was to protect her team mate’s third place on GC:

Finished thank goodness.  Worked hard to keep Shara in third.  Bit worrying at times as Linda Villumsen [AA Drink – Leontien.nl Cycling Team] in break.

The finish saw a few survive off the front of the bunch and finish in small groups of twos and threes.  Vicki finished 16th on the stage but slipped one place to 8th overall.  More importantly Shara Gillow retained her podium position, finishing the tour in third.

Sounds like Vicki is struggling with a cold which would explain why she has been feeling tired the last few days.  Unfortunately, unlike us mere mortals, pro riders can’t just curl up in bed with a good book when they are feeling under the weather.  I knew there had to be some downside to this ‘easy’ life tripping around the world riding a bike.

That’s me signing off on another tour.  Guess you’ll see me again at the next one.
Dave

International ThĂŒringen Rundfahrt – Stage 5

July 24th, 2011

Hi.

Last night was a 19 kilometre individual time trial.  Not a great day for Vicki.  I think some fatigue from the current block of racing is starting to creep in.

Had a bad TT.  I’m very tired.  The long sections in the wind were a lot longer than I thought.  Good news is that Shara [Gillow] is now in third [on GC].

Vicki’s version of bad means 21st place on the stage (I wouldn’t mind being able to ride that badly) though I will admit that there are a number of riders ahead of her who she would usually beat.  She slips one place to 7th on the General Classification.

Tonight the race finishes with 100 kilometers that includes four ascents of a 400 metre cobbled climb that maxes out at 23%.  Ouch!!  Vicki will be looking to make sure that Shara maintains her podium position, sacrificing herself as required.  If all goes well she might even be able to hold onto her own top ten placing.

Dave