WORDS FROM WITHIN THE PELOTON
BY MATILDA RAYNOLDS
Matilda Raynolds is a fresh face to the world of professional female cycling and an industry insider who manages Communications for Specialized Bicycles Australia.
Her road racing journey began when she traded her runners and aero helmet in, following a successful career as a triathlete and jumped onto the road scene just a little over a year ago. Although she’s had limited racing experience, she has certainly dived onto the circuit fearlessly, making her mark impressively amongst some world class cyclists on the Australian women’s racing tour.
Matilda will be an active contributor to Healthy Catch up’s, sharing race stories from within the peloton and her adventures on two wheels.
Here is Matilda’s recount of her first Race Melbourne and Cadel road race experiences, where she was called up to compete just a week prior to race day and jumped at the opportunity...
I still feel extremely new to women’s road riding. I come from a triathlon background, so I have some experience racing professional women, but you can’t hurry learning’s. As I heard a coach once say, when it comes to fitness and experience you have to ‘hurry slowly’, a good challenge for my at times, highly impatient mentality.
I’d just come off a disappointing ride at Nationals in the first week of January, disappointed only because I missed a few opportunities and didn’t back myself. It was then to the Tour Down Under to work and party at the Chateau (you can read about our time there here). I think it was when I had my legs up on the counter, as they seemed to be suffering 'elephantitis' from the Adelaide 45 degree days, riding and retail life, that I received a call from Julian from the Holden Women’s Team. Jules asked if I’d be interested to ride with them at Race Melbourne and the Cadels Road Race that weekend. I jumped at the opportunity and prayed some definition would return to my feet before getting to the start line in Melbourne.
Race Melbourne is a 60km Criterium or correctly labelled a 'Kermese', that laps around Albert Park. It is a race full of World Tour teams coming off the Women’s Tour Down Under. I would be the protected rider – essentially this means that the other riders in our team; Grace Brown, Brodie Chapman, Liza Rachetto and Sarah Gigante would do their best to keep me out of trouble and set me up for the last lap. For me, it’s my responsibility to conserve as much energy as possible, positioning is vital and to actually be there in the final lap.
The laps became metronome; position yourself through the corners, hide in the wind across the back, go near the front through the finish and then quickly realise within a few pedal strokes that somehow almost the entire 80 strong peloton is ahead of you …repeat. A few riders tried to fly off the front but the lake was extremely windy and no one, even with a few friends could stay away. Whilst this may have seemed slightly boring to the spectators, it is the opposite within the bunch. Everyone tells you to stay near the front, follow the wheel, get your nose out of the wind – this revolutionary advice is given to almost every other rider, which means everyone is fighting to achieve the same thing. It’s good for me, as at times I can have such a busy mind. You have to stay incredibly focused, with your heart rate at threshold, whilst being as calm as possible – a nervous rider in the bunch is a dangerous rider. Touching wheels, cutting people off, generally doing stupid shit can be the result if you’re not calm.
Another piece you can’t cram learn is knowledge. Knowledge about both race tactics but also about who your competition are. Whose wheel is safe, whose good, who’ll blow, who not to chase and who to work with. So you are constantly trying to find that ‘good wheel’ and quickly move off the kamikaze. Finally, we got the signal for 3 laps to go, mind you that is still 15km at Albert Park. I’m not sure if Team WaowDeals did their maths wrong, but suddenly they got into a tighter formation than Beyoncé’s back up dancers and their train of riders hit the front like the finish line was in 100m. This move sparked every other team to get their shit together and follow in similar fashion. Hectic needs to be written in bold as everything becomes very frantic for the sprinters. Whilst my teammates had done a great job looking out for me, there was no way they were going to be able to line alongside the Europeans in our own tuk tuk, so I just needed to go solo and jump from team to team.
There’s a lot of yelling in these final laps, particularly from Ale and WaowDeals - the Italians are a passionate bunch. Note to self - I need to learn some Dutch and Italian phrases by next Summer. The laps were so frantic that I had to ask Georgia Williams, from Michelton Scott if it was the last one...we still had two to go. Did I mention I still have a lot to learn; it’s hard in those final moments to not become a spectator, I’m so in awe of the women around me that it’s easy to forget you’re meant to be there too. I could see Michelton were struggling to get to the front, WaowDeals' early train had disintegrated, Ale were in the wrong position and Chloe Hosking, their Queen sprinter wasn’t happy and was jumping between wheels. You’re watching all this unfold whilst trying to fight everyone around, rolling at that point over 55km/hr. Coming into the final few corners is where it is won and ridden, if you’re not in the top 10 there …game over. Just as we came through the second to last corner a ‘Be Pink’ rider slammed into me, fortunately she hit my leg and seemed to bounce off. Both of us were able to stay upright and whilst it wouldn’t have affected the final standings, it was unhelpful. Into the final straight with all of the team trains now down to ones and two’s, it was Nettie Edmonson from Wiggle High5 who prevailed to the win. I came in 14th and I think we claimed I was the first non-professional, so my ego stayed in tact, but overall the team had done what we set out to do; myself to have a crack, Sarah to gain some valuable experience, both Grace and Brodie to protect themselves with Cadels race only two days away and Liza as road captain ensuring we all achieved this.
Following a quick debrief, it was straight off to Geelong for the night. With Australia Day, Friday we were able to do a quick recon of the back-end of the course, and spend the day trying to chill out or as I used it, trying to catch up on work.
After finding a gem for a shot or two of coffee, the Cadels Great Ocean road race was ready to roll at 11:30am – a late start in triathlon was considered 6:15am. Cyclists know how to do it right! After a relatively cool day yesterday, we were a little surprised at how hot it was becoming and the temps were rising beyond the forecast. For Liza and I, it was all about Grace and Brodie and getting them to the back-end of the race in as best shape as possible. Last years race was my first baptism of road racing - like throwing a puppy into a dam, it’s the best way to teach them to swim. The wind in 2017 dictated the race and we were totally armed this year to ensure we weren’t caught out. Every time we thought the cross winds were going to hit, we’d ensure Grace and Brodie were near the front, but without their nose in the lead. I felt armed at every major left hander to protect…but it never came. Every now and again an Ale or Wiggle would line up – but nothing stuck. There were a few nervous crashes as well that we needed to ensure everyone recovered from. It was my first time utilising radios and whilst I’d hoped I could’ve streamed the Triple J hottest 100, it was awesome to have the team car giving us instructions and reassurance.
20km from the finish, over the first QOM and we were all relatively still together, it was super moist out there and I was lucky that whilst I handed my spare water bottle to one of the team, Peta Mullens from the National Australian Team then offered me hers. I was given some good advice to make friends in the peloton and she’s one of the best on and off the road. I had a plan that if I was still with the bunch leading into the second Sprint Prime and our main riders were sitting pretty, I’d try and attack 5km out – and that’s exactly what I did, what I wasn’t expecting though was my move to set off a bunch of fireworks. Suddenly it was on for every Jessie, Kate and Penny, with Michelton finally getting sorted and the lead out trains began. Unfortunately, that was my only firework and I was soon dropped during the final QOM. With the Herald Sun only a few days later, a couple of us sat up and just did our best to get home without overcooking it further. Grace and Brodie finished within the pointy end and it was high fives and cokes all-round.
Every race, every ride, whether it at a UCI or a club level, dishes you so many learning’s and I’m grateful to Holden-Gusto for giving me that opportunity.
Stay tuned for Matilda’s re-account from the Women's Jayco Herald Sun Tour.