Hi friends,

It’s been yet again a while between drinks on my blog and I wanted to put up a little update before things start to get really crazy! As you have read on social media, I will be lining up for both the La Course and the Commonwealth Games races. Within a week of each other, this will definitely be my most demanding week of the season, and I think more mentally than physically. I feel well prepared though after a big 6 weeks of training and a little racing and all I can do now is enjoy the ride so to speak.

Since my last post from the Women’s Tour of Britain I enjoyed a great little mid-season break of 5 days off the bike. It’s important to take rest where you can find time in the season, particularly for the Aussie girls who have been racing full gas since January 1st. I was lucky enough to have my best friend from home Jolien visiting me for two weeks, and I could enjoy playing tourist with her when I didn’t have to train. I felt refreshed and extra motivated again to hit the roads once my five days were finished, and I went straight into our team camp to hone our TTT skills.

 

Playing tourist in Milan with the bestie. We love our art!

Playing tourist in Milan with the bestie. We love our art!

The team is putting more emphasis this year on the TTT for the world championships to get the best result we possibly can, rather than rely on past experience and strength. It is one of those disciplines that needs attention to detail, and we were all keen to spend more time on it. This was a our second camp of the year and we got to do a few of our training sessions on an outdoor velodrome near Milan. Having not been on a track for a few years, it was very exciting for me to push the speed in the banks on the TT bike! I think we all gained a lot from our training and sports scientists giving great advice.

TTT training on the track

TTT training on the track

My next race block was at the end of May with the Holland Hills Classic and Aarlberg. I felt really good in both races and was active in the team’s tactics. I got to attack lots and even spent the better part of 30km in a solo breakaway in the Holland Hills Classic. It’s always a bit of a suicide move being away on your own, but I still had a lot of fun out there and finished the racing with a smile. Aarlberg was a little disappointing as there was no wind and it was a dead flat course, but we still gave it everything. Overall I was happy with where my form was after my little break.

My fiancé Stu met me in Italy the following Monday and was going to be staying with me for the whole month of June. It had been three months by then since we had seen each other and it felt like way too long. It is always difficult being an Australian professional because we can’t just make quick trip home very often, and we can’t rely on our loved ones to visit us either because of the costs. Having Stu come to live and train with me for four weeks made the Spring go fast and will make the last three months of  the season fly by.

We spent a week at Lago di Maggiore where I have my base and did some long rides, hilly and flat. Stu was still recovering from a broken scaphoid and had to wear a plastic cast, but still managed to do a lot of my training with me even though he’d just had 5 weeks off the bike. He even did a whole lap of the lake with me, which is 170km! We then headed up to Stelvio Pass for five days for altitude adaptation (it is at 2760m a.s.l.) where we could only walk and do easy rides on the rollers. After acclimatising we went down to Livigno for two weeks for a very solid block of training. We rode nearly all of the passes in the area and I totaled over 20,000 vertical meters of climbing in the fortnight. I also did the race in Trentino which had been shortened from a tour to a one-day race in the middle of my training block. My legs were heavy but I felt better than expected and even made the main breakaway. It was all good signs that I was getting fitter and stronger.

Here is a little video I put together from my Alps trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1nFmKian_w&feature=youtu.be

 

Cruising in bella Livigno with Stu

Cruising in bella Livigno with Stu

Cheering Valentina on the podium after her win at Trentino!

Cheering Valentina on the podium after her win at Trentino!

Halfway up Stelvio Pass and it starts snowing!

Halfway up Stelvio Pass and it starts snowing!

Stelvio Pass

Stelvio Pass

Stelvio Pass.

Stelvio Pass.

Training at 2800m!

Training at 2800m!

Stu left at the start of July and I had two weeks back at home to recover and do some intensity. This included sprint sessions and hill sessions of efforts ranging from 1 minute to 10 minutes. After all the long tough rides in the mountains I needed to spark my body up again to be ready to race. I also was doing high cadence work on the rollers most mornings to help my leg speed.

My first big race back was Thuringen Rundfhart in Germany with the Australian National team. I wrote a report about it for Cycling Tips: http://cyclingtips.com.au/2014/07/inside-line-gracie-elvins-thuringen-rundfahrt-de-frauen/

I am flying to Paris on Saturday to meet with my professional team ORICA-AIS. We will race a once-in-a-lifetime event and I feel very lucky and humbled to be a part of it all. I have dreamed of riding on the Champs-Elyses since I was very young but never thought it was possible because of my gender. Now I am only a few days away from a momentous day for women’s cycling. I hope this will be the first big step in the direction of gaining better coverage and support for our great sport. I know that we and all other teams will be putting their best foot forward to make it a great race to watch.

I then fly directly to the Commonwealth Games village in Glasgow to spend the week there before our race on the last day of the Games, Sunday August 3rd. I will do my best to not get too wound up with nerves and just enjoy the whole experience. I will be carrying the thoughts and dreams of others on my shoulders though every time I wear the uniform, so I will make sure to smile lots and just do my best!

Hopefully I will have some good news in my next post… until then, thanks for reading and make sure to tweet lots about #LaCourse and #womenscycling!

The promoters of the Friends Life Women’s Tour of Britain promised a race to showcase women’s cycling to the world, and they certainly delivered. Coming into this race, we didn’t know what to expect from this fledgling event and we were blown away at the organization, parcours and above all the crowds and media exposure. My twitter feed was nearly all to do with the race for the whole week, and this was coming into the start of a Grand Tour for the men!

I was personally looking forward to racing because my form has been really good in the last few weeks. I have felt stronger than ever and confident in my race tactics as well. I studied the course maps for the Tour and knew it could suit me well with rolling hills, narrow roads and possible crosswinds.

The first stage I was given a little free reign to look for good attacking opportunities or to slip into a good breakaway group. My legs didn’t feel very good for most of the stage and the other teams were riding fairly conservatively, not wanting to show their cards early. Loes, who also had the same role for the day, decided with me that it would be a waste of energy to force any moves in the already fast paced and nervous bunch. We all tried to look after Emma in the final 5km, but the high speed run into the finish kilometer caught me out of position and I wasn’t much help in the end. Loes did a stellar job and got Emma into the wheels of the leaders. Favourites Lizzie Armitstead and Marriane Vos launched early and Emma took advantage of the uphill drag to overcome all of them and cross the line first. As well all crossed the line moments later, we could hear over the loud speaker of Emma’s win. It was hugs and high-fives all round as we celebrated with her. We were also all still high from the effects of the amazing crowds that had come to cheers us along the whole course.

Later that night we shared a bottle of champagne amongst the riders and staff. Emma’s win was truly deserved after her strong Spring campaign. To have won the first stage of the very first Women’s Tour was a special moment and I felt very lucky to be able to share in that. It also gave her the extra confidence she needed to come head-to-head with the likes of the favourite riders for the rest of the tour.

The second day our luck was a little thinner as we were greeted with steady rain that was relentless all day. We stayed safe near the front and made sure Emma was protected. It was our job to be conservative today and cover any dangerous moves to protect the leaders yellow jersey. A lone rider, Ratto of Faren, slipped off the front fairly early and was not a real threat to us. But when another rider, Zorzi of Astana, jumped across to her and stretched out the gap again it became apparent that we needed to reel them back. Shara and Nettie rolled through on the front, and was joined later by other team mates of Vos and Bronzini. The gap was coming down but not fast enough, and the two leaders crossed the line only 6 seconds ahead of the peloton.

It was clear that the other teams were frustrated with us for not chasing harder to protect yellow, but we weren’t too worried about the situation. For us to surrender the lead to Ratto was a much better trade off than handing it over to Vos so early in the tour. We wanted Rabobank to really work for their predicted win. My legs felt a lot better than the first day, and I knew I was going to ride into this tour well.

The third stage was the one we had earmarked in the race book as the day to really split the race up. It was closer to the coast and more exposed to the crosswinds, and though there were less hills there were climbs coming in and out of crucial points in the race that could force breaks to form up the roads. I made sure to be well positioned all day incase the echelons started to form. We decided that if there was a good opportunity in the wind to put it “in the gutter” as a whole team and not wait for others to do so. Ultimately the bunch stayed together for the whole race even though it was strung out in very windy conditions. The nature of the winding roads that were often sheltered by large hedges and walls meant that riders could get enough shelter to survive. We tried a few attacks but the pace was too high for a gap to grow. I stuck with Emma in the final 5kms and kept her sheltered and in good position. I made a final effort for the last corner and she exited in one of the first positions. Only Vos could over power her to the line. I had felt even better on this stage and was happy to be a better help at the end for Emma.

Now that Vos was finally in yellow, we had our chance to really put all of our cards on the table. While we wanted to keep Emma in a good GC position and keep the pressure on Vos, we were still keen to get a breakaway situation happening with Loes and myself. On the fourth stage, we ideally wanted Loes to get up the road with the help of all of us attacking within the first half of the race. I was keen to help but to also conserve as much energy as possible to help Emma at the end where there was a QoM with only 2.5km to go. At about 15km, Pooley of Lotto was away solo and the roads were narrow. I jumped from near the front while it was blocked and nearly made it across to her, but just couldn’t make contact. The bunch pulled me back on a climb and I worked hard to stay in the reduced group. Only moments later I was in good position again to go with another attack. This happened repeatedly until I was clear in a group with Shara and 5 others. I sat on and got Shara to work, knowing it was a good situation but it would be brought back by threatened teams.

As soon as we came back to the main group, attacks went again and again. Within another 5km or so I was in another breakaway group of six that was to stay away until 15km to go. All of us worked well except for van Vleuten who sat on, waiting for her team mate and race leader Vos. I felt great even though it was one of the most hilly stages. I tried to not work too hard but keep the pace steady and smooth. I also made sure to enjoy the awesome crowds that had come out to watch us come through their cute little towns. It was surreal to be surrounded by media motorbikes and have crowds lining the roads for most of the way.

The gap had come down to about 15 seconds and we were neutralized due to a traffic accident a few kilometers up the road. The bunch caught us and once we were given the whistle past the crash the bunch sped up again. I was pretty tired by this point and told Emma that I wouldn’t be much help at the end anymore. Loes did a great job again and put her in position with the leaders coming into the final 1km. It was a technical finish and she clipped her pedal coming into the last corner, losing her position but still arriving fourth across the line. I arrived on bunch time, totally spent from my day out the front.

The last day of the tour was our last opportunity to put every ounce of energy into making it an aggressive race. We were confident in keeping Emma’s 2nd on GC and decided to make the other team really work for the final podium. Our little fighter Valentina started the early attacks and strung the bunch out. I was off next to jump across the gap to two riders already up the road by about 20km, and when I came back Loes made her perfect move to attack and take one rider with her. The breakaway of four quickly gained a gap and worked hard to stay away until only 15km to go. It was exactly what we wanted: a small group to put pressure on Rabobank and Wiggle. Rabobank had to use up most of their riders to bring back the long breakaway. Wiggle only helped in the last few kilometers before the catch. As soon as the peloton swallowed the escapees, we were launching attacks again. I tried a few times, Loes put some awesome flyers in even though she was spent, and even Emma attacked hard and forced Vos to close the gaps. The pace was extremely high in the last few kilometers and I lost position in the end, unable to help Emma. She rode well to navigate the technical finale but could only hold onto 5th across the line.

We finished the tour how we started: with plenty of smiles, hugs, hive fives and laughs. We achieved most of what we set out to do which was to get stage and GC results, and to also make it a hard and aggressive race against the other teams and provide a good show for the media. Personally, I was really happy with how I rode in the difficult terrain. It was a great way for me to end the first half of the season, and I am confident now for the second half. As always, I had such a good time with my “away” family. Thanks to my team mates and staff for another memorable week, and for working so hard.

Every night we could watch a whole hour of highlights on television, which was a complete novelty to us. Not only did they show the race, but cut in all the exciting and important sections and included really great commentary and behind-the-scenes extras. We were given the opportunity to show how good women’s racing is and they wrapped it up in a beautiful package to show the world. I am so happy and proud to have been part of it all and give a heart felt thanks to all involved who made this week possible. Here’s to the future of this awesome sport!

It’s the end of April and I can’t believe how fast the season is flying past me. Apologies to any regular readers for my blogging absence in the last month or so. I’ve been saving and spending every last bit of my energy with my racing, training and recovery and I think it’s now paying off. I’ve done a dozen races since my last entry so there is a lot to catch up on!

After a rocky start to my European racing campaign, my legs finally started feeling good after the first few races. I had good signs in Belgium and Holland with the races Hageland and Drenthe 8, feeling strong and able to be active in the racing. The first world cup of the season was Drenthe and I was excited for it as I knew I had a good chance to do well on the flat course with plenty of cobbles. I made the front group every time after each difficult cobbled section and was feeling confident even though it was tough. Then suddenly the road opened up and I missed the most important split when Rabobank put it in the gutter. I tried not to panic but I ended up crashing going UPHILL and ruined my race.

This poor result really blew my confidence and I felt like I needed more racing to get back to the fitness I had when I left home. I had three weeks until the next race, which was none other than one of the biggest races of the year: Flanders. I made sure I recovered well, trained hard and ate carefully. I had planned to target Flanders this season, but self-doubt was creeping in. Would I be in the best shape for this race? Would I be any use at all to the team? I was fighting against myself for this three week period, but made sure I kept a clear head and did everything I knew I needed to do. I did pre-breakfast rollers during our TTT camp, tried to eat lightly, and added extra training sessions on top of our team camp schedule as I didn’t have to race the Cittiglio world cup the weekend before Flanders.

To say I was nervous before Flanders was an understatement. I had felt really good in the week leading in to the race so there wasn’t much more I could do but prepare my mind for some serious suffering to make sure I was a useful member of the team. As you can read in my report for CyclingTips, the day actually went a lot better than expected and gave me the confidence boost that I needed: http://cyclingtips.com.au/2014/04/inside-line-gracie-elvins-tour-of-flanders/.

With only two days recovery, I dove straight into another big race that I knew I wanted to do well in: the Energiewacht Tour in Holland. Last year I was the right-hand man to team captain Loes, making sure she was always protected and covered in the important moves all week to claim her fantastic GC result of 2nd. In doing that, I had surprised myself with a 6th place GC result after being in the front groups all week and riding a decent ITT. This year I knew I was stronger and wanted to see what I could do. The first day of racing in the crosswinds showed what riders and teams were ready to play, and I was one of them. I felt much more at ease at the front with my extra strength and experience, and this was an exciting sensation. The bunch split several times but ultimately most of the field came back together in the last 20km and it was going to be a crazy bunch sprint. I found Mel with about 1km to go and took the last corner so fast I don’t know how I didn’t crash. I went straight to the front, oblivious to a massive crash happening behind me. I was on sprint queen Kirsten Wild’s wheel and when I had a quick look back I saw that Mel wasn’t on my wheel anymore. I had give this sprint everything but when Wild jumped I couldn’t answer. I watch 4 other faster girls come past me and I managed to claim 5th, but to me this was great step towards the rider I want to be.

For the rest of the week I made sure to make the front splits and stay near the best girls, and sometimes this meant that I was alone or with only one or two other team mates. It was a tough week and I couldn’t better my 5th place on the stages, but gave myself the chance to at least try. It wasn’t our team plan for me to be riding for the GC result, but I felt fortunate to have a team who supported the situation and helped me as much as they could. It further boosted my confidence in my form this season and I was finally able to relax my mind over it.

The last few races have also suited me very well. A week after the tour I was again in Holland for Ronde van Gelderland, a race I had never done before. It had several short but steep climbs in the first 40km and then it was flat and open to crosswinds for the next 100km. I climbed well and made sure I was with the front riders, and then four of us made the important front split of about 20 riders. I knew that Mel was coming into some good form and was happy to help her for the sprint. I could tell that she was hurting, but so was everyone else and made sure she didn’t give up on herself. The last 30km were full of attacks from Rabobank, us and a few other riders trying to get rid of the absurdly strong Wild before the sprint. She managed to jump on most of the attacks and though it was impressive to watch it was incredibly frustrating and tiring! I jumped onto an attack with about 4km to go and I must have been seeing stars by this point because I failed to see the gravel on the corner. Before I knew it my arms were out in front of me and I was sliding on me front while the girls flew past me. It was race over for me so I pedalled slowly back to the finish, upset that I had crashed but mostly happy with the efforts I’d made. Mel was rewarded with her first result for the season with 3rd, so it was good news to come back to!

Last weekend I raced one of my favourite races: Omloop van Borsele in Holland. This race was where I earned my first European result back in 2012, with a 2nd place to power-house Ellen van Dijk. The course encourages a small group breakaway with it’s narrow and twisting farm roads and open cross-wind sections. With my extra confidence I was keen to see if I could get a result there again. I felt awesome all day, barely feeling my legs until the last 40km. I was always in the front with Mel and we were talking lots. The wind wasn’t working too well to cause any splits, so it was going to be aggressive in the latter part of the race. I found myself in a good breakaway group with about 40km to go, but it was brought back in about 10km. I attacked in the next crosswind section when I could see the bunch going single file and beginning to suffer, but it wasn’t to be. With about 15km to go, van Dijk and van Vleuten jumped off the front and then Rabobank formed a wall in front of the rest of us. I saw another two riders jump across but I couldn’t squeeze through. I saw a corner coming and knew it was my only chance. I rode across the dirt gap and bumped a girl on my way, copping some colourful abuse as I sprinted off the front. I didn’t care because I knew this was the last chance of getting a result ahead of the real sprinters. I worked hard to keep the pace high but the small group was joined with 5km to go by Wild and a few others. It was just me for our team so I sat in and had to wait for the final sprint, knowing I wouldn’t be able to escape from this group. I was pretty tired by the end and could only manage 7th across the line. Although I was frustrated to be so close again to a result, I was still happy with my efforts and knew I couldn’t have done much more.

Sunday saw us back in Belgium for Dwars door Westheok, a race with 4 main climbs in the first half and then 4 flat circuits to finish. I knew I would be a little tired after my efforts at Borsele, but nonetheless had a good feeling about doing well again. We also had Emma coming in fresh so it was one more (very decent!) card to play for the team. I stayed near the front for the first two climbs and then made sure I was with the leaders on the climb that leads in into the hardest of the day, the Kemmelburg – a cobbled climb that gets steeper at the top. Emma jumped across to two riders up ahead and I stayed with the next group. I was really happy to be climbing so well and be there at the important moments of the race. The field was much smaller after this and we threw everything at them, but just couldn’t get a break to stay away for very long. I finished the race utterly spent but happy again to have done my best for myself and the team.

All in all, these last 7 weeks have been valuable to me. I’ve been reminded to stay focused on my goals and my plans, work hard in every way that I can and that all the small things become important, stay positive and confident in my abilities as a rider, and take chances in the races and trust my instincts. I have made sure also to keep an eye out for the small day-to-day things that make this lifestyle so special, because I know I will look back in the future and remember how awesome it all was and that I did the best that I could with what I had.

Next up for me is the Women’s Tour in Britain and I am super excited to be a part of this special first edition of what looks to be a great and successful event. This year is important for me as an individual, but also for women’s cycling in general with big new races like this and the much anticipated La Course at the TDF. We are on the crest of a very big wave and I feel so fortunate to be there amongst it all!

Thanks for following, and I promise to write another post as soon at the Tour of Britain is done!


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