I’ve just come out of the biggest week of my career and I’m completely exhausted. After a few days of reflection I can see how big and great that week really was. It started off with a trip to Paris for the inaugural and very important race La Course by Le Tour, a momentous occasion for women’s cycling to show the world our talent and grit. Then I flew to Glasgow, Scotland, to immerse myself in my first Games experience in the athletes village in the lead up to the road race on the final day of competition. It was a week of ups and downs, excitement and worry, pain and pride. It was a week I won’t forget in a hurry.

Getting ready for La Course in the morning of Sunday 27th July I overheard how nervous some of my team mates and fellow competitors were before the race. For once I wasn’t one of the girls who had knots in her stomach, I was only filled with a tingling feeling of excitement like that the night before Christmas. We were going to give it our best shot as a team to win the race, but to be lining up and show the world how fast and exciting women’s racing really is, I already felt like a winner just to be there and ride my bike. On top of that, I got to do all of this wearing my special Australian national champions kit. I never could have dreamed when watching the Tour in awe as a young rider that I would get to do this wearing the green and gold.

In my post race interview I said that it was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done and I wasn’t lying. It was 90km of pure pain completed in a very fast 2 hours. The pace was high from start to finish and my heart rate never seemed to drop below threshold. As a team we placed well timed attacks and covered moves right from the beginning and kept at it until the final laps. No break was staying away for very long as the whole peloton wanted in on any action at the front. I blew in the final lap and was unable to help Emma at the end, but I think the rest of our girls weren’t feeling too different after all of their own hard work. It was not the result we had hoped for, but nothing could dampen our mood at the finish after experiencing the best crowd support we’d ever seen. It was a truly special day and we all knew how important it is in women’s cycling history.

Enjoying the amazing atmosphere in Paris. Pic by Bart Hazen

Enjoying the amazing atmosphere in Paris. Pic by Bart Hazen

Attacking on the famous cobbles. Pic by Bart Hazen

Attacking on the famous cobbles. Pic by Bart Hazen

We were treated to a three-course lunch on the Champs-Elysees with the ORICA guests before freshening up to watch the last hour of the men’s race in the stands near the finish line. This time watching live I felt a big sense of pride and content as I had just been on that paved road only hours before, unlike last year when I had felt a sinking feeling of envy and injustice while watching from the stands. What a difference a year makes! We were then taken back to the ORICA guests’ hotel and enjoyed a rooftop after party in honour of us and the men’s team.

Enjoying a champs on the Champs.

Enjoying a champs on the Champs.

The next day I flew from Paris to Glasgow and was escorted to the village along with a few team mates. Our accreditation process went smoothly and I was suddenly inside what I had been dreaming about for months. My second christmas came in as many days when I received my suitcase full of Australian team kit. I couldn’t believe how much stuff we were given! It really started to sink in how lucky and privileged I was to be there and I made sure to soak it all up and enjoy the moment. The next few days were spent at the athlete’s dining hall, training on the Scottish roads, and resting in my apartment as much as possible. We trained one morning on the road course, but had to start at 5am to beat the people and the traffic because it was all in the city centre. Anyone who knows me will understand how much I wanted to see the course to get up that early!

Checking out the road course in Glasgow.

Checking out the road course in Glasgow.

Team presentation and press day.

Team presentation and press day.

Unfortunately halfway through the week I struggled with stomach pains all day and finally was sick in the evening. Luckily it was a one off, but it was most probably caused by a bug that left me feeling very fatigued for a few days. I had to remain positive and stay as rested as possible so I would be ready to race hard on the Sunday. My legs felt terrible all week after a tough race in Paris and then the stomach bug, so it was important for me to not panic! There was nothing I could do but prepare as well as I could. It annoyed me to get sick because I had been very good all week making sure to wash and sanitise my hands all of the time, so it just goes to show how anything can spread easily when you are in a village of over 5000 athletes and staff.

Enjoying our little time of fame in Glasgow

Enjoying our little time of fame in Glasgow

By race day I was feeling pretty good and just wanted to finally start the race I had been training for the last few months. My nerves were calm all week but on race morning there were a million butterflies in my stomach! Once the flag went down, I felt calm and ready for a battle. I rode myself into it like I knew I had to and kept my gears very light in the first few laps to save as much as I could in my legs. I jumped with a couple of attacks and even put one in myself which I regret, but that was part of the team plan. Tiff was our team captain and told me to just sit in, so I stayed hidden as much as I could. When the final break went after the half way mark, I managed to sneak across with Scottish rider Katie Archibold. It was Tiff and I, Armitstead and Pooley for England, Archibold, Villumsen from NZ, and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio from South Africa. It wasn’t the perfect break for us with the two English girls, but it wasn’t going to change and we had to work with it.

Nervous but happy! On the start line before the race.

Nervous but happy! On the start line before the race.

Tiff and I tried to save our energy and only put in a couple of well timed attacks each, but with the strength of the English girls we were struggling to play the fast moving game of chess. We both miss a critical move by Pooley, and I take responsibility for that. I saw it first and should have reacted, but I hesitated. It meant that Tiff and I had to work and give Armitstead a free ride until she made her strong move on the second last climb, the climb were I blew up. It was a devastating moment to be so close to a medal and then loose it. I had nothing left in the tank and had to grovel home for 6th place. In hindsight I could have done a lot less in the race and got a medal, but we were racing for gold only and our gamble didn’t quite pay off. I was pretty upset after the finish line, but only at myself. I was incredibly proud to have done what we did as a team, and of my team mates who gave it everything.

The deciding moments of the final breakaway. I'm on Katie Archibald's wheel.

The deciding moments of the final breakaway. I’m on Katie Archibald’s wheel.

In the break with some seriously strong ladies.

In the break with some seriously strong ladies.

Attacking the break before the final lap. Thanks for the pic Andy Blair!

Attacking the break before the final lap. Thanks for the pic Andy Blair!

The most painful hill is the last, especially when you're alone.

The most painful hill is the last, especially when you’re alone.

Coming out the other side of such a high-pressure and eventful week has taken its toll on me and I’ve been very tired, but I’ve also learned a lot and have an even stronger resolve and motivation to keep getting better as an athlete. I know what it takes to be a world-class rider and know that I still have a way to go to get there, but I also know that I can do it. I have patience and a strong will, but most of all I have an iron-clad support network around me to help me every step of the way as they have done for a long time.

Enjoying the closing ceremony after a tough day.

Enjoying the closing ceremony after a tough day.

I’d like to thank: my dad David and my mum Carol for being my biggest supporters, mentors and friends. They are the start and finish of everything I do. My fiancé Stu for being the person who I can talk to about anything and my best training partner; my awesome coach/zen master Neil Ross; my amazing friends and remaining family who show me unconditional love whether I win or lose; my Aussie and ORICA-AIS team mates and staff who make all these experiences even better; the Australian Cycling Federation; Gerry Ryan; and my long time believer Bill Robertson.

I’ve still got about two months left of the season to enjoy, so there won’t be much rest for me before my next adventure in Norway and Sweden with my team. Thanks for following!

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!


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