MWCC rider Lizzie Stannard has penned an update from her summer of cycling. Racing at NRS level, Lizzie finished 4th at the U23 National Championships. This summer she raced Tour Down Under, Race Melbourne, Cadel’s Great Ocean Road Race, Gravel & Tar La Femme and the Herald Sun Tour. Read on to hear about her adventures.

I’ve always been a proponent for learning, and certainly, this summer has not yet failed to deliver. Following the end of the 2018 NRS season, I was left without a team, and uncertain as to how I could ensure continuing development as a rider with a lack of opportunity (or so I felt).

Fortunately in early December, I was picked up by Marty Tobin and his Gusto StepFWD KOM Racing Team (p/b Suzuki) and was informed that I’d be given the chance to race Australia’s summer of cycling – a dream unto itself, especially considering this time last year I was watching from afar and wishing that it could be me racing.

Lizzie riding the U23’s at the Australian National Championships.

The first race of 2019 is always the National Championships, and for me this year, being newly Australian, this meant my first laps of Buninyong as well as the first race with my new team. I was also very excited to race alongside a plethora of professional riders and to find out where the legs were after a solid eight months of time spent purely on the bike (for those of you who don’t know, the past four years I have spent racing semi-professional triathlon. I was very fortunate be able to race around the world and alongside the world’s best, but a series of unfortunate events – as well as a desire to ride bikes fast – put paid to an Olympic dream).

I lined up for the criterium purely as an opener for the road race, and had a lot of fun cutting laps of central Ballarat, testing the legs and catching up with friends who I hadn’t seen for a few months. The road race, on the other hand, was a targeted race and I went into this looking forward to a challenge. I didn’t have the performance I was after but also didn’t finish disappointed – a credible 16th and 4th U23 (just pipped for 3rd in a sprint) and 5 minutes down from the early break. I simply did not have the legs in the final lap to hang onto the attacks from Kennedy and Spratt after riding myself back on for the last two. It was the first time the EB had won in 9 years so choosing not to ride away with the break wasn’t necessarily a bad decision, and the experience in its entirety was a good lead-in to Tour Down Under.

It’s tough for riders at the Women’s Tour Down Under.

TDU week always seems to be a huge week (or two) in Australia, and 90% of the cycling population must have gravitated to Adelaide whilst we were there racing. I’m not going to discuss in-depth what happened in each stage, but each day brought about new challenges and this meant I had to embark upon a giant, steep, learning curve so to stay competitive. The second and third stages – Mengler’s Hill and the Stirling loop, suited me quite well, and once I got used to the way in which the bunch moved – (I’d never ridden in a bunch that big, nor that close to girls who were so confident in elbowing you out of the way. At first, figuring out how to maintain a good position took a while and for some girls this never quite clicks) – I started to be able to back myself over the hillier terrain. I never cracked the podium for the young riders but am already hungry to return next year for better results.

After TDU, I turned around (at pace) and headed back over to New Zealand to race the newly UCI endorsed 1.2 Gravel & Tar La Femme. This time I was racing for an

Oceania selection team – consisting of myself, Brodie Chapman, Sharlotte Lucas, Grace Anderson and Emma Chilton, with DS John Rippon – over 117km of which almost half was gravel roads. Despite never having raced together, we clicked really well and enacted a race plan that saw Brodie take the win. We didn’t manage to snag teams classification as some unfortunate mechanical issues and a dislocated finger put paid to that, but again it was a learning curve, from which I took away a whole lot more confidence and some new friends. I was looked after extremely well by John in the latter stages of travel home as well, and cannot be thankful enough for the kindness of such people in this sport.

Lizzie & team mates at the Gravel & Tar La Femme.

Several days later I was back over the Tasman, in Geelong, lining up for Race Melbourne and the Cadel Evans’ Great Ocean Road Race with my Gusto StepFWD KOM teammates. I was seriously excited to race this one with my newfound confidence and bunch skills, although morale was knocked back several notches during Race Melbourne. This consisted of 12 laps of Melbourne’s Albert Park Formula 1 GP circuit in searing forty-two degree heat and crosswinds. A fair few girls suffered miserably in this race and after a survival-mode ride I was surprised to learn I’d finished mid-pack and best of my Gusto teammates. CEGORR, on the other hand, made a much happier narrative. I looked after myself well with the help of my teammates, and stuck with the front split till we hit the final two climbs – the pro girls hit the hill VERY hard and split our little peloton to pieces. I managed to drag myself and a few others back towards the front, and positioned myself well heading into the finish. I did not, however, back myself going into the sprint and so had to hack a slightly poorer result than I would have liked although my race as a whole was demonstrative of what I’d learned so far and also showed potential for what could come with more experience and more racing in the legs.

Following my race at CEGORR I headed to my new home in Melbourne for a night or so, before heading off down to our Inverloch accommodation and Stage One around the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit. This proved to be a fast, flat and fun stage. My job was to look after myself, put myself in any promising moves and look after the legs for the next day, all of which I did well and which propelled me into Stage Two feeling like I had a good chance to demonstrate what I had. Stage Two, the queen stage, was one for the climbers and was a similar stage to the one on which Brodie Chapman had made her mark on the world stage in last year’s premier Herald Sun Tour. This stage was defined by strong winds, good hard racing and the final climb, peaking only ten or so kilometers from the finish line. Right from the word go the peloton saw gutter action and consistent pressure applied from various teams, and here, crucially, I was able to apply my learning throughout the summer to ensure I stayed at the front or with any dangerous moves, and as sheltered from the wind as possible. The bunch shattered in the crosswinds leading into the climb, and I found myself a little too far back to stay in contact with the leaders once we hit the hill proper. From here on I rode by myself, and into the finish as the third U23 rider and thirteenth overall.

All in all, I saw eleven days of UCI racing (more if you include some local criteriums), seven flights, a fair bit of driving, two university assignments and two exams shortly after the Herald Sun Tour, a new home and the interior of one WADA caravan over the month of January. I’ve now had three weeks off and counting, and am very eager to start training again for the 2019 season.

Lizzie digging deep at the Herald Sun Tour.

For this season, Gusto are planning a European block following the first NRS race of the season. At this point in time, it looks as if a few of us will be based out of Oudenaarde for a month of kermesse racing. Ideally, we will get several starts in some UCI 1.2 one-dayers or multi-stage races but nothing has been confirmed yet. Following this, I will be back home and looking to target the 2019 NRS block.

I would like to express my utmost gratitude to those of you who have followed my performances throughout the summer, and who have decided to invest in me. I am very excited for what is to come, and can’t wait to build on my January experiences and take the next step in what will (hopefully) prove to be a successful career.

You can follow Lizzie in 2019 via Instagram @lizziestannard