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Trials and tribulations

We asked local cycling gun Deborah Latouf to put together this report so we could experience what it’s like to do the time trial state championships as a team. Along with Deb, the only Townsville team in the comp was represented by Lisa Davies-Jones, Rosie Newitt and Sara Whittle. Read the colourful account of the “sufferfest” below. Of course, it was all worth it…

“You are only ever as strong as the rest of the team, so you need to look after each other, and accept the strengths and relative weaknesses that each rider brings to the team”

I’m writing this from the Queensland Club Time Trial Championships on Sunday post-race. By way of background on this comp, there are a maximum of four riders per team and your time is taken from the third wheel across the line. So you can start with three, or drop a rider on the way, but you have to get three across the line.

It was held in Rosevale, which is a tiny little hamlet an hour south-west of Brisbane. To be honest, it’s a much smaller place than we thought: one pub, no shop, no servo – you get the picture. We are the only team from outside of Brisbane, Gold Coast and the Sunny Coast competing.

We are staying at the pub in their only accommodation. It is a converted tram (yes, really) with loads of character, and mozzies that were on steroids. We went out and rode the course in the afternoon after we arrived on Saturday: It is rolling hills with a howling cross-wind. I am riding with deep rims on the front and back, and the wind grabs my front wheel every time it gusts. I am the lightest in the team at 49kg, so for the others the wind is less of an issue with their wheels. I have a spare for the front so have a back-up plan if it’s windy for the race.

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It’s all about the strategy of the team order: who is pulling the turns up the hills, who is leading the turns down, who is feeling strong and who isn’t. Our strategy: I am the best climber so I am leading all the turns up the hills. But gravity works against me going down, so as soon as I crest the hill, I pull off and my teammates motor it down the hill – I have to dig in and jump back on. Well, that is the plan.

“I lead us out, adrenalin sends us on our way, the tailwind is howling, and we set off for an hour of pain”

Sunday – race day – it’s 8am and we are second last off at 12.32. I want to go and ride the whole course on my own so I can see what the wind is doing.  Crap, it is still windy, very windy. It’s predominantly a cross-wind again, but today it’s cross-tail on the way out, and cross-head on the way back. This will affect our plans.

We meet up post-reccie and I decide to change the 70mm wheels over for the 30mm. And this was absolutely the right move. We will have the best of the wind on the way out, and the plan is to keep the team together until the turnaround. From here it is 5km of a net downhill, and then the really challenging bit – around 10km into a solid wind with a profile of rolling hills. This is where I tell the girls we need to dig in, and if we lose a rider, this is where it will be.

Rosevale sign copyBrekkie done, then a rest before we go warm-up. Bike checks done for compliance and we wait in the queue for our turn. But we are a rider short: no-one can find Lisa or knows where she is.  It is eight minutes until our start time and a hint of panic sets in. I ride back to look for her. Turns out that as she rolled out to the start she realised her rear disc was flat and had to change it. No time to change the tyre, she has to change wheels. No time to calibrate the wheel, but she is cool in a crisis and makes the best of the situation.

A team time trial start is interesting: Four lined up in a row, being held in blocks, and all have to leave smoothly and get into formation as quickly as possible. I lead us out, adrenalin sends us on our way, the tailwind is howling, and we set off for an hour of pain. There are rolling hills pretty well all the way, so it’s hard to get into a rhythm. Different riders have different strengths – I am holding back going up the hills so as not to break the group up, but it’s still hard to get the pacing right. Plus, you are wearing time trial helmets that cover your ears, so you can only hear the one wheel behind you, and not the rest of your team. It really is quite a unique type of race and challenge. You are only ever as strong as the rest of the team, so you need to look after each other, and accept the strengths and relative weaknesses that each rider brings to the team.

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We reach the turnaround and can see that we have nearly caught the team in front of us that started two minutes ahead. I will admit to feeling a slight relief at this, knowing that we are at least not the slowest. As we go past them they offer their encouragement, what a classy group of ladies. But then the hurt starts. This is where we knew it would hurt, and it does.

Every time I look at my heart rate it is above 180. I am above threshold, well above it, and in the hurt locker. I have done some work on the way out and am feeling it. It is my job to lead up the hills, which I can do, but the downhills are killing me. My team mates are a little heavier than me, gravity works for them and I am getting lactic every time I come off the front as they surge down the hills. In my head I am saying ‘suck it up princess’.

At this point I can hear Sara talking to herself. She is really hurting and is digging deep. Such a trooper, she has been crook all week with a lurgy, but has pulled out all stops on the day and is willing herself to hang in there. I look at my Garmin and there is 5km to go. We are down to three riders, but we work together well. Lisa is super strong on the front and giving us some protection from the wind. Rosie has found her second wind, literally. These girls are tough. We cross the line, absolutely spent. I have nothing left. It was a complete sufferfest, that is the only way I can describe it. I can’t even say anything to the others; I just keep my head down and pedal slowly as I don’t want to stop. We roll back and collect our ‘fourth wheel’, hugs all round and high fives.

It has been a fantastic experience to train with this amazing group of ladies for the past six months. We have learnt so much. I would definitely put my hand up to do this again.


The result?

Deb, Lisa, Rosie and Sara’s Townsville Cycle Club team came fifth out of the 10 teams in their Masters Category (the winning team was 58 minutes and they were 62 minutes). With Cycling Queensland deciding to combine all Masters categories on the day, these ladies – who range from late 40s to early 50s – were effectively racing against women as young as 30; so it’s an amazing result. Especially as the winning team in the Elite Category also finished at the 58-minute mark.

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Deborah Latouf

Deborah Latouf

As an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) sports scientist with a PhD in motor development, Dr Deborah Latouf was the manager of the national talent identification for the Sydney Olympics and has worked with some of the world’s best athletes in her career. A career change in her 40s following the arrival of her two children saw her open toy store Entropy in Townsville — now one of the country’s most extensive independent online toy stores that’s committed to getting kids active mentally and physically. A former elite-level athlete, Deborah is still extremely passionate about competitive sport and now focuses her athleticism into road and mountain biking, also acting as trainer and mentor to the Rule V Racing cycling squad in Townsville.

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