By Madeleine Pape & Grace Phang

Lately there are two words that I’ve found myself using frequently to describe cycling: character building.  They would certainly provide an apt description of the experience of racing the Women’s Teams Kermesse at the Phillip Island Grand Prix last week.  Perched on top of the Island’s southern cliffs overlooking Bass Strait, the exposed 4.4km course was at its icy windswept best for the day of our race.  It took Justyna only one warm up lap to ditch the Zipp wheels, which were threatening to make her more airborne than aero each time a gust of wind picked up.

Intermittent rain ensured the track was shaping up as soggy, though not soaked.  In short, the day was a fine way to introduce our WA team member, Clare, to the conditions she can look forward to throughout the Victorian winter.

Forty-three competitors (20 of them SKCC) huddled on the start line for the 66km women’s race, including five members of the SKCC Giant team.  Directeur sportif d’excellence Stuart Mackenzie had given us our instructions- ‘Stay at the front, if you only let ten girls in front of you then there’s only ten in your race.’ Right from the gun Clare turned on her trademark aggressive racing style, hitting the front and keeping tabs on any girls that might be thinking of breaking away.  What Clare didn’t bring back, the strong head and cross winds certainly did!  About 20km into the race Clare sustained a flat, but after a lap out was able to rejoin the main group.

At around the halfway mark the race started to open up.  A number of girls had fallen off the main group, with the constant changing of pace, windy conditions, and the solid climb at the top of each lap making the race physical.  A group of three women – Nicole Whitburn (Liv/Giant), Sarah Riley (Liv/Giant) and Lauretta Hanson (Kosdown) were able to break away at around the 40km mark. Justyna was determined not to give in without a fight and followed on their tails for a couple of laps before returning to the main group.  Amy Bradley was the next to take after them and, seeing an opportunity to potentially catch the leaders, I did the same.  It was at least a couple of tough kilometres before I was able to catch Amy and it was still a couple more before the two of us finally latched on to the breakaway.

Back in the chasing group, which was now down to 8 girls, the pace backed off as soon as Amy and Madeleine caught the break. With team-mates up in the break, the girls from SKCC Giant, Total Rush and Liv/Giant controlled the chasing bunch to ensure no other teams could threaten the break.
As the final laps counted down the breakaway turned their attention from holding off the peloton to setting ourselves up to race to the finish line.  I attempted an attack up the final climb but was reeled in.  As we turned into the downhill home straight with the wind at our backs I attacked again.  For a brief moment I thought maybe I might hold off the mighty Nicole Whitburn, but that proved to be highly wishful thinking.  Lauretta Hanson also stomped past as we approached the finish line but I was able to hold on for a close 3rd. 

Behind us the action was unfolding in the peloton, with the chasing group now racing for the minor placings for team points. It eventually came down to a bunch sprint, though the fast finishing sprint straight certainly caught a lot of girls off-guard.
Overall SKCC Giant performed strongly, with Marlena and Grace rounding up the top 10, and SKCC Giant finishing third in the overall team classification.
During the race, the amazing Gaelene put her incredible hospitality skills to good use and produced several platters of delicious gourmet baguettes and fruit for all of the SKCC riders to enjoy.  Also featuring in the SKCC VIP tent was Adrian Vlok’s boom box complete with an atmospheric music selection mixed with the occasional disco hit.  With the sun occasionally breaking through the clouds, it was almost pleasant.  In the words of Marlena it may well have been the ‘coldest ever’.  But I would also describe the experience of the 2012 Phillip Island Kermesse as character building, and add that it was a gutsy performance by all of the women who braved the arctic conditions and made it a race worth watching.