Carol Cooke recently joined us at the Murray Bridge Women's Tour, below is a copy of her blog posted on her website 29th April 2014
I have never been invited to take part in a main stream Women's Tour. In fact other than club races 3 wheels never race with 2 wheels. We do train together but are never allowed to race in State based or elite races. However this past weekend I was happy to drive over to South Australia to take part in the Murray Bridge Women's Tour. The Tour was organised by the Skinny Lattes Cycling Club, a women's specific cycling club based in Adelaide, South Australia. The Skinny Lattes encourages women from all walks of life, stages, abilities and ages who love to cycle. They are a club that wants to get women back on bikes and in a non-threatening way into racing. The club had decided to open the tour up to Hand Cycles and Trikes, which was fabulous as it gave us another chance to race before our Australian ParaCycling Championships.
My Aussie mum Margo made the drive over with me and it was great to not only have the company on the long drive but to have my own pit crew. I had been offered a house free of charge (thanks Thomas) but it was in Adelaide and about an hours drive from the start of all the races so decided to stay in a motel in Tailem Bend about a 15 minute drive from Murray Bridge.
Margo and I arrived on Thursday evening so that I could have a drive around the courses on the Friday. We went to have a look at the TT and the Road Race courses and after being told that they were flat I was surprised to see that the TT was a constant climb on the way out but a great downhill on the way back. The Criterium, I was told, wouldn't be too bad for trikes, corner wise. But after having a look at it I knew it would be tough on two of the corners as one had a drainage ditch to turn through and the other had an S bend. The Road Race course was undulating and the day we drove it was very windy, so I knew that depending on which way the wind was blowing it would be tough.
The Time Trial was 10.7km in length which is basically the distance I have done in the past but the Road Race was 44km and it was going to be the longest race I had ever done. Usually trikes race no more than 30km, but as I train much further my coach Bec and I decided that I would do the entire course. I was really looking forward to the challenge and I was hoping that even though there were Hand Cycles racing that I would be able to join the women in the Road Race.
Saturday morning dawned not too bad at all, a bit chilly but dry and not much wind to start. That is until we got to the start of the TT. I was the first off with the hand cycles going off after me and then the women in C, B and A grades. By the time I was sent off the wind had picked up and I had to change the way I was going to ride the TT. It was a pretty bad headwind on the way out on the course with a slight climb to the turn around, but when I did turn WOW I had a great tailwind on the way back. I was really happy with the outcome and ended up 9th out 24 starters on 2 wheels. We then had the crit in the afternoon and I went off with the guys on the hand cycles. I must say that they are like bullets and other than 1 rider I ended up doing most of the crit by myself. But it certainly was great training for corners and sprinting out of them, but the weather had turned and we started to have a few drops of rain. Saturday evening I went back into Murray Bridge and met a number of the riders, volunteers and officials for dinner. It was great meeting some amazing women.
Sunday morning once at the start of the Road Race I realized that it wasn't going to be an easy one. I was allowed to race with the women and once out of the course we realized that the start was the easiest as we had a really good tailwind with us. I was able to stay with a fairly substantial bunch and when we made our first turn I was sitting on the back of a group of about 9 riders. Some of the A graders had gone further ahead but I stayed with this group until the second turn. This was now into a full on headwind. We had gone about 1km into the wind and I felt that the group was just riding a bit slow, so I made the break coming around them from the back and took off. About 2km up the road 2 riders caught me and then a third, so the 4 of us worked together until I just couldn't keep up the pace and dropped off. A short while later 3 more riders caught me so I sat on the back of them to catch my breath and when I felt better took a turn at the front and dragged them back to one of the riders in front of us. With about 6km to go I couldn't hang on any longer and was dropped. But finishing strongly after the last turn, I was really happy with my race. In fact if there hadn't been a trike category and I was just racing C grade I would have won. It was the best road race I have ever had and it proved to me that the training I have been doing is actually making me much stronger.
As reigning World Champion and Paralympic Gold Medallist they had asked me to present the awards and prize money, which I was honoured to be asked to do.
It was a fabulous weekend with some great racing, I met some fabulous people and having such inclusiveness with inviting Handy cycles and Trikes to race was wonderful. This was the inaugural tour and they will definitely be running it again next year and I will certainly be coming back! If there are any women out there new to cycling and maybe scared of tackling a race this is definitely the tour to come and do and I think most of the new women out there racing this weekend would agree! Thanks Skinny Lattes I'll be back!!