2019 wrap: The highs and lows of a not-quite-pro

In 2019 I was lucky enough to ride my bike in 15 different countries across the globe and each of these countries came with a bucket load of stories. Enough to write a book about as well as a few that are best not put in writing. I’ve picked out just a few of the highlights and lowlights to share now.

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2019 was my first year riding for a team registered outside of Australia with the Irish EvoPro Racing outfit. This came with a few challenges, the first one being getting all the gear from a warehouse in the middle of Ireland to me in Melbourne. This first hurdle was put in the “deal with later” basket for a little while which meant racing the national champs on my ex-girlfriend’s bike, coach’s wheels and some much-appreciated kit donations from The Pedla. After notching a top 20 in the road race and top 10 in the TT it was time to head to New Zealand for the first race with the team.

I arrived at the airport with a seat, a set of pedals and a whole lot of hope that the team had everything else sorted and ready to go. With a few days and nights of tinkering and several Youtube ‘how to’ videos watched we had the brand new Guerciottis ready to go for our first race. The campaign couldn’t have started much better taking the win in both the Gravel and Tar one day race and New Zealand Cycle Classic stage race with a few podiums to add to the prize pool.

After stocking up on Fix&Fogg and Whittakers it was a quick turnaround back to Aus to race the Herald Sun Tour. This is always a highlight of the year getting to race in front of friends and family and it was rewarding to take home another jersey with beer on it for all the time spent in breakaways (still no actual beer for the ‘Bicycle Beer’ most combative prize, what’s up with that?).

After the team’s euro contingent jetted back to euroland I kept myself busy doing some club crits, Ubereats deliveries and a little bunch ride from Melbourne to Warrnambool. Happy with the form I flew into Girona in late March to clock up some kays, catch up with past and present teammates and most importantly take a gram to make sure everyone knows I’m in Girona (OMG wow, very cool, nice flex).

My first race in Portugal came around and I was keen to get stuck into the European season. It had some serious climbing over the three stages so I’d adopted a completely non-processed food diet for the month or two leading in to shed a few excess kegs. This was a great idea at the time, but unfortunately as soon as a few gels and sugary bidons hit the stomach on stage one the sudden sugar influx wasn’t appreciated; the steady weight loss became rapid mid stage weight loss on the roadside (see Dumoulin Giro 2017). I’d hoped this was just a once off but after battling though a snowy mountain pass on the final stage another gastric emergency ensued just 2km from the finish line. A wise man once said, “When you’ve gotta go you’ve gotta go”, and this was certainly no exception. With almost zero portuguese and very limited Spanish I was able to panickily ask the inconveniently large crowd “Donde es el baño?” and after many confused looks was directed into a Lidl supermarket. I was well behind the front of the race at this point but I emerged from the Lidl to possibly the loudest cheer for any bowel movement in human history.

Leaving Portugal with more than they probably bargained for we headed East to Serbia for the Belgrade-Banjaluka stage race. I hadn’t realised but riding for an Irish team apparently also means members must conform to ‘Murphy’s Law’, this came into full effect at this race. A flat tyre for the team car on the way to stage one meant we arrived literally 60 seconds before race start. In the chaos of unloading the car and getting riders onto the road before the end of neutral an opportunistic bystander thought it would be a great idea to steal a few suitcases and bike equipment while staff attention was elsewhere. This meant I arrived at the finish line to hear that we’d won the stage but that I only had a set of kit, a bike and a spare pair of jocks to my name. Despite being light on equipment and possessions we managed to pick up the first 3 stages and hold GC coming into the final stage when Murphy’s Law came into play once again. Just 15km into the stage there was a touch of wheels and I was sliding along the road on my back. Shortly after our leader Gatey punctured. With our entire team on the wrong side of the split that followed we walked away with a lot less skin, possessions and prize money than we’d hoped.

A few days in airport queues later and we were at a budget hotel in a wet and windy seaside town in northeast France ready for the Tour de Bretagne. The morning of the first stage I woke up to a message from home that I really hoped was part of a bad dream. It wasn’t. A good friend from back home had been killed by a car while riding to a club race that I’d ridden along the same road to in the few years previous. This news combined with the fact I was still covered in bandages and hadn’t yet been able to replace any of my stolen belongings made it one of the less enjoyable weeks on the bike I’ve had. Most days I can’t wait to get out on the bike but at that moment it was one of the last things I wanted to do.

After Bretagne we headed south through France and everything seemed to improve. The weather, the roads, the food and the people. This improvement came to an abrupt holt on a gravelly corner midway through the Rhone Alpes Isere Tour where my shoulder made close friends with the pavement. After finishing this tour in a fair amount of discomfort I finally faced up to a doc who let me know I’d separated my AC joint.

The team base was now in Flanders, Belgium and it was nice being able to get some rehab done in an area I was familiar with, having lived there in previous years. The time off the bike was short lived however, I was chucked into a bunch of hard one day races less than two weeks after the injury due to the team running low on soldiers. I struggled through a lot of these and discovered that solid training and good conditioning is a definite requirement to compete in races at this level (unless my last name was Van der Poel maybe).

Crawling my way back into form I was sent off to Eastern Europe a second time for the Tour of Hungary and this trip was a lot more enjoyable. The team was gelling well together now, each race brought different opportunities for each rider in the team. Hungary was also just a really cool* place to ride a bike around! *Not literally cool whatsoever so definitely BYO fan.

A big mid-season target race for the team was the Tour of Qinghai Lake. I’d heard countless horror stories of this two-week long high-altitude stage race so when the team offered an altitude camp in the French Alps I jumped at the opportunity. This was one of the most enjoyable weeks of the year getting to really embrace the pro lifestyle and live like a hermit in a completely uninhabited ski village in the middle of summer (it genuinely was fun!). I also saw some rapid improvements in my climbing during the nine days there which makes me keen to do a similar camp if the opportunity arises this year.

After clearing the last-minute visa hurdles and the 72 hours in transit we made it to China. I coped fine with the altitude (3000-4500m) thanks to the camp and managed to find myself in the breakaway a lot during the first week. The stage podiums on these mountain stages seemed to be exclusively a ‘Columbian or GTFO’ kind of deal and I clearly hadn’t copped the invite, those guys go uphill really fast… I still had a load of fun riding through some amazing scenery, eating some questionable Chinese food and saying g’day to some yaks along the way. The fun was dampened a little when a mass pileup coming into the sprint of stage eight put six riders, myself included, in hospital. I’d fallen on the same shoulder as in France only this time done a proper job of it and torn all three of the AC ligaments. I managed to find myself in a break with a genuine chance of the win just a few days later despite being stuck to the seat. The whole last 40km all I could think was “how can I possibly win this sprint in the saddle with only one and a half functional arms???” but the bunch saved me from answering that question, catching us with 2km to go.

After grovelling through the last few stages of that tour, I made my way to Ireland for the first time to make use of the team’s Irish Rugby connections and see a shoulder specialist. The diagnosis was effectively the Irish equivalent of “Yeah she’s pretty rooted mate probably have a spell.” This wasn’t all bad as it allowed for a few weeks of seeing some of Ireland’s finest pubs and drinking some of Ireland’s finest Guinness. Of all the places I’ve travelled this is definitely one of my favourites, the culture is very similar to Australia and it genuinely feels like a home away from home.

The final part of the season consisted of a dozen one day races across mainland Europe, one or two each weekend. This meant I was on a first name basis with the 2am Saturday morning Dublin Airport bus driver and friendly with the Monday evening Charleroi Airport security staff in Belgium for the return journey. Despite lacking some form after the forced break, I put my hand up (the good one) for every race which meant I got to see parts of the world I never would have otherwise and race in some really cool races.

After the long slog back to Aus I finished the season with another trip over the ditch to a race I’ve come to love, the Tour of Southland. Picking up four stage wins with the Kia Ascot Park team including a team win on my birthday it couldn’t have been a better finish to a big year on the road.

After plenty of searching, and some hiccups here and there, EvoPro have secured the funding to go ahead in 2020 so I’m looking forward to another year travelling the world, riding a bike and having a load of fun along the way. The year hasn’t started quite so well personally with a crash in the Nationals Road Race taking me off the bike with another separated AC joint… This time it’s the other shoulder though so hopefully I’m back to square and ready to go by our first race in March.

I’d like to give a big thank you to all involved at EvoPro and each of my personal sponsors for the opportunity to compete at this level of the sport in 2019. Also a big thanks to Melbourne University and MUSport for the aid in completing my degree and leaving me free to travel the world doing what I love.

evoproracing.com

hptek.com.au

bontcycling.com

adaptivehp.com

unimelb.edu.au

sport.unimelb.edu.au

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