Having relocated to Sydney in 2020, Nicole Oh has left quite a hole in the women's racing scene, certainly in the South of England. But the prolific racer and founder of the Les Filles race team hasn't left her number pinning days behind her.
Riding in the yellow and blue of Sydney Uni Velo, the physiotherapist had the opportunity to test her legs within the Santos Tour Down Under peloton this year. Would races like the 'best crits in town' at Crystal Palace, and the white roads of the Cicle Classic prove adequate prep? Nicole tells us, in her own words...
Entry into the Tour Down Under has been an item lingering on my bucket list for some time. Now 45-years-old, and living in Sydney, it was beginning to feel like now or never - so I was excited to be awarded an individual entry to the 2022 race.
Australia’s strict border rules meant that international cyclists weren’t able to race the Tour Down Under this year, so the race was made up of Australian pros who had returned home for the summer, domestic National Road Series (NRS) teams, and a handful of individual riders, of which I was one. I was the only rider in the whole peloton racing in my club colours (Sydney Uni Velo), which I wear with great pride.
Although it’s been two years since I left the UK to return home to Australia, there has been very little chance to race at a National level, with Covid closing state borders on and off. My plan was to race the National Road Series here to see how it compared to the National Series in the UK, and my advancing age means I probably don’t have too many seasons left to do so!
The final start list was a roll call of 96 names, Omicron knocking off a few at the last minute. The final three weeks leading up to the race were stressful, as I tried to dodge the virus whilst a wave of Omicron hit Sydney. Working in a job that requires face to face contact made staying Covid-free difficult, but thankfully I was successful.
A peloton of 96 is larger than average here, a factor that was to my liking. I may not have the engine, but I have pretty good bunch skills, so the more wheels to negotiate and hide behind, the better.
Stage One was a sprinter's stage, and a wet one.
A nervous peloton made for high stakes, but I didn't expect a crash directly in front of me within the opening kilometres. A racing diet of Heffron Park crits (imagine London's Crystal Palace, but with 120 mainly male riders) have honed my crash dodging skills, but I was pretty lucky to get out of that one.
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A second crash (uphill) unfortunately took out Rachel Neylan (Cofidis), with a third crash and maybe fourth holding up more riders. Come the 20km to go mark, I realised that I may be in trouble, and that my one month of cram training might not cut it.
I was promptly dispatched off the back of the QOM with 5km to go as the leaders pumped out 6.8w/kg, and rolled in about a minute and a half down on the winner.
The peloton had reduced in size by fourteen riders come the start line of stage two, which was thankfully not as wet, but much hillier.
In keeping with the gravel trends of 2022, the stage featured a 2.8km unpaved section immediately before the QOM. Having raced the rocks of the UK National Series Cicle Classic, this wasn't my greatest concern - my nemesis would be the nine to 10 minute uncategorised climb that preceded it.
As per usual, the climb was my undoing, I lost touch about two-thirds of the way up. It did mean I had little company and a nice clear line through the gravel. A group of 12 fellow dropees formed after the QOM, and from there it was a matter of making the time cut, which we did easily after some helpful advice was dished out, coming in seven minutes behind the winner.
Two further unpaved sections greeted us on stage three, and the parcours looked hilly on paper. I was genuinely worried about not making the time cut.
The rain was replaced by heat, but not as scorchingly hot as the TDU in previous years. I dodged another bullet when the rider next to me hit a pothole and came down hard on the first gravel section after just 5km - if she had fallen to the right rather than the left I was gone. For the rest of the race I felt pretty good.
My old legs seemed to warm up into the tour, and I even managed to get over the hardest climb with the peloton. The final 3km of gravel followed closely by the QOM 2km from the finish split the bunch somewhat. A rider in front of me dropped her chain on the QOM, forcing me to brake and lose momentum, but to be honest, I was just happy to roll in somewhere near the bunch.
So what happened at the front of the race? I often only found out by watching the highlights afterwards. Each stage was contested in a bunch sprint (quite reduced on stage three) with a different winner each day. Ruby Roseman-Gannon, in her new Bike Exchange kit, won the overall.
I finished 52nd on GC, which I’m pretty happy with. It would be great to be able to stay in the front group for each of the stages and contest the finish, but I’m at the point where I don’t think I’m willing to put in the training and dedication to be able to do that.
I was just grateful to have the opportunity to take part, and experience the professionalism, slick organisation, crowd support, and quality racing that comes with the TDU. Next year, when it is a World Tour event again, I’ll be back on the other side of the fence cheering on the riders and enjoying the local produce!
Inspired by Nicole Oh's story? Check out Everything you need to know before your first crit race and Racing fit and over 40: Training secrets of the super-veterans
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