The Tour Ta Malta was our first team race of the season. On board we had Lou, Phoebe, Sarah, myself and new recruit Di. It started with a 3.30am alarm call to catch are ridiculously early flight from Gatwick. Bleary eyed we crawled out of bed and set off on our exciting adventure, which actually wasn't that exciting to begin with as it involved lugging our ridiculously overweight bike bags and boxes on to trains, off of trains and through Gatwick airport.
The flight left on time and we managed to catch a few winks of sleep between nervously chatting about the racing ahead of us. On landing the conversation then turned to who's bike would have actually made it to Malta and if any went astray would we able to share bikes for the TT. I did think it would be a funny sight watching Lou attempting to TT on my tiny little Argon.
Luckily enough all our bikes arrived safely. We were greeted by Phoebe and Di who looked a tad nervous to say the least. We loaded all our bikes onto a Green's Supermarket lorry and then jumped on the bus to the hotel. Arriving slightly before the bikes there was a sudden spread of panic as the question was raised whether the Green's lorry was actually connected to the Tour or a guy who has just walked away with thousands of pounds worth of bikes. A few minutes later all our bikes turned up and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the day consisted of settling into our new home, which was very pleasant and then a trip to check out the TT course for the following day. Tactics weren't really on the mind as we decided to see how we all went in stage one.
And so the racing and ahem, cheating commences...
Stage One - 25k Time Trial
Each day we met at the hotel and rode down in a group to the start line. This was a really nice touch as it gave us a chance to chat to other riders. We were kitted out in our lovely new Bell aero helmets and sexy Pearl Izumi overshoes courtesy of Madison, so we certainly felt the part, The course was tough, I was told it was flat but this was a big fat lie. It was severely undulating and on a costal road so bloody windy. Each lap was just over 7k so we had to do four, apart from Lou who as you probably know decided that she was special and decided to do five laps. We had no rollers or space to warm up and as I was off near the end had plenty of time to watch the other riders and have a little sunbathe. It came apparent pretty quickly that rules in the Tour Ta Malta were there to broken. Riders were drafting all over the place, there were some small attempts from the support cars to stop it but no one seemed to care as riders would pass the start line in front of the judges with a line of riders on their wheel.
With no warm i found this so tough, the start was down a ramp straight up a drag. I was given a few wise words from Tracy Corbett from Dynamo which stayed with me... 'attack, attack, attack, rhythm'. This worked for the first few minutes until I hit that hill and started going backwards. I knew that Lou was starting one minute back from me so would be hot on my wheels so I pushed on and rode my little heart out. Needless to say within a couple of laps she came flying past me shouting 'move it V, move it!'. Having just finished my base training I wasn't used to doing efforts over 20 mins so the final few laps were hell. I rode into the home straight relieved to be almost home when I saw Lou go again, my heart sank thinking that I had to ride another lap. I shouted to anyone I passed asking how long the TT was but no one answered. I rode up to the turning for the finish line rather slowly and confused as my Garmin clocked 25K and I was sure that was the distance. Thankfully I decided that I was right turned in and rode into the finish. I was greeted my the other girls who weren't impressed that I could hold a conversation comfortably, in truth it was because I had eased up slightly on the final straight thinking I needed to do another lap. So Lou came in one lap later, a rather upset young lady, it was a real shame as I think there would have been a good chance she would have podiumed.
It was a successful first day, bar Lou's idiocy. Sarah and Di stormed it on the TT leaving them in good positions on the GC going into day two. After the presentations, which included a lot of booing from the UK riders we slowly rolled back to the hotel for some lunch and to freshen ourselves up.
We took a gentle spin out to recce the rod course for the second stage, it the dawned on me that Malta in fact was not a flat island and that this whole tour was going to be bloody hilly. I was then trying to work out what idiot tricked me into entering this race, until I realised it was me. The route consisted of a long climb, similar to Box Hill, it wasn't too steep, just very long. James who kindly escorted us to recce the route warned us about the conditions of the roads. Shortly after he had said to be careful on the corners as the surface is really slippy, Phoebe went down on the same corner and did a very impressive belly slide. She was fine, just bruised. We rode the remainder of the course very cautiously and then back to the hotel. To say we were nervous was an understatement.
Stage Two - Road Race
Once again, we met at the hotel and then all rode together down to the start time. We were starting to get used to Maltese ways, which meant that you would generally leave about 30mins after the scheduled time. The worst part of this for me was having to climb that bloody hill one more time than necessary as the start was at the top of the hill. I rode up slowly telling people that I wa saving my legs, when in fact I couldn't get my fat arse up it any quicker.
The start was hectic, the Dutch girls were off like a shot, pushing the pace at a frantic rate. I had to fight to make sure that I stayed with the bunch as I knew I needed to be in a good position for the hill at the end of the lap. To be honest the whole thing was a blur, I know that when the group split after the climb that I pulled a group of riders back onto the bunch and then had to do it again after there was a crash on one of the corners but that is about all I can remember. All I focused on was working my arse off on the descents and the flat, where I was generally towing along stray riders and then trying not to blow up on the hills. I was out on my own for a lot of the race so just tried to maintain a relatively high heart rate so I was at least getting a good work out from the whole thing. Highlight of the lap was having TC from London Dynamo telling me I was fabulous every lap. She was fricking amazing. It was a delight to finish the final climb and find out that Di and Sarah had both finished on the podium, it was a very proud moment for the team. I stupidly decided to share with the girls that whilst I was fighting to stay with the group on the climbs, the thought went through my head that this must be what Cav feels like on his climbs. Stupid I know, but it made sense at the time :-)
We were familiar with stage 3 route so just chilled out for the afternoon with a bit of sunbathing and lots of eating and then early to bed.
Stage Three - Road Race
We were now in full swing of things and had kit washing, breakfast and race prep down to a fine art. I would actually say we were starting to enjoy ourselves.
The course was simple. It was on a dual carriage way over a big hill. You started on the top went down the hill sharp hairpin at bottom back up over the hill and then once again hairpin at the bottom. There was NO flat, you are either climbing of descending. My idea of a nightmare as no points where I could chase back on if I got dropped.
Needless to say I got dropped rather early on, the girls said that every time they saw me it looked like I was out on a Sunday ride but I promise I was really trying. As per normal the race was rather controversial, a break from Lou got chased down by girls jumping onto the professional men's race, the race then was about who ever could hang onto the boys wheels. Di once again showed her grit and determination by finishing 2nd with Sarah not far behind in 6th (I think). Lou and Phoebe also did a sterling job.
The mood wasn't too great after the race as there were some seriously pissed of girls. We bitched about it all the way back to hotel until we had nothing left to say.
Stage Four - 12k TT
We had a 6am alarm call for the final day which wasn't welcomed. There were tired legs all around and the last thing we wanted to do was get up and race a TT. Lou looked like sh*t, she pulled herself out of bed for breakfast but was constantly told she looked awful. After some deliberating she decided that she was too ill to race and opted for a day in bed.
The rest of us rode out to the start of the TT which was about a 10k ride away, it felt like a long 10k and we all seemed to be struggling on the climbs. As I was near the bottom of the GC I was off at the beginning. It was a dull course, again on a dual carriage way but this time only 3 laps. To be honest i was struggling to find the motivation to try 100%, I was tired and just wanted a beer! The only thing that helped was that it was only a 20min effort and I knew that I could manage that. And I did, i gave every little bit of energy i could so to earn my beer in the evening.
it was then a lot of waiting around for everything to finish. We got it wrong, completely wrong. We didn't drink enough, eat enough or stay out of the midday sun. Complete schoolboy error! This meant that the ride out for the presentation and the ride home was hideous, I think we moaned every pedal stroke home.
A brief nap and then we were back up for the prize giving dinner which was a bit of an anticlimax. I was so excited about having a few drinks and a good dance but I was too bloody knackered and was in bed by ten.
We were tricked...
We were told we had to depart the hotel at 5.30am Monday morning due to road works but i am sure that was lies, we left at 5.30am so the Dutch could make their early flight. Are flight wasn't until 11.15am so there was a lot of hanging around.
Sat on the airport we were physically and emotionally exhausted, apart from Lou as she had had a nice gets on the Sunday, so was hyper as normal. I feel so lucky to share the experience with such a lovely groups of girls who were so supportive and made it tough but enjoyable experience.
Would I do it again? Yes, definitely!