"I was clouded by the disappointment of not winning. So to test that myself, I decided to have another crack at it." - Australian Cyclocross Champion, Peta Mullens.
It sounds weird for me to say it out loud. “Australian Cyclocross Champion”. It’s weird because in no way do I see myself as a ‘cross rider. I still find it odd that people commit to it as their sole sport, in fact I find it odd that people commit to just one discipline at all, no matter what they major in. The people involved in this sport aren’t as serious as road cyclists, or as laid back as mountain bikers. I find them to be a mix of passionate, eclectic, city commuters, as a generalisation of course, because a few of them are more serious than cancer.
Over the last few years the ‘cross scene in Australia has been on a rapid rise. From an outsiders view it’s the only socially acceptable means to getting dirty in lycra and then throwing back a few beers with your mates. It’s short in duration, so it’s easy to maintain fitness for. It’s also on a short convoluted course, making it the easiest discipline to race within city limits. And it’s on during winter when people ready don’t have anything better to do. So I get it. It’s convenient when the alternative is not riding at all BUT unbelievably ‘cross riders actually can’t wait for summer to end so that they can spend more time washing their clothes and bike than they do riding. Hence the tag #crossiscoming
While it might take me a while to get hooked on the sport as a racer, I’ve always been hooked on it as a spectator. Riders like Vos, Prevot and Nash make any girl want to be them,so with the support of SRAM, Zipp and Focus I decided to get involved last year. It wasn’t the rosy start to my ‘cross career that I’d imagined. I ran second in my four races, but I was sick as a dog the entire time and didn’t seem to enjoy it at all. I thought perhaps I was just being a sore loser and that I was judging the sport too harshly because I was clouded by the disappointment of not winning. So to test that theory I decided to have another crack at it.
This year I signed for the U.S based Hagens Berman | Supermint Pro Women’s Cycling Team, so I’ve spent the last four months galavanting around America racing criterium’s, road races and a few ghastly time trials along the way. As avid lovers of all disciplines on two wheels they allowed me to finish my season early and return to winter in Australia to.. well.. test this theory! The first port of call was to come home healthy, so as I neared my 70th race day I was trying to do the bare minimum to get through. I stopped pre-riding, I wouldn’t ride on travel days, I didn’t sprint for primes and I even put on a few kilo all in the name of staying healthy (some people may call bullshit on that last one..) lol
Jarrod and I decided to spend a few days in California before we jetted home and the motivation was high for ‘cross so I decided to get my eye in. For some reason I thought it might be nice to return to my days as a runner, so we slowly jogged around the block for 2kms, just 10mins. Of course I felt on top of the world at the time but baby steps right? Well, for the next two weeks my knees were so inflamed I could barely ride, and the weather was cold as shit in Bendigo so I wasn’t that motivated to ride anyway! So, as the excuses go, I hadn’t ridden my ‘cross bike since Feb, I felt like I’d lost all my fitness and I hadn’t done an effort in weeks BUT I wasn’t sick and my knee was behaving so I decided to give it a crack.
Before I talk about the race I just have to do a blatant shout out to my team Focus Attaquer CX. These guys are the sole reason I’m persevering with ‘cross because how could people who are so awesome not be right? Mark Chadwick aka ‘Logistics Manager’ made sure I had fresh tyres, kits and a spare bike for race day. Shaun Lewis aka ‘Director Sportive’ set me up with wheels, trainer, chair, tent and heater! Chris Aitken aka ‘Technical Director’ took me out on track to show me the race lines and where to run vs where to ride. Tom Chapman aka ‘Psychologist’ gave me insight into how the women had been racing and how the course would change with the weather. Harry Carpenter aka ‘Mechanic’ is self explanatory. And Jack Hogan.. well he loaned me a few pins haha
I point these people out because they are ALL elite racers, yet they took time out to make my first ‘cross race with them so much easier. Honestly, I did nothing productive for them, I’m pretty useless! Further to support from my teammates, of course SRAM’s Rob Eva and Leigh de Luca were there for mechanics, Greg Hamer and Stevan Musulin from Attaquer to present me with a sick new Champs kit and to de-pin my number (the important stuff). Special mention to competitors Fi Caroline and Mel Ansett for verbally barracking for me while racing against me (lol) and photographers Riley Wolff and Jeff Curtes, love your work guys! The list goes on and I remember that usually Jarrod has to do ALL of these jobs on his own, what a guy..
So onto the race. I was able to start front row thanks to my UCI points from last year’s Championship, but it made little difference when I couldn’t clip my foot in. I was embarrassed, considering the pedals are double sided and I am traditionally a mountain biker BUT I was sporting brand new Northwave Extreme XC shoes fresh out of the box that morning, with new cleats and I’d even added studs (because I’m so pro), and the cleat is in a slightly different part of the foot to what I’m used to on the road. Eventually I clipped in, systems go.
The pre-race favourite was Nat Redmond and I’d been warned about her fast starts. Of course I didn’t need a warning, I remembered back to my first ‘cross race last year when we went elbow for elbow up the first section of tarmac. Eventually I let her have it because she wanted it so bad, only for her to crash out two corners later. In short, I knew she was hot headed in a race whereas I’ve raced so often I’m a tad more calm and measured. My plan was to follow her for the first few laps and make her sweat. I wasn’t sure how I was going and didn’t want to show my cards too early only to have a bad hand.
When I missed my foot I thought I’d have to work hard to make it back, but instead the riders were lined out single file on the left of the firetrap and I was able to ride straight around them all to take the lead. I didn’t know whether to be confident because I had good legs, or to be nervous because they were all foxing. I felt my way through most of the first lap before Nat took the lead and we opened up at advantage. I was riding reserved on the technical sections so naturally she would put a few seconds into me at time, but I couldn’t believe how easily I would make it back when I could get the power down. We weren’t even halfway through the six lap race but I was picturing myself on the top step. ‘Don’t get cocky you idiot, concentrate!’
Then karma.. on lap 3 after the hill run, I couldn’t clip my foot in and lost 12 seconds. It took a bit more to close that gap and when I did get back, I crashed on an off camber section and lost another 10 seconds! I was angry with myself this time ‘stop stuffing around and take her’. This time I clipped straight in from the hill run and I remembered saying in my head ‘oh, you’re gone now’ (I know it sounds conceited on paper but anything to motivate yourself in the moment right?). The open tracks were good to me and I came up on Nat quick. She stayed with me for a few turns but I could tell she was taking risks and eventually she made a mistake through a corner and the gap opened up. By the end of the lap I had 20seconds. The final lap was just a process of nurturing the corners and nailing the straights. Nat held on for second ahead of Naomi Williams but I was the National Champion.
I thought I’d feel excitement, but really it was just relief. I hated that because I really wanted to be stoked on it. I suppose in many ways I expected to win and anything less would’ve just been disappointment. Usually I’m happy with tears when I win a Championship but this time in was just redemption. I really do hope that my love for the sport grows, because I like the idea of it and I most certainly adore the people. But amongst all of the laughs and banter I can imagine that there are a few haters; I too don’t feel completely deserving of the title, but I did earn it on that day. I’m bloody proud to be crowned National Champion and will wear those stripes, or more specifically my fresh ‘break the rules’ Attaquer suit with pride.. for the two races left on my season lol
I’ll only touch briefly on Sunday’s National Round because the weather was to die for, literally. We had rain, hail and lightening and the true ‘cross enthusiasts were in their element! Again, I missed my foot off the line and again my dismounts and remounts weren’t perfect but considering my lack of practice I’m pretty bloody happy with them. We raced the Champs course backwards which I think suited me even more, my legs were ready to back up again and despite peoples initially doubts of my ability in the mud, I actually love the mud, just not the conditions that produce it.
But in the end my competitors unravelled themselves. Nat, April McDonough and I forged an early lead but they both crashed in the same spot on alternate laps giving me a clean run for the win. I stayed upright for the day and cautiously forged a 35second lead. With some final lap aggression it came down to a sprint with Nat winning out over April. Look forward to doing it all again soon ladies.
Cadel Evans: Keeping the Pedals Moving Wednesday 8 November featuring panellists Peta Mullens & Chris Hamilton alongside Australian Tour de France Winner, Cadel Evans AM.
Tickets click here.
This article courtesy of Peta Mullens. For more articles by this author, click here.