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  Nicola Macdonald Blog: Stepping up from juniors at Road Nationals and Santos Women's Tour  
  January 30th 2017 By Nicola Macdonald  
  Nicola Macdonald on the podium after winning under 23 criterium title. Photo: John Veage  
  Preparation for Road Nationals played out a bit differently to what I would usually do. Road Nationals hasn't been a card on my table for a while now and in this case it still wasn't, I headed in with no expectations except to ride as hard as I could and stay with the main bunch.

Leading into Road nationals I had a 2-week block of track racing. It was hard, racing not to win but to get smashed pretty much. There is a big difference from U19 racing to elite.

I went in with the expectation that I didn't want to get dropped, so I wouldn't contest sprints or go with any moves. I found myself not getting dropped, but by the time I realized this the race was over. I think I could have given a lot more at Oceania's and Omnium Nationals but it was all a learning experience for me to get stronger. Along the way I was able to help my teammate Josie Talbot out in the final omnium race, the points race. It's something I had never done before so it was exciting to help her out a little bit.

After that I went down to Tassie for the Christmas Carnivals. This was my first time doing Tassie Christmas Carnivals so I was keen to try all the different tracks. The track racing was hard and fun, I picked up a few wins and places along the way. In-between the carnivals there were two criterium races. Crits are probably my favourite race. The first crit had a big field (which was exciting), the Japanese national team made up a fair few numbers which would make the race some-what difficult. It was a fairly steady pace, some attacks here and there. No one was really committing to the moves, mainly going for the primes. After one of the primes I was feeling pretty good so I attacked, a Japanese girl came with me and we worked well together to get a nice gap. Three more girls came across and joined us and we worked well to stay away. I sprinted to second place behind a very fast Japanese girl - Miho Yoshikawa.

The second crit was in Burnie right along the beach, which made for a very windy course. Again there was no real pace on, one girl decided to attack and stayed off the front for the whole race, no one was prepared to chase her down. I again sprinted to second place, which was good, but frustrating getting two second places.

For me Tassie was a good way to get good racing in but at the same time just relax and not have to stress about racing. After a big block of track racing I felt pretty tired but prepared for Road Nationals.

Road Nationals

I was pretty nervous for this race, crits being a race that I love, I obviously wanted to do well and with there being an under 23 category, I knew I was in with a chance but I knew it wouldn't be easy with the likes of Josie Talbot, Kristina Clonan and Jess Pratt, all being eager for the title as well.

The course isn't easy, one side is up and the other is down. No real place to rest so this meant for a lot of suffering. The race was on from the start and didn't settle down until we finished. Orica-Scott clearly wanted it to be a small bunch at the finish or a solo win. So they kept attacking until it eventually happened. I was staying in the bunch trying to save as much energy as possible and keeping an eye out on the other under 23 girls.

It came to the final two laps, I made my way to the front to follow moves that were going everywhere. I got on to the wheel of an attack with one lap to go, we came to the final corner at the bottom of the hill, I looked back and saw that there was a gap so I went and kept going till I crossed that finish line. I finished 11th overall and first under 23 which was really exciting for me.

It was challenging racing girls that I've looked up to and even watched a few of them at the Olympics last year. Its daunting fighting for wheels against these girls but a great learning experience. It was pretty special to win an under 23 title straight out of juniors, getting to pull on the green and gold jersey was something I'd never done before so it meant a lot to me.

The national road race was a race I was quite unsure of how I would go. I knew it wasn't going to be easy and it wasn't a course that suited me. The first lap was pretty cruisy but I didn't feel comfortable in the bunch, I knew I was in trouble after we got to the QOM and was worried for the next lap.

We started the climb and a crash happened next to me which slowed me up a little bit and as this happened some girls attacked off the front which caused an acceleration that I couldn't cope with. I was dropped and knew my day was done. I kind of expected that to happen but none the less I was still disappointed in myself but I did need to put it into perspective. I hadn't done much road training coming into this and I was riding against some of the best girls in Australia and the world.

Maybe with a bit more road training I would have lasted a bit longer but I didn't dwell too much on this race. It's all about learning. From there I made my way to Adelaide to compete in the Women's Santos Tour Down Under.

Santos Women's Tour

I have wanted to do this race for two years now but each time I went to do it something else came up but this time I was ready to race. A UCI race with pro riders, pro teams and a few NRS teams. To say I was nervous would be an understatement but my excitement and keenness over took the nervous energy. Coming into the tour I had been feeling a bit of chest pain and struggled to breath I thought it was nothing so I carried on, ready to race.

The first stage was 106km road race, a rolling course with some hard hills in the last 10 kilometres. The start was fairly cruisy with a few attacks here and there but the bunch closed them quickly. It was evident that no one wanted a break to go until the final 10 kilometres. So the race was cruisy up until then, I didn't feel too bad in the bunch, trying to find my place and stay near the front out of the wind. It got to about 90km mark and that is when it started to go uphill and keep going. I went off the back with a few riders, tried to stay with them but just kept going backwards. I rolled into the finish feeling very tried and smashed. But I finished my first stage of a UCI race, which was pretty cool!

The second stage was a crit! Something that suited me a bit more. I was keen for this race ready to give it a good crack. It was a very fast race, and I wasn't feeling myself. Finding myself at the back end of the bunch and not being as aggressive as I usually would be. I rolled in 31st and was pretty smashed after, average speed of 44km/h so it was pretty quick.

Stage three was another road race, 92.4km with two times up the QOM. It was going be a hard day and I wasn't feeling too great. I got dropped on the first QOM and found myself with a group of 10 or so riders, we rolled into the finish to make time cut. That stage almost cracked me, I had pain breathing and my back was very sore. I'd never ever wanted to get off my bike so badly before.

The fourth and final stage was another crit, one hour around Victoria Park with a few sprints. I wasn't feeling great, I couldn't hold my place in the bunch, I found myself at the back in immense pain. I had pain every time I took a breath and my back had completely seized up. The amount of times the thought to pull out went through my brain was a lot, but I was about 20 minutes from finishing a UCI tour so I wanted to finish.

As I crossed the line I was done, I rode over to my parents and boyfriend, jumped off my bike and completely balled my eyes out in pain. I'm not usually one to cry, especially in front of people but I couldn't help it. Later that week I found out I had pneumonia and competed with it the whole week. No wonder I struggled!

That tour did teach me a lot about positioning and being more aggressive. I'm excited to see when I have some form how I would go against those girls. Being able to finish that tour was pretty cool, I know there probably won't be races as hard as that for a while so I will be able to push myself further.

Overall the racing over the last few months have been great, I think I've gotten stronger mentally and physically. I've learnt a lot and know what things to focus on so I can improve. But right now I'm off the bike trying to recover from pneumonia. It's a kick in the stomach not being able to train but sometimes you can't control what happens to you. I'll be back for some NRS races and then hopefully heading over to America to get some racing done over there.
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