Written by Nicole Oh, racing for Les Filles Queen of the Mountains
For years this has been my favourite race on the calendar. Every year I think it will be my last. That the next year I will be (just) a spectator and join in the off-bike festivities (i.e. drinking and cheering!) Then right after the race has finished I am buzzing with excitement, already committing myself to “one more year”.
The problem (maybe a good problem) with being in the Elite Women’s race is that it's the second last race of the program, usually around 8.30pm, by which time all your friends and supporters have been getting stuck into the beers for the last 4 hours! I'm never really sure if they want to stay and watch or make their merry way home by this time.
Personally, I've never done so well at the Nocturne. After all, the line up is generally pretty daunting. These days it involves a scattering of pros, Olympians, and World champions. I’ve never been close to sticking with the lead group and in my first few attempts, I’m sure I was lapped. Luckily none of this really fazes me. Somehow I seem to be getting either faster or smarter with my advancing years, so I had high hopes that this year, I might just stay up there.
Like most other city centre crits, a bad start can ruin your race. Hence why the “neutralised” lap is pretty much the scariest lap of the whole race. EVERYONE wants to be up the front, and with 70 riders, that just isn’t possible. I’m not very good at the neutralised lap, which generally requires being able to go from 0 to 100 at the blink of an eye, get the elbows out and play chicken on who’s going to give way on each off the corners. This year I found myself 3 rows back on the start line. I managed to clip in first go, but two girls in front of me failed to do so and with that 5 second delay, it meant that I had to chase from the word GO!
There is something to be said about the new course around St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the City. I agree that it is not as atmospheric as the old Smithfield circuit, but it is less technical and far safer in my opinion, although a few people still managed to put themselves into the fence. It also means that if you have a bad start, there is some chance that you can rescue your race, as there are long straights and a few corners where you are able to make up ground. I tried not to panic, to be patient and gradually move myself up through the group. I looked around for other riders that I knew were strong, and could perhaps be in the front group and I tried to follow their wheels as they moved up. Don’t get me wrong, I was still going pretty much full gas - my HR was around 176 (of max 182) and at one point I thought I might vomit - but I don’t think I ever completely emptied the tank past the point of no return. I guess this tactic worked, as eventually, I made contact with the front group.
However, this wasn’t to last long. The pace picked up from a sprint lap (the sound of the klaxon made my heart sink) and I was off the back and chasing again. This is how the rest of my race went - just yo-yoing on and off the rear of the front peloton with a few familiar faces. Just one near miss - we swung round a fast right-hander to find riders on the ground so I pulled my brakes, my back wheel lifted and landed sideways, but to my surprise I was still upright, so carried on (quickly).
I sprinted all the way to the line and finished in 18th! Probably my best result ever. I was super pleased.
We had 7 riders in this year’s race with some mixed fortunes. Both our Lou’s were up there in the front group, until Lou Mori had a bit of a lie down and Lou Mahe blew up. The other chicks in the team, Lyds, Suze, Tracey (TC as we call her) and Sophie all rode strong and finished in the same group between 28-34th. Just finishing the Nocturne in one piece can be quite an achievement.
And so my love affair with the Nocturne continues. You just can't beat the speed and the excitement. Especially the speed you shoot round the corners! I've reflected on the race afterwards at just how mental it must look from the sidelines. Hearing the crowds cheering and hearing your name being shouted on every corner and on every lap sure does push that little bit extra out of you.
To summarise, in the words of a still unidentified voice in the crowd, “Go on Nic, you love this sh*t!”. Yep, I sure do.
(Already in training for 2018!)