Brodie Chapman shows good form ahead of Women's Herald Sun Tour
Aggressive racing was on the menu for the inaugural Gravel and Tar La Femme as the peloton faced a mixture of 70km of tarmac and 40km of crunch.
After a number of attacks from various quarters, Brodie Chapman (riding for Oceania Women's Cycling) powered away on the gruelling 10.5km, third sector of gravel that decimated the field.
In terms of the adage 'know thy enemy', Chapman only knew of one rider in the chase group behind, a recent nemesis from another New Zealand race, The Pioneer MTB race in late November.
"I actually witnessed how strong Kate McIlroy was at The Pioneer and had her marked as a potential threat," Chapman said.
Paired in that race with Briony Mattocks, Chapman finished runner-up in a tight tussle with McIlroy and Amy Hollamby fought over five stages and 'hours and hours on end' of climbing 'through ruts and rocks!"
At the Gravel and Tar though, just one rider posed a threat and the rocks were a different sort altogether.
Jenna Merrick (Mike Greer Homes Women’s Cycling) set off in 'hot pursuit,' and while she trailed the Australian by just 10 seconds, the pair led the stragglers behind by two and half minutes with 40 kilometres left to race.
Without knowing if Merrick was capable of a finale kick, the Australian still sensed her odds would improve if she waited to collaborate with the young Kiwi.
"I had no idea who she was, but I kept catching glimpses of her when I looked over my shoulder," Chapman said.
"Once I hit the tarmac I chose to back off a just little bit anyway and recover before the next gravel section, and when it became evident she wasn’t losing any time, I thought it best that we work the last 40km together."
It paid off. Their lead extended to just over four minutes by the final gravel sector which blew out dramatically as they approached the finish line.
"(Merrick) was incredibly strong and obviously has some time trialling finesse! I was playing my cards carefully but stayed patient and backed myself in a sprint."
In the end, Chapman's kick to the line gapped the 18-year-old which she attributes to a summer of racing criteriums in Australia.
"It feels really good! I certainly went in with some confidence and was hungry to race after missing out on the Women's Tour Down Under last week due to illness. I knew there was a high risk of mechanicals and crashes but I was lucky my equipment was flawless and I made it out the other side on top! I really enjoyed this race, even if I hadn’t had won its still so testing."
The 27-year-old looks in good form for a tilt at next week's Jayco Herald Sun Tour title defence and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, this year riding for Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank.
Chapman's packed a lot in since her 'break-out' victory at last year's edition where she caught the eye of her current team. Racing at the WorldTour level across Europe - including the ultimate of testing grounds, Belgium - culminated in supporting Amanda Spratt to silver at the 2018 Road World Championships.
"Innsbruck was a very rewarding way to end the year," Chapman said. "Once the team plan was communicated and we all knew we really had a chance to win with Spratty, the focus was on doing everything I could physically and mentally to prepare for the demands of the race.
"The awe of it all remained throughout, but executing the plan and making sure I was fit for duty was the priority. It felt so good to see Spratty finish with a silver medal and just how professionally the whole Australian Cycling Team rode."
Fond of multi-disciplines and various surfaces, Chapman's appearance at the inaugural Gravel and Tar seems like a no-brainer. But it offered more than just top level stoke, it's vital experience after she was thrown a little in the WorldTour deep end just under 12 months ago.
"After a summer of crits and fast smooth roads, giving the body a bit of a rough up with the Gravel and Tar was ideal before the showdown on the cobbles and white roads.
"My focus is on the Australian races right now but following that the next block for Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank kicks off with Strade Bianche, and then onto the cobbled classics.
"These races are the “hardest” in my limited experience."
And while the WorldTour can be hard, for Chapman, love for the sport - whatever discipline or surface - is still almost a compulsory entry requirement.
"It’s absolutely vital, not at all times, but it’s got to be in you. I found this sport through pure joy and chasing the adrenaline."
"As much as there is a lot of discomfort and challenging times both physically and mentally, remembering to enjoy the experience, the beauty and the pain keeps me coming back for more. It makes the motivation come from a place of self improvement and thrill of competition than simply a number on a results sheet.
"But number one sure is nice! Hah!"
SBS will bring you online highlights of the Women's Herald Sun Tour following completion of the two stages, here at Cycling Central.
Cyrus Monk finishes third while helping EvoPro team mate to the win
Monk helped Kiwi team mate Luke Mudgway to the home nation win, a dream start for newly minted Continental team EvoPro, the Irish registered outfit scooping up first and third in its first ever UCI race.
"We always wanted to start the season off strongly," Monk said. "But to have Luke win in his home race and myself on the podium was even better than we could’ve hoped for."
Attacks came early but none succeeded until a 17-rider group - including Monk and Mudgway - got away on the first gravel sector, slowly building a lead of 38 seconds to the chasers and 54 seconds over the main bunch.
Numbering 11 riders at the second sector, the lead group was destroyed by EvoPro's pace on the third, leaving only five riders. Meanwhile a smaller group of chasers bridged across after sector five where the move of the day came with Glenn Haden (Tank Guy), Ryan Christensen (New Zealand), and Monk peeling off the front.
Monk's team mate Mudgway and Oram (New Zealand) gave chase, finally hooking back on in the final kilometres. The 22-year-old Australian then led out Mudgway for the Kiwi's fast finish.
"Our plan was to always have numbers in the front and then see how it played out at the end and we couldn’t have had it work much better," Monk said.
"It was almost like a CX race in certain sectors with such loose gravel and narrow roads. Positioning was crucial and it was just as much a race of skill and luck as it was about having the legs.
"We had three in the initial group of 12 and then stayed on the front foot to have two in the final four."
Conor Murtagh (sixth - Oliver's) and Cam Ivory (eighth - GPM) were the other Australians who finished strongly.
Racing as a stagiaire from August 2018 for EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale, Monk almost faced a 2019 without a pro contract after the team chose James Whelan for a neo-pro roster spot.
But Monk recently announced the news he signed with EvoPro along with a new side task, his Cyclist or Scientist website, combining his knowledge as a cyclist and a Bachelor of Science graduate.
The 2018 Australian Under 23 men's road race champion stepped up to the elite level at the roadnats this year. On Cannondale bikes Drapac allowed him to ride for an extra week beyond contract - he wouldn't get his hands on EvoPro's Guerciotti rigs until the Gravel and Tar in New Zealand - Monk rode solo in the men's road race, finishing 19th, and eighth in the men's ITT in a skinsuit borrowed from Whelan.
Monk sounds happy to be racing as he outlines what's next on his schedule.
"Next we go to the New Zealand Cycle Classic starting this Wednesday and then a two day break before Herald Sun Tour back in Australia.
"I’ll be using the afternoons and evenings of race days to keep building the new website so keep your eye out for posts across the next few weeks!"
Online highlights of the men's Jayco Herald Sun Tour will be available online at Cycling Central on the day after each stage.
Watch the fifth and final stage live on Sunday, February 3 from 1.30pm AEDT on SBS Viceland and streaming via Cycling Central and On Demand.