This year, Drops Cycling Team ventured further than they ever have before. To start the season, the team made the 21-hour flight from London to Adelaide to go racing in Australia. This was a new experience for the riders and staff in every sense, new tracks and races combined with time-zone adjustments and blistering heat, meant we were truly pushing the limits of our comfort zone.
When it comes to sport – the country is known for its rugby and cricket prowess. It might be easy to think that cycling isn’t particularly popular in Australia, the squad were surprised to find that this was not the case at all.
“They love their cycling – especially in Adelaide,” laughed Anna Christian.
“I guess with the weather and the roads here, why wouldn’t you enjoy it?!”
Anna, Susanna Zorzi, Rebecca Womersley, Abi van Twisk, Ann-Sophie Duyck, Alice Barnes and the Drops support staff managed to squeeze in a little culture during their downtime between training and race days. Among all of the amazing experiences, the wildlife seemed a firm favourite.
“It was good to see the kangaroos and koalas, we didn’t get to hold them as when it gets to a certain temperature they can’t be handled, that was a shame,” said Becks Womersley.
“But then we all got excited when we were descending on a training ride and saw a koala crossing the road! We all had to stop to take a photo!”
“We got to do some traditional Aussie things. We had a few BBQ’s while we were there, they certainly know how to do a BBQ. I think it must taste nicer in a warmer climate!”
But it wasn’t all bears and BBQ’s, during the 3 week trip, there was plenty of racing to get stuck into. First up, Stage 1 of the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under, for which the anticipation was high.
“We didn’t expect to make the race, but we have every intention to put the team in the mix - we want to be there at the sharp end at the key points - mountain, sprints and finish,” said DS, Bob Varney.
The traditional season opener started as arguably the most difficult stage of the four-day tour, a 106.5km stage from Hahndorf to Meadows. The riders struggled to concentrate on the stunning scenery across the Adelaide hills as they mentally prepared themselves for the long final climb up Paris Creek Road.
“Adelaide’s terrain was not what I expected at all!” admitted Anna Christian.
“Most the rides were up and down all day with some tough climbs.”
The unexpected landscape didn’t phase our performance though, with a strong start and great results. Becky Womersley and Abi van Twisk helped the team in the early part of the race where Susanna Zorzi claimed second place in the first sprint point of the day after 26km. Alice Barnes claimed 5th place in the QOM point over the top of Paris Creek Road and was our highest finisher with a 7th place in the sprint finish from a group sprinting for 4th – a result she was pleased with.
“I was very apprehensive going into the race, it’s the first time I’ve raced this season,” she said.
“I felt pressure before the stage, however, the team worked really well together and looked after each other. I felt good going into the final climb, and it was nice to have my three teammates around me to take me to the finish. The day finished positively and we’re looking forward to the stages to come.”
Stage 2 of the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under saw the peloton head to Adelaide city centre for a 32.2km criterium around East End. And Alice’s week got better as she went on to claim 4th place in stage two with the help of new Drops Road Captain, Susanna Zorzi.
The penultimate stage of The Tour headed back into the Adelaide hills with a stage through the stunning Barossa Valley. The previous day’s work left both Alice and Suzy in a good position overall and more importantly in the young rider category.
The team (including a particularly strong and selfless performance from Becks) kept Alice, Ann-Sophie and Susanna hydrated, fed and near the front. This work saw all three of them make the front group over the final climb with Susanna finishing 8th and Alice 9th in the final sprint.
For the final stage, the team gathered in Victoria Park, Adelaide amid a staggering 40-degree heat. Unfortunately, the team were unable to position themselves to feature in the intermediate sprints, however Alice, Abi and Susanna finished in the front half of the first group which meant the team finished as the highest team on the last stage. This meant that the team leapfrogged United Healthcare in the overall team classification, finishing as the second team overall. Post-race the riders reflected upon a successful Tour Down Under having finished 9th, 10th and 11th on the individual overall standings, 3rd and 4th in the young rider classification and 2nd overall on the team classifications. The team worked hard but it felt good.
“It was sweltering today, fast and a fight was on for a position,” said Abi van Twisk post-race.
“It feels really good to dust off the cobwebs out here in Adelaide, it’s a great start to the season and one we feel we can build upon.”
From Adelaide, the team ventured south to Melbourne for the Towards Zero Race around Australia’s world-famous Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit.
Unfortunately, despite some strong moves it wasn’t it wasn’t the result the team were looking for on the day with Alice placing 11th in the bunch sprint, but in true Drops fashion, they looked onwards to the last chapter of the journey. On Saturday the 29th of January Drops rounded off the trip at the Great Ocean Road Race.
A tough race meant that Susanna Zorzi was the only Drops rider inside the top ten but a 6th place finish rounded off a strong tour for the team with plenty of positives to bring back.
A delighted Bob Varney said: “To finish the Australia tour with a strong performance from the team shows that they have made a step or two up from last season, and I’m super excited to see how the forthcoming season will unfold. To achieve our season goal of being in the top 20 teams in the world so early in the year is a bonus.”
Anna Christian was also thrilled with way Drops started the season: “I’ve loved the whole trip out in Australia.
“The Tour Down Under and the Cadels race were really good races and great to kick the season off with. I loved racing them and also being with my new teammates.”