Gene gets on the radio ‘Georgia and Sarah, get back and help Annemiek - she’s missed the split’, so I’m brakes on out the back and straight to the front of the chasing bunch.
“None of the other teams who had missed the split were helping and the gap was 20 seconds but I’m thinking ‘this is all good, we’ll make this’, then all of a sudden it went out to 45 seconds!
“We are like ‘what the hell, they were just there,’ then Gene says, ‘yep, there’s four teams on the front drilling it!’”
We may be trackside at the Avantidrome watching the national squad laying down some serious watts but Georgia Williams is right back reliving Stage 4 of this year’s Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile, her delivery speeding up to match the urgency of the situation she was faced with.
“Annemiek [van Vleuten] was in such good form, she’d just had a massive training block at altitude and was going really well, sitting second overall 18 seconds behind, and we were just keen to back her.”
The D.S. Gene Bates organised four of them to chase, Annemiek helping with the occasional pull but conscious to save herself for the following day’s time trial, while Georgia and her teammates turned themselves inside out keeping the attackers at bay: “One of the Wiggle girls, Nettie Edmondson, talked to us later, saying ‘Man I don’t know how you guys held us because there were four teams drilling it so hard at the front’.
“The next day Annemiek was still pretty down and upset with herself, saying ‘I’m going to make it up to my teammates as they worked so hard for me, I’m going to win this time trial’. It was a crazy hard, hilly-as time trial but she won it by over 40 seconds.”
All of this must seem a far cry from the countless kms she did on these wooden boards; “Yeah, it feels strange to be back here, looking at them down on the track. I miss the girls and the staff, we had heaps of fun training and pushing each other. I don’t miss Kilos or standing starts though, that’s for sure. I think I’ve had enough time down there for now.”
It was early this year when Williams received the call up from Orica-Scott, just after she’d settled back into Cambridge life; “I replied saying that I had just committed to the track and asked if I could do both, they said they needed a rider straight away for the Classics but they’d give me a couple of days to think about it. I talked to Dayle [Cheatley], Doon [Brendon Cameron] and Jono [Hamlin], and they were all really supportive, saying they’d miss me on the track but it was a great opportunity.”
Out of the frying pan…
Straight from the New Zealand summer Williams hit the Classics running, racing the likes of Strade Bianche, Ronde Van Vlaanderen, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège with her new squad.
However this was not her first venture into the Euro scene, the 24-year-old experiencing top flight racing back in 2013 after her seemingly seamless transition from Junior to Senior. First by taking out the National Crit Champs in her local stomping ground of Takapuna, then placing third in the TT and second in the Road Nationals just a few months later.
“Thinking about it now I wasn’t thinking it was a step up, I just kept trying to do what I was doing in the Juniors.”
Only 19, she signed for the BePink squad and moved to Bergamo for her first season in Europe: “I went over at the end of February so was pretty much just chucked straight into the Classics. I’d never done any racing in Europe really, so it was crazy, just hectic, and it was freezing cold. I remember being so scared in a peloton of 150 girls but I managed to hang in there in most of the races, just finishing but I was learning heaps.
“I ended up doing seven months there that year. I didn’t realise how mentally strong I actually was to last that long, being so young, and thinking about it now it was really good to last it out. I didn’t realise how all of that racing developed me either, it changed my body.
“It’s just completely different to here, the racing is just so next level, it’s hard to explain. You are just fighting the whole race, fighting for position, everyone wants to be in the front thirty, it’s just super hard.”
Since that first year Williams has been alternating track and road, joining the Cycling New Zealand endurance track squad to prepare for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and then back for the Rio Olympics, returning to BePink in between.
“I was torn, I’d originally signed to go back with BePink for 2014 but the track program didn’t want me to race on the road. Their thinking was that one of my weaker points on the track is my standing start, so I wouldn’t be any better if I went over and did more road racing.
“The Commonwealth Games didn’t go that well for me in the end, I think I was doing too much track and gym work. I feel I go better with more road miles, maybe then mix it with standing starts twice a week.”
Something Georgia feels was missing with her Rio prep also: “I did a lot of racing before we left to go. I won the road race in the Club Nationals and was second in the TT in Alexandra so I was going well for the first few phases of the build-up in America and Ghent but then I just tapered off. I felt I wasn’t doing enough road racing and riding, just track-track-track, I feel it just kills me. I need the road as well.”
With a good base of road miles post Rio, Georgia wanted to prove something before she headed off to join Orica-Scott: “I did the first two days of testing here, so if I did want to come back they had some indication. I hadn’t been on the track since Rio but I ended up doing a PB in the IP and the Kilo, so ended on a high, which I was happy about.”
As a late inclusion to the Australian squad, Orica-Scott were keen to help Georgia settle in gently; “They didn’t put any pressure on me, saying ‘this is obviously your first race in Europe in nearly two years so we are happy for you to do your own thing and race your own race, the girls will take care of the work’. They gave me that kind of freedom for the first two races to get comfortable, by my third or fourth race I was back into it and contributing.
“I ended up doing 50+ race days in Europe and that was the most out of any of the girls in the team, which was pretty crazy but really cool.”
One of the races Georgia was selected for was the prestigious Le Course; with van Vleuten out to make amends after the Giro and Williams called upon to set up the win.
“The plan was to get Annemiek near the front for the climb [Col d’Izoard -14.1km – 2360m], and then to make the first 5km of the climb as hard as we could then for Annemiek to attack.
“It was so hard, so horrible! The IP and TP definitely helped for the lead out, I rode at the front just TTing it. After that I just went backwards, just creeping up the climb but the crowds were cheering, I was like ‘oh my god I’m coming last, why are you cheering for me?’ but it was so cool.
When I heard on the radio that Annemiek had just won it, I was so happy, the hard work was worth it.
Williams was one of only two non-Australians on the Orica-Scott squad (van Vleuten the other) and appreciates the facilities and back up that the WorldTour team offers: “We are based in Gavirate in Varese, it’s a nice little town right on the lake. They have an Australian Institute of Sport there which is a massive facility with a gym, recovery pools, doctors, physios, massage areas and testing room, ergs - everything you need really.
“The whole Orica-Scott Service Course is there in this massive building, there are bikes everywhere. It’s insane the amount of equipment there, and the bikes are so awesome.”
Another event Georgia is keen to return to is next year’s Commonwealth Games, this time hoping for a spot on the road squad: “It’s right in the middle of the Classics though, but I’ve talked to my DS and if I did get selected that it would be fine but I’d pretty much fly from the Classics to the Gold Coast, race, then fly back for the Ardennes. So it’ll be summer, winter, summer, winter - hopefully I manage that.
“I like the Ardennes races, I think they are courses that suit me, just up and down, up and down courses. Next season I’ll still be a support rider in the Classics, especially as we have so many strong Classics riders.”
Belgian Champion Jolien D’Hoore is a new edition for 2018 to the strong squad, backing up the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten, Gracie Elvin (second in Ronde van Vlaanderen), and Sarah Roy; “They are all top Classics riders so I’m happy to support them, but hopefully I’m the last support rider so I get to go further into the race.
“I’d love to get a stage win in a tour, or even be a GC rider, we’ll see. I’m only 24 and I feel this year was building a base season so I was happy to do heaps of racing and learning. I’ll aim next year for a more focused year, maybe go for some individual results. The team is there to support me and give me opportunities.”
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FOR EUROPE
Despite all her time overseas, one thing for certain is that Georgia is happy to return here for summer, although it’s not without its difficulties, especially when Nationals rolls around. “Yeah, double summers pretty much, it’s so good. The only problem is if I start a race here everyone is ‘Wow, how did she not win?’, but they don’t understand that this is my off-season.
“But I’ll still train really hard for it anyway. I have been second three times so I really want that Road jersey. I get mistaken for being Australian so many times so it would be really cool to be wearing the New Zealand jersey, putting New Zealand on the map. 2018, my year I hope.”
Words: Russell Jones
Photos: Tim De Waele