IT was the longest race of her career, and at the end, Erin Nolan was just happy to see the finish line.
The West Australian cyclist put in a remarkable effort to be first woman across the line in Saturday’s Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic, finishing the 277km road race in seven hours, 28 minutes and 59 seconds.
She was just a handful of minutes behind the leaders at Camperdown, but Nolan lost the main bunch just before the second feed stop, prompting a solo ride for much of the last 100km.
“I’ve never ridden that distance before, and certainly not at that pace,” Nolan said.
“I really struggled on my own for about 100k’s, so I was exhausted. Thankfully I had a teammate who took some of the wind for me in the last 50k’s.
“There was a couple of crashes early on, which thankfully I managed to avoid and stay with the front group.
“There was a couple of breakaways, but they got pulled back while I was still in the peloton and then I needed a wee break, so I lost the group before the second feed station and then I was on my own then pretty much for the rest of the race except the last 50k’s.”
At the last feed station, Nolan came across a familiar face, who then became her support for the final leg, sitting up in the seat of his bike to clap her home as she powered the last 100m to the finish line.
“My teammate had fallen off a couple of times, so he was there and helped me get to the end by taking the wind for me, which was so good,” Nolan said.
“(Seeing the finish line was) unbelievable. The last 4k’s took so long to get through, it was incredible.”
The Perth-based rider said she was convinced to compete in the world’s second oldest road race by her friends in Warrnambool, the Lane family.
Sam Lane, who finished 55th in the men’s race, was one of the first to run up and congratulate Nolan after she crossed the line.
“Some friends of mine, the Lane family, who live in Warrnambool, have been big supporters of this event and they convinced me it was a good idea to do it,” Nolan said. “Now that I know what it’s all about, I’ll probably come back next year and have another crack.”
As much as Nolan’s win was a great physical triumph, it was a mental battle she conquered, particularly when tasked with a long solo ride for more than a third of the race.
“You have to beat the demons in your own head,” she said. “The body will go, but the head will give up first. You’ve just got to keep that in check.”
Prior to Saturday’s mammoth effort, the longest competition race Nolan had tackled was a 250km race in Western Australia.