SHE’S just battled Australia’s best on the roads of Ballarat, but now Emily Watts faces an even sterner test in an international field at the Women’s Tour Down Under.
Last year the Bathurst Cycling Club graduate was too young to tackle the four-stage event but now she has turned 18, she is eligible.
Come Thursday Watts will line up as part of the six-rider Sydney Uni-Staminade outfit which will compete in the annual South Australian event.
“At this age, I never thought that this could have been possible. There are going to be so many international riders there, it’s just going to be an amazing experience,” Watts said.
“Having team presentations, having everything just so official, it’s going to be amazing.
“It would be the biggest field I’ve ridden in, definitely.”
While it will be the biggest challenge of Watts’ cycling career thus far, she will carry with her the confidence of a strong campaign at the Cycling Australia Road Nationals.
Stepping up to compete in the under 23s age group – which meant she was also in the same peloton as the elite women – Watts showed the sort of qualities that earned her a place in the TDU squad.
In the criterium she dug deep on the final uphill sprint to the finish line, passing around 11 rivals to clinch a top 10 outright and under 23s silver medal.
On Sunday in the gruelling road race – a 104.4 kilometre challenge which 34 of the 71 starters failed to finish – Watts placed 25th outright and fifth in her under 23s age category.
She finished in a bunch including big names Peta Mullens, Chloe Hosking and Ashlee Ankudinoff which crossed the line six minutes and 14 seconds after Sarah Gigante had clinched a surprise win.
While that road race featured nine ascents up the tough Mount Buninyong Road climb, in the TDU Watts’ legs face an even bigger test.
Though she has previously ridden stage races in the National Road Series, this will be harder. It begins with a 112.9km stage, which is followed by a 116.7km leg, a 104.5km challenge then a 42.5km criterium in the centre of Adelaide.
“The distance is going to be a massive shock to the legs I think,” Watts said.
“There are no extremely hilly days like compared to what I would normally ride around home, like averaging 1,000 to compared to 200, so it’s not the elevation, but it will be the distance that will really take it out of my legs.”
Watts is the third Bathurst Cycling Club graduate to tackle the women’s edition of the TDU, following in the footsteps of Kirsten Howard and Hollee Simons.
Her personal goal for the event is to make the time cut off for each stage and be there come the finale, criteriums suiting her style of racing.
“My goal – it’s to definitely make the finish,” she said.
“I don't know what our team aim would be really, I guess just to animate the race a little bit like we did at Cadel's [Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race] last year where we had girls attacking off the front and we made sure that our presence was known.”
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