This week’s Tour of California will see a welcome return to racing for Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling’s Macey Stewart. The 22-year-old Tasmanian has been sidelined since a crash on the final corner of the opening stage of the Santos Tour, in Adelaide, in January, where she needed two separate operations to fix a fractured eye socket.
“It’s been a good few months now, building back up, and I’m really, really excited to see what I can do,” Stewart said. “My fitness is coming along nicely now, and I hope I can do a good job for the girls. I’ll do as much as I can for them, and our aim is to pull off a win in stage one and three if we can. We’re going in with high expectations and hopefully we can perform.”
It was initially thought that the former junior World Champion had sustained a concussion in the crash, and would be out for a matter of weeks, but subsequent examinations revealed that it was far more serious and she would be forced off her bike for far longer.
“It snowballed out of control,” she explained. “Initially we didn’t realise how long I’d be out for, thinking it would only be a week or two, and it slowly got longer. Operations went wrong, and it sort of pushed out to six weeks off the bike, and then it was a couple of months actually.
“It’s been some of the toughest months of my career so far, coming back after just coming back a year ago,” Stewart continued. “I seem to be always coming back from something bad happening, but I think hopefully all my bad luck is gone and one of my biggest aims heading into this Tour is to stay on my bike!
“Hopefully I can tick those ones off, and have a good time and have some nice hard racing.”
As well as the return of Stewart, the “Amgen tour of California Women’s Race empowered by SRAM” also sees the debut for Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling of 2018 Amy Gillett Scholarship recipient Grace Brown. The 25-year-old Victorian will also be riding the three-day American WorldTour race for the first time and hopes to be able to contribute to the black and orange team’s success there.
“I'm very excited and a little nervous to tackle my first race with Wiggle High5,” Brown said. “Although I have raced at the World Tour level before, this will be the first time I'll be racing with a team that has the potential to win. I really hope that I can make a valuable contribution to that outcome.”
As the recipient of the Amy Gillett Scholarship, Brown has proved herself to be among the best in the Australian domestic peloton. For the 25-year-old at this level, however, the race will provide an enormous learning experience as she rides alongside such names as former World Champions Nettie Edmondson and Rachele Barbieri.
“I'm keen to learn as much as possible in this tour from the team and staff about how to prepare and race as a top professional,” Brown said. “I really look up to all the girls on the team, so it will be awesome to be racing alongside them and sponging as much knowledge from them as possible!”
The three-day race will consist of two flat stages - in Elk Grove and Sacramento - likely to finish in sprints, with a high-altitude mountain stage in South Lake Tahoe in between. Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling will be well-equipped to take on the sprint finishes, but Brown has been also preparing herself to cope with the challenges presented by stage two.
“This will be my first time in California,” she explained. “I've been in Utah the past week trying to acclimatise so that the altitude on stage 2 of the tour isn't a rude shock to the system!
“Both stage 1 and 3 are flat courses and likely to finish in a bunch sprint,” Brown added. ‘I'm hoping that I get to be involved in the lead out, as that's something I've never had the opportunity to execute in a big race before.”
As well as former elite World Champions Edmondson and Barbieri, and former junior World Champion Stewart, the team will be completed by another former junior World Champion in Lucy Garner and former Danish Champion Julie Leth.
Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling team for the Tour of California
Rachele Barbieri (Italy), Grace Brown (Australia), Annette Edmondson (Australia), Lucy Garner (Great Britain), Julie Leth (Denmark), Macey Stewart (Australia)
photos Janos Schmidt