A HEADY dose of excitement, mixed with a bit of terror.
Champion Bendigo cyclist Peta Mullens was feeling the pressure to perform, ahead of her Bendigo International Madison debut.
It was not an unfamiliar sensation for an athlete that had earned a reputation for excellence.
"I have never, ever lost a club race in 10 years," Mullens said.
She had done roughly 20 club races a year, in that time.
"We get so used to a certain level of result that if we don't achieve it..." Mullens said.
Well, it was almost like having failed.
Women elite cyclists could be seen as having more to lose than their male counterparts, in some ways. There were fewer of them, to start with.
There was a surplus of interest in this weekend's Madison from male contenders. Whereas, Mullens said there was opportunity to field more females.
She said that was not unique to the Madison, with fewer female contenders in major cycling events and local initiatives.
Mullens said she was disappointed more women hadn't supported the Madison.
But she said the same women were being called on to race across multiple cycling disciplines throughout the year.
Mullens spent 108 days of the past year racing.
"For most women, that's impossible," she said.
She had structured her life so that it was flexible enough to do so. But, even then, it was not easy.
"The transitions between disciplines are hard," Mullens said.
Each of the disciplines are different, from the bikes themselves to the toll they take on the athletes' bodies.
I enjoy riding my bike way too much, still.- Peta Mullens, champion Bendigo cyclist
Track bicycles have one gear and no brakes.
Mullens said there was only one thing on her mind when she was training or racing for track: "Pedal".
"Because if you stop, you crash," she said.
On a road bike, she would be reminding herself to be patient.
Mountain biking was hardest, Mullens said, both physically and technically.
"It's hectic... pure hectic," she said.
"I find mountain biking the most enjoyable because it's the most distracting."
For Mullens, mountain biking was just adventuring. She liked to ride alone, enabling her to concentrate.
Whereas, she welcomed having company or being able to listen to a podcast while road cycling.
Track might have been where she got her start in the sport, but Mullens said it was no longer her discipline.
This weekend's Madison would be her first track race in seven years.
"I'm extremely terrified," Mullens said.
The expectations of a home crowd added an element of pressure.
"I'm just concerned I can't live up to the hype in Bendigo," Mullens said, despite all her achievements.
She has a long list of national titles to her name, and was announced the Australian Road Race Champion in 2015.
Mullens is an Australian Cyclocross Champion and has been a part of leading professional cycling teams.
Her cycling career has taken her around the world, and she was selected as a reserve athlete for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Mullens believed a fear of losing was holding women in cycling back.
"It's quite daunting in a man's world to fail at something new," she said.
There were times when she said it could be a struggle to convince her team to take on a challenge, like attending the World Series.
"We really are used to a winning culture," Mullens said.
She looked to the women's cycling scene in Europe, where the sport was much more popular and more women were competing at elite levels.
Mullens believed Australia could learn from the European cycling culture.
But there was so much she enjoyed about being part of the cycling community back home, from the clear Bendigo skies that made riding possible almost every day of the year to the support for the sport.
Mullens started life in East Gippsland, but was quick to be claimed by Bendigo after falling in love with partner of 11 years Jarrod Moroni and relocating.
She and Moroni own and run Moroni's Bike Shop, on Mitchell Street.
They have a community of people who love and admire them, from family to members of the domestic team Mullens runs.
The women and men who supported Mullens to pursue her passion inspired her to do the same for others, where possible.
Wiggle Hi5 Pro Cycling founder Rochelle Gilmore was among her mentors.
Mullens is a twin, and was born on International Women's Day.
That's this Sunday. The fact her birthday coincided with the Madison heightened her excitement about the weekend, each year.
Mullens, who was turning 32, said didn't consider herself to be a feminist. But she believed in gender parity.
She was disappointed whenever finding a link to watch an international women's elite cycling event was so difficult it could be "a job".
Mullens felt the need to help make the sport she loved more appealing to women at all skill levels.
She was conscious she played a role in advocating for women's cycling, and was keen to drive momentum.
"You can't be what you can't see," Mullens said.
But that, too, came with a bit of pressure. "If I take a step back, people will think I've lost a bit of passion," Mullens said.
She completed a Bachelor of Exercise Science, for when the time came to stop racing.
"I enjoy riding my bike way too much, still," Mullens said.
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