HANDS full of blisters, all Nicole Frain could do was grit her teeth and hope for the end of cobble sections to come soon as she powered into history.
The first Paris-Roubaix Femmes was a long way from Federation University's Mount Helen campus where Frain is both a nutrition student and involved in the elite athlete program - a campus she likes to make her own during road nationals.
Arguably the most brutal one-day event in road cycling, this is also one of cycling's oldest races that only just let women on course last week.
Women's cycling is relatively young as an elite sport and, with strong voices championing for greater representation and opportunity, change is evolving.
Cycling Australia shuffled its card in Buninyong six years ago to bring the elite men and women's road races on shared billing for Super Sunday, while the women first headlined the Sturt Street criterium last year, just before pandemic effects hit.
Frain has detailed crashes in the field for each of the 17 cobblestone intervals in the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes. She took a corner took hard in an early attack, lost her bike and was forced into a chase on a course that is slippery, dangerous and unpredictable.
To ride into the Robaix velodrome to finish was surreal for Frain, who was 20 seconds outside the time cut that would have made her finish official.
She says her name will forever be on the start list.
And this is a start.
The female winner's prize was about one-20th of what the male winner captured one day later - British rider Lizzie Deignan earned the UCI minimum requirement for women's world tour races; European champion Sonny Colbrelli won about 50 per cent above the considerably larger men's minimum pay.
For Frain, aged 29, cycling is a relatively new venture. A former body builder-turned triathlete, tackling every tri distance from spring to Ironman, a stress fracture in 2017 prompted her to channel her focus on the bike.
The Tasmanian attempted her first open national-level race in 2019 and earned bronze in the elite women's time trial in Buninyong this year. Her efforts earned a call-up into American team Tribco-Silicon Valley Bank.
In the wake of Paris-Roubaix, she has plunged into time trial action in the United Kingdom.
Frain remains a strong, powerful advocate for Federation University's elite athlete program, allowing her to juggle work for her Bachelor of Food Science and Nutrition with her growing sporting demands.
Like most athletes in the program, Frain was also juggling work commitments with her study and riding when she started her degree, which includes intensive science spells on campus each semester.
The elite athlete program, about five years old, targets emerging athletes such as the region's Victorian Football League athletes and basketballers, like former Miner Ross Weightman and Rush's Kasey Burton.
Frain is really taking the program to the next level, along with the likes of Olympic swimmer Wesley Roberts, who was the flag bearer for Cook Islands in Tokyo.
Determined to be more than an official start, Frain is a great story to follow for her determination to keep pushing sporting boundaries.
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