24 July 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Readers blog: “Riding” with the professionals at the Women’s Tour

May 9, 2014
The-break

Helen Jaques describes her experience of riding in a race car for stage 2 of the Friends Life Women’s Tour courtesy of Sportsister and British Cycling’s Breeze Network.

programme

Last summer I headed over to the north of France with my Dad and hordes of other Brits to watch the 100th edition of the Tour de France. Stood out in the blazing sunshine watching the best cyclists in the world whizz past spectacular Mont Saint-Michel, I thought to myself: “Watching cycling doesn’t get much better than this.” Wrong.

Because yesterday I was treated to the unique experience of riding in a race car for a stage of the historic first edition of the Friends Life Women’s Tour. Instead of being stood on the streets of Northamptonshire like all the other cycling fans, I was zooming around the course behind police motorbikes and support cars in the race convoy courtesy of a competition by Sportsister.

It all started very, very early with a train from Manchester, where I live, to Hinckley in Leicestershire, where stage 2 of the Women’s Tour was due to start. The town centre was packed with team cars and vans, stalls hosted by cycling organisations and local groups, and excited cycling fans. And of course, being England, it was raining.

Once I’d said “hello” to the representatives from British Cycling’s Breeze Network, who had pulled the strings to set up the competition prize, I had a few moments to check out all the fabulous bikes being prepared for the riders. Just like the Tour de France, all the biggest names in cycling had come to the race – women like Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson, women whose fortunes I follow every season – and I got a chance to suss out their rides and chat to their mechanics about their kit.

The-bikes
Then it was time to find my ride for the day: a race organiser’s car festooned with stickers advertising the tour and kitted out with race radio. Once myself and my fellow competition winners were on board, we rolled out of Hinckley onto the start of the course and the race began.

Our car was in the first part of the convoy, behind the race officials, police motorcycles and neutral service cars, which had spare bikes and wheels for the riders. The cyclists were behind us, followed by their team cars, which held their team directors, mechanics and more spares, and then yet more police and officials. It was quite a procession.

And from my perspective in the front seat of the tour car, it did feel a bit like a procession. Unlike the riders, I could relax and enjoy waving to the hundreds of supporters lining the course – I felt like the Queen! In particular, I loved seeing the massive crowds of school children who had taken time out of their lessons to cheer on the women racing the tour. Many of them had made signs showing their support for British cyclists like Lucy Garner, whose home town we passed through, Lizzie Armistead and Laura Trott. We also saw several fire engines and JCBs sporting banners celebrating the riders – I was thrilled to see so many people from so many walks of life roaring on women’s cycling.

Out-the-window

It wasn’t such an easy ride for the cyclists though. We may have been in front of them, but we were able to keep up with all the action in the peloton through our race radio, which the race officials use to communicate with the team cars and motorcyclists. When a rider broke away from the peloton to ride away solo, like Silvia Valsecchi of Astana Bepink’s fruitless early attempt, we were given regular updates on how far ahead of the group they were. And we got up-to-the-minute reports of who won each of the two ‘Queen of the mountains’ and two sprint competitions along the course, the races within the race.

We also had a copy of the race ‘manual’, which gives detailed descriptions of the course, down to every turn and roundabout. The other two competition winners I was riding with were locals, so I had an extra inside line on how steep the hills were likely to be or how narrow the roads. The race manual handily pointed out hazards too, like fast descents and the narrow bridge on the way to Carlton, the cause of quite a mighty crash in the peloton.

Italian rider Rossella Ratto of Estado de Mexico-Faren had broken away off the front of the main group at about halfway through the race, and by about 20 kilometres from the finish she was joined by fellow countrywoman Susanna Zorzi of Astana-Be Pink. Their lead on the peloton crept up from 30 seconds, to 1 minute, to 2 minutes and to a golden opportunity for us.

Once a rider has a lead of more than 30 seconds, team cars and other vehicles in the convoy can slip in between the breakaway and the peloton to make sure help is on hand if the lead riders have a puncture or another misfortune. Our race car took that opportunity and snuck in behind Ratto and Zorzi at about 10 kilometres to go. This meant we could come up right beside the two leaders to see the grimaces on their faces as they toiled away and exactly how soaked and mud splattered they were – it hadn’t stopped raining all day.

The-break

People often ask why cyclists bother breaking away from the main bunch in races, because nine times out ten the peloton will catch them before the finish line. But that means that one time out of ten the breakaway will manage to ride all the way to the line without being caught and snatch a victory from the jaws of the advancing peloton. The odds were in favour of tenacious Ratto yesterday, because she and Zorzi made it to the stage finish in Bedford a mere 6 seconds ahead of the main bunch to secure first and second in the stage.

Luckily we made it to the finish more than 6 seconds ahead of those two and were able to leap out of the car in time to watch them cross the line, as well as catch sight of the tussle between Marianne Vos, Amy Pieters and the other big names for the third spot on the podium.

Ratto

All in all I had a fantastic day following the Women’s Tour yesterday. My spot in the car gave me an unparalleled view of the race and a rare glimpse into the workings of a professional cycling race. I had a unique position to follow my cycling heroes battling it out on the streets of England, although the English weather meant I was grateful I was riding on four wheels yesterday rather than two! Let’s see if the Tour de France in Yorkshire this July can top that…

Helen Jaques, Sportsister
The Women’s Sport Magazine

Readers blog is sponsored by Moving Comfort. If you want to submit your story please email: Danielle@Sportsister.com
All bloggers who are published receive a fab Moving Comfort sports bra.

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