The Tour de Feminin – a 5 stage race over 4 days, situated in Krasna Lipa, Czech Republic. The opportunity arose to race with Andy Schleck Cycles, so after a last minute search on Skyskanner, I’d bought my flights and I was off to Prague.
Landing in Prague was nerve wracking. I hadn’t met anyone in the team before, and after arranging to meet one of the girls in arrivals I quickly realised I wouldn’t have a clue who I was looking for! Luckily as I walked in and stood looking puzzled, I saw a girl waving her arms in the air at me. Phase 1 completed.
It was a 2 hour transfer to our accommodation and once we arrived at about 6 pm, we quickly built our bikes and went off on an easy spin. It was boiling hot and I thought if this is any indication of what this week will look like then great. We got back, ate and sorted ourselves out for the first stage the following day.
It wasn’t an early start – 13.20. I say that, but we were all on the line by 13.00, you could tell everyone was anxious about the start because with no neutralised it was going to be quick. As we stood there, I really didn’t have a clue how the race would pan out. Turns out it started quite calmly and apart from a couple of QOMS/ sprints the bunch remained together for the majority of the stage, with 80 or so riders in the main bunch. It started to kick off on the climbs at the back end and I felt so good – following moves on climbs and being at the pointy end of the race. Unfortunately, nothing stayed away, but it was a good confidence booster going into the rest of the week.
The finishing 5km was a mainly downhill fast finish with plenty of road furniture (aka carnage). I was trying so hard to not get pushed around and hold my ground and I achieved that. I was in perfect position with 500m to go as we came round the final corner and then CRACK. The girl along side me rode into my wheel, ripping out 3 of my spokes in the process. I was devastated – it was like my best UCI result was in touching distance and then was just torn away from me. I crossed the line about 60th and 7 seconds down. I was so frustrated but I just knew there was nothing I could do apart from try and channel this into tomorrow.
Today was all about trying to make up for yesterday… but blimey it was hard. The climbs today were longer than yesterday but I knew I just had to get to the finishing circuits because then it would settle. Surely enough I was right, and once we hit those finishing laps my one focus was that finish line. Again, it was another downhill finish (are we sensing a pattern here…?) with a U bend with about 400m to go. To make things sketchier, it had poured with rain continuously so the roads were so slippy. Again, lethal. I got round the final corner safely and found myself pinned to the right side of the road. I managed to get out with about 50m to go and secured 9th in the sprint. Not what I was hoping for, but 100 times better than yesterday.
The dreaded TT. I really don’t have much to say about this other than I had 0 legs. That combined with being on a road bike meant I was well down on the winner – but hey GC wasn’t the aim anyway… Onwards to the PM stage.
The PM stage after the TT. After hail in the morning TT we were hoping for some sunshine, and as we stood on the line the sun came out and I was optimistic. Within minutes of us rolling out it was flash flooding… here we go again! Hanging in the front group was difficult, especially with plenty of early attacks. My legs were in pieces from the TT and it took me a good half of the race to feel comfortable in the bunch at that pace. But yet again, as we came into the (downhill) finish I was there and motivated to prove myself. Sat on the yellow jersey’s wheel on the back of the Hitec lead out train I was feeling positive… 1km to go, I can do this. A technical finish on cobbles… right up my street----. Crash. Before I knew it there was a pile of riders in front of me and I had no where to go. Seriously… again? I was so so gutted. Why me?! The only positives I can take was that I landed on bodies so no road rash for me, although I did go over the bars hard meaning I had some whip lash. I focused my hardest of recovering ahead of the next day, there wasn’t time to feel sorry for myself.
I knew this stage was going to be the hardest of them all. The course elevation showed a substantial climb where it was a false flat/ climb for 25km, with the last 5km being steep. As we hit the base of the climb mid-stage Hitec were already lining it out… I was in the red holding the wheel for as long as I could then… pop. That was me done. I just really didn’t have the legs. I felt myself going backward and after the stress of the crash yesterday and the combination of a sleepless night I was empty. Unable to respond I spent the day in the grupetto and rolled in off the bunch. Not the way I wanted to end my tour, but I did my best of the day so I can’t complain.
Reflecting on my race I see more positives than negatives. On paper it looks like I had a shocker, which I guess I did results wise, but I also learnt so much about riding stages back to back and also about what type of rider I am. The amount of confidence I gained being in the mix in those finishes was massive, and has left me motivated for the rest of the season.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my Tour de Feminin experience… As I said I may not have had the results I wanted but there are still lots of races to come. Onwards and upwards!
P.S I came home to the best surprise from the Velominata team… See below me wearing my brand new MAAP Pro Bib shorts in Black & MAAP Empire Pro Air Jersey in Navy on my first ride back after Czech. I may not have been going fast but I at least I looked good!