Ride-a-long at The Women’s Tour

Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have one of the top-ranking women’s road races. Rated as a UCI 2.1, The Women’s Tour takes place over five days and features a total of just under 600km of riding. Twelve of the thirteen top-ranking women’s teams in the world took to the start line, bringing with them no less than 11 national champions. In a sadly rare example of equality in cycling, this year’s edition is extra attractive because the prize money is equal to the fund available for the men’s Tour of Britain. With thousands of spectators lining the roads at each stage and an hour-long highlights show on ITV4, The Women’s Tour is an excellent showcase for women’s road racing.

Our ride

Our ride

Last year I managed to enjoy the electric atmosphere of the exciting sprint finish of stage 4 of the inaugural tour in Welwyn Garden-City so this year we were eager to catch a bit of the action in Waltham Cross. Thanks to my employers the Ordnance Survey and their support as the official mapping partner, I was fortunate enough to get on the guest list for hospitality and a ride-along in the convoy. As you know, I’d always rather be riding on my bike than in a car but there was no way I’d be able to keep up with these girls, averaging around 40kph over each stage.

Way too fast for my camera

Way too fast for my camera

The day started in Waltham Cross High Street. Super-excited we turned up far too early to get into the hospitality area and wandered by chance into the car park where the teams were preparing to race. Being a huge fan, I was far too star-struck to actually speak to any of the girls but it was pretty surreal to be standing just feet away from the greatest female cyclist of our time, Marianne Vos as she chats to Wiggle Honda staff. I wandered round in absolute awe of the level of talent just casually hanging around; Giorgia Bronzini, Elisa Longo-Borghini, Lucy Garner, Laura Trott, I could go on. Oh and don’t get me started on the bikes. I was so busy gazing at the beautiful bikes I could have almost bumped into poor Alan Sheldon, a lovely chap I’d met a couple of weeks before at Canary Wharf who was on the staff for Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International at the Tour. Being a huge fan of Katie Archibald, I was glad I’d brought my Pearl Izumi team cap because Alan very kindly got it signed by the whole team just before I had to run back to the start line to meet my driver, Stuart Hourigan.

The mighty Team Rabobank

The mighty Team Rabobank

As we got settled into our Skoda we were given a copy of the Race Manual, the source of all information from detailed routes to where each team is staying each night to diagrams and guidance for each and every piece of signage associated with the tour. Accompanying us there was over 60 police motorbikes as well as a whole host of other vehicles and as we set off ahead of the peloton, it was almost hypnotic to watch the chaotic yet beautifully choreographed rolling-roadblock in action, each motorcycle briefly taking a position at any side-street or junction where traffic might emerge, swiftly moving on once another had taken their place. Stuart explained to us that we would remain ahead of the peloton until a significant breakaway occurred, at which point we might be able to slot the car in behind. We kept track of the race over the race radio comms listening out for any opportunity for our car to drop back and catch some action. The first three stages had seen some exciting breaks and Stuart remarked that this was becoming more common for women’s racing as the sport became more mature and strategies more developed. Unfortunately there was no significant break in stage four; Sabrina Stultiens and Elisa Longo Borghini staged a heroic getaway in the twists and turns of the final quarter but were swallowed up within the last couple of KMs.

OK it was pretty tempting to put Strava on

OK it was pretty tempting to put Strava on

We agreed with Stuart that the break wasn’t to be early enough to leave the race far behind and zoom into Stevenage in time to catch the finish. Having experienced the course, albeit from the comfort of a car, I could appreciate how tough the rain-slicked, twisty, pot-holed roads would have been. I could only cheer my loudest and hammer on the boards as the girls sprinted to the finish line.

Trott prepares for an interview with Ned Boulting

Trott prepares for an interview with Ned Boulting

Giorgia loves her dog!

Giorgia loves her dog!

Getting Liv Envie <3 <3 <3

Getting Liv Envie

Swag

Swag

Fin

Fin

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Introducing Team OS!

When I found out that my employer Ordnance Survey would again be the official mapping partner of The Pearl Izumi Tour Series I was hopeful about the possibility of blagging my way to an event to hand out leaflets or maybe the marketing team might procure some merchandise to give away as prizes. I never imagined that I’d be taking part and yet there I was in the pit area, discussing hill-climbing technique with Team NFTO Director Sportif Dave Povall waiting for the race to start.

The calm before the race

The calm before the race

The Tour Series is five weeks of adrenaline fueled pro-level crit-racing in city centers up and down the country. Some of the top teams in the UK battle it out racing laps of courses featuring tight corners and unpredictable British weather. It’s the only domestic crit series to be televised and attracts thousands of spectators to every venue. The Canary Wharf stage also features the Pro-Am Corporate Grand Prix which is a unique opportunity for event sponsors and Canary Wharf residents to race on the same circuit as the pros in a relay.

Pro-team talk

Pro-team talk

Whilst it was clear that some businesses clearly had a more scientific method of selecting a team of 5, we decided to approach the event with a healthy dose of fun and chance; the team was selected by pulling names out of a hat and luck was on my side. As the only woman in the whole of the business to volunteer I was determined to get a place; most cycling events have a woefully minute ratio of women to men (the last sportive I rode had a shameful 47 women to 614 men – that’s 7%!) so it was important to me to hopefully set an example that other women might follow if we send a team next year. So, the debut line-up of Team OS ended up as me, Andy Revell, Ray Patrucco, Richard Brettell and Matt Whitely.

Smile for the cameras!

Smile for the cameras!

OK I’ve never raced on the road before but neither had the rest of the team. What better place to start though; the positive energy and atmosphere on the day took care of any nerves. So what if the other teams were rocking up on carbon-fibre beasts that cost the same as a small car whilst in our team there was a cyclocross bike complete with Brooks touring saddle and my bike had a bell on it? What we lacked in form we made up in enthusiasm. When Ned Boulting, in a rather surreal moment, asked me on camera if we were in it to win, I wasn’t lying when I said we were going to ride our hardest.

Team OS with fan Ned Boulting (l-r Richard Brettell, Matt Whitely, Ned, Ray Patrucco, me, Andy Revell)

Team OS with fan Ned Boulting (l-r Richard Brettell, Matt Whitely, Ned, Ray Patrucco, me, Andy Revell)

The format was simple: each of the five team members takes a 1km lap, hand-clapping the next one into the race in the changeover area. The final lap is taken by a pro-rider and we couldn’t have asked for a better choice than Ian Bibby of NFTO, the winner of the sprint competition at the previous event in Croydon. The course, a long rectangle, is deceptively simple on paper but a lot more fun in real life. By the time my turn came, the team already had a lot of ground to cover and I can honestly say I have never ridden that fast in my entire life. I was flying up the first long straight and it seemed like it took seconds to reach the first corner which I almost flew into but somehow managed to get round. Taking the short back straight and hitting the second corner all too quickly, I found myself on the long finishing straight, lined with spectators cheering and banging the advertising boards. The support was overwhelming and gave me the energy to push myself back to the changeover area to tag in the last man of team OS. I’ve no idea where we came in the standings. I know we were was close to the bottom but I think we went home feeling like winners that day.

Whee!

Whee!

Our pro Ian Bibby shows us how it's really done

Our pro Ian Bibby shows us how it’s really done

Post-race chillaxing in the VIP area yeah!

Post-race chillaxing in the VIP area yeah!