Friday, 7 February 2014


Start: Katara Cultural Village
Finish: Al Khor Corniche
Distance: 93.5km (sprints 40.5k + 85k)
Team: Georgia, Bea, Emilia, Lotte, Shell and I

Today we started in the scenic setting of the Katara Cultural Village, with more beautiful buildings, some cobbled-like pavers, and still in high spirits. After a morning look at the wind direction, we thought the day was to bring a little relief with more headwind than the previous stages. This usually neutralises the race because the battle to get away is hard, and the war to stay away is even harder. In saying that, we were equally as prepared for the typical crosswinds the Middle East landscape provides, and despite knowing the pain that they bring, the sickness we all suffer from loves that sort of torture.

Just boot-iful :)
Photo courtesy ASO/B/Bade

To give you an insight into the peloton at the Tour of Qatar is difficult. When the speed first starts to increase you sprint for every possible gap, rubbing legs and braking hard and waiting for your opportunity to move up and around through the continuous washing machine effect of the peloton. When the echelon first starts there is only enough room for six to eight riders before you hit gravel, but at this point the roll through is still easy enough for the strong girls to ride the long way around in the wind. The echelon is continuously swamped and you find yourself falling back, then trying to push out and around to sprint to the front and do it all again. As the speed ramps up, girls don't just rub past you..they push and shove and chop and yell, riding desperately to hold a wheel and make the split. At this point it's already super hard. 

To the naked eye it's a normal bunch, but it's a wild world in there!
Photo courtesy ASO/B/Bade

Then Orica-AIS come to the fore, so in sync with each other and strong enough to do such viscous damage. Their echelon is a little bigger and they allow a few extra girls to share the load, which means it's a hell of a lot faster and eventually there is nowhere to hide. One by one we line the gutter as the relentless crosswinds seem to blow harder. You grovel on the wheel in front knowing that only the strongest survive, and you so badly want to be one of those today. It's now that the smaller efforts to stay well positioned before start to catch up with you. You suffer so intensely that you know the only thing behind you is carnage, and while you can still hold on you thrive on the fact that others are disappearing behind. Even after the moment the rubber snaps and your heart is broken, you suffer equally as much in the next echelon 20sec behind, dangling just out of reach.

Another day, another echelon..
Photo courtesy ASO/B/Bade

As the time gaps grow the impetus is taken out of the chase. Those in the third or fourth echelons surrender and re-group to roll in to the finish, knowing that every wasted effort today is one less they will have in them tomorrow. But for the leaders the fun is only just beginning as they start to conjure up ways to defeat the race favourite, which is undoutably always Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano). So for the most part the days are on repeat, but today's finale was a little more exciting. Of the lead 12, Orica-AIS had four representatives and despite their efforts, Wild not only chewed them up but spat them out. To put that into perspective, she nearly single handedly dominated the number 1 rider and team in the World. Her victory today was truly amazing, and as a reward she takes back the yellow jersey.

This is me not winning,  3:45min after the leaders
Photo courtesy ASO/B/Bade

Today Lotte was our best placed Wigglette, finishing in the third group in 21st place after Georgia punctured in the lead bunch. I finished in the peloton in 56th, 3:45min behind the leaders, but I believe today was my strongest day. As a team, we communicated better and were more aware of each other on the road. They may seem like little things but they are important parts of a winning formula. I have to pinch myself and remember that after 5 years away, I've stepped back into one of the hardest women's tours on the calendar. I think I've been better everyday, and although my legs are smashed, I still look forward to tomorrow. It's another chance to try and succeed at the challenge of finishing lead bunch. If I may be back to try again next year!

Results: Via CyclingNews
Garmin: Stage 3
Video: Via @Cycling_videos

Thursday, 6 February 2014


Start: Al Zubara
Finish: Madinat Al Shamal
Distance: 112.5km (sprints 72k + 99k)
Team: Georgia, Bea, Emilia, Lotte, Shell and I

It's pretty obvious that you've performed badly on the first day when as one of the top women's teams in the world, you draw number 14 in a convoy of 15 cars with only China-Giant Pro Cycling behind us. It was disappointing for many reasons, but mainly that we didn't put our trust in our new DS Frankie. After a short debrief last night we knew we had to work better as a team. The key message from him was 'individually you can do nothing, but if you work as a team you can do anything'. And so it was that the mission for the day was to stick together, communicate more, and for Georgia to throw in the 'nice-girl' towel and yell at us. If we succeeded at just one task- teamwork - then the race would not be in vain.

The jersey holders lead the way in Al Zubara
Photo courtesy ASO/B.Bade

It was a decent drive to Al Zubara where we were greeted with the usual- sand, barren desert, some camels and some seriously strong winds. Our team plan was that we would be alert through the first 9k of head-wind, then start to work an echelon when the cross-wind really kicked in. The first 3k was neutral and Georgia was unlucky to have some problems clipping her foot in. It was impossible to move up at this point so Bea and I flanked her until the flag dropped, and as the race was thrown straight into the gutter, we pulled together but could only deliver her half way. I fell back through the bunch, but eventually recovered and went to grab Georgia again and after a massive sprint effort I dropped her off in the leading echelon as the race split. Lotte and Georgia had made the lead split of 20...hooray!

The 21 leaders including Lotte and Georgia share the workload
Photo courtesy ASO/B.Bade

From there it was a matter of finding your echelon on the road. The 88 girls split into five different groups, each chasing each other 30-40 seconds apart, with the tail girls using the cars in the convoy the best they could just to stay in reach. I found myself as the sole Wiggle in the third group and every time we found the gutter I was certain I would be dropped. I can't describe my pain face but it would have been a sight! I came so close to giving up a few times but reminded myself that the pain wouldn't last and when the echelon reformed I was back in the draft rolling turns. The pain eased when we turned for the tailwind and by the time the headwind greeted us the peloton had swelled to 54 riders.

Echelon heaven in the desert..
Photo courtesy ASO/B.Bade

The headwind was such a deterrent to the chase for the riders that had missed the move, including three top 10 riders from day 1, and the bunch were reluctant to help as there was no benefit in it for them. After having my ringer hanging out for 60k I was happy to roll along in the 'laughing bunch' for the final four laps of a 13k circuit, and even happier to have Bea, Shell and Emilia for company. I was proud of the job I had done for the day, albeit short-lived, and I know that every baby step I take gets me closer to where I want to be. Tomorrow I would love to finally be lead bunch, and if my positioning is right maybe it's possible, but I'm not too sure that my legs would agree..

Lotte looking strong before the winning break
Photo courtesy ASO/B.Bade
Meanwhile the lead group was motoring along and with a now 12-minute lead the only chance we had of seeing them again was if they lapped us! It wasn't until we finished that we heard the news- a break of four had escaped in the final 15k and Lotte had finished third! Her breakaway companion Amy Pieter's (Giant-Shimano) had won the stage and taken the yellow jersey off team-mate Kirsten Wild. It was a good result for us because the nature of the finish didn't completely suit Georgia's sprint style, and she has been plagued with sickness leading into the race. I finished 42nd a looong way behind..

Results: Via Cycling News
Garmin: Stage 2
Video: Via @Cycling_videos

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Start: Museum of Islamic Art
Finish: Masaieed
Distance: 97km (sprints 35.5k + 64.5k)
Team: Georgia, Bea, Emilia, Lotte, Shell and I

It was a 13km commute to the Museum of Islamic Art where we would roll off for the first stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. For perhaps the first time in my life I rode most of the way in silence as my once were nerves developed into a feeling of fear. To think that of all the races I have done in my lifetime, this is the first time I have been scared. Scared that I would make a mistake, that I would crash, let the team down in some way or that I would simply not be good enough in my first race UCI as a professional. It's been five years since I raced in the pro peloton and I suppose in a way it's good that I don't underestimate my competition, but in the same breath I must believe that I am now good enough.

Georgia, Lotte, Emilia, Shell, Bea and I at sign-on
Photo courtesy Ottilie Quince

The first 3.2km were a designated neutral zone, but even after the flag was dropped to start the bike race it was still relatively sedated. We had a tailwind for the first hour and not surprisingly, not a single break was initiated. It was a matter of surviving the 'washing machine' effect of the peloton, the crash, the monster cat-eyes and the abandoned motorbike of a crazy driver that slid into the bunch! I was on edge the whole time which eventually made me mad because I've always thrived in an adrenaline filled peloton, and when the crucial moments approached I found myself being pushed around and slipping back through the field.

Fast forward to 35km and the pace ramped up for the first intermediate sprint. We had decided not to target this as a team and watched on as three time winner and defending champion Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano) took the bonus seconds. We then turned into a cross headwind where we expected the race to break to pieces, but there was no initiative taken by the teams as the wind wasn't quite 'cross' enough to force a split. There was one last significant turn that would see another change in wind direction and the bunch became anxious as it loomed in the distance. This was where it would all happen. This is where the hammer would go down. I repeated to myself 'be prepared'.

The line up for the first UCI race of the year...
Photo courtesy ASO/B.Bade

Most of the peloton ignored the 55km feed, solely concentrating on their position and the wheel in front. The crosswind was causing some havoc and everyone muscled a wheel in desperation as the bunch began to string out. I was already struggling to hold position when I saw the quartet of Orica-AIS making their way to the head of the group to finish off the job. I was now out of the echelon and knew that this would spell some serious gutter action. It's a tough balance between being in the draft, balanced enough in the wind to hold your line on the road's edge, and holding that damn wheel!

The race was now single-file and splintered as girls flew back through the convoy of cars. I was already on my limit when I saw Georgia was just three girls in-front of me, but I couldn't get to her to relieve the wind and she became the very last person to lose contact with the final lead selection of 20. I started another echelon for the seven of us that made up the chase bunch, and after 2k we were joined by a bunch of 25 including Lotte and Shell. The manpower may sound good on paper, but most were keen to rest with Rusvelo being the first to assist us in the chase. Just 5k after the split the gap was already 40sec.

Lotte, Georgia, Shell and I in the chase group
Photo courtesy ASO/B.Bade

I thought I was rolling turns at an exertion level that I could hold for the rest of the day, but nearly instantaneously I went from feeling good to being in serious trouble and poof- I nearly got shot off the back! I managed to grab last wheel in the gutter and throw down a High5 gel, and one by one I started to pick off girls to make my way back to the front. My legs weren't lactic but overall I was useless and after just 10k of workload I was alone. It was eerily quiet as the riders drifted away, and I was grateful to turn around and see a distant shadow which turned out to be the third and final bunch.

After a howling tailwind home I finished in 65th, 4:30min down on the leaders. I was happy to have an easier run to the finish but I certainly never felt recovered. Meanwhile up the road, Wild went on to take out the second sprint and the finale, giving her the overall lead by 9sec in the hunt for her fourth title in Qatar. The Wiggle Honda chasers finished 53sec down with Shell our top finisher in 37th place.

Wild takes out stage 1
Photo courtesy Team Giant-Shimano

For me personally I'm disappointed that I wasn't stronger. I was happy with my positioning for my first race back but I realise that every day I race my self-expectation must rise. I did my best to get Georgia back into the bike race and for that reason I am still pleased. We are all aware that our performance today was far from what we sought, and far from what we are capable of. But tomorrow is another day and although the general classification is now out of our reach, we have a great opportunity to race for potential stage wins.

Results: Via cyclingnews
Garmin: Stage 1
Video: Via @Cycling_videos