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
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