The second ever Ladies Tour of Qatar kicked off today and I was more than pleased to be taking to the start line decked out in my hTC kit (Australian flag and all this time) and surrounded by five of my amazing team mates; Judith Arndt, Ellen van Dijk, Emilia Fahlin, Adrie Vissier and Noemi Cantele.
I watched last year’s edition eagerly from my couch, a fact that seemed to follow me for the entire 2009 season. If I wasn’t hearing about the amazing six star hotel that the riders got treated to or the leg shattering first stage where Flexpoint decimated the peloton there was definitely something wrong. That or people were eating, because if there’s one thing that can shut cyclists up, it’s food.
Qatar may seem like an odd place to hold a bike race, and quite frankly it is, but as I write this from my luxurious bed in my lavish, mansion sized hotel room I find it hard to complain. That and the race is known as a ‘sprinters’ race.
Essentially the Tour (which consists of three stages) is just Dutch racing transported 5000 kilometres to the south-east.
The windmills may have been replaced by oil mines and the lush green fields that line the roads of the Netherlands may have been substituted with endless sand and countless camels but it is still, essentially, Dutch racing.
If your thoughts went straight to dead flat roads that stretch to the horizon and gale force winds as soon as I mentioned Dutch racing you would be right on the money. For some it may sound boring, but for me for me this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s my ‘home environment’ and I couldn’t wait to get out into those cross winds that were waiting for me with a snarl.
The first race of the season for the majority of the peloton, tensions were high as we rolled away from the Museum of Islamic Art which was hosting the start of the 103 kilometre first stage.
These tensions boiled to the surface in a number of small crashes in the first few kilometres and eventually erupted at the 40km mark, only four kilometres from the first intermediate sprint, when there was crash that impeded almost half the peloton, either because they crashed or were caught behind it, causing the bunch to splinter into four or five groups.
...This split was helped along by gusting cross-winds and the Cervelo train.
Luckily I was able to avoid the crash and the bunch was ‘gruppo compacto’ with 30kms to go.
Fast forward to the last ten kilometres and this is where the race really started to heat up.
Having discussed tactics in the team meeting the night before we came to the conclusion that the Cervelo team, made of time trial riders and sprinter, Kirsten Wild would attempt to control the last kilometres of the race with a lead out train.
(The basic idea of this train, for those unsure, is that riders from the team keep the pace high in the final kilometres of the race their sprinter tucked into the slipstream. This makes it difficult for other teams to position their sprinter for the win and also dissuades individual riders from attacking in the final kilometres and taking a surprise win.)
We decided we weren’t going to let this fly, electing to send individual riders up the road one at time in the final five kilometres, with me following wheels and protecting myself for the final sprint. Our plan almost worked perfectly.
Not every team has the luxury of being able to send former world champions, current national champions and current world champion medallist up the road, but we did. (I am about to do some serious name dropping).
2004 World Champion, Judith Arndt was the first to launch and she exploded out of the peloton leaving panic behind her. The Cervelo train which had just began to form lost one of its riders as they sent her away in pursuit of Judith, and when the gap wasn’t closing even Kirsten Wild chased, not the ideal thing to do for a sprinter with just under five kilometres to the finish.
Silver medallist in the 2009 time trial world championships and bronze medallist in the road race, Noemi Cantele then jumped out of the bunch causing further confusion behind her. It was chaotic as Cervelo tried to chase down everything that moved their train began to rapidly deteriorate.
Emilia Fahlin’s (the current Swedish national time trial champion), attack with three kilometres to go finally pushed the Cervelo train over the edge when Kirsten Wild’s last lead out rider, Sarah Duster, launched after her getting stuck in no-man’s land and leaving Kirsten without the lead out train she’d come to rely so heavily on. While Emilia’s attack was impressive enough on its own it seemed even more so after learning that she had crashed during the raced...and had five punctures.
With 1.3kms to go Adrie, Ellen and I were at the front of the bike race with no one team controlling the bunch. With 300metres to go I panicked.
Deciding people were leaving the sprint much to late I launched off Adrie’s wheel and was narrowly beaten by Rasa Lelivyte (Pasta Safi) and Giorgia Bronzini (Italian National Team).
I was pretty stoked to take third in my fist race with the team but I know there is still a lot of improvement to come. My goal heading into the next two stages is to get rid of the terrible tan line I got today...and maybe a few more podium places.
For now, my bed is calling. Stay tuned for the next instalment from the country where money isn’t an object and camels can buy you love. (My blog from the HTC-Columbia training camp in Mallorca will be up shortly, don’t lose faith!)