Tour de l’Ardeche; The Big Guns
It’s a strange time of year. Teams are starting to think about the world team time trial championships in three weeks or looking even further ahead to the 2015 season. Consequently a lot of riders find themselves sans races. I was one of those riders.
Since competing in the Commonwealth Games a month ago I’ve had one race; the last round of the UCI World Cup, GP Plouay, which I raced on Saturday.
The three week break in racing after the Games was needed both mentally and physically and afforded me the opportunity to rebuild for the second part of the season, but after awhile your legs start to get itchy.
I was happy with my ride in Plouay – I was the main aggressor in the beginning stages of the race – but I love racing my bike and I wasn’t content to just sit around and wait for the next race my team had put on my race calendar, the Lotto Belisol Tour which starts on September 11. If I had done so I would have had a grand total of six race days between August and October. So instead I went searching for guest rides.
I sent email after email to the Australian national team asking for starts in Route de France, Trophee d’Or and Tour de l’Ardeche, most of which went ignored. But I’ve never been one to put up with the silent treatment. So I started emailing race directors, my own team director, and my teammates asking if they could help me get a guest ride.
Two weeks ago I got a message from my French teammate Audrey Cordon; “I got you a ride in Ardeche!”
I have never been more excited to discover that I had landed a guest ride in one of the hilliest tours on the calendar.
Last year, when I was racing at the Holland Ladies Tour I received a message from Lauren Kitchen who was racing Ardeche with her Wiggle Honda team. The message was simple; “Never do this race.” She told me later that on some days the peloton climbed more than 3000 altitude metres and most stages started on climbs.
After hearing that I had got the call up for the race I got straight on the race website to see just exactly what I was getting myself into. Lots of climbing, that what I was getting myself into. It didn’t matter, I was just happy to be racing.
The Big Guns
I was grateful to be given a guest ride by the organisation who had decided to put together a composite team made up of other riders also looking for late season rides. But I also knew I would need some support over the six day, seven stage tour. So naturally I called in the big guns; Mum and Dad.
My parents have been in Europe since the Giro Rosa and had planned to watch me race at the Holland Ladies Tour which is also on this week, but when my plans changed so did theirs.
When times are tough in the Hosking clan we have always come together as a unit. So when my parents knew I was struggling to find rides they were more than happy to be my support crew when I actually found one.
They agreed to hire a car and transport not just me but also Emilia Fahlin and Emily Collins the six hour, 300km drive, to the Ardeche region of France for the start of the race. But their responsibilities as support staff didn’t stop there; by the end of the evening last night they had turned into taxi drivers and feeders for the first stage. After the stage they also turned their French Gite into a laundry sweat shop.
Let the Race Begin
Being lead into a small bungalow by one of the race organisers I was told that my mixed team was having a meeting. With little information other than the address of where we were staying I walked into the meeting and said jokingly, “so who speaks English?”
Sitting in front of me was Joanne Hogan (Bigla), Tayler Wiles (Specialized Lululemon), Olivia Dillion (Colivita) and our token Frenchie, Betty; it was a huge relief to know that the majority of our team spoke English as my French language skills are poor to terrible. Even our director, who has done theTour de France three or four times, had a good handle on it! Bonus.
“…I have to say, my little mixed team rocked it…”
The first stage of the tour was a relatively flat 104km course made up of six local laps around the city of La Voulte before moving to Beauchastel to take in seven 10km laps.
Jo called the team together before the race and gave a bit of a debrief on the course and where sprints were before asking me what I wanted; she thought the race would come down to a sprint and wanted my opinion.
I wasn’t sure what the girls wanted to do or if they had their own ambitions for the race but I was humbled to hear that they were all happy to help me in the sprint. In the end, we decided to try to be aggressive throughout the race and I would surf wheels in the finish.
And I have to say, my little mixed team rocked it.
As we started the first town circuits Jo launched an attack up a small, sharp climb and established a gap on the peloton but nothing was gaining too much advantage with intermediate sprints scattered throughout the race. Even Taylor and Oliva launched some great attacks with Oliva earning herself the most aggressive jersey at the end of the stage after going for a 15km solo breakaway mid way through the race.
In the end, the peloton seemed happy to let it come down to mass bunch sprint however, so I started looking for wheels. And one in particular; Wiggle Honda’s Italian super sprinter Giorgia Bronzini.
Latching onto Bronzini’s wheel with a little over 4km to go I was feeling pretty confident. Other than having a small dig earlier to see if things might split in the wind I had managed to stay relatively sheltered and spin the legs for the majority of the race.
Wiggle Honda had a fantastic lead out train going keeping the pace high but other teams weren’t content to just let them ride single file to the line. The Australian national team started to creeping up on the right hand side with just over 2km to go while the pink team of Faren de Mexico were also trying to take control.
From 1km to go I was riding totally blind. Having never done the race before and with the peloton not riding through the finish before we actually contested the sprint I had no idea what was coming. I’d managed to overhear some conversation between teams so knew that the last corner came with about 850metres go but I didn’t know anymore than that.
As the elbows started to come out I lost Bronzini’s wheel and had a moment of panic but as we swept through the last right hand corner of the day I managed to sneak underneath and grab her wheel again.
Tiffany Cromwell (riding for the Aussie national team) had taken control of the peloton with Lizzie Williams on her wheel, the Bronzini and I lined out behind them.
As we rocketed towards the finish line a small kick in the road proved too hard for Lizzie and she dropped Tiff’s wheel leaving Bronzini and I with quite a gap to close. There was still more than 350metres to go and in a split second you’re faced with the question of ‘do I?’ or ‘don’t I?’.
Bronzini decided she’d waited long enough and exploded up the road to chasing Tiff. I followed. In the end though the gap was just a little too big for me to close. I finished third behind Bronzini and Tiff. There was millimetres difference between Tiff and I.
In an ironic twist I ended up wearing the mountains jersey for tomorrows second stage. It’s the first time I’ve donned a climbers leading jersey since the U17 Canberra Junior and Women’s Tour.
Irony aside, it felt good to be back in the thick of the sprints and back at the front of the bike race. After my disastrous Commonwealth Games having two good races back to back help to reassure me that I’m not actually terrible and I really did just have a (because I don’t want to sugar coat it) shit day.
Tomorrow we’re being treated to a 6.8km time trial and an afternoon mountain stage; I don’t know what I did to be so lucky! But I’m here doing what I love to do, race my bike, so I can’t complain!