Tour de l’Ardeche: Uncategorised climbing.
I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I came to the Tour de l’Ardeche primarily for training. The first two days were pleasant surprises but I knew it was too good to be true and – just like when you find a super cheap air-fair only to be slapped in the face with taxes, baggage charges, and any other thing these airlines are decided to charge us for these days – it really was.
Today’s fourth stage was like the hidden taxes. It was the slap in the face to bring me back to reality. The 110km race was one that you glance at in the race bible before quickly flipping to the next page. Denial, after all, is always better than facing reality.
The stage started directly up hill and continued climbing for the next 20km. But that wasn’t even a categorised climb; those came 45km, 77km and 105km into the race.
I had managed to position myself close to the front as we turned onto the first (uncategorised) climb of the day only 2km after we rolled away from the start line.
As a sprinter you learn pretty quickly different tricks that help you survive on tough mountain days like today. Starting at the front so you can gradually drop back through the peloton is a trick I mastered early on in my cycling career and was taught to me by my father, who also had the same genetic disposition to hills. That being he went backwards faster than he went forwards.
Today I wanted to try another trick that after six years of racing in Europe I’m still trying to master; the trick of conserving energy by getting dropped but not dropped enough to mean that you’ll never see the main bunch again. Trust me, I’ve done the ground work, it’s not an easy skill to master.
After racing the Giro Rosa this year I found that as the race went on my climbing got progressively worse, which is natural in any long stage race, but I made the assessment that there shouldn’t have been such a rapid decline in my climbing. In hindsight, I decided that I had pushed too hard on days where I didn’t necessarily have to.
One example I can think of off the top of my head was the third stage which finished up a 10km climb. The race went on to splinter and while I found a group which I was comfortable sitting I did need to grit my teeth a little to stay there.
Later, when I looked at the results from that stage I saw riders like Bronizini and Iris Slappendal had finished more than a minute behind me even though we started the climb together. Far from being worse climbers than me it shows the experience these riders have when it comes to stage racing. By saving their legs and energy on that third stage, they most likely had that much more to draw on in the coming stages.
So today, knowing that it wasn’t a day for me I made the decision to try something a little different. I sat in the peloton up the first climb for the first 5 or so kms feling comfortable but as soon as my heart rate started to climb to inappropriate levels and I started to grind the gear rather than spin I decided to start drifting back through the pack. I knew a lot of girls had already been dropped so I would have a group to ride with.
Finding a smaller group we rode tempo to the top of the first climb. The main pack was still in sieght and the convoy still behind us, both good things. I couldn’t believe how well this was working out. As we hit the first descent of the day we easily rejoined the leading pack.
It was at the second climb of the day that my energy saving tactics really started to show.
As Rosella Ratto launched an attack up another tough, uncategorised climb and was chased by Tiff Cromwell the peloton started to splinter and girls who had pushed themselves to stay with the front group on the first climb were dropping past me.
I was able to sit with the lead group up the next climb as well and was even at the front of the race when it all started to go down. And just like yesterday, it wasn’t the climbs, but the descents that caused havoc.
About 30kms into the race after we crested yet another uncategorised climb Wiggle Honda went straight to front and attacked the descent. Before I even realised what had happened the field had been totally decimated. A group of 10 or so which included race leader Linda Villumsen, Bronzini and Emilia Fahlin all from Wiggle Honda, Tiff Cromwell and Carly Taylor from the Aussie national team and a scattering of other riders managed to establish a gap on the chasing group.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the first hand recounting I can give you. As we reached the first categorised climb of the day I called it lights out, found a good sized group to ride home with and spun my legs to the finish. Or almost to the finish.
With about 20km to go I ran out of food and the horrible symptoms of hunger flatting started to kick in; first came the loss in power, then the loss in concentration (on the final descent of the day I over shot three corners) and finally the horrible dizzy sensation.
I haven’t had a chance to see the results form today’s stage but if you have, have a look for my name and then look for the group of about 10 or 15 riders that finished in front of me. The time gap between us I managed to establish in less than 8kms. Hunger flatting is a serious thing people! Eating is definitely not cheating when it comes to 110km mountain stages.
A group of 10 rode to the line to contest the stage honours with Bronizini putting in an incredible ride to win her second stage ahead of Tiff Cromwell. My teammate, Tayler Wiles, was also in the select group of 10 and has moved up into second overall!
I asked our director, Christophe, today if we’re the best mixed team he’s directed so far. He just laughed in an awkward way. I feel like it was kind of like asking him to pick a favourite child; everyone has one but you’re not meant to tell anyone. But I’d be willing to bet we are.