The Ladies Tour Qatar: Hunting Seconds and Finishing Second
I can’t believe the Ladies Tour of Qatar is over for another year. I think I started talking about the 2015 edition of the Tour way back in September when I signed with Wiggle Honda. I was clear; I wanted to go to Qatar and I wanted to win.
I did one of those things, and came pretty close to the other. In the end I finished second, 12-seconds behind eventual winner Lizzie Armitstead. I’m not disappointed, however.
What? How could I not be? Where’s my competitive spirit?
Don’t worry, I haven’t lost it. It’s just after four days of tough racing I know that my team and I fought hard to win the Tour’s overall classification but fell just short. I could insert multiple cliche sayings here but I’ll refrain.
After the second stage where the field was ripped to pieces in the crosswinds I found myself in fourth overall, 7-seconds behind Ellen van Dijk who had won the second stage, 4-seconds behind Lizzie and even on time with Trixi Worrack.
It wasn’t a terrible position to be in with two stages remaining but it was going to be a tough call to beat the duo of Ellen and Lizzie who had proved to be incredibly strong.
Our tactics heading into the third stage of the Tour were simple. Win as many seconds as possible in the intermediate sprints and in the final finish sprint. For good measure we wanted Jolien and Gio to try and take seconds in the sprints as well. Call us greedy, but the more seconds Ellen, Lizzie and Trixi didn’t get the better.
After six years racing in Qatar you realise the importance of the intermediate sprints. With 3-seconds on offer to win, 2-seconds for second and 1-second for third the time bonuses for these sprints can, and do, have a serious affect on the final general classification standings. In a Tour where breakaways are uncommon every second counts.
We started the stage well with the girls setting Jolien and I up perfectly for the first intermediate. I won the sprint gaining three valuable bonus seconds a reducing Ellen’s lead to 4-seconds.
It was almost like the second intermediate sprint of the day was a reply of the first. I won again after another amazing lead out from Jolien who had started sprinting with 600ms to go. She said after the stage that that was a bit hard, I laughed and said I bet it was.
It was like clock work. This was a planned assault.
With the 6-seconds I’d gained in the intermediate sprints I had moved to within 1-second of the overall lead. This was all going way too perfectly.
Bang. Right hand turn. Cross wind. Echelon action.
With about 25kms left to race Dolman’s decided to take the race into their own hands and when we made a turn to the right they put the entire peloton in the gutter.
About one kilometre before the right hand turn I had seen our lead cars changing direction and Lizzie and Ellen moving to the front of the peloton. Alarm bells started ringing so I accelerated up the left hand side of the peloton and swept through the corner in about third wheel.
Girls were going everywhere. It was like being in David Jones on boxing day.
It was like clock work. This was a planned assault. Dolman’s had five of six riders in the echelon. Unlike stage two however, I’d been ready for it and was able to slot straight into the echelon. The peloton shattered almost instantly.
The last 15kms of the race was crazy. The lead of the race changed more times than Kim Kardashian changed outfits at her wedding to that basketball player no-one knew until she married him, for 72 days.
Jolien was in a break. Then Audrey was in a break. Then I was in a break. And the Jolien again. It wasn’t until just under 2km to go that the bunch came together. Girls were going everywhere. It was like being in David Jones on boxing day.
With 500ms to go Jolien found me and said, “common, come with me” and just launched her self from probably 20 riders back to the front of the peloton. She was so powerful I couldn’t even follow her wheel and a small gap opened up. With 300ms to go she was still in front and I thought maybe she could hold the group off. We got swamped in the end and I finished fourth on the stage. Lizzie won.
To have the team do so much throughout the stage and then for me to stumble at the final hurdle made me want to scream explicit things at myself.
To not gain time bonuses on the stage finish was a massive blow. I was so frustrated, angry and disappointed at myself. To have the team do so much throughout the stage and then for me to stumble at the final hurdle made me want to scream explicit things at myself. At the team cars after the stage I put my head in my hands and reflected on life.
The girls shocked me back to reality. Elisa had crashed and had said the last thing she remembered was being on a climb. At the time we were really worried about her because, well, we’re in Qatar and the biggest climb is a highway off ramp. At dinner that night we were able to laugh about it when Elisa was at the table with us and insistent that she was racing the final stage. She lost a bit of skin, but was okay.
After failing to pick up any bonus seconds in the finish I had really created a mammoth task for the team and I to win the general classification. Lizzie lead with Ellen in second place 8 seconds behind and me in third a further second behind. We had to make up 9 seconds and finish ahead of Lizzie on the stage to win the Tour…
The winds were the strongest that had been on any of the pervious stages but not blowing in the right direction with head wind for the majority of the race until we entered the 5km finishing circuit. Once again it was all down to time bonuses offered at the sprints throughout the race.
And who said bike riders weren’t good at maths?
It all seemed over when I finished second to Lizzie in the first intermediate sprint. After yet another fantastic lead-out by Jolien she rode up to me and asked how the sprint had gone. “I finished second…” I let the words trail off. Jolien hung her head, her body language mirrored what I felt. This just got so much harder.
The reality was I had to win the next intermediate sprint and the stage, plus Lizzie couldn’t finish on the podium in the final. And who said bike riders weren’t good at maths? Actually our director did the math for us and just relayed the message.
As we dawdled towards the second intermediate sprint – I say dawdled because we literally did – Gio come up to me and put her hand on my shoulder, “Chloe, don’t give up. This isn’t over yet. We go 100 percent for you.” It was exactly what I needed to hear exactly when I needed to hear it.
I won the next intermediate sprint and Jolien got second. As we crossed the line I looked to my left and saw Jolien roll up along side me. I’m pretty focused when I’m racing – especially when there’s a leaders jersey on the line – but we both allowed ourselves a moment to relax. We smiled at each other and I knew we were thinking the same thing; it’s not over.
In the final lap my whole team was with me. Emilia and Audrey were on the front and Jolien and Gio were around me. It’s an incredible feeling to have that much support.
As we rounded the final U-turn corner with just over 1km to go Audrey took over the front. I glued myself to Jolien’s wheel. She had said to me in the team meeting the night before, “Just trust me.” Her words kept repeating in my head, along with the new Taylor Swift song.
With 600ms to go Ellen took over from Audrey, Jolien was on Ellen’s wheel, Lizzie on Jolien and me on Lizzie. It was a Dolman’s, Wiggle Honda sandwich (coming to a McDonalds near you soon).
The final 200ms of the race was like in slow motion. Jolien jumped with 350ms to go and Lizzie and I just waited. With 200ms to go it was like Lizzie and I opened our sprints at the same time. Her on the right and me on the left. It was a drag race. I had to make up a bike length as I was coming off her wheel and every pedal stroke I could see my front wheel inch closer.
As we crossed the line I really didn’t now who had won. Lizzie had won the Tour, I knew that. But the stage? It was a photo finish. Lizzie got it by a few centimetres. If you see the finish photo you’ll see my head is turned to the right. I rode like that for the final 200ms of the race watching our wheels draw even and willing more power into my legs.
Eddy Merckx said to me after the finish that it had been a really close sprint and if the line was a few metres further he thought I would have had it. He had a pained smile on his face, like he was sorry but it was great to watch all the same. In the end it doesn’t matter, but it’s still pretty cool that Eddy Merckx watched my sprint.
In the end I had to settle for second on the stage and second overall but I wasn’t disappointed. I was proud of my team and how we didn’t give up. The Liv- Plantur mechanic who I often have some friendly banter with – he is a kiwi after all so it’s expected – said that we had Danny, the Dolman’s director, worried. At the end of the day, that we created some fantastic racing is some sort of victory in itself.
Eddy also told me that he thought this year’s edition of the Ladies Tour of Qatar and the quality of the racing was the best he’d seen. He, like me, thinks the depth of women’s cycling has soared in the past three years. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.
Until next year Qatar.