My Strade Bianche

This time last year I uploaded an image to Instagram of the men’s peloton covered in mud and dust, shattered into pieces and hammering along dirt roads. I captioned the image, ‘Dreaming of a women’s Strade Bianche.’ You may have guessed it already, but the image was from the men’s race; a race which literally translates to ‘white roads’ and is held in the stunning region of Tuscany, Italy.

Dreaming of a women's #StradeBianche.

A post shared by Chloe Hosking (@chloe_hosking_) on

Why white roads? Well, a large part of the race is held on gravel roads that are coloured white from the salt and winter. In a sport where we avoid the tiniest pebbles like the plague there was just something sadistically awesome about these roads which drew me to the race. The race itself doesn’t have a long history (the first edition of the men’s was only held in 2007) like the Tour of Flanders but, for me, it just had that X-factor. Much more so than Harry Styles and the rest of the One Direction mob.

I have a reoccurring dream (or nightmare) where I miss the start of a bike race and I’m forced to chase the convoy to try and rejoin the peloton. Sometimes it’s set on a farm and I’m running because I can’t find my bike, don’t ask me why though.

So when it was announced late last year that there would be a women’s Strade Bianche in 2015 I was just a little excited. Still, it wasn’t until Wednesday last week that I found out I would race. My team director told me as I sat at dinner on our team camp that I was going to Italy, had Julia Roberts been in the room I may have challenged her for number of teeth showing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not delusional. I’ve raced in Tuscany before and I realised there were going to be more challenges than simply gravel roads.

The course started in San Giminano and went virtually straight up hill (if you discount the neutral start) from then on it was up and down all day before we finally looped around and climbed up to the finish in the centre of Siena. Throw in some cross winds on gravel roads, hills on gravel roads, and down-hills on gravel roads and, yeah, there were more than a few challenges. But it was sort of like when you ask for a really deep massage; you know it’s going to hurt but it’s that good sort of pain where your face is contorted but at the same time you’re thinking ‘this is so good’.

My Race

I have a reoccurring dream (or nightmare) where I miss the start of a bike race and I’m forced to chase the convoy to try and rejoin the peloton. Sometimes it’s set on a farm and I’m running because I can’t find my bike, don’t ask me why though.

Today one of my dreams came true, but two almost did. I raced the first ever edition of the women’s Strade Bianche but I very almost didn’t. I missed the start. A last minute wheel change saw me climbing the hill to the start of the race in the centre of the beautiful hill top town of San Giminano about 5 minutes before what I thought was the start of the race. I’d glanced at my Garmin a minute before and seen 8:52, ‘oh it’s okay the race doesn’t start until 9’. But as I made my way toward the start line more and more people were yelling at me. At first I just thought they were being typically Italian, loud and excited. Then I saw the very last car of the convoy driving away.

It seemed like my Strade Bianche might be over before it even started.

Oh my god.

For the next five kilometres I was madly chasing the peloton. All I could think about was how my director would react to this.

Egon: “Chloe, where were you?”

Me: “I missed the start.”

It seemed like my Strade Bianche might be over before it even started.

Luckily for me the ambulance took pity on me and stayed with me. Finally the back of the convoy came into sight. I’m don’t think my heart rate has ever been higher in a neutral section.

It may have been a blessing in disguise because as soon as the flag dropped for kilometre zero Rabobank started attacking, fortunately I was now warmed up. While there were a few attacks the real action didn’t start until the first gravel section at 32km. I was so hyped to get onto it that I rounded the sharp left hand corner first with Elisa on my wheel.

While the first segment of gravel roads didn’t do any serious damage it definitely gave some indication of what was to come. Rabobank, Velocio-SRAM and Boels Dolmans were all there in force. It was clear to my Wiggle Honda teammates and I that these were the danger teams.

There's an amazing photo gallery from the day's racing over on VeloFocus.

There’s an amazing photo gallery from the day’s racing over on VeloFocus.

The next gravel segment came at 58km and was the longest of the day at 9.5km. It was made even more difficult by the fact that it was predominantly uphill. I’m not talking a slight uphill gradient, I’m talking pinches of 12-18%. Our director had been clear, if you survive with the front group here you survive. But if you’re in the second group do not chase.

As we approached the segment it was clear shit was about to go down. All the major teams were together. Like at a buffet, everyone wanted to be first as we hit what was sure to be the most decisive point of the race. Surfing wheels I’d manager to squeeze myself into the Velocio-SRAM lead out and Elisa was well placed just behind, following me and as I moved from train to train.

Not knowing the course probably let me down a lot because for the rest of the segment I could see the lead riders dangling in front of me like a donut.

Hitting the gravel I was in the top three but I didn’t stay there for long. Probably about two kilometres into the segment the road kicked upwards and Ashleigh Moolman (Bigla) launched an impressive attack that totally shattered the peloton. All of a sudden girls were going every where. As I went backwards Elisa and Audrey spun past me.

Not knowing the course probably let me down a lot because for the rest of the segment I could see the lead riders dangling in front of me like a donut. If I had have known when to dig deep and when I could afford to ease off I may have been able to hang on. But as I look through the result sheet and see the quality of riders who made the front group on the tough gravel sector but fell off the pace later the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ voice in my head dulls a little.

In the end I rode with the second group on the road (we were 45seconds behind the leaders at the top of the gravel sector) until about 20km to go when my legs said ‘good night’. Knowing the podium places were gone I decided to shut it down and cruise into the finish. Last night I’d learned that I had to also race in Belgium tomorrow so I decided to conserve my energy.

Megan Guarnier ended up winning the race from a lone breakaway with Lizzie Armitstead second and my amazing teammate Elisa third.

People might think I’m disappointed with my race but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I may have made a big deal about the race but that wasn’t because I thought I could win. It was because of what a huge step forward I think this event is for women’s cycling. It might sound corny but I feel so honoured that in my career I have seen events like La Course and now Strade Binache be added to the women’s racing calendar. The growth in womens cycling may be slow but it is happening and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

Now, let’s see if I can tempt fate again:

I’m dreaming of women’s Paris-Roubaix.

Unknown

Advertisements

4 Comments on “My Strade Bianche

  1. Pingback: Podcast 2015 Episode 4 – International Women’s Day | Unofficial Unsanctioned Women's UCI Cycling Blog

  2. Chloe, great to have such a well written report, straight from the saddle and the heat of the race. Would love to read more in future

  3. Fantastic post – love your writing style – and a great race report.

    A women’s Paris-Roubaix would indeed be awesome – hopefully you get to make it to the inaugural running of it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: