My Ladies Tour of Qatar – Stage One
The Ladies Tour of Qatar finished a few days ago. I went into the race with high hopes but in the end had to settle for ninth overall, eight places less than what I had hoped for.
A journalist who had told me I was his pick came to me after the tour had wrapped up and said, ‘I’ll never tell you your my pick again.’ If I was a superstitious person I would definitely lay all the blame on him, but the realist in me says that might be a bit unreasonable.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom however, I did manage to claim a stage win in the final stage.
Throughout the Tour I kept daily diaries on Ella. I thought, just incase you weren’t an Ella reader I would repost them here but I encourage you to head on over to Ella and check out the original posts.
If you know me you know that I love returning to the desert year after year to race the Ladies Tour of Qatar. At the team presentation today the race commentator announced that the 2016 Tour is my seventh edition, I’ve ridden all but the first edition of the race, which began in 2009. It’s somewhat embarrassing, because it makes me feel about a hundred years old. I’m 25 I swear.
Why the love affair? There’s just something about the camels I guess. The looks they give me…
No, in all seriousness I just love the fast, aggressive racing that the flat, windy courses stimulate. Speaking with my roommate Dani King after today’s stage (she’s a Ladies Tour of Qatar virgin) she said, ‘you just have to fight all day’. I replied: ‘you definitely don’t really get the opportunity to relax in these races, that’s for sure.’
This year’s edition is made up of four stages; two new and two old.
Today’s 97km first stage of the Tour was also a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the Road World Championships, which will be held in Doha in October this year. The stage consisted of a long 75km or so loop before we entered a finishing circuit. In today’s stage we did one lap of the circuit, but I’m assuming we will do more in October.
What conclusions can be drawn after racing the (sort of) Worlds course? For the safety of the majority of the peloton, I hope the wind is blowing the camels sideways and a smaller group enters the finishing circuit. It is super technical with roundabouts, 180° corners and occasional traffic cones just scattering the side of the road (although I have a feeling these may be removed come October).
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Back to today and the first stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar.
My Wiggle High5 team had gone in to the race with a fairly open race plan. It’s always hard to know who is firing and what tactics other teams will be employing in — what for most riders — is the first race of the season.
We just wanted to stay at the front of the race and have numbers in any significant splits if they occurred. Some time bonuses at the two intermediate sprints and on the finishing sprint would be nice as well, but as my director said on numerous occasions, ‘we don’t need to show all our cards on day one’.
Side note: time bonuses play a crucial role in this Tour, they often determine who wins and who loses the overall after the four days of racing, as breakaways — excluding the echelon splits —are a rarity.
Before the stage we had highlighted a few danger points where we thought the crosswinds may play havoc; kilometer 18 and kilometer 35.
We were on the money with the second. As the peloton rocketed towards the 35km, mark you could feel the tension and nerves in the peloton building. It was like a toddler holding a pin above a balloon and looking at mum; you know they’re going to pop it, but you’re not entirely sure if it will be in a few seconds or a few minutes.
As we made a sharp left hand turn, the head wind we had been riding into turned into a crosswind and the balloon had been popped. Girls were scrambling to get to the front before too much damage had been done and gaps were too big to close anymore.
Boels-Dolmans were the main aggressors pushing the pace, riding the echelon and ‘guttering’ the rest of the peloton. Canyon-SRAM joined the party and soon the race was split. It wasn’t decimated like you can see happen in crosswinds, but the peloton of 90 had been reduced to 20 or so.
The first intermediate sprint came not long after and Kirsten Wild and I battled it out for the valuable time bonuses; Wild got the better of me clinching the three seconds for first. I had to settle for two seconds. Better than nothing, but not what I had been hunting for.
The bunch ended up reforming not long after. While the winds were strong, they weren’t strong enough to do any serious damage and the peloton entered the finishing circuit all together.
I can’t say I enjoyed the technical finishing circuit. The peloton was nervous, no-one knew where they were going exactly and everyone was fresh.
The second intermediate sprint came just 9km from the finish and my teammate, Emma Johannson, did a great job of positioning me for it. I ended up picking up another two bonus seconds with Chantal Blaak grabbing the three seconds. I was the virtual leader on the road, not that that really meant anything.
As the kilometres began to tick down, I found my team but it was chaotic. Riders and trains were going everywhere. The front of the peloton was being controlled by Boels, then Orica, then Cipollini, then Hitec.
“I’m not going to start second guessing it because I screwed up one sprint”
My team and I rounded the second last corner which came just under 2km from the finish about three riders back, but it was just Elisa Longo Borghini, Amy Pieters and I left. Emma had been caught behind and was making her way back. Fighting other riders and the wind, my legs definitely hadn’t recovered from the sprint seven kilometres before.
In the end, I went backwards in the sprint for the stage honours. All I could do was watch and see Wild, Cucinotta and Lizzie Williams battle for the stage win. They ended up finishing in that order.
I go into tomorrow’s second stage tied with Williams for third on the general classification. It’s not the end of the world. It’s definitely not the start I had envisioned for my Ladies Tour of Qatar, but as I said to my team manager Rochelle, ‘I know my form is good, I’m not going to start second guessing it because I screwed up one sprint’.
And as my director always says, ‘You’ve got to look on the bright side of life.’ Three more days to hunt down 9 seconds.