Team Storey Sport Blog
Two years ago the Tour of Limousin was my first stage race in women’s professional cycling and I lost 24 minutes in the first stage alone. It was a baptism of fire in the road stages, but I managed to salvage a decent result to finish 13th in the Individual Time Trial stage, but left the race thinking I would never have what it took to get through the challenging roads of the Limousin region.
What a difference a couple of years can make and with a bit more experience of racing at this level and a few significant tweaks to the set up on my bike for the 2012 season, I felt more confident I could perform better, work for our team leader Carla Ryan and hoped to be able to make the top 20 on the overall classification at the end of four tough stages. We knew it was going to be a tough tour, not least because the road stages were all over 120km in length, but also because alongside the Thuringen Rundfahrt Stage race being held at the same time, the Tour of Limousin was one of the final races on the calendar prior to the Olympic Games Road Races. As such some of the big names for the Olympics were amongst us in the bunch, and arguably the biggest name in women’s cycling at the moment, Marianne Vos was one such rider.
Stage One was a 130km stage just north of Limoges and as we set off the rain started to pour before the sun came out and baked us. With over 120 fresh legs in the bunch [picture above] and a severe cross wind, the fight for the front was fierce and as we hit the first of the climbs riders were already being shelled, with me almost being one of them! The technical but short circuit in the first 30km almost caught me out, but once the group thinned out I was able to get myself back to the front and into the first group on the road. This group of about 30 riders had already been dropped by Marianne Vos, who was on the attack very early in the stage and had taken another two riders with her. We were losing time rapidly to Marianne, who had dropped her breakaway companions by the finish, but there was never an organised chase and riders just kept trying to attack the group on their own and gain an advantage. Escentual For VioRed had three riders in this group and we tried to go with the attacks but nothing was sticking, until just before the end when I went to cover a move inside the last 5km. The rest of the group didn’t chase me and although I never reached the rider I was chasing, I stayed away to take 5th on the stage. Unfortunately the team lost 2 of our starting five riders, Sarah Kent’s back injury reared its ugly head again on one of the tough climbs and she was unable to continue, whilst Claire Galloway fell victim to some dodgy bike handling from another rider and was shoved off the road and bounced down the gully to the side of the road and bent her cranks leaving her bike unrideable. With no suitable spare and over 90km left of the stage Claire couldn’t finish. Both girls did an amazing job in supporting us for the rest of the week and in the end we were probably the best supported team there!
Stage Two was the individual time trial stage and on a testing, technical route.
Narrow twisty lanes, no flat sections, but fast descents, power climbs and nowhere to get into a rhythm meant it was going to be about concentrating hard and a real test of bike handling and reading the road ahead. I was fortunate to have been able to ride the course twice during our training days before the race and this meant I could virtually memorise the technical sections and work out my gearing for the race. Most of the time trials we race in the UK are incredibly dull in comparison to this course and I loved the feeling of flying through the corners on my Time Trial bike and really being able to test myself both on and off the tri-bars.
Starting 5th from last, I was getting some good time checks on the riders ahead and almost caught the rider in front of me, who had been the overall winner of the tour in the previous two years. Crossing the line I had the second fastest time, but then two of the four riders behind me came in quicker, including Marianne Vos. The stage winner was also wearing the best young rider jersey and she was 34 seconds ahead of me. 4th on the stage was the top 5 I had been hoping for and gave me 6th on General Classification and my team mates, Carla and Lisanne were now both in the top 20 overall as well, meaning we had a strong position in the team classification.
Stage 3 was another 130km stage and all on tiny twisting roads, with lots of gravel and a constantly hilly route. The scenery was amazing, but again there was no chance to admire it as the speed was high from the gun and the pace didn’t settle down until another break went up the road. I was with Carla in the group behind the break on what proved to be a technically challenging day for me and although I had a dig towards the end of the stage, we finished in the bunch having decided we would need to wait to the final day to see whether we could get up the road ourselves.
Going into the final day, of 120km, I was 9th on GC and far exceeding my own expectations for the tour. If I could stay in the top 10 it would be brilliant, but I needed to put in some work at the front to give Carla a platform to get up the road with the expected attack from Vos. After about 35km of racing the roads had been heavy but the group was still pretty much together so I hit the front to drive the pace before going on the attack straight after the first sprint prime of the day and as we approached the hilliest section of the route. Hoping that someone might come with me, I found myself alone out front and stretching out a lead to the peloton of about 90 seconds before I got news that Marianne Vos was coming across the gap with my team mate Carla on her tail! It was fantastic to see them as I had been on my own taking the mountains points for about 25km and we worked together for a short way until the Russian rider who was also with them, let the wheel go and I found myself in no man’s land and riding by myself to the finish. [picture below: the pain of all that time on my own!]
Marianne stormed ahead with Carla and eventually soloed to the finish for the stage and overall victory. I managed to maintain my gap ahead of the peloton and so Carla and I finished 2nd and 3rd on the stage. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get to stand on the podium with Marianne Vos and Carla!
My attack had secured 9th on the overall and Escentual For VioRed could boast two in the top 10, as Carla’s ride also elevated her into 8th position. For a small team, it was unprecedented and as an added bonus I was also awarded with the Combative Award from the organisers! Although we were only 3 riders for most of the tour, we were incredibly well looked after by the team of people we had with us and with our on the bike fuel supplied by CNP Professional, there is no doubt it all made a huge difference over the tough terrain.
[picture below: a tired but happy trio who secured 4th on the team classification and pictured with our super soigneur, Colin Baldwin]
A huge thanks to everyone involved with the Escentual For VioRed team, I can’t believe our 3 tours of the year are now over, it must mean the Paralympic Games are even closer!