Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Gerard Brown
Rouleur’s Ian Cleverly accompanied the For Viored-Brookvex team to the Tour de Feminin Krásná Lípa as soigneur in this extract from issue 30, out now.
Following the opening day’s presentations to the public, racing gets underway with a 110km stage starting and finishing in the town of Krásná Lípa itself. It is stupidly hot. We park up in the feed zone and hand up bottles on an incline, mostly successfully – although some are knocked flying, others missed as a couple of our riders pass in the middle of the bunch, frantically waving their arms. It is a tough lesson to learn. Groups of tail-enders approach, begging for water. They will have to find their own crew, harsh as that may sound. The bottles are tucked behind my back until I spot one of our girls, Gabby. The bidon is held high, lightly clasped by the neck, then lowered into position ready for collection. It is all looking good, until a desperate opposing rider cuts across and attempts to swipe the bottle. It hits the ground. Gabby will be thirsty for another lap. I curse the interloper, but understand the motive. There are some seriously dehydrated riders out there.
We hightail to the finish in time to catch the leaders cross the line, a group predominantly made up of Australians and Russians with the experienced Cath Williamson tucked in among them. The race has split to pieces in the heat and hilly terrain of the very first stage, which could be down to the difference in quality between the likes of former time trial (and three-time cyclo-cross) World Champion Hanka Kupfernagel, and club riders with day jobs like most of ours. But there is no denying the attacking riding we saw – not something the casual spectator associates with women’s racing.
“People don’t get the see the races season-long,” says team manager Rene Groot, “only the Worlds, maybe the nationals, and the difference between pro riders like Emma Pooley to the next level, like our girls, is so big that they just ride away in the first lap and you never see anything of the rest of the race. At the Worlds, there is so much at stake that nobody wants to stick their neck out. It will probably be the same at the Olympics. People base their opinions of women’s racing on those big events. But you look at a race like Krásná Lípa: there are breaks going away, people attacking all the time. It is a shame that people don’t see that.”
A shame indeed, and an even bigger shame for the 11 women – including Cath once again – with a healthy lead with 20km to go the next day. We have set up on the far side of one of the numerous railway crossings to be negotiated, the last chance saloon for anyone wanting a bottle. The lead car comes into view as it crosses the tracks, then stops. Sure enough, the barrier has come down in front of the break, they are caught, then set on their way again together with the 120-strong peloton. It seems harsh but those are the rules. Australians fill the first three positions in the big bunch sprint and Cath is now sitting in a very handy sixth overall, but it could have been so much better.