And how many of you would believe that the pain resulting from a 40 minute race around flat wide open streets in London could be easily ten times greater than that caused by a six day international UCI tour in Southern France, incorporating stages of 4+ hours through narrow, windy roads and the longest, toughest ascents in the Ardeche region?!
Having ridden the Ride London Elite Women’s Grand Prix on 3rd August and having just completed the Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l’Ardeche I certainly believe that to be the case. Not for everyone, of course… but for me, definitely Tamina Oliver Team CTC
The inaugural Ride London Elite Women’s Grand Prix took place just outside of Buckingham Palace with a short circuit including arguably some of London’s most exclusive and well known streets: The Mall, Birdcage Walk, and Horse Guards Parade. In other words, we were bombing it around the Queen’s pad!
A field of some of Britain’s most talented riders (and especially those who specialise in short, flat, sprint-saturated types of races) populated the start line on a hot and heavy evening with mercury still hitting the upper 20s…
Ominously the start of the women’s race was delayed due to the previous youth’s race having culminated in a nasty crash across the finish line. As our wait extended to 30 and then 40 minutes it became gradually apparent to me that the already inadequate 1 lap warm-up that had been permitted was going to be next to useless for the imminent speeds of the race.
After an announcement that our race was going to be truncated from 1 hour to 40 minutes we eventually got on our way. As anticipated, speeds were high and numerous attacks were made. None stuck and from my perspective until the penultimate corner on the final lap of the race it was all panning out pretty predictably and relatively uneventfully, as flat criterium races often seem to be.
In the final lap, though, the peloton was still a sizeable field and the pace was increasing with riders getting twitchy as they vied for optimum positions and wheels to follow, ready for the inevitable bunch sprint finale. And then it happened. The uneventful became eventful and the predictable occurred, yet in a way that was impossible for me to predict: a right royal pile up on some of Britain’s poshest tarmac…
Britain's poshest tarmac
Analysing the BBC televised footage of the crash I was reassured that there was nothing I could possibly have done to avoid the collision, which occurred directly ahead of me and was bordered by high street curbs and metal railings. With three riders and their bikes sprawled horizontally across the floor there was no available escape route; my only option was to reduce my speed as much as possible before careening into a prostrate Olympic gold medallist and joining in the melee. Flying over my handlebars and through the balmy evening air was fun. Landing was not.
In immense pain and unable to move I could hear my crash buddies groaning alongside me, united in agony while awaiting the paramedics and their relieving Entonox. With a suspected fractured pelvis I was transported in an ambulance on a stretcher to St Mary’s A&E, where I spent the evening undergoing a battery of tests and x-rays.
The royal theme of the evening continued, following me to hospital and beyond. I was fortunately discharged late that same night with nothing more than deep bruising and surface flesh wounds. As I left, still wearing the oh-so flattering hospital gown I had been given to protect my modesty (since my riding kit had been cut off me with scissors), I found myself directly in front of a doorway that had rocketed to worldwide fame during the preceding two weeks: the entrance to The Lindo Wing! I began to wonder whether I was making off with the very maternity gown that Kate Middleton, Princess of the UK, had been allocated during her stay…
In the opening of this narrative, I made a bet that there aren’t many of you reading this who can lay claim to their very own section of Horse Guards Parade, whereas I can... Surely you’d agree it is only right that I claim ownership to mine, given that it is embedded in my buttock…
Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l’Ardeche
Thankfully, having sustained relatively minor injuries in the Ride London crash, a mere four weeks later I was able to line up for the start of the Tour de l’Ardeche. Virtually the antithesis of Ride London, the Ardeche tour consisted of seven stages over 6 days, many of them surpassing 110km in distance and not a single one of them being flat.
A test of endurance, grit, determination, and climbing prowess this tour is far from being the sprinter’s paradise of Ride London’s circuit. The epic, unpredictable and eventful nature of each stage means that a detailed account of a just one could merit its very own blog entry.
Team CTC started with five riders (the sixth one unfortunately unable to attend at the very last minute) and were very lucky to have three fantastic support staff also there as part of the team: multi-talented individuals who functioned between themselves as team manager, photographer, bottle-hander, drivers, soigneurs, mechanics, team psychologists and strategists… basically, they were our own personal assistants!
We were lodged in a camping site, in ‘static caravans’ that were comfy and well equipped, albeit a bit of a tight squeeze! Perhaps in part because of the close proximity of our dwellings, the team gelled together brilliantly, with all of us supporting, sympathising, and helping each other through the various challenged encountered throughout the week, from car-sickness en-route to race venues, to disappointment at the cheating of others towards the back of the peloton, to sore nether regions from so much time on the bike…
A highlight for me personally was the short individual circular time trial mid-way through the tour since it was so completely unlike any other time trial that I have ever encountered: the first half entailed a steep climb (with gradients of over 15% in parts) lasting approximately a kilometre in length. Then there was a very technical, very fast, narrow, twisty, steep descent tested bike handling skills to the max, with a final section of flat-ish speed-bump punctuated road through the middle of a little town to return to the starting point (where the stage also ended).
Off the bike the highlight has to be the post-race swim in the Ardeche River, followed by party games in one of the little static caravans… I would wager that our exceedingly spirited Team CTC was the only team to get through the entire tour without any rider having a crash to then end up with virtually all of us injured in some shape or form following our remarkably physical post-race capers… evidently none of us is as flexible as we would like to think!
This tour was the final UCI event for Team CTC’s road season. In the very first year of its existence the team has packed a huge amount in and achieved astonishing successes. I feel privileged and proud to have been part of it, even if it has meant that I have gained a special right bum cheek and various other scars along the way!
Now to the cyclocross season for me… Look out for more, very muddy posts to follow!