I arrive in time for dinner and the girls wonder down to join us. The dress code is obviously compression tights or baggy jogging bottoms, and we get around 100 meters from the hotel before an awe struck fan stops and congratulates Dani King.
“Does that happen all the time?” I ask – apparently it’s not so common, and I only see one other occurrence in the next 24 hours or so.
We head to a bar and grill in Marlow, our hosting town – also the home to the final stage of the Women’s Tour. Sunday’s stage is the toughest, and the hilliest, and “likely to decide the GC”, according to Team Manager, Rochelle Gilmore. I’m admittedly a little nervous about riding half of it with the team tomorrow.
Never the less, Marlow is a pretty village, and the bunting is up, ready to celebrate the arrival of the famed Women’s Tour, now in its second year.
At dinner, the pick of the day is steak – King, Borghini and Bronzini all opt for a sirloin steak, and they mostly swap their chips for sweet potatoes.
Later the next day I had a chat with King about diets, the 5:2, paleo, and other common buzz-word trends, she says: “I used to ban certain things from my diet for ages… but then you just end up eating more. Now, if I want something, I have it. [If people need to lose weight] they just need to do more, and eat less.”
“All things in moderation then, I guess?” – I ask. She agrees – further evidence that my mum was always right.
Bronzini is still the only rider who orders (red) wine, and dessert – a very scrummy looking cheescake which she laps up pretty quickly.
“Riders each know how their bodies respond, and what is good for them” she says – for her, she has the odd glass of wine or beer, “because then I’m happy!”
At breakfast (does it sound like all we do is eat, yet?) we’re joined by Eileen Roe, British National Criterium Champ, who broke her knuckle in a crash just a couple of days ago.
“I’ve cried myself dry,” she says. The National Road Race is in two weeks and unless she hears otherwise today, she won’t be on a bike for six. She’s unashamedly honest about the disappointment, but keeping remarkably positive now. We chat about the National Criterium Race in six weeks time, that could be achievable, and I can see there’s much time on the turbo in Roe’s immediate future.
Speaking about her own injuries sustained last winter, King talks about the impact a positive attitude can have on quick recovery: “I was better when there were people there [friends, family, visitors], than when I was on my own. And I got really fat from all the treats they brought me!” Of course, she’s well and truly back to immense fitness now.
The Tour of Reservoir was her first race back, and she won – King tells us: “It really relighted the fire in my belly and reinforced the fact that I did want to carry on, and that this is what I want to do.”
We move onto discuss the merits of porridge, a favourite to all the British girls on the team, and King’s FitBit fitness band, which she uses to monitor her sleep and resting heart rate. She adds: “It’s also great for people who are less active, a friend of mine works in an office and they have a competition to complete the most steps in a day, it’s really helping her do little things, like park further away.”
A little later, the victorious team from the Diamond Tour saunter down – Julian D’Hoore, who won the race, plus, Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Jolien D’hoore, Anna Christian and Annette Edmondson, who helped her do it.
Congratulations are shared, and D’Hoore repeatedly tells us that it was her team mates who did “all the hard work, I just did the easy bit.”
Breakfast down the hatch, it’s ride time…
I’ve been making excuses for my impending bad performance following yesterday’s race up until this morning, probably in a really annoying fashion. I realise this is somewhat futile when the Diamond Tour riders arrive, so I decide to just stop it and get on with the ride…
Today we are recce-ing Stage 5 of the Women’s Tour – it’s very much a recovery ride for the team, and there’s just one fleeting moment when Longo Borghini and I are on the front together and get told to slow down (I’m well flattered by this!).
When the road ramps up mid-way through conversation with Bronzini, I’m struggling for air a little bit, but the relaxed nature of the ride makes me realise how flawed my own ‘recovery rides’ are – it’s not killing me, so the pace must be super easy for the champs in the pack.
Bronzini and I chat about the Campagnolo on the Colnago bikes: “It’s great when it works” she says, “A little more tricky for the mechanics… and not all bike shops deal with Campag so it can be hard if we have a problem.” For herself though, she mainly has to ride the bike – and she loves the shifting that is so very different to Shimano and SRAM’s systems.
The sprinter’s first sport was gymnastics, which she did until she was 11 – she tells me: “I enjoyed it, and I still do some of the exercises in the gym, for core strength, which is very important. But for me, at that age, there were too many rules – which didn’t sit well with me at that age. I got on a bike, and I was like ‘WOW – I can go fast!’”
After a little while with Bronzini, I move up and chat to Longo Borghini. She’s the climber in the pack, and I want to know what makes one rider a climber, and another a sprinter. In amateur ranks, it’s nearly always simply decided by weight – but I can’t help but notice the differences between the girls are marginal (to the eye) and Bronizni, champion sprinter, is miniature.
“Up until the age if 16, or 18, certain endurance muscle fibers develop”, she tells me – so the training you’ve done up until that age is pretty important.
“There’s mental attitude as well, and if you grow up somewhere in the mountains, you’re more likely to be good at climbing of course. Then you also do specific sessions to improve your talent. You can train yourself, of course, but I’ll never be a sprinter. Giorgia is a machine, she can climb when she wants to, but you can’t be an expert at everything.”
Weight does come into it, of course: “A lighter rider has more power to weight ratio, so it does help on the climbs, that’s all gravity, and a heavier rider might put out 1000 watts to a lighter rider’s 600 in a sprint. It’s not all about weight, though.”
We get on to the topic of children, somehow – “I’d like to start a family, one day” she says. Her own mother, Guidina Dal Sasso, was a champion cross country skier.
“She was much stronger after she had children, and she trained right up until 8 months… she was running in the lanes when her waters broke”, Borghini tells me.
I’m amazed that even with a full Wiggle Honda train, and a following car, we’re still subject to the odd zoomy overtake, and honk, as well as some very respectful nods and waves.
I ask Australian rider, Annette Edmondson, if the roads are so bad elsewhere, “It depends where you are… Britain is pretty bad, most of Europe is better except for city centers.”
We’re zooming down a really long descent (which will certainly be fun in the race) and I ask her if she ever feels nervous in such a close pack: “You get used to it, when you do it all the time. You see some of the younger riders struggle more.”
Experience obviously makes a big difference. Edmondson points out that this long descent is likely to be followed by a long up – thankfully in this one case she’s wrong, and we only have a short climb to contend with.
This one will serve as the first Queen of the Mountains points climb in the race, and I notice Borghini is carefully watching her Garmin as she ascends the half mile stretch.
Back at the hotel, the mechanics set about checking the bikes over. The ride had been just 40 miles – 30 for many of the team who had taken the van back or driven the rest of the stage. I asked the head mechanic if the bikes got TLC after every single ride. The reply was simple: “Of course, we must.”
After some super quick showers, we head off to lunch – at Zizzi. There are some jokes thrown around in the direction of Borghini and Bronzini about the “authentic Italian cuisine”, while King seems to know everything on the menu – past and present.
The girls head off to massages, rest and recuperation. They’ve now got just one day until the Women’s Tour begins.