Spending my life on two wheels usually involves a lot of dirt, mad descents, stupid fun and epic fails, and that's just mountain biking. So I was keen to explore the smooth Lycra world of tarmac and endurance, and what better way to do that, than at the Aviva Women's Tour.
The buzz of excitement has been growing at the Total Women's Cycling offices over the past few weeks. We've been gripped by the race scene this year with record breaking results in downhill racing, and nail biting finishes in the road discipline.
The Aviva Women's Tour is a 5 day epic event across the UK, covering an average of 80 miles per day. Each stage varies in difficulty with some swooping descents through stunning landscapes, and gruelling village climbs to really test every rider.
Stage 1 saw a aggressive attack from Alison Tetrick (Cyclance Pro Cycling) in the final 25km, only to be beaten to the finish line in the final few metres by Christine Majerus (Boels Dolman).
Stage 2 was the beginning of the climbs for these women where strengths were tested in the typically British weather of rain, and even flooding. The tight finish was a hair breadth apart with Amy Pieters (Wiggle High5) taking the win.
Having spent the first two stages riding along the women in the press car, I was keen to get a team perspective, so when I was offered a spot in the Boels-Dolmans race car for Stage 3, I gladly accepted.
Training and Nutrition for Boels Dolmans
"Nutrition planning and logistics might take a lot of time, but it’s a huge factor that will influence success for the Boels-Dolmans team at the Women’s Tour" - Maciej Kowalewski, Beols-Dolmans swanny
Starting the day off at the Boels-Dolmans team bus, I got chatting to their swanny, Maciej Kowalewski, as I was keen to find out a little more about how the team prepares for an event like this. The team rely on Etixx Nutrition and swanny Maciej explains: "The girls get up around 07:30, depending on how far the starting point is to travel to. They'll each have their own morning routine to prepare, whether it's stretching, meditation or yoga. It's really down to the individual."
Having a healthy diet to fuel your body is essential for any rider so they can achieve their optimum performance on the bike. But what does a top athlete eat for breakfast on a race day?
Maciej tells us: "Breakfast before a stage is very important as it sets the rider up for the day. For the Boels-Dolmans team, they will start the day with an Etixx Breakfast Box. This will include whey protein, oats, muesli, dried and fresh fruit and yoghurt. This is a great pre-race breakfast as it provides them with a large dose of slow-release carbohydrates."
Having pre-race training and nutrition carefully planned out and well covered, it was time to move onto the race itself and how the women keep themselves going at a performance pace, for such an extended period of time.
Maciej ensures each rider is equipped with enough supplies to last them the ride, and stocks up the team car with bonus supplies, just in case. Each rider can carry anything from 2-3 Etixx Energy Gels, an Etixx Energy Gel with Caffeine, 2 Etixx Energy Bars and drinks on top.
Maciej says: "How much they drink will be dependent on the weather. In hotter conditions, hydration will be maintained using water and isotonic drinks, but in colder conditions some of the fluid might come in the form of a high carbohydrate drink."
With the riders warmed up, fed, hydrated and kitted up, it was time for them to head to the start line, and for me to get in the race care behind.
Stage 3: Ashbourne - Chesterfield (110km)
Having watched and reported the Aviva Women's Tour from the press car, I was keen to get a new perspective of what it would be like driving alongside the women for the whole stage.
With the team car packed full of spare wheels, bikes, parts and food, we were ready to go. The Boels-Dolmans' Director Sportif, Danny Stam, pulled off into the convoy of cars that followed the riders.
Sat in the passenger seat of the team car was nothing less than exciting. Following the peloton whilst eagerly listening to the race radio for rider update and race information was gripping.
Dodging in and out of the convoy, Danny was attentively keeping an eye on the team whilst chatting with them through the radio. It was at this point that I realised just how much communication is involved throughout these stages. With Danny checking the route ahead, he was able to advise the girls on what was awaiting them, when to eat, drink and when to save energy.
I asked Danny how the team feeling was before going into this difficult round: "With many short and steep climbs, the team have been quite excited about the challenge. We didn't bring our strongest climbing team, we decided it be better to have a good balance of sprinters and climbers owing to the varying routes on the tour."
The major break came from Chantal Blaak and 10 other riders who broke away from the peloton and led an attack which gained a 2 minute advantage on the bunch.
With Chantal performing above and beyond to maintain pace, it was Lizzie Armistead and 2 others who broke away and led the chase on the leaders. With back-up on the way, Blaak was able to ease off the pace and let Lizzie take over.
The excitement in the race car was mounting as we closed in on the finishing line with just 20km to go, Lizzie remained amongst the leaders. Within the final 3km, we were on the edge of our seats in the team car as Lizzie held strong. Moments later, the race radio crackled and had announced that Lizzie Armistead had won the 3rd stage of the Aviva Women's Tour.
Needless to say, Danny was over the moon and immediately got on the riders radio to congratulate the team.
Post-Race Emotions and Recovery
"I'm really tired, but so happy we won and that I was useful" - Chantal Blaak, Boels-Dolmans
Driving into the finishing area, and back to the Boels Dolmans' team bus was a surreal feeling. We got out the car to see the team riders coming back in, looking tired, relieved and ecstatic with the win.
With a sterling performance from Blaak who broke away with the leaders, I asked her about the stage: "Today was really really hard. I'm really tired, but so happy we won, and that I was useful... tomorrow is again hard, but not as bad as today. We'll see, I'm looking forward to it, hopefully they'll be another break".
It wasn't just Chantal who found the stage particularly tough as team rider Nikki Harris also commented: "It was really tough, but it was as expected. I know these roads a little bit, and I know they're never easy, even on the flats."
After a tough day of riding, the Boels Dolmans team have two more stages ahead of them, so how will then spend their recovery time?
Danish rider, Amalie Dideriksen explains that she prefers to recover with a "5 - 10 minute ride to spin out the legs as a cool down. Then head to the hotel for some massages and downtime. It's important to fuel up again before the next stage."
Catching up with Etixx Nutrition guru, Maciej Kowalewski, he tells us a usual post-event evening and what the women needs to re-fuel: "For the Boels-Dolmans riders, the recovery will likely start with an Etixx Recovery Shake as they prepare to head back to the hotel.
Following this, the riders will have a full recovery meal like pasta or rice with chicken. For Lizzie Armistead, who is a vegetarian, this meal would instead consist of a salad with salmon alongside some bread with cheese. This gives the riders plenty of carbohydrate to continue to replenish fuel stores and protein to stimulate muscle recovery and repair."
Riding along in the Boels-Dolmans team car gave me a new found respect for the mental, physical and emotional dedication that goes into road cycling. The commradery between teams is inspiring, and these women work hard together to perform their best... in any conditions.
A great result for the Boels Dolmans race team today as Lizzie Armistead took the stage win, and claims the coveted yellow jersey for tomorrow's Stage 4.
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