What is it like to be within a top women’s pro team, as it heads to Paris? Nick Hussey, founder of Vulpine cycling apparel is finding out. Hussey will report on the build up, team dynamic, the nerves and of course the racing, on the greatest circuit in cycling.
Women’s cycling needs epic to capture the imagination, especially when so many races are just jumped up city centre criteriums. So nature drew a plan, and dumped it onto La Course. And me.
With my press accreditation I found myself in the middle of the Champs d’Elysees, alone, untouched, watched by thousands of envious fans. TV crews worked either side of ‘my’ cobbles. As I shielded by bog standard equipment from the rain, I took time to absorb something extraordinary. I’d dreamt of riding this road since I got hooked on Le Tour back in 1986. I’d daydreamed about throwing my hands aloft, and even trained to make sure it would happen. It didn’t, because I’m crap, but the power of this panorama is intense for anyone who’s dreamt of winning a bike race. If you’re in love with racing cycling, you’ll know what I mean. It was incredible. A lifetime highlight. No exaggeration.
So I banged away at the shutter, called my wife to tell her to look out for me “right in the middle of the road, yes, THAT road!” and felt a strange calm. The team I sponsor, whizzing inches past me, in Paris, me, the only photographer stupid enough to stand in the rain in the middle of the Champs d’Elysees. Tres bizarre.
Luckily my camera equipment isn’t the best, so the shots are pretty messed up. I like that. I haven’t raced in ages, so its easy to forget just how much it hurts. These faces are contorted in pain and grim determination. Anyone who says this race is a bunch of sissy girlies on a Sunday afternoon jaunt gets a punch on the nose.
I’ve always loved cycling, and racing in the rain. I’m pretty certain there was a minority in La Course that do/did too. Lucy Martin had a big grin at the end….But she told me she hated the… whatever…Who wouldn’t smile, racing in Paris like this?!
It hurt a lot though, and not just burning legs and lungs. We all knew what the cobbles would be like. It started as light rain just as they set off, became torrential by half way, and hung around. Cobbles and new rain means wet diesel and sliding wheels…means crashes.
Matrix Pro Cycling rider Mel Lowther went down, hitting her head of Place de la Concorde, before another rider slid and her wheel smacked her in the jaw. Riders gathered around her as they slid. Stateside sprinter Hannah Barnes must have hit the stones too, sporting a gash on her arm and yet another rider tailgating their team car (shhhh) at breakneck speed, clinging to the hope of rejoining a thundering peloton. Rows of team cars escorted downed riders in speeding lines down the Champs.
A hugely impressive lone break from Anna van der Breggen won the day, with a haggard bunch coming fast, but not fast enough, up behind her. I love the epic war faces of racing cyclists straight after the line. Pain, elation, thousand yards stares, disbelief. Emotions up to eleven.
Women’s pro cycling needed another slice of epic, another story to embellish the firmament. We got it.