The Other Side of the Race
Over four years the OVO Energy Women’s Tour has become one of the most prestigious events on the women’s professional calendar. Previous years have been won by some of the sport’s top names and the race is always keenly fought. This year saw full gas racing from start to finish, making it one of the hardest events of the year.
We sent photographer Jojo Harper behind the scenes at the British race with SRAM partners CANYON//SRAM Racing and Boels-Dolmans Cycling. Interviews by Owen Rogers.
HANNAH BARNES, CANYON//SRAM RACING
Did you feel pressure racing on home roads and in the national jersey?
HB: I normally put pressure on myself rather than what I feel from the public, but when you’re at home you always want to do the best you can, especially when you’ve got family and friends watching.
It was such a shock to get the national jersey I didn’t feel more pressure wearing it, it was more special than anything else. I stood out in it, everyone recognized me so I got a lot of cheers and shouts which was cool. I really loved wearing it, it was fun.
How tough was it to get third place in the OVO Tour GC?
HB: I got a lot of pressure on that last day. The day before we didn’t chase and bring that break back which we should have done, and I went from third place to fifth. I could tell everyone was a bit disheartened, so we went in with this plan but I don’t think anyone thought I could pull it off. It was just a race and I did what I had to do, but looking back it was difficult task.
Tell us about your braid.
HB: Cycling is not really a feminine sport and it makes me feel quite girly. Apparently studies have shown that if you are training on roads and you’ve got a braid then car drivers are friendlier because they see you as young and vulnerable. Apparently it has been tested in a wind tunnel that it is the most aero way to wear your hair.
Being British you must be used to riding in the rain, how do you keep your shoes clean?
HB: Wear black shoes. They look good for much longer. I don’t think I will ever go back to wearing white shoes. I live in Girona now and have become really soft. My sister lives in Manchester and she goes out rain or shine, she visited me one rainy day and I was thinking I wouldn’t go out, but she did so I had to.
JOCHEN LAMADE, CANYON//SRAM RACING
Tell us about the notes on riders’ stems.
JL: I do them for every stage of every road race. Our director sportif prints them on stickers and we put them on. In some races we have radios, but sometimes you can’t understand them, so we have information on the stems so the riders know what is coming.
How much detail do they have?
JL: It shows when cobbles are coming, when the hills are coming, when the feed is and how long the race is, but it doesn’t say if it’s a steep hill or not.
TRIXI WORRACK, CANYON//SRAM RACING
What was going through your mind here?
TW: I was dreaming of better weather and about another hard day.
Did the weather affect the race?
TW: I don’t think so, it was not raining the whole race and we knew it would be like this, so we were prepared. In general it was very fast. Normally the first two days are fast and then it gets slower, but it was full on the whole five days: it was really hard, but I enjoyed it.
Why does the women’s peloton like racing in Britain?
TW: I think they like to come because it is so well organized and the coverage, the attention from the outside is really big. Also the crowds are not normal for women’s cycling—it is really big.
What does the tattoo on your neck mean?
TW: It means life goes on. If something really bad is happening, it goes on.
You had a very serious injury last year, did the tattoo give you strength?
TW: Sure. I needed to get back, I am still a cyclist and wanted to come back and decided to come back. Now I don’t want to sit in the peloton, I want to be here and have an influence in the race and also for the team.
How do you feel when you pin your numbers on?
TW: The number is just a number for me, there is no ritual. I do it five minutes before the start, and when I stand on the start line I am focused.
Why are you in the driver’s seat of the team camper?
TW: [Laughs] I am telling our soigneur Lars to get off the driver’s seat because I want to drive. Lars likes his camper so much he is really careful with everything, and I wanted to drive because I am faster.
ALENA AMAILIUSIK, CANYON//SRAM RACING
How do you feel when you pin your numbers on?
AA: I feel calm and patient. It is nothing special because we are doing something we like. It is only great bike races and we just have to ride beautiful and safe, and as fast as possible.
You fractured your pelvis in a crash on Stage 3. When did you know how bad it was?
AA: I tried to stand up, but it was not possible and I had more pain than I had ever had in my life. My mechanic Jochen understood too because usually when I crash I stand up and go on with the race, but when he came with another bike I said, ‘Jochen, I can’t stand up.’ I couldn’t talk very well because it was so painful to breathe, after that I understood it was very, very bad.
TIFFANY CROMWELL, CANYON//SRAM RACING
How important is your mobile phone at a race?
TC: It’s the best thing and the worst thing. It keeps you connected because when you’re on the other side of the world away from family and friends it’s the way to keep in touch. But the worst thing is it is a distraction, you sit on your phone all day long. Sometimes it’s good to put it away.
LISA BRENNAUER, CANYON//SRAM RACING
Tell us about Jochen, the team mechanic.
LB: He is a great mechanic, but he also gets along with everyone on the team. He likes harmony and if something is happening he keeps calm. I think he sees the team as a big part of his life—a second family. He used to work in men’s cycling, but in women’s cycling everything is much smaller so people are closer and I think he fits in very well.
How about Andreas, the team coach?
LB: It is the same with him. Like Jochen, he has told me he loves to work in women’s cycling because he likes to have more interaction. He doesn’t just want to give me a plan and then the next plan—he wants to know how it feels. He calls me and I like that he is always asking questions.
How big a part of the team are the staff?
LB: Once in a while I do a race at home, just a local race, and I have to do everything myself, and then you realize what it really means to have this great staff around. They do everything for us so we just have to concentrate on the race. It has to be a special type of person to give so much for the team. Sometimes I can’t say thank you enough.
LARS SCHIFFNER, CANYON//SRAM RACING
Who is the most chatty?
LS: It depends on their mood. For example, when Tiff [Cromwell] doesn’t want to talk, then she doesn’t. Sometimes when she is talking a lot you can’t stop her, and I have to ask her to speak a little slower. It depends, when they don’t want to talk they go on their phones, check the results or talk with their family or boyfriends.
Tell us about the camper.
LS: It is my little baby. It has everything, the girls can relax, we have space to work around them and to prepare the race food in the kitchen. We use the space we have and it is really nice. I am a really careful driver. People ask me to go a little faster, and I say I drive as fast as I can think! I really don’t want scratches and it looks better when it still looks new.
ELENA CECCHINI, CANYON//SRAM RACING
What were you thinking on day one of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour?
EC: It was a super hard race, and I used to take this position to reflect on myself and to focus—it’s what I always do. I like to be myself without a lot of people talking around, me so when I am at the start line I know that I have everything that I need. It doesn’t matter if I am going to be the leader or the worker, I still need to be 100% to my goal.
I really believe in God, and I always pray before the race.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
EC: I usually put my number on the night before the race. I used to wear new socks when I had important races. Straight before the race I always check my wheels so that the brakes are not touching and the tires are pumped up enough. When everything is fine, I just need to pedal.
How much contact do you have with friends and family during a stage race?
EC: I try to speak with them a little bit before the race while I’m traveling, then it is important to stay with the team and focus on myself. After I try to analyze how the day went. There are days when I really want to talk about the race because maybe I need to fix something or maybe I am excited, and days I really want not to talk about cycling any more. Especially when it was a really hard day, you need to clear your head.
CHRISTINE MAJERUS, BOELS-DOLMANS
You spend a lot of your career racing alone in cyclocross or as a domestique, how was it being the team leader after Amy Pieters crashed?
CM: It was not the first time I have been a leader for the team, so stepping in at the last second was not new for me, I know how to handle the stress. It is a tricky feeling because I have to take the position because something did not go as planned. Obviously I won’t say no, so I just try to grab that opportunity.
You led the team to victory in your home race Elsy Jacobs. Is the feeling different?
CM: It’s a different kind of pressure. Luxembourg was one of the first races when I had the leadership from the beginning, so I had to perform. In Britain it was OK, I didn’t have any obligation.
What did you think when Sarah Roy crashed?
CM: I was more concerned about me not riding smart enough in the final kilometer. I think she was completely over-excited about winning so is the first one being embarrassed about it. But it was a nice victory for her—she deserved it.
How did you feel afterwards?
CM: I felt sad, I was working really hard for that victory and I had the whole team behind counting on the victory. When you know that you are the strongest and you don’t make it, you are upset against yourself and upset that I could not tell my teammates I won. But when they arrived they were pretty happy about moving up in the GC [she finished second].
AMY PIETERS, BOELS-DOLMANS
How did it feel to go from winning Stage 2 to crashing hard the next day?
AP: I felt pretty good at the start of the stage race and winning the second stage showed that. I was also second in the general after that, but I crashed the day after and I was really disappointed. Also, I got a 20-second penalty because Danny [Stam, sports director] helped me to come back. I could understand that if they gave us a warning first, but we only saw it after the finish. But you also know from cycling you have always the risk from crashing, it is part of the job.
LIZZIE DEIGNAN, BOELS-DOLMANS
What is grit to you?
LD: Grit is another word for determination and I think I have a lot of determination. Because cycling is not always straightforward there are often times when it would be easy to give up and it’s about not giving up in those moments.
It’s mostly when no one is there. When you feel sick and you have the discipline to have a rest day and you are thinking about your rivals training, or if you’re out on the road climbing and everything in your body screams at you to stop but you still have a minute to go of your effort. Then you need grit.
Are writing stem notes part of a pre-race ritual?
LD: I am probably the least ritualistic of the team. Generally if I know the race well enough in my mind I wouldn’t use a tape. In a stage race when you really don’t know the race it is good to have a little bit of direction.
Do you have any rituals?
LD: I don’t get my numbers the night before, I only pin it on race day. I like to separate my race days, I don’t want to be totally ready for a race the day before, I like to see that as a non-focused day and then I’ll focus on race day.
NIKKI BRAMMEIER, BOELS-DOLMANS
What is it like racing on your home roads?
NB: It’s pretty special because cycling has such a following in the UK now, people are really getting behind it. People come out because it’s a bike race and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s a men’s race or a women’s race—they want to see their home riders.
ANNA VAN DER BREGGEN, BOELS-DOLMANS
What do you think about in the feed zone?
AvdB: If you have no bottles left, then it is stressful. If there are two soigneurs and there is a teammate right in front of you, it’s best to take the second. I like to throw the empty one there because it is going to be picked up.
What do you want the soigneur to do in the feed zone?
AvdB: Because I am wearing the white [European] jersey this year and they often don’t see me, I always scream to Smiley [team soigneur] and he never misses me. In Britain we had a new soigneur and it was hard for her to see who she needed to give a bidon to, so I always make sure I have some eye contact with them.
CHANTAL BLAAK, BOELS-DOLMANS
You’re a classics rider, how do you feel by this time of the season?
CB: The OVO Women’s Tour was really hard for me because I did the whole spring. I started at Het Nieuwsblad and my last race was Yorkshire, then I took two weeks off so I had a proper break. At the Women’s Tour it was great to get back in shape for nationals, that was a really big goal and it worked out.
What do you do when you get really tired?
CB: It is really important to take care of your body and I had a proper break, but that is really hard to come back, especially mentally. So you need to have your peak moments and your breaks. For me it is more important to refresh my head, just think about something else, and if I take a step back and enjoy home and something else, then I am double motivated after.
RICHIE STEEGE, BOELS-DOLMANS
Do British roads make the bikes more dirty?
RS: Yes, I need to clean every bike every evening; each one takes about 15-20 minutes including the chain and sprockets.
What are the everyday jobs?
RS: I check the tire pressure every morning, the normal pressure is about 8 bar and when it is wet we set it about 6.5 to 7. Different riders don’t have different pressures. I also check the gears so they are smooth when they shift.
If you enjoyed this story, we're offering 50 limited edition copies of the SRAM Roadbook Volume 2, where you can enjoy it in extended print form. Get yours here. (Due to shipping restrictions, the books are only available for U.S. residents. Apologies in advance to our international friends.)