Sharon Laws of our women’s pro team checks in after tough racing in Spain.
I’m wearily travelling back from northern Spain to Girona having just completed Iurreta Emakumeen Bira a 4 day, 5 stage, race and one day race – Durango Durango. Marianne Vos is on fire and won both Durango and Bira. It was great Giro preparation for us, much needed given that the ten day Tour de l’Aude was not held this year. It’s the first time this year for some descent length hills and descents and I don’t think I was alone finding that the legs were really feeling the lack of racing for 5 weeks for those who didn’t do the races in China in May.
Known for its unpredictable weather the day of Durango Durango proved to be no exception. It appeared to be drizzly and cold on one side of the course and sunny on the other. The race was full on from the start averaging nearly 40kph in over 2hr ¾ hours of racing. We started with eight riders rather than the usual six – again good Giro practice which is the only 2.1 race where eight are allowed. Lizzie was in a gallant attack with but the group came back together on the final climb. The surprisingly large leading group then shattered as the pace rose with Emma, Vos, Arndt and Johansson going across the top first followed by a group with Noemi, which I just lost contact with.
The descent was fast but it was an advantage to be with others and I was quickly caught and by the flat section into the finish a number of riders joined my group. Emma finished 4th against the sprinters but despite being her first race back after a broken collar bone proved she hadn’t lost any form.
We had a recovery day before Bira began. We were staying in a lovely, rural agri-tourism hotel. There is something special about going to sleep to the call of owls and waking up to the dawn chorus. The only disadvantage was it was up a massive hill and, after checking out the TT course for the upcoming race, I decided that was enough riding for me and hopped on the rollers to spin my legs out. They were feeling really sore from the day before. Lucy, who wasn’t doing, Bira enjoyed the opportunity to do a long 4 hour ride in the hills as she lives in Belgium, where hills haven’t been invented.
Race day one proved to be a test of patience with a 4.30pm start. It was agonising waiting so long to race 75km but at last we were off. It was another fast race and the hills weren’t too hard so the peleton largely stayed together. Lizzie continued her sprinting form coming third to Vos and Teutenburg.
With the prospect of some bigger hills the next day we kept our options open and Lizzie was in the break again. It was looking hopeful but we didn’t realise Loes Gunnewijk wasn’t working in the group and the break was caught. Loes attacked immediately but was bought back. On the last climb the pace was high and the group shattered again. Vos got away on the descent and soloed to victory in the yellow jersey.
After two late starts, day three was a shock to the system with a 7.15am wake up for the TT start. It was based on the GC so we weren’t as early as others but headed down to have a quick practice on the more technical first 2km before the climb. Unfortunately the TT course was changed from going up the steep hill, where our hotel was located, to a much less steep climb leaving the village in the other direction. This caused a dilemma as we didn’t have TT bikes with us.
Theo, our Sports Director, showed immense dedication to his job and, after Durango Durango drove over 700km back to Girona to pick up the TT bikes. That must be worthy of a gold star. It proved to be a good move as Emma, our time trial World Champion, won the TT by 3 seconds to Vos and 25 seconds to third place Judith Arndt. Also on a TT bike I managed eighth, Jessie 17th and Noemi 19th on her road bike. Lizzie and Carla, lower on GC, took an easier ride to save their legs for the upcoming stages. The highlight was Emma’s mean machine that Alex, our amazing mechanic, had spent most of the night building.
With a couple of hours between the stages, Emma demonstrated she is multi-talented baking chocolate brownies as we had rapidly eaten the first batch that she had bought from Switzerland. It was our incentive to get through the next stage as we would have brownies with cranberries for dessert!
The 80km stage looked hard on paper and was even harder on the road! With instructions to get in an early break to force the other teams to chase I attacked on the first climb. Unfortunately the profile in the race booklet wasn’t that accurate and it turned out to be the beginning of a descent and a false flat up a valley before the climb began again. Fortunately, however, the road was narrow and twisty so I was quickly out of sight. I eventually caught Van Den Broek who was in a very early break with Teutenburg (who was further up the road).
We worked together completing the first lap and half way up the second climb a chasing group of climbers, including Emma, caught us. I managed to stay with them while Emma forced the pace trying to get rid of Vos. The hill ran out and the group stayed together and gradually riders came back during the flatter section before the steep, last climb. The pace was high on the last climb. Johansson and Vos got away together on the descent and finished first and second respectively.
The last day was controlled by Netherland Bloeit. An early break with non GC threatening riders was allowed to escape. Vos’s team then kept the pace a steady tempo for the rest of the race. Their timing was impeccable and Vos, having escaped on the descent with Arndt, caught the break just before the finish line, winning the stage and the race overall. This was Vos’s tenth straight win. The next time we see Netherland Bloeit it will be at the Giro Donne. Hopefully she will be chasing blue and black then.
More photos from our women’s team: