It’s been a hard few years to be a cycling fan. On the men’s side, relentless doping stories, more and more and more depressing information about how institutions have turned a blind eye, or actively condoned the shitstorm. As an engaged fan, it is more a confirmation of things we already know, but still, if I never have another “You like cycling – what do you think about Lance Armstrong?” conversations, it’ll be too soon.
And then on the women’s side, it’s been a hard few years, with endless news about races being lost, teams folding, and reading about how all that shit on the men’s side disproportionately affects the women, even though they don’t have the cash for that industrial-level, institutional doping. Another conversation I can do without? Those people who pay NO attention to the women’s racing, but can tell me I’m stupid not to “know” the women’s side is just as awash with drugs. No, it’s not. YES, there are doping cases, but it’s a different culture, the patrons like Vos, Bronzini, Teutenberg are outspoken about how much they hate doping, and actively work to stop it. The stupidest thing I was told last year? The instant-expert who told me, totally seriously, that he wouldn’t be surprised if the doping doctors like Fuentes and Ferrari gave big discounts on EPO regimes to women, so they could do it too. Because they’re altruistic like that…
So yeah, it’s been hard, and it’s winter, and there’s not a lot to be excited about in my life, and I’ve been a bit worried that I might have fallen out with cycling. But then, the Tour of Qatar is being televised by Al Jazeera (here, 11:30 and 19:00 GMT each day) – and I sneaked onto the stream today at work (small window, clicking away every time anyone came into the office) and BAM, I’m enraptured, excited, engaged, giddily besotted all over again.
It was SUCH A GOOD STAGE!!! today! A break of 3 – Valentina Scandolara, Audrey Cordon and Małgorzata Jasińska – had been out ahead for ages. No one was particularly keen on chasing, but then Orica-AIS tore the race apart, 5 of their 6 riders – Emma Johansson, Tiffany Cromwell, Loes Gunnewijk, Gracie Elvin and Amanda Spratt – jumping together, making the decisive break in a move we’re most used to seeing from Specialized-lululemon or Rabobank. It sounds like it took everyone by surprise….. well, nearly everyone! Only four riders managed to go with them, so on paper, that should be a a guaranteed Orica victory, right? Well…. except look at those four riders – Stage 1 winner and race leader Chloe Hosking, for Hitec, killer sprinter Ellen van Dijk, and woman-most-likely to win Most Aggressive rider in any race, Trixi Worrack for Spec-lulu, and the absolute queen of Dutch sprinting, Kisten Wild, riding her first race for her new team, Argos-Shimano. That’s three of the top sprinters in the peloton, and some seriously clever race tacticians.
They caught the escape trio, and Van Dijk in particular kept racing on the front, keeping the pace up so despite all the Orica attempts, no one could get away. When it hit the endgame, the final 10km, it was just BEAUTIFUL to watch – attacks and catch, Orica’s collection of escape-experts and Classics stars making their moves, but unable to get away, as Wild and Worrack, especially, leapt on every hint of a move. My heart was in my mouth as it came down to a final sprint – Wild taking the initiative, with scrappy little Worrack right on her wheel – a photofinish, Wild victorious, ahead of Worrack, Van Dijk, Hosking and Emma Johansson, the first Orica rider, coming in fifth.
And you should have seen my grin! I was elated, it was an incredible race, and it felt SO GOOD to be reminded of why I love this sport! That familiar rush of joyous energy – this is what the season is like, this is why I will always be a fan!
And it reminded me how grateful I am to the peloton for everything they give us. As hard as it is for me to have to watch the freakshow that is the men’s doping saga, imagine being the women, racing for peanuts, giving up careers, settled lifestyles and all kinds of luxuries to follow their passions. I really want to say, to every single rider, “dear women’s peloton – THANKYOU for everything you do, all that training, all that sacrifice, all the entertainment you provide. I really, really appreciate it – it sounds corny, but you really do make my life more fun!”
And thanks, too, to the riders, staff and team who help us follow the races via twitter, blogs and everything else. And a big friendly thanks to the community of fans, who share this love, cheering along with me out there over the interwebs. THIS is what cycling is all about, and it’s a beautiful, brilliant sport.
You can find all the results from today’s stage on the race site. Hosking leads, with Elvin at +6″ and Wild at +9″, with two stages to go. You can watch today’s stage reports in English below – the final 4km:
and a 2 minute stage summary:
Can’t wait to see what happens next!