Nothing in cycling quite matches the grandeur of Le Tour de France. It’s the world’s most watched live sporting event and in 2014 adds La Course, a women’s invitational in Paris. Our women’s team was honored to recieve an invite to this historic race. The best in the world will speed by the Arc de Triomphe, the quays of the Seine, Rue de Rivoli and onto an iconic finishing straight on the Champs-Élysées.
The 6-woman roster (with one alternate) will be training and racing in Europe in the week building up to the race. The following page documents their personal experiences with blog entries, photographs, and video in the buildup to what will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable days of their lives.
The team’s lead-up begins with a home base in Belgium – the heartland of cycling. The team hopped the border to the Netherlands to compete in the inaugural BeNe Tour (UCI 2.2). Followed up with a traditional Belgian Kermesse – in Zottegem. The racing would allow the team to get accustomed to the European peloton before next weekend’s main event in Paris.
Thursday, July 24th || The calm before the storm
“The rest of our week in Belgium is all preparation for Sunday and looking forward to getting to Paris for the show. We will here until Friday continuing to train and acclimate, then drive to France after our a morning workout.”
Reading – My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
Watching – The racing pigeons fly over
Listening – Porch Song by Widespread Panic
Eating – Chocolate in my cereal
The team’s home base for its stay in Belgium was in the quaint town of Tielt-Winge. The city’s unique layout, slow pace, and quiet, smog-free roads offered the team an opportunity to train hard and be distraction-free before the biggest race of their careers.
“Most people in Belgium have beautiful flowers or a yard or trees… not this guy…so Brie had to give the pavers a ride.” – Lauren Hall
Tuesday, July 22nd || Janel Holcomb on her 2nd Place Finish at Zottegem-Strijpen
“Denise was almost falling asleep on the line from jetlag. We had a simple plan to take turns covering the front. We’d work off each other and make sure one of us was always off the front. I was able to get away with about 21km to go. Thalita De Jong from Rabo-Liv came up to me and we stayed away to the finish.
The constant attacks on the hill whittled down by midway. But nothing was getting away on the steep climb. Denise and I had been aggressive, trading turns. We were always joined by Thalita – from Rabo-Liv. I decided to try going on a transition part of the course – with a favourable wind. I counter-attacked just as the group I was in made contact with a break Denise had covered. I got free, put my head down, the tailwind took me into a technical section of the course where I knew the pack wouldn’t be able to see me very well. When I came out of that section I was clear.
With about 10-12km to go Thalita bridged up to me. She just said “we go together now” – and with that we were gone. We didn’t play games with each other until the final climb – with about 2.5km to go. I tried to go, but she caught back on the descent. I tried another dig in the final kilometer, she brought me back again. In the sprint Thalita just got a good jump on me and was faster. I’m happy with second in my first Kermesse race! I was able to roll to a stop and turnaround in time to see Denise come in with the group behind us, in 6th place.
Kermess racing is unique in Belgium, on the one hand they are casual and low key. On the other they’re hard fought by the riders, constantly fast and aggressive. You register the day of, usually in a bar. Start lists are circulated to the crowds, so they can cheer for the riders and know who is in the breaks.
Crowds collect outside the host bar in Zottegem.
Janel made a bold solo move, joined later by Thalita De Jong. Here she crosses the line in second place. Denise would follow about a minute later, in a small group coming 6th – the day after a long travel day from Vancouver, BC.
Monday, July 21st || Leah Kirchmann on the BeNe Ladies Tour
“The second day of the BeNe LadiesTour offered more excitement, this time across the border in the Netherlands. We started the day with a 9.6 km time trial held on narrow little bike path roads. Brie killed it to claim third! Despite some protesting from my legs, I managed 9th on the stage.
The fun wasn’t over yet, as it was a doubleheader day of racing. The afternoon was a short stage (86.1 km), but we would tackle 10 sections of cobbles. Brie won the prize for the longest stem tape ever, it continued about halfway down her frame! All the roads between the cobble sections were extremely narrow (think standard bike path). With some rain falling on the start line, we all knew positioning would be necessary for safety. With the GC still very close on time after the first two stages, it appeared that a lot of teams were looking for a bunch sprint to take advantage of the bonus seconds at the finish. Slightly slower speeds than the previous day combined with the technical nature of the course led to multiple crashes, taking out half the team at different points of the race. Luckily everyone is okay. I managed to maintain good positioning for most of the race and stayed out of trouble.
Jade and I were together for the final run in to the finish. I didn’t play the finish quite right and ended up placing 10th on the stage. Jolien d’Hoore took the stage win for Lotto, while Emma Johansson of Orica held onto the overall GC by just 2 seconds. I ended up placing 6th overall Jade in 9th. Not bad for a UCI stage race after a long flight overseas. Everyone is feeling strong and gaining confidence with every day in preparation for La Course!”
Our friend Bart Hazens photos provide a glimpse of the classic style of racing the team tackled at BeNe Tour. Cobbles, bike path sized-roads, and pancake flat terrain.
Janel Holcomb, Jade Wilcoxson, Leah Kirchmann, Lauren Hall, Brianna Walle, and Annie Ewart line up at the BeNe Tour team presentation in Belgium. It’s never easy to head straight off a plane and into the uniquely aggressive style of racing in the Netherlands and Belgium.
A typology of the women’s time trial positions show the slight variations each rider uses to achieve an ideal aerodynamic profile while still being comfortable enough to pedal as fast as possible and breathe normally. Needless to say, it not a cozy place to be.
Leah leads the peloton through one of the road race’s many cobbled sections. Crosswinds, cobbled bike paths, and overcast skies. Familiar to any fan of racing in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Leah wears the mask of pain as she races over the cobbles. Peddling a road bike across these roughshod, century old stones is a bone jarring experience.
Leah sprinted to a top ten finish against some of the world’s best. Large, enthusastic crowds greeted the women at every finish line at BeNe.
Smiles come before the pain as Lauren, Janel, and Brie, who finished third, warm up for the time trial.
The teams Diamondback Podium Optum bicycles are stiff enough to handle a wide variety of terrain. The red and white bike is Leah’s hand painted Canadian national champion frame.
Monday, July 21st || Kevin Field, Women’s Performance Director:
We’re really happy how the BeNe Tour went for the team. The riders have been going really well lately, and that carried over to this race where Leah and Jade both finished top 10 on GC and Brie was 3rd in the time trail. We’ve had a chance to see first hand quite a few of the riders we’ll be with in Paris next week. Of course in Belgium, you will hit some cobbles in the races. The nervousness of this style of racing is good for the riders to re-adapt to the rhythm of European racing. The race in Paris will be tense, nervous and likely a constant position battle at high speeds. The team is staying in a comfortable old villa in Belgium that is still used as a chair warehouse. And the riders are happy, because Bill washes their bikes.