Behind-the-scenes bartering and keeping it upright: a Route de France double diary with Kimberley Wells

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We had originally thought we might speak with different riders from Subaru High5 Australian National Team following each stage of the Route de France, but after speaking with Kimberely Wells for the first rider diary, we think we might need to stick with her throughout the race. Wells had us in stitches on the phone as she talked us through her first two days at Route de France.

Wells, the Australian national criterium champion and Amy Gillett Foundation scholarship holder, is part of a six-rider squad racing the seven-day French tour. Wells’ AGF scholarship secured her spot on the team. Shannon Malseed, Jenelle Crooks, Jessica Mundy and Ellen Skerrit earned their spots at the AIS selection camp in May. The quintet is joined by veteran Loren Rowney (Velocio-SRAM) who provides critical leadership to the eager but inexperienced squad.

This is a double diary as non-existent Wi-Fi in the French forest prevented a check-in following the opening prologue.


The Route de France opened with a three-kilometre prologue in the Parisian suburb of Enghien les Bains. Liv-Plantur’s Amy Pieters averaged more than 49 kilometres per hour to take the win by two seconds over Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana). Brianne Walle (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) rounded out the prologue podium.

The following day, Lucy Garner delivered a second victory for Liv-Plantur, taking the stage one sprint from Nettie Edmondson (Wiggle Honda) and Roxane Fournier (Poitou-Charentes.Futuroscope.86). The opening road stage between Avon and Briare was not without drama as the stage was delayed and then shortened due to issues with road closures.

In her own words, Wells reviews the first two days on tour with the Subaru High5 Australian National Team.

MY PROLOGUE PRE-RIDE

We arrived at our accommodations on Saturday afternoon, the day before the start of the race, and immediately set up our bikes so that we could navigate our way over to the prologue course. All of us have Aussie phones, and it’s really expensive to use data without Wi-Fi over here, so we do our best to avoid that whenever possible. This meant using maps to make our way to the course on the outskirts of Paris. It wasn’t exactly easy.

Although the roads weren’t closed on Saturday afternoon, we were able to have a good look at the prologue course. It was run over three kilometres on roads around a lake.

The course was completely flat and not particularly technical. It was a trackie’s dream – especially because it had left-hand turns only. Basically, it was as close as can you get to a velodrome on the open road. Pursuit riders like Amy Cure (Lotto Soudal Ladies) and Nettie Edmondson (Wiggle Honda) were licking their lips at the sight of it.

There was a great atmosphere even during the pre-ride. People were yelling “bonne chance” in our direction and tooting their car horns as we rode passed together. It definitely gave everyone a good feeling about things.

PRE-PROLOGUE MORNING

It was a bit of a late brekky compared to typical Aussie standards. We didn’t eat until around 9 a.m. The coffee was so bad, but we knew there was a McDonald’s down the road. We got it into our heads that a McCafe would be awesome. Loren, Shannon and I went to the McCafe with dreams of an amazing cup of a coffee. Let’s just say it was a massive let down.

Breakfast was followed by a bit of a time on the ergo to flush out the legs. We also shot this fun video about how to get into a time trial suit. Spoiler alert: it is not a process that gets much easier with practice. We’re having some massive Wi-Fi issues here in France, but we’ll try to send that through for inclusion in another daily diary at some point this week.

THE TEAM PLAN

The process went as followed:

  1. Make sure you recon the course.
  2. Review what you need to do to be as fast as possible.
  3. Think about the lines you want to take and how you’re going to negotiate each corner.
  4. Have a good warm-up and/or try a new warm-up.
  5. Write down what you did and how you felt about what you did, so you can reference that later and see where you need to improve.

All this stuff is really important to us at this stage of our development, and we were all excited to have a crack. We have nothing to lose. And we’re all still so eager to see what we can do with this experience.

PERSONAL AMBITION

I wanted to see if I could get in the top 20, and I ran 20th in the end. Considering all the new things and the lack of prologues in Australia, I think I can be proud of that result.

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE

There was a little incident that we’ve dubbed “WeeGate” within the team. All the team buses were lined up on a hill before the prologue – one after another. A rider from the team whose bus was parked in front of ours decided to do a wee behind her team bus. And her wee rolled underneath her bus directly at us. And it was a big one!

We tried to dam the road with leaves and coffee cups, but it didn’t work. And the wee just kept coming. We were watching it trickle down the hill and into our tent, and there was nothing we could do about it.

Yeah, that doesn’t really happen in Australia.

MY LOREN LESSON OF THE DAY

Not to hold back anywhere. The course is so short, so every pedal stroke counts. The difference between first and tenth can be only a second or two in a prologue. It’s important to find time the entire way around the course.

THE POST-PROLOGUE VIBE

Everyone had a good ride, and everyone gave it a real go. Overall we were happy. Spirits were high as we drove to our accommodations.

THE ACCOMODATIONS

We drove from civilisation – from this beautiful town in the outskirts of Paris – to the middle of nowhere. We stayed in a forest in a camping centre. It was a bit different than the previous night. There was no Wi-Fi and no cell service, so there was no way to communicate with anyone back home. We were completely offline.

Dinner was a bowl of spaghetti with a bit of red sauce. What they served is what you got to eat. It didn’t matter how hungry you were. They gave us a dinner time and 15 minutes after the start of dinner, they packed everything up. Our mechanic never even got a meal because he worked through the dinner time we were given. We were in the middle of nowhere, so he didn’t even have the option to go into town for a bite to eat. You need to be self-sufficient over here.

Rowney and I shared one room, and the other four girls shared another – all bunked into one room dormitory-style. There was one bathroom for them all. The place we stayed didn’t provide us with any towels, but they didn’t tell us we would have no towels before we left for Italy, so that proved a bit problematic.

THE LAUNDRY CONUNDRUM

Our van has no washing machine. This means we often have to wash our clothes in the shower or tub – or we trade our way into another team’s van to wash our clothes.

Yesterday we gave a few cups of rice to another team. Because we were nice to them, they paid it forward and put us in touch with another team to use their washing machine. Trading is common practice around here.

The top commodities in terms of training seem to be:

  1. Food – you’re often staying where you have no access to food beyond what’s provided. The food in the team van becomes critical in these cases.
  2. Helping people lift heavy things
  3. Helping people when they’re lost – there’s lots of travelling as a pack and the blind leading the blind to get from Point A to Point B. We got to do our washing today because we helped another team that was lost. We brought them with us to the accommodations, and they let us do our wash once we got there.
  4. Race favours – I’m pretty sure this one was a joke but one of the teams that let us do our wash in their van said we’d need to help them out in the lead-out the next day.

MY STAGE ONE PREPARATIONS

We woke up to a bit of a sorry-scene for brekky, but luckily we have our breakfast box with us in the van. There’s museli, Wheatbix, nutella and a bunch of other things in there. Regardless of what the accommodations serve, we can always get a decent brekky before we race thanks to our breakfast box.

I’M NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE

They serve bowls of coffees. Not mugs. Bowls. This felt very French.

ARRIVAL IN AVON

When we’re out of the cars and slowly getting ready, the fans will start to gather. There is a subculture of fans here that simply does not exist in Australia. Many of them will approach with a picture they have of you that they want you to sign. Today we even signed pictures of us riding the prologue yesterday. They’re on top of their game!

You have to keep in mind that they don’t even know us. We’re brand-new, but they don’t care. You’ll see people come up to the team and stand there for awhile as they look through their images, trying to figure out who belongs to which photo. It’s pretty funny. We definitely appreciate the effort.

THE TEAM PLAN

Today’s stage was completely flat – a day for the sprinters, which is a delicious day for Loren Rowney and I. Essentially the plan was to have the rest of the team cover any attacks. We wanted to be represented in the moves and have a presence on the front, but ultimately we hoped for a sprint where Loren and I could jump on the back of lead-out trains from other teams.

DRAMA BEFORE THE START

All the bike riders were lined up and ready to start the neutral when suddenly there was a whole bunch of commotion. There was lots of chatter in French, which most of us don’t understand, and then finally, in English, we heard: “We have no approval to have the race on these roads.” We went from being staged to being sidelined.

The race was delayed as the powers that be attempted to negotiate some sort of solution. Rumours were circulating that if we couldn’t race today, we couldn’t start stage two. We also heard that the police might be on strike today, and without the police we had no road closures for the race. At one point, we heard the whole race might be cancelled because the organisation failed to get permission for road closures.

You can imagine the whispers. People were speaking in French and all these other languages, so every time we heard the latest, the story got changed slightly in the translation. We didn’t really know what was happening.

The team hung out under a tree with a handful of other Aussie riders from other teams waiting to find out if we would be allowed to race. As a rider, there is nothing you can do in these sort of situations, but all the Aussies banding together, being really silly in light of the frustration, was a really special moment.

We were finally given the go-ahead to start, but the delay meant part of the race had been cut. According to the original route, we were meant to ride into town and cross the start/finish line for an 18km loop and then came back to the finish line for a second time for the sprint. The entire 18km loop was eliminated, which meant we wouldn’t get to preview the finish line.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

Not much went down today until the sprint. There were a few little attacks but nothing major. It felt like a tailwind all day, so were able to go fast, and I think most people were just saving it for the end.

The pace picked up for the last 20-25 kilometres, and you could feel the tension in the build-up to sprint. There was a bit of a stone wall at that point if you weren’t at the front. Thankfully, I was well-positioned.

Loren and I were sitting fifth and sixth wheel coming into the one-kilometre mark. Wiggle was on the front and Liv-Plantur was there, too. At about 400 metres, Loren started stepping out, and I followed. Bronzini (Wiggle) was near us, and then someone tried to shoot a gap that wasn’t there – presumably to get on Bronzini’s wheel.

The rider literally rode right into me. I still don’t know how I managed to keep it up. At one stage, she was leaning so hard into me that she bent the brake hood on my bike. You can imagine how hard it is to control your bike when someone is on your front wheel.

Then her bike slid under me, and my whole bike went airborne. My back wheel swung out as if I was doing some sort of trick. I do a bit of mountain biking, and I’d like to think the skills I’ve gained on the dirt helped me land it.

Having landed, I caught up to the group that was sailing by me to run 10th on the stage. But gosh – Rowney and I did everything right today. It was beautiful up until that moment. In bike racing, you need a bit of luck, and I guess we didn’t have that today – or maybe we did. I’m not in hospital after all.

While we didn’t manage to achieve the result we were after today, the Subaru High5 Australian National Team really had a presence out there today, and I was really proud of that. We worked together so well, and you can already see that we’ve come a long way since Thüringen. Watch this space, I reckon. I’m confident you’ll see something good here from us soon.

MY HIGHLIGHT TODAY

Being fifth or sixth wheel at 400 metres to go in the sprint of a bike race in Europe is really exciting. You can feel it. You can taste that chance to win. It was a huge highlight today.

MY BIGGEST CHALLENGE TODAY

Landing on my bike and not on my face when I was plowed into was a big challenge.

It was also a challenge to keep a cool head today, to stay positive throughout the entire 127-kilometre stage. When all you’re thinking about is the sprint, the stage can feel forever long. You have to look after yourself all day. You have to stay focussed all day. You have to keep a cool head all day. And only then can you get the mongrel going at the end of the race.

MY LOREN LESSON TODAY

When you come into a sprint, there has to be complete trust. And I really trust Loren. That made a huge difference today. I also trust Loren’s wheel moving through the Euro peloton. There’s a certain feeling of respect and reciprocal agreement, so she can move around the bunch a lot more easily.

WHERE AM I NOW?

I’m in the middle of nowhere again – a different middle of nowhere than yesterday. We’re staying at some sort of disability or special needs centre. We’re two people to a room, and there’s probably only three teams here from the whole race. The owners of the centre are nice. They gave us the Wi-Fi code when we asked. It disconnects every two minutes, and we need to reconnect again. But hey – it’s Wi-Fi. We’re not complaining.


We’ll be checking in with Wells on Tuesday following stage two. If you have any questions you’d like us to pass along, feel free to pipe up in the comments.

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