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Loren Rowney parlayed a perfectly timed attack into her first win of the season on stage four of the Route de France on Thursday. Six hundred metres from the finish, Rowney jumped, catching the sprint trains off-guard, and soloed across the line just ahead of compatriot Nettie Edmondson (Wiggle Honda). Rowney, who typically races for her trade team Velocio-SRAM, is at Route de France with the Subaru High5 Australian National Team, and she was full of praise for the young squad that helped deliver her across the line.
“The team was great,” said Rowney. “We had the whole team up there in the finish, which was really amazing. It’s the girls’ first time attempting a proper lead-out, and they just nailed it.”
“It’s a really nice feeling to win, but it’s extra special feeling to win in the Australian jersey, particularly with this group,” Rowney added. “This is truly a development team. We’ve got four riders that are 20 or 21 years old, and they’ve been doing such an amazing job. I’ve had so much fun being part of this with them, and I hope they know that they all truly had a hand in this win.”
For the last several stages of the Route de France, we’ve brought you a rider diary with Kimberley Wells. The Amy Gillett Foundation scholarship-holder crashed heavily in the sprint finale and between the effects of her crash and a bit of a lodging mix-up (more on that to come – keep reading!), she wasn’t able to field our phone call tonight. Wells will be back tomorrow for a double diary, but for now, we have three questions with three Aussie National Team members.
Rowney, as today’s stage winner, is up first.
Ella CyclingTips: We know you won – but we want to hear how you did it. How did today’s race unfold?
Loren Rowney: There was a bit of early action, but it was definitely a sprinters’ stage. I think Optum was keen to get the QOM jersey back for Brianne Walle, so they drove it over the climbs today. Both times, the peloton split over the top, but the groups came back together fairly quickly. No one was really invested in either of the breaks that had formed, and without cooperation, the move were never going to last.
In the second half of the race, a BePink rider slipped away solo. Her gap blew out to 90 seconds, so Wiggle got on the front and drove it for Elisa [Longo Borghini]. They caught her around the 10-kilometre mark.
By that point, the sprint trains had started to assemble. The finishes in this race are all rather technical, and I’ve noticed that the trains are getting organised a lot earlier than they would at other races. Optum had their train going at 10 km. Liv was trying to do their thing. Wiggle had put a lot of energy into the chase, so they didn’t have as many riders at the end.
I had every single one of my teammates at the front, which was really cool. When we got to the really technical bit, there was a crash, and that’s where Kimbers went down. From the sounds of thing, that crash held up a lot of people.
I attacked with 650 metres and three corners to go. I jumped in on the Optum train and then just went as hard as I could. Basically, it was a time trial to the finish. Nettie had attacked, too – and I think everyone was completely spread out behind us. I had a small gap on Nettie across the line and Nettie had a small gap on the next rider who had a gap on the next – that sort of thing.
Ella: What has been like to race with the Australian National Team compared to racing for Velocio-SRAM?
Rowney: It’s definitely something different. With Velocio, I’m never captain on the road, and here I’m clearly the captain. I’m in a leadership and mentorship role, and I really enjoy it. The young girls look up to me and listen to me as I do my best to guide them through the race. It’s a really rewarding experience.
For me, it’s also a bit of a humbling one. This isn’t a professional set-up, and it gives me the chance to step back and appreciate how good I have it with Velocio and what a fantastic team it is – or was.
Also, I never went through the Australian system, so this is my taste of it. It’s also meaningful to me to help out and spread my knowledge.
Ella: We hear that you’ve been sharing pro tips with your teammates daily. What’s your tip today?
Rowney: Last night we stayed at a Campanile, and the woman that was our main point of contact acted like she didn’t speak a word of English. Most of us don’t speak any French, so it proved a bit challenging. Well, this morning, Jenelle [Crooks] gave the hotel staff the podium flowers she won yesterday. Suddenly everyone spoke English. I told them that whenever we win a race, we give our podium flowers to the hotel staff when we arrive. It seems like such a small thing, but it goes a long way to getting you in the good book straightaway.
Jenelle Crooks pulled on the youth classification jersey following Wednesday’s stage three. The winner of the U23 jersey at Thüringen Rundfahrt, Crooks is hoping to repeat the feat at Route de France. Currently placed 11th overall, 27 seconds behind race leader Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda), Crooks has a nine-second advantage in the classification over Molly Weaver (Liv-Plantur) with two stages to race.
Ella CyclingTips: How did you juggle dual objectives today – chasing the stage win and keeping the jersey?
Jenelle Crooks: The main goal was the stage. All of us except for Loren and Kimbers had to cover attacks and help keep the race together. For me, when it came time for the sprint, I also needed to look after myself and stay quite high up to make sure I didn’t lose any time for the jersey. Those were my jobs.
Ella CyclingTips: What was your highlight and you lowlight?
Crooks: The best part of my day was Loren winning! It was awesome to come across the line and hear that she had won. She even got both hands up in the air for a salute. That’s quite a good feeling for the team to be a part of that.
My biggest challenge? That’s a tricky one. I was really tired on the way to the stage start, and all I wanted to do was have a little nap, and I found it impossible to sleep. That was my challenge today. The race itself was controlled and fast at point but at other points it was nice and slow. It was definitely a sprinter’s race, so I wasn’t too flustered from that. Missing out on that nap, though…
Ella CyclingTips: You were dubbed the Barefoot Bandit yesterday by virtue of your podium attire. What did you wear up on stage today?
Crooks: I wore shoes today. The girls were impressed, and the officials actually commented on it. Somebody said: “You’re wearing shoes today” and then they all laughed and pointed at my feet.
Bonus insight from Crooks: We had speculoos in our little race sandwiches today. Loren ate six of them. That’s winning food right there.
In addition to guiding this young team to a win, a stage podium and back-to-back days in the U23 jersey at the Route de France, sport director Donna Rae-Szalinski has handled every aspect of the team’s logistics on the road. She was thrown a curveball following stage four when she arrived with the team at the assigned hotel only to find out there were no rooms.
Ella CyclingTips: What exactly happened with the accommodation situation? Loren said that there were no rooms available at your assigned hotel.
Donna Rae-Szalinski: Yes, that’s right. We showed up to the hotel we were assigned by the race organiser, and we were told there was no rooms available. Initially we thought it was a mix-up, but it quickly become clear that wasn’t the case. Obviously the next thought was that the race organisers had stuffed up.
It was a wild goose chase to get in touch with the proper people, but when I did they were absolutely brilliant. They fixed it straightaway. They called around and found us another hotel. They were just as baffled as we were about what had happened.
We eventually figured out what happened. Another team had arrived to the hotel first, and they had taken all ten room keys. Surely they must have known that every rider doesn’t get her own room, so I don’t know what they were thinking. They saw us show up. They saw the confusion. They never spoke up. Some of the blame also falls with the hotel, of course. They should have known that those rooms were for two separate teams.
I cannot praise the race organisers enough for how they handled the situation. And while I absolutely appreciate their quick actions, it definitely had an impact on our evening.
Ella CyclingTips: Would you elaborate on that impact?
Rae-Szalinski: I couldn’t get in touch with the appropriate people, and it was getting late and the girls absolutely needed to eat dinner. We went to a fast food joint so that they could get some food.
We only finally arrived at our new motel around 9 p.m., and there was still quite a lot of work to be done at that point. They all pitched in without even being asked. Some washed bidons. A few gave up their massage time to make sure the girls who had crashed had adequate time and attention. I was really proud of them.
It’s unfortunate that instead of celebrating the win, we ate fast food for dinner and had showers at 9pm, but, you know, that’s life on tour. You can’t control what happens to you. You can only control how you react to it, and these girls were champs today.
Ella CyclingTips: You might not have gotten to celebrate the win, but hopefully you’ve gotten to savour it a bit. What does it mean to you to win with this group?
Rae-Szalinski: I looked up from the car at five kilometres, and I saw the whole team on the front. Here’s this young development team, and every single rider is on the front of a UCI race in Europe. It gave me goosebumps to see that and to think about how far they’ve come.
We’ve had 11 race days in Europe together, and they’ve already pulled off a massive result. Without question, Loren was amazing, but each and every girl can hold her hand up and say: “I gave my part” and that’s what makes this win extra special.