A race blown to bits and the Barefoot Bandit: Kimberley Wells on Route de France stage three

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We spoke to Kimberley Wells following a “hot, heavy and hilly” day at the Route de France. Stage three, which marks the mid-point of the French stage race, proved harder than its paper profile, and Wells was admittedly a bit beat.

She fielded our phone call from “a real hotel – with real Wi-Fi” and, despite a hard day in the office, she filled us in on her day with her usual colour and candour.

Wells is racing in Europe as part of the six-rider Subaru High5 Australian National Team. The Amy Gillett Foundation scholarship holder, Wells secured her spot on the team with her scholarship. Shannon Malseed, Jenelle Crooks, Jessica Mundy and Ellen Skerrit earned their spots on the team at the AIS selection camp in May. The group is joined by veteran Loren Rowney (Velocio-SRAM) who provides critical leadership to the eager but inexperienced squad.


Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda) soloed to victory in Avallon to move into the overall lead following the third stage of the Route de France. Pointing to the sky as she crossed the finish line, the Italian paid tribute to compatriot Chiara Pierobon, who died earlier this month while traveling to race Sparkassen Giro.

 

Following two stages for the sprinters, the climbers came out to play over the hillier stage three course. Early attacks split the field into several smaller groups, but the race came back together before three laps of a finishing circuit. The local lap was technical with a short but steep hill, a tricky descent, cobbles and several sharp corners.

Longo Borghini escaped on the final climb of the day and managed to hold her advantage all the way to the line. Thirteen seconds after Longo Borghini’s win, Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana) led home a 12-rider chase group. Aussie Jenelle Crooks was the final rider in that group, crossing the line in 14th place. Her efforts earned the Subaru High5 Australian National team another trip to the podium as Crooks moved into the white young rider’s jersey – a U23 classification.

We’ve got a Q&A with the U23 leader below, but first, in her own words, Wells gives us a run-through of stage three.

THE SEARCH FOR COFFEE

Our efforts were rewarded today. We had the best coffee we’ve found in France in the start town of Nevers. Rowney and I set up Aussie corner just near the cathedral. It put me in a great mood to have good coffee before the race. It was strong, and it tasted like coffee – not just milk or dirt.  

The ice we got today came from the coffee shop. Just as we were finishing our coffee, our swanny Margo showed up – for the sprint finish, you could say. We asked for ice, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I had just handed over €10 hoping to get change for my coffee. For a moment there, as he went to get the ice, I thought maybe he’d take all my Euros and give us some ice in return, which would have been fine. But we got ice, and we got Euros. Win-win.

THE LAUNDRY DIARIES

The Wiggle team swanny did all our washing, which was grand. No trading required. And he didn’t only do our wash. He even dried it for us and returned it verging on folded. So kudos to Wiggle for that.

Also pro tip for beginners: when you have eight people using the same washing machine, you’ve got to be careful about the red and pink things you throw in there. Because a few of our things have gone a bit pink overnight. If we were doing the Giro, it would have been okay. We could have all had a maglia rosa.

THE TEAM PLAN

We knew heading into the stage that today would be a harder day than the last two. The course featured three hills in the first part of the race, including one QOM, and then three laps of a finishing circuit. We expected a technical circuit, and we knew there would cobbles and a hill. There was a QOM on one of the circuit laps as well.

It certainly did not look as hard on paper as it was when we raced it. There was even talk about letting Loren and I save our legs during the first half or two-thirds of the race to see if we could do something on the circuit. It became clear very early on that we had miscalculated the way this was going to be raced.

THE EARLY ACTION

It was really hot out there today – 38° Celsius – and the peloton had split into a number of groups already over the top of the very first climb. We had Jenelle in the first group. Ellen, Rowney and I ended up in the second group, and there were two other teammates somewhere behind. The shenanigans started early – and it just kept going.

Between the second and third hill, the people that had been attacking sort of sat up, so the race came back together. We entered the circuit as a big bunch. There’s a hill straightaway on the circuit, and my understanding is that Liv-Plantur had done a recce of the course at some point. They got on the front and just drove it. They strung out the peloton like a guitar string before we were even over the climb.

THE FINISH LAPS

The laps weren’t that long but they were really hard. You come up the hill, negotiate some sharp corners, cross the finish line and hit the cobbles. And by then it’s mayhem with a technical fast descent. Within the first half-lap, there were people everywhere.

Coming onto the circuit, I was near the front. And then we started going very fast uphill, and I slowly slid back like someone sliding down ice. You try to dig in however you can to stop sliding all the way back to the edge of the peloton. I was in the red by the time we hit the cobbles, and a bunch of us lost contact with the back of the group at that point.

On the descent, you come flying into this hairpin corner, and I nearly did a Carlee Tayler in the Giro. Thankfully I didn’t. I stopped myself on some gravel about a centimetre before the rail.

 

Following that near-miss, I popped back on the road. Popped back up to the group, and when Nettie Edmondson saw me, she asked me if I was ok, because she had seen what went down. “No worries, mate,” I told her. I did a track-stand at the rail to keep from going over. I decided it wasn’t shorter that way and got back on the road.”

The group that I was with ended up coming across Bronzini, who I later learned had crashed on the descent. She was doing a bike change. In the end, I rode it in with Nettie, Bronzini, Ellen and one of the Hitec chicks. There were people everywhere.

Lucky for us Jenelle was with the fast climber kids. She might have chewing on her stem, but she was far further forward than the rest of us.

THE BAREFOOT BANDIT

Bloody Jenelle rocks up to a European podium to collect her U23 jersey in a pair of shorts, a dirty jersey and no shoes. To her defence, she was a bit caught by surprise when they told her she had podium and rushed her over there.

The other people on the podium were apparently not amused by this, according to Jenelle – except for the Wiggle girls. Maybe they had been in Jenelle’s situation before, and they know what it’s like to be suddenly grabbed for podium and thrown on stage.

Wiggle saved the day yet again. Elisa Longo Borghini gave Jenelle some runners to wear on the podium when she went up alone to accept her jersey. When they went up altogether, Elisa needed her shoes back, so Jenelle was barefoot again.

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How is that for formal Aussie on the podium? No shoes. That barefoot bandit. While there is certainly the temptation to make shoeless Jenelle a signature move, I reckon we’ll make her pretty the next time. Maybe even flowers in the hair and some perfume.

BONUS!

We managed to catch up with the ‘Barefoot Bandit’ about moving into that U23 jersey at Route de France. Here are five quick questions with Jenelle Crooks:

Ella CyclingTips: After winning the U23 jersey, was the goal to repeat the feat here in France?

Jenelle Crooks: Yes, but we didn’t necessarily expect that it would happen on this stage. We hoped it would happen later on. Our primary goal in the early stages has been to set up Kimberley for the sprints. We thought maybe I could have a go at the jersey in the mountain stages. Today was much harder than the profile showed, so I got in the jersey earlier than we had planned.

Ella: Is the goal to keep the jersey until the end of the race at this point?

Crooks: Hopefully tomorrow will be another bunch sprint, and we’ll try again with Kimberley. If I keep the jersey, that’s great. I’m happy to try to hold onto whilst working for her, but I will be working for her as my primary objective tomorrow. There are mountain stages still to come where I’ll have the opportunity to make up time.

Ella: Did you head over to Europe with the idea in mind that you might target the youth classification at these particular races?

I did. Last year, I came in second in the U23 category at Thüringen, so I thought if the opportunity presented itself this year, it would be cool to have a try for it – as long as it fit in with the team planning and the courses suited me. We all want opportunities to show what we can do over here, and I’m really grateful to have mine.

Crooks: How does Route de France compare to Thüringen so far?

I raced Thüringen last year but crashed badly at La Course. I had to go home to Australia, and I didn’t get to race Route de France, so this is my first time here. It’s very different than Thüringen. There is a lot more variation in the stages in terms of terrain. There are a few different teams and different riders. Thüringen was hard because of the terrain. The race here is hard because of how the girls race it – and we still haven’t hit the mountains yet.

Ella: How does the pressure of being in the U23 jersey compare to high-pressure race situations back home in Australia?

Crooks: I know the girls that I’m racing with here can do really well for themselves, and we’re all here to show what we can. By helping me keep this jersey, they’re sacrificing their result for my result, and I’m very appreciative of that. It’s much more pressure than at home because there’s more at stake here, but it’s mostly pressure I put on myself. I want to keep the jersey for myself and my teammates because they do a lot of hard work for me, and it’s my job to make sure their hard work pays off in the end.


We’re back with Wells for the daily diary tomorrow. As always, let us know if you have any questions you’d like us to pass along

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