Hidden Heroes: road captains and domestiques – Part 1

by Jeanine Laudy


While the winner is being honoured on stage, the riders that have worked for the team all day roll over the finish line. They’re the ones who spent all day in the wind, setting the pace. They attacked and countered, closed gaps, grabbed bottles and did whatever else needed to be done for the team to win.

With room for just one person on each step of the podium, these women –the domestiques–  rarely get the attention they deserve. They are the hidden heroes of the peloton, and that’s why we’re putting some of them in the limelight here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dani King (Wiggle-High5)

Dani King at the front of the peloton in the 2016 Flèche Wallonne Femmes.
Dani King at the front of the peloton in the 2016 Flèche Wallonne Femmes.

Together with her British teammates, King is a triple world champion in the team pursuit. But since signing for Wiggle-High5 in 2013, she has shifted her focus more and more towards the road and doesn’t mind going from queen of the track to being a domestique and working for the team.

She was right there at the Strade Bianche, supporting Emma Johansson to take third in the very first Women’s WorldTour event. And in the stage race Euskal Emakumeen Bira, she was an invaluable strength for the team where Johansson took the overall win, the points jersey and two stage wins.

After finishing fourth in the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under and winning its mountain classification at the beginning of the year, she was called on to lead the team in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, as Australian teammate Nettie Edmondson had returned to the track in preparation for the national track championships.

| Related: Sprint like Dani King

She delivered when she finished third behind the newly crowned Australian road champion Amanda Spratt and Spratty’s Orica-AIS teammate Rachel Neylan, after having chased Spratt for kilometers with Neylan in her wheel. She immediately praised her teammates for the hard work they did: “The Wiggle-High5 girls were absolutely incredible today, but unfortunately Orica-AIS had one up on us. I think the pressure was on them today, so fair play to them for pulling it off.”

It’s important for King to show her what she’s worth on the road as she hopes to make British Cycling’s road team for the Olympics alongside Lizzie Armitstead and most likely Emma Pooley, who are contenders for the road race and time trial respectively. As Team GB is probably allowed to take only three riders, she’s competing for that last spot with the likes of cyclocrosser Nikki Harris, focusing on road racing too since signing with Boels-Dolmans this year, Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) and Wiggle-High5 teammate Lucy Garner.

Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans)

A familiar sight: Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) with her head in the wind. Here she leads the peloton on the Dalakersweg in the WWT Ronde van Drenthe.
A familiar sight: Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) with her head in the wind. Here she leads the peloton on the Dalakersweg in the WWT Ronde van Drenthe.

She is the team’s road captain throughout the year, but when she is given the opportunity to ride for her own chances, she grabs that opportunity with both hands. She did so last weekend, when she finished third in the UCI1.1 EPZ Omloop van Borsele – always a very tricky race with narrow roads and difficult corners – and ewon the UCI1.1 Dwars door de Westhoek on Sunday.

And when race leader Lizzie Armitstead crashed out in the first stage of the 2015 Women’s Tour, Majerus was the team leader for the entire week. She managed to win stage 3 and finished third in the GC, which is no mean feat of you’re not used to leading a team in a stage race.

| Related: Highlights from the 2015 Aviva Women’s Tour

Majerus’ usual spot is right at the front of the peloton with her head in the wind, either to control a break or keeping up the tempo in the peloton, making the race hard so that her Boels-Dolmans teammates can finish it off later in the race.

Due to Majerus’ efforts, Van Dijk was able to take home the yellow leader’s jersey in the Energiewacht Tour, after five stages through the Dutch province of Groningen and one on the German island Borkum.

| Related: How Ellen van Dijk won the 2016 Energiewacht Tour

After winning Dwars door de Westhoek, Majerus was quick to point out she isn’t planning on taking the role of team leader more often: “I like working for my teammates. Realistically, I don’t have the chance to win Tour of Flanders right now. I could do a top 15, maybe a top 10, but that doesn’t bring the team much. I don’t think about it as working for a teammate or not working for a teammate. It’s just my job, and I do it. It works well. We’ve been winning a lot, and that brings me a lot of satisfaction.”

“Of course, you don’t train only to work,” Majerus continued on the Boels-Dolmans website. “I’m happy that the few times I’ve gotten my chance this year, I can grab it. I have done that now three times, and every time I’ve finished on the podium – and today I won. I think it’s a good feeling for the team to know that if they give me a chance, I can use it well.” Majerus referred to her two podium places last weekend and her second place in the UCI1.2 Drentse Acht van Westerveld on March 13th.

The next race on the calendar for Christine Majeryus is her home race Festival Elsy Jacobs, from April 29th to May 2nd.

Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM)

Alexis Ryan and Barbara Guarischi (Canyon-SRAM) having a laugh on the start line of stage 4a, a 75 kilometer road race.
Alexis Ryan and Barbara Guarischi (Canyon-SRAM) having a laugh on the start line of stage 4a in the 2016 Energiewacht Tour, a 75 kilometer road race.

After two years in service of the American UnitedHealthcare team, Alexis Ryan switched to Canyon-SRAM this year. A strong team with big riders like Lisa Brennauer, Trixi Worrack and Alena Amialiusik, this might seem daunting for a 21-year-old. But Ryan has been able to adjust to the transfer really well, having played a major role for the team ever since her first race of the season, when she ended up in the first group at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad and supported teammate Tiffany Cromwell in finishing third.

She won several national titles in the junior category, both in road racing and cyclocross, so she’s well used to the thrill of winning. This might make it more difficult to take a step back and work for someone else’s victory. But who knows whether in years to come, she’ll get her opportunity to become a team leader herself, when she is a little more experienced and has some years to her name. It looks promising with the results she’s already able to get in as a domestique.

In the seven minute video that inCycle made about her, she tells about how she started riding bikes and how the multi-discipline approach has helped her become a better road cyclist:

Ryan is combining her cycling career with school, which she finds difficult to do as she’s not good at doing two things at the same time, she told Total Women’s Cycling’s Michelle Arthurs-Brennan, adding that ‘her future plans aren’t set in stone’: “I don’t have a time limit – I might be in cycling all my life – but I’m giving myself until the 2020 Olympics, then I’ll reassess my life and see what I want to do after that.” Which means we’ll see the friendly face of Ryan in the peloton for at least another four and a half years.

Roxane Knetemann (Rabo-Liv)

Roxane Knetemann happy to be racing with her Rabo-Liv teammates in the 2016 Omloop van het Hageland - Tielt-Winge.
Roxane Knetemann happy to be racing with her Rabo-Liv teammates in the 2016 Omloop van het Hageland – Tielt-Winge.

A part of the Rabo-Liv squad since 2012, Knetemann holds a valuable position within the team. She is the fun rider of the team, always joking and laughing, and trying to get the spirit up in the team. But when it’s time to get down to business, she is also a seriously hard worker and she is well loved for both qualities.

That she does things her own way also showed when she started celebrating Van der Breggen’s 2016 Flèche Wallonne win with a beer while riding the last couple of meters up the Mur de Huy – which isn’t an easy thing to do either!

Knetemann was part of the team that helped Van der Breggen win the 2015 Giro Rosa and she was very sad to miss the celebrations of taking home the pink jersey as she crashed in the last stage and was taken to hospital with a triple broken arm.

| Related: Highlights from the 2015 Giro Rosa

It was in last year’s edition of the Giro Rosa that Knetemann discovered she can also perform when the race has altitude meters and she took lots of confidence from that. Although she always gladly works for the team, she does hope to take a UCI win in the future and will continue to work towards that goal while putting her efforts into helping the team leader, whether that is at her current team or a different one.

In this UCI Women’s WorldTour “Focus on…” video, Knetemann talks about being the daughter of former world champion Gerrie Knetemann and how much she’d like to ride a women’s Amstel Gold Race, the race her father won twice. It’s a shame she’s being dubbed, as her cheerful way of talking is an essential part of her bubbly character:

 

Emilie Moberg (Team Hitec)

Emilie Moberg (Team Hitec) enjoying teammate Kirsten Wild's victory in stage 5 of the 2016 Energiewacht Tour just as much.
Emilie Moberg (Team Hitec) enjoying teammate Kirsten Wild’s victory in stage 5 of the 2016 Energiewacht Tour just as much.

Since Kirsten Wild joined the ranks at Team Hitec in 2015, Emilie Moberg has been of great value in getting Wild to the line with as little effort as possible. Wild’s victory in the fifth stage of the Energiewacht Tour was in largely due to the work Moberg and Julie Leth did for her in the final kilometers of the race.

The petite Norwegian rider was a gold and silver medalist in the Norwegian winter triathlete championships (which consists of running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing — all on snow) before turning to road racing later in her career.

Her best season so far was in 2011, when she won stage 5 in the Trophée d’Or, the 2nd stage in the Tour Feminin International de l’Ardèche and took the youth jersey in the Energiewacht Tour. Last year she won two stages in the Tour de Feminin – O cenu Ceskeho Svycarska too, proving she is still very much capable of winning.

But she doesn’t just add to the team with her strong legs, she feeds them too! Moberg is known for baking portables for the team to take along while training or during the race.


Who are your favourite domestiques? Who should we feature in the next installment?

The Women’s WorldTour continues at the Tour of Chongming Island on May 6th. Be sure to come back before then for a preview of this race.

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