The Female Secret Pro: Boels-Dolmans, the Rio Olympics, and ‘nature breaks’

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For a couple years now, The Secret Pro has been providing an entertaining and informative perspective of life inside the professional men’s peloton. Today, we go inside the women’s peloton with the first post from The Female Secret Pro (or should that be The SHEcret Pro?)

As with The Secret Pro, our insider from the women’s ranks will be kept anonymous, to allow her to write freely about the experience of being a female professional. We’ll be ghostwriting these articles as well as dropping in the odd red herring, ensuring it’s not possible to guess the rider’s identity.

Please make The Female Secret Pro (FSP) feel welcome and we hope you enjoy her first post!

In the words of Aretha Franklin (and I think Annie Lennox was there too!), “Sisters are doing it for themselves!” And that they are. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over: welcome to the first instalment of the Female Secret Pro!

Now, I’m not going to go try and create some hashtag that I think is witty and funny but that no one understands, in order to gain more followers, because 1) I’m not that funny and 2) that would then be like doing an “#OGEfrocks” …

To be honest, most of the peloton and cycling world doesn’t know what #OGEfrocks means. Do any of you Australians know? Does the Orica-GreenEdge women’s team have its own dress? Nope. Here’s your first piece of insight: apparently it actually stands for “Orica-GreenEdge Females rock”, but I think it sends the wrong message and no one really gets it!

Considering this is my first post, I thought I would start off by summing up the season to date. The Spring Classics can be summarised in two words: Boels Dolmans. They really did show the rest of the peloton how it is done.

If it wasn’t Lizzie Armitstead winning solo, winning a sprint, or off the front winning solo again, then it was Chantal Blaak. And now, Megan Guarnier has jumped on the band wagon (having recently won the Amgen Tour of California, the U.S. Pro Nationals and now the Philadelphia Cycling Classic).

The team has had a more than impressive start, but the thing that surprised me most has to be Lizzie at Het Nieuwsblad – the first Spring Classic of the season. Everyone was rugged up in neck warmers, Gabba jackets and winter gloves, and I look over to see Lizzie Armitstead cruising in the peloton wearing knicks, a jersey and no gloves!

I couldn’t believe it. She did at least have a vest on, I think, but when I saw her rather briefly towards the end of the race — before she soloed off the front — she wasn’t even wearing that! That it got too hot in that vest still amazes me. Hot packs? SCANDAL!

It hasn’t just been Boels-Dolmans that’s been strong this year, despite their total domination. With 2016 being an Olympic year, it means everyone is on another level and many riders have really stepped it up. This is terrific if you’re one of those who is dishing out the pain, but not so great if you’re not, or if you’re one of those hardy souls doing your team role and then getting dropped and pulled from the race.

That’s when the real challenge begins: getting to the finish that is. It’s pretty easy to find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a jersey full of gels!

In Strade Bianche for example, a group had been pulled and were simply trying to get to the finish, riding through random streets in Siena with open traffic, when they came head-to-head with another group of pulled riders. Each group assumed the other knew where they were going (we do not carry mobile phones in a race!) but in fact, no one actually knew where to go.

In a move that appeared to be from the Bear Grylls Survival Guide 101, they followed the rider they thought gave them the best chance of finding their way. When the girls made it back to the team parking at the finish (and it was late!) it was apparent Georgia Bronzini “saved some lives out there today.” Yeah, glamour!

Now that the Spring Classics are over, and we are heading into the second part of the season, things are getting serious. The Olympics are right around the corner and selection talk is all the rage. And there’s been controversy out of the gate.

The Dutch Olympic team was announced a few weeks ago with Chantal Blaak missing out. Everyone made a big song and dance about that one. I have to admit, it would have been a pretty hard selection to make, but when you have Marianne Vos (current Olympic champion), Annemiek van Vleuten (Miss Consistent 2016), Anna Van Der Breggen (Fleche Wallone 15/16, 2015 Giro Rosa — can climb!) and proven TT powerhouse Ellen Van Dijk, who are you going to leave out?

I think it’s why Annemiek has been riding with a point to prove recently, taking second in the Boels Hills Classic and spending the majority of Gooik off the front with Emma Johansson. Those statements aside, I think the selectors made the right call, and Chantal is just one of many unfortunate athletes this year who will not be going to Rio.

It is crazy though when you think about it. Normally our peloton is about 200 gals, but only 60 or so will line up for the Olympics road race. If you’re from Holland, you’ll probably be watching it on TV but if you’re from a country like South Africa with just one standout rider but three spots on offer, you can thank your lucky stars! If you’ve done even just one international bike race, you can pretty much pack your bags because you are Rio-bound!

In addition to the “I guess I could fill that spot” recipients, there are the good old fashion “coming out of retirement in order to make the Olympics” chestnuts. They annoy the crap out of me.

Doing it for the U.S. is Kristin Armstrong; for Canada, it’s Tara Whitten; and representing England, it’s Emma Pooley. Yes, these riders aren’t guaranteed to be selected, but when they come back, it always has their fellow countrywomen bitching about it.

Kristin Armstrong has already won two Olympic gold medals, so what is she doing?! Emma Pooley was apparently focusing on duathlons until Tour of Yorkshire – what is that? I was around when she was one of the best climbers in the world, and in Yorkshire — where you didn’t even have all the big teams in attendance — she was dropped like a pair of old knicks.

In a blog I read, she said that she will now focus on cycling because “bike racing is the best training there is, for bike racing…” Dear God, spare me these part timers! If you give yourself just a few months to focus on an event which is held every four years on a circuit that suits you, then you’re not helping the sport nor yourself. Good luck to her though.

Lastly, before I sign off my first blog, I just want to answer a question so many of you are wondering about. “Do chicks have ‘nature breaks’”? The answer to this question is “yes”, but because our races aren’t as long as the men, it doesn’t happen as often and we definitely lack experience in organising a peloton pee stop.

Maybe it’s because we are women and the “complications” that arise from trying to have a pee roadside are numerous, or perhaps our ability to make a decisive group decision isn’t that quick. More than anything though, most riders just choose not to go.

Committing to a pee stop means taking off your jersey and squatting on the side of the road. Add to that the danger of hearing over the radio that there has been a Russia/Astana attack and you’re all of a sudden one minute behind … it’s just not worth it. No wonder so many riders get nervous!

The Russia/Astana attack on a nature break actually did happen at Route de France last year and really changed things. Serious etiquette breach. While the teams did bring that break back, I’m also glad I wasn’t one of the riders involved. Cycling isn’t a popularity contest but if it was, those riders would have been the lantern rouge!

Until next time,


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