The SHEcret Pro: Doha Worlds, contract season and more

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Ahh the off-season. The time of the year every cyclist looks forward to! Four weeks of feeling normal, catching up with friends and family, eating shit food, drinking some wine and going on vacation. Yep – this period isn’t just to physically let the body recover but to recover mentally as well.

The season goes by fast, but racing and training full gas — not to mention dealing with budget airline queues — is exhausting! (I mean seriously, I have never seen people want to get on a plane so bad! And then want to get off one! It usually feels like there has been a massive world apocalypse warning that I missed while wearing my headphones). But anyway, back to the off-season…

In the women’s peloton everyone usually starts their off-season around the same time, give or take a week or two, depending on whether you made the world championships selection or not. But this year, with the world championships beingso late in the year, it feels like the women’s peloton has been split into two groups: those who are suited for a flat, windy kermesse in the desert (i.e. Qatar) and are consequently still in training, and those who are not and who are currently off enjoying ‘normal’ life.

I also know a lot of gals who suit the course, but haven’t put their hand up for selection. Why? Firstly, having Worlds so late means you have a later off-season and less time to get fit and ‘going’ for next year. Secondly, well, look at the course! You ride 23 kilometres (14.3 miles) to a lap of 15.2km (9.4 miles) with 15 corners and a shitload of roundabouts. Then do that lap seven times.

There’s only one type of rider that will really enjoy doing that, and that’s a pure sprinter. And I am sure riders like Kirsten Wild, Jolien D’hoore and Chloe Hosking are frothing at the mouth knowing this is what’s in store. But in a lot of riders’ opinions, it shouldn’t be a World Championship Road Race course. Because honestly, it isn’t really a ‘road race’ course – it’s more of a kermesse.

It’s going to be one of those races that’s hell to actually be in, but awesome for those that get to watch, due to the carnage. The technical lap, combined with the wind (that is notorious in Qatar), is going to make the race hectic for sure, but it’s hard to bet against a sprint finish. And, if I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on Chloe Hosking. She’s going to be the one to beat.

She won La Course, a stage of the Giro, as well as a stage in the Route de France this year, and was second recently in the Women’s WorldTour finale, La Madrid Challenge. Plus, the Australians always have a pretty strong team. And I think that’s where she’s going to have a massive advantage.

Other countries don’t have such a clear sprinter. Like Italy, which has the two-time road race world champion, Giorgia Bronzini, but also Barbara Guarischi who’s another Italian sprinter (and who used to be Bronzini’s girlfriend, so I don’t know what it’s like between those two now). Then, of course there’s Great Britain with the reigning world champion, Lizzie Armitstead, who just got married (and who I’m sure has other things on her mind, like remembering to fill out her whereabouts!). And then there’s the Dutch.

The Netherlands is a team full of winners really, as proven at the Olympics and European championships. Each of them could win and if they put all their eggs in one basket (the Kirsten Wild basket), they have a massive shot at winning. But Worlds is always so different – when you step away from your trade team and put on your country’s colours you never know what’ll happen.

This time of the year is also big for the rumour mill with everyone talking about who’s moving where, especially the surprise team moves like Chloe Hosking (Wiggle-High5) to Ale Cipollini, Thalita De Jong (Rabo-Liv) moving to Lares-Waowdeals, and Roxane Knetemann and Shara Gillow (also Rabo-Liv) moving to Futuroscope. Lucinda Brand and Anna van der Breggen are also leaving Rabo-Liv, and so too is Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, although that one wasn’t really a surprise. Posting an Instagram photo of you wearing a Canyon-SRAM helmet is a bit of a giveaway, but thanks Pauline for confirming the rumours before the announcement!

But wow – Rabo-Liv have lost a lot of their riders! Maybe some of their bigger-name riders are wanting their own opportunities. I also heard they are losing a lot of their budget also, so maybe its more a combination of the two. They have gotten some new strong riders on board though. And I am sure they will still be a force to be reckoned with when they race as Fortitude Pro Cycling next year. They still have Marianne Vos after all.

It feels like a lot of the teams are changing this year. Maybe its because of the Olympics. You always have a lot more riders retiring, and riders thinking that now is the best time to move teams if they aren’t happy or need a change, but this year it definitely feels like more than normal. It also feels like there are a lot more riders without contracts at the moment.

Luckily, my contract got renewed, but I know how teams work. For a team to score automatic invites to the biggest races, they have to be in the Top 10 of the UCI ranking. Individual and team rankings are based on a points system. Riders who do well earn more points than riders who don’t. In turn, a team’s ranking is based on the points of the four best riders within the team.

All this is fine … if you are a points-getter, but not so much if you are a workhorse domestique, because these riders can be more easily replaced. Even if you do your job well, you can still be jobless at the end of the year as a team is in need of points.

Yeah, it kinda sucks a little! There aren’t many jobs out there and even if you do your job well, you can still be jobless at the end of the year. It is very rare that female pro cyclists sign contracts for more than one year, and so at this time, every year, its stressful for a lot of riders.

Aside from contracts, the women’s peloton’s biggest subject at the moment is Annemiek van Vleuten. Those of you who watched the Olympic road race would have seen something no one would have predicted: Annemiek having the race of her life and dropping the best hill climber in women’s peloton, Mara Abbott, on the final climb. She then put even more time into Mara on the descent until that crash! Man! It looked absolutely horrible! It was one of those crashes that gives you goosebumps and you just pray the rider will be OK.

Miraculously she ‘only’ broke three vertebrae, and suffered a bad concussion. Even more miraculous, however, was her recovery time back to top form again. In a little over two weeks she was back riding outside again, and in less than a four weeks she was not only back to racing, but back winning!

Yep, she didn’t just win the 4.3km prologue of the Lotto Belgium Tour by seven seconds (which is a massive time gap over that distance), she then went on to win the last stage solo in dominating fashion, therefore also winning the Tour overall.

She showed us how it’s done, and it was pretty impressive to say the least. It has everyone talking. No one can believe how quickly she has come back, and everyone is in awe. She has definitely stepped it up to another level in this second half of the year, and after that devastating crash in the Olympics I think she has a lot of the women’s peloton secretly cheering for her for the time trial at the world championships (now though, maybe not so secretly!)

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the introduction of the Women’s WorldTour. This was definitely a massive step in the right direction and it has increased the profile of women’s cycling. It resulted in more riders winning the biggest types of races, not just one-day specialists. But, there’s still a lot that needs to be improved by the UCI to grow women’s cycling.

Yes, I know: ”blah blah blah it won’t happen overnight blah blah” But did you know that the television coverage for some of the WorldTour events was actually less in 2016 than years prior? While some of the races did improve their coverage, in those cases it was the race organisers’ own doing, not because they were held accountable by the UCI.

Requiring at least some live coverage, I think, is key to increasing the profile of women’s cycling, rather than a highlights package that will be put on Twitter at some point that next week and which no one really watches because, by that point, everyone already knows who won. Here’s hoping that the UCI does keep on trying to help our sport grow and makes more progress next season.

I hope you guys have enjoyed reading my blogs. See you all next season!

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