The season is now well and truly underway, and with the nerves of the first races now behind us, it’s business as usual on the world cycling stage. Racing as a full time professional rider is a complete lifestyle- while I’m sure a lot of people can see the perks and are jealous of a full time traveling lifestyle racing on the best equipment and being ‘looked after’- I can assure you there are many sacrifices that take place that most people wouldn’t agree with and I often question myself. Over Christmas I could not partake in festivities such as indulging in lunch or pudding as I was racing. Riding as a pro cyclist isn’t just a stress to me and my lifestyle, it is a stress to all my friends and family who while I’m sure are proud to see me on the world stage, I know are stressed overtime they read the words ‘crash’ on Twitter during a bike race.
Aside from the mental stress, the physical stresses of professional cycling on my body is both obvious and not. From the outside I look strong, fit and lean, but looking a little closer and I have scars that mark the major crashes I have had. From a permanent piece of a European country lodged in my knee to multiple (in my view, ugly) surgery scars.
Maintaining a lean physique is challenging and it has not always been achieved though healthy means. I have known some teammates tell stories of ‘weight loss’ camps run by teams or federations where riders as young as 16 go to altitude and train for enormous hours on only salad for a few weeks at a time in order to slim down. Dramatic weight loss is part of cycling and is obviously extremely unhealthy, however I suggest that it is worth it if you win a major race such as the Giro Donne. But there is a fine line- Mara Abbott definitely crossed that line, and while it was devastating to watch her not win the Olympics after such an effort in Rio last year, I’m not sure it would have been good to have her as the role model for our sport as Olympic Champion. Many women in the peloton don’t get their period regularly due to the stresses they place on their body, personally I’m on the pill which allows me to have some control over my body and I feel I have a healthy balance. But it is scary seeing some girls and how far they push their bodies into the red.
Speaking of pushing into the red, rumour is Marianne Vos is not yet fully recovered and is slightly injured yet again. She knows more than anyone just how to push her body to the absolute limit and I guess it has caught up with her. She is probably the most respected rider in the peloton and just her presence in races changes how teams approach them, the peloton is missing something without her there and hopefully she will be back soon with her WM3 team mates.
First world racer problems aside, spring has definitely sprung! And what a start to the spring classics we’ve had! Having so many rider transfers at the end of last year, the depth of women’s cycling is continually growing and has made the spring classics pretty exciting so far. We have had four World Tour races so far, and from that, four different winners from four different teams! It’s a nice change from the Boels-Dolmans domination we have had in recent years. Having no stand out team- but many that are strong- is making the racing more aggressive, faster and more unpredictable. This means it’s all around more awesome for you guys to watch! (And by ‘watch’, I really mean follow on twitter feeds, because we are still talking about women’s cycling here).
There have been some additions to the female peloton that have had the girls chatting. One stand-out has been the presence of Cuban National Champion Arlenis Sierra. Last year she only really rode in races like the Tour of San Luis, the Pan-American Champs, and Tour of Costa Rica (oh yeah and that one race in Rio ), but this year she is making her neo-pro mark in the pro peloton with a massive bang.
I’ve heard riders calling her the ‘mini Vos’, because she can do anything. When she beat Marta Bastianelli and Giorgia Bronzini (both previous world champions) in a race in Italy the day after Strade Bianche, it got people’s attention. Then she went on to win a stage in Valencia, and then the following week, was ‘THAT’ girl who sprinted to second at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and saluted along with the winner, not because she thought she had won, but because she was so happy to get second! If I was Coryn Rivera I would be a bit annoyed that the photos of my first WorldTour win and biggest win to date had another girl saluting next to me. (But luckily Coryn must also have a good crop app on her phone, as she found a way to highlight just her nailing the salute.) In all honesty though, while someone celebrating for second is unprecedented, I actually thought it was pretty awesome that she didn’t give a shit and in that moment was so stoked with the result, that she too saluted. But hopefully the next time she does it is for the top step of the podium.
Then there is Leah Thorvilson, the 37 year old former US Olympic Marathon Trials Runner, who based on her training and testing sessions using Zwift and was offered a contract with Canyon-SRAM. I haven’t seen her much in the peloton, and really I am not surprised. I mean, it’s the Spring Classics, she has never raced in a pro peloton before, and all of a sudden she is doing races where there are 200 chicks fighting to be at the front on roads where only two gals can be at the front. It would be a massive shock and eye opener for her and it’s going to take her some time to get used to. Maybe I also haven’t seen her much because she is doing more of the smaller races, and doesn’t have a heavy race program. But the way I see it, and I think, most of the women’s peloton see it, is she didn’t take a riders spot on the team. It wasn’t like a rider from the peloton missed out on a contract this year because they had to give a contract to her. And hey, Zwift worked pretty well for Matty Hayman and I heard of a guy racing cars after winning a PlayStation racing series! Sadly for Leah, most of the chat about her is regarding her cycling skill level. I remember when I first saw her on the start list I said to my teammates “Do not follow her”. She might turn out to have Danny MacAskill mad skillz for all we know, but peloton hours can’t be beat.
That leads me to another topic that is particular annoying to me this season, club riders. Isn’t it about time that club riders and pro riders should have a separate calendar? I mean the amount of crashes that occur because club riders lack the skills of the pro riders in numerous circumstances. It is frustrating when you work so hard all winter to prepare for this early block of racing only to be taken out unexpectedly by a weekend warrior who is riding the race between her full time job commitments and where finishing would be a success. This is actually not very fair, but unfortunately it’s where women’s cycling is at currently and it pisses me off!
Now I know what happens on tour stays on tour, but YOLO, you guys are always asking about it: the dirt about what relationships go on within the peloton. And yes, normally it is the guys asking about this…So here we go:
“Is it true that 50% of the peloton are lesbians?” No. but, I’m not saying there is a lack of them in the peloton either.
“Why are there so many?” Well, that’s the hard one. I think the relationships in the peloton that are same sex relationships are highlighted a bit more. It’s not quite as common and so everyone gossips about them. This, makes it seem like there are more than what there are.
But, if you think about it, we spend our days on the bike. Then we go to a race and spend our days around our team and the peloton, and well, it is really hard to meet someone outside of cycling when cycling is your life. Plus, fellow cyclists or athletes, are the ones that ‘get it’ and understand what you’re going through. They get that when you say “we won today”, hearing “but where did you come?” if bloody annoying! Or if we have a recovery day that doesn’t mean we want to spend it sight-seeing or walking around doing ‘normal people’s stuff’ — it’s not going to happen. We have to be pretty selfish, and we think about how everything will affect our performance, and because of this, we don’t really do ‘normal people stuff’ heaps. Train, eat, sleep, rest Instagram. That’s about it really. So, we can be boring. I think this is the reason why there are so many relationships within the sport. And with the pro men barely at our races (or just spectators and people in general), those people we spend time with are the women of the peloton. Emotional connections are formed, and that should be the base of any relationship right? I could be wrong on this matter. Naïve and/or oblivious, luckily though, I’m the SHEcret pro ;-)