‘What just happened?’: The story of a dominant win

Worrying she wouldn't be recovered from the Tour de France in time, Krista Doebel-Hickok arrived at the Tour des Pyrenées and dominated.

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Krista Doebel-Hickok of EF Education-Tibco-SVB has had a busy summer. After racing the Giro Donne she moved on to the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift where she finished 11th on the Super Planche des Belles Filles. Instead of taking a break like many who completed the Giro-Tour double, the American turned around and raced the three-day Tour des Pyrénées. Doebel-Hickok and her team of Zoe Bäckstedt, Emily Newsom, Sara Poidevin, Emma Langley and Clara Honsinger dominated the new event. This is her blog from inside the peloton of a win that was very welcome seven years after her first in France.

What just happened? Am I dreaming? Did I really just win the Tour des Pyrénées? It seems like ages ago that I was in a hotel room in Pau messaging my sports directors that I was really having my doubts whether I’d fully recovered from the Tour de France. I remember telling them that doing the three days and four stages of the Tour des Pyrénées off the back of the Tour de France was a possibility but only if the travel was easy and only when recovery was actually four whole days. 

But no, recovery proved not to be ideal. It was very warm still and – the day after Tour de France Femmes in northern France – I arrived late at the hotel in the very south of the country. There was no air con. The next day, with one day remaining before the race, we had to do team time trial training. So, two days short with travel and one with training, leaving what: one day for true recovery? 

Factually, I should not have been good at the Tour des Pyrénées. Logically, the team should not ride for me. I decided to voice these thoughts to the sports director. On the other hand, my inner dialogue continued, I was actually feeling pretty good and I would love to go for a win with full team support. If I asked for the team to not ride for me as I assumed I wouldn’t be ready, would I be throwing out the opportunity of a lifetime? The answer would have been yes. 

Fortunately, our DS Daniel came to my room to find out how I was feeling. His first question to me after I said the team could leave me behind in that team time trial, was: “So, you are feeling tired?” I answered that I didn’t feel tired where logically I should have been after all the races of the past weeks. I continued to share my inner dialogue and he just said we would give it a try. If it doesn’t go well, it would be okay because we tried. So here we go.

I have a pretty horrific history with time trial starts and – apart from the win at the Tour of the Gila this year – with time trials in general. I looked at Clara and bombarded her with worried questions but also thought that I hoped it did not worry her. Clara kept her focus and Emily gave me a pat on the back. The seconds counted down and, albeit a bit wobbly and squiggly, we took off.  We won the team time trial with Emily crossing the line first. Her smile when she told me it was her first time wearing a yellow jersey was gold. 

And then it sunk in. We could win the Tour des Pyrénées. The whole thing. A big part of that responsibility is on my shoulders. The mountain stage the next day would decide if I would get that yellow jersey. Until then, just stay calm, eat, drink, be calm.

Before we headed off to the high mountains on Saturday there was a stage 1b in the afternoon after the team time trial. I quite possibly had a few too many nervous doughnuts. Or, maybe not enough? One more? Are there any pastries left in the hotel lobby? How many coffees is too many coffees? 

I’d been told, and had told everyone else, that I would ride conservatively, just get through this stage safely to save energy for that mountain stage. I was not going for a result, just eat, drink and not lose time. But when I was on the start line, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Queen of the Mountain points. Why shouldn’t I try? Just a few efforts shouldn’t take much out of me. When I went for a QOM, took it, and heard a teammate on the radio say that I had a gap I remember thinking ‘no way’. I had tried and found out my legs were pretty amazing. A smile on my face and then the decision of going for sprint points too. Would that be stupid? And, then, I took max points at the next sprint.

It didn’t take long for the DS to ask if I could win from this break. I had no idea because it was the first time I’ve been asked this question. Normally I would go into breaks but as a climber it was always assumed I could not sprint. I knew in my heart that I would regret it if I didn’t give myself the opportunity to try so I confidently answered him that yes, I could win from this breakaway. 

I was the strongest in the group but that didn’t mean I could promise the team the win so I asked the DS for advice on how to approach the final. There was a little rise up on the local circuit with less than two kilometers to go. I hit it and tried with all my heart. I looked back and there was a gap. There was a possibility that Ricarda Bauernfeind closed the gap on the flatter roads but I crossed the finish line in first place. I smiled and squealed the happiest squeal. 

I saw my teammates cross the line too and wanted to hug them all. When I found the team bus our mechanic Zane was the first to say something to me. I had no idea what he said but I just screamed something back in a language that can only be called unintelligible happiesh. A stage win and the yellow jersey. What a day.

Day two went by in a bit of a blur, to be honest. Even now, a few days after the race I have trouble remembering what happened on the stage. I do vividly remember that my teammates rode their heart out for me and covered all the moves from the start. Emily, Sara, Clara and Zoe really put on a high pace before and on the first climb. Emma stayed with me the entire time riding a super high pace on the penultimate climb. She also gave me one of her ‘never second’ gels at the base of the final climb, the Col du Soulor. 

Our DS Daniel let me know that in the final kilometers of the Soulor there was only one rider left with me and to keep pushing. I did and when I crossed the line first, again, I thanked my teammates over the radio. Not once but twice and I wondered if a third time would be too much.   

One more day in the yellow jersey with a big lead in the general classification. I woke up at 4 am. Maybe it was the excitement. Maybe it was my ribs still angry from hitting the curb at the Tour de France. Maybe it was the exhaustion. Maybe it was the hot room. Or, maybe it was just me—exactly as I was—but I was awake and eager to get my morning coffee even though it was 4am. 

It would take many more hours before we lined up at the start to defend the jersey but in my mind I was ready. I knew my team, though probably still very much asleep, would be ready. And, with enough coffee and porridge and pastries and rice, my body would be ready, too. 

I relinquished all control of the race to my team. I told myself I had to put my full trust in my teammates and DS to control the early breaks and to save myself to follow any GC threats. I had a job to do—and one that was not to be taken for granted. One crash could lose it all. What if I bonked? Does my body even know how to do that? What if I got dropped? Quit? Would my mind do that to me? And, then, I knew I’d been preparing to do exactly what needed to be done for longer than I realized. I rode with a calm confidence in myself and my team. I knew my teammates and DS would not let me do anything other than try. And I knew they’d defend the jersey as their own—because it belonged to all of us. 

When I crossed the line in sixth place that final stage, having secured the yellow jersey, the first thing on my mind was honestly on how to pack for the next weeks. So many bags and shoes and Olly Bear to get in my bags. I told myself to focus on the podiums and took one more coffee. The announcer asked what was going through my mind and the only thing I wanted to say was that I was hungry, like really hungry but I said something along the lines that it felt good. I smiled as I handed off one final bouquet to a little girl and finally got a meal. Olly Bear was riding shotgun in the team car and I smiled because our DS sure knew how to make me smile. 

Now, a few days later, I think I’m still dreaming. I won this race and three of the four stages and saw so many little girls watch us, their eyes lighting up when they saw me and my teammates racing with heart and courage. I hope we gave them a little piece of the hope and happiness that I will never take for granted. It’s an honor and a privilege to race and it’s one we have earned. 

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