This July, 10 women are riding the route of the Tour de France a day ahead of the pros.
The InternationElles want to draw attention to the lack of women’s race, and inequality surrounding our sport – read more about their motivations here.
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Here, team member Helen Bridgman shares her experience after 10 days of riding.
The last ten days have been a bit of a blur, punctuated by the odd amazing or horrendous bit that sticks in the mind.
Everything felt very surreal for the first few days. There was lots of media interest, so the actual riding was almost the easy part. The group gelled easily, riding smoothly and working well together.
I loved being back on Belgian cobbles for the early stages, and had a blast smashing them up and getting a PB on the Muur van Geraardsbergen.
Day three was ridden under downpour. It was so cold and wet at the rest stop that I jumped into one of the vans and put the heater on to try to warm up.
It wasn’t just the so called ‘super planche,’ it was also the climb before that had some 20 per cent kickers just to drain your legs ahead of the big one.
As we started the climb I saw a young French girl struggling. In my best French, I tried to get her to calm down and breathe, and told her she was strong and to keep going. I eventually saw her finish at the top with a smile. That was after half my team was there screaming and shouting and willing me up the final metres.
The long 230km day [stage seven from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saône] was a mental challenge. It was a transfer day, and was actually more painful than climbing of stage six. It’s not because I haven’t done the distance before, it was just a boring flat day in the saddle – which caused me major saddle issues for the first time in my life!
Then it got worse. Stage eight was tough mentally and emotionally for me. Some bad news from home meant I began the day in tears, and they didn’t stop. The smallest thing set me off.
I owe big thanks to my teammates for picking me up when I needed it most, and to all those who sent messages of support from home. A bit of the Velominati’s rule 5 was also required to get to the end with a sigh of relief.
Part way through stage nine, one member of the team was forced to retire to the van, after struggling with sickness since stage six. She’s back ok the bike now, and really is one of the bravest and strongest people I’ve met.
Stage 10 was about getting the job done as a team and rolling into the well earned rest day. We were treated to more beautiful scenery.
As we travel through France, I’m beginning to really appreciate how big this country really is, how much space there is, what varied landscapes there are and just how much they love cycling and the Tour.
Wherever we go there are camper vans along the roadside, with people ready to whoop ‘allez les filles’ and ‘bravo’ as the spectacle of our pink peloton rolls by.
Some people might not know that our team is completely self funded. We have four support crew, to 10 riders. They are doing an amazing job and we couldn’t do this without them.
Each day requires at least a 40 minute transfer in the van. We do our own washing and sometimes our own cooking. We have a mechanic but we also do bits of bike maintenance and cleaning ourselves. The logistics of all this as we move from place to place is challenging to say the least.
With much longer days in the saddle than the pros, on top of all these jobs, we often only manage about 5.5 hours sleep a night. That really started to take its toll on us before the rest day and I’ve found myself growing quieter and more introverted on days when even talking feels like hard work.
Somehow, we made it through to the rest day. I am amazed and astounded at how my body and mind has coped so far with the gruelling course that has been set for this year’s Tour.
The only thing I can think that really got me there was having an amazing team around me. The InternationElles team is made up of phenomenal women who are strong on and off the bike and who support each other unwaveringly. I’ve never been more proud to be part of a team and I wear my kit like armour.