Helen Bridgman is cycling the route of the Tour de France – 3,360 kilometres – as part of the 10 women ‘InternationElles’ team aiming to highlight the current lack of women’s race.
So far, Tour de France organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) have brought only La Course, which though providing a spectacle every year since its 2014 introduction, has never made it past two days.
With the arrival of the second rest day, everyone in the group is feeling motivated after hearing news of a potential new major race from ASO. Here’s Helen’s update from the team in France…
The second rest day of our Tour meant time for bike maintenance. Where the pros have mechanics to do that for them, I spent my own time treating to my bike to a full bath and a new chain.
We were treated to a massage, for the first time after 15 days of riding – Nichola from Velophysio came all the way out from London to look after us. Although my legs had started to feel like wood the last few days, she told me that there were no major issues. Just that everywhere was equally tight!
She worked her magic on my legs and also my shoulders which have become increasingly tight leading to pins and needles in my fingers most mornings.
So, what have the days on the bike been like?
Stage 11 (Albi to Toulouse) was a beautiful, flat, ride. We rolled past fields of sunflowers and through stunning medieval towns and villages and woke our legs up again ready for more.
Then we headed for the Pyrenees. I was both excited and a bit apprehensive to ride these majestic mountains for the first time ever. The team grew quieter as we got closer and the peaks seemingly grew bigger and more imposing. We agreed to climb at our own pace and regroup at the top and then again at the bottom. I fell into a similar rhythm with one other team member, so we chatted as we rode, which helped pass the time and the kilometres much quicker.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with climbs. I love descending as I relish the speed and feel at one with my bike, gliding down the mountain. The more technical the better. But to do that you have to get up the mountain first.
I used to huff and puff and swear at my husband as he seemingly danced up the mountains in front of me. Then a coach once told me to turn it all around in my head and think of three things I liked about climbing, and I’ve been getting better ever since. My three: sense of achievement of making it up, stunning views from the top and then the reward of the descent. We might make a climber out of me yet!
We were joined by a few pros on time trial day in Pau. My legs suddenly came good and I found myself in the front group bombing around the undulating course chatting away to Lottie Becker (FDJ) and Caroline Folmer, a Dutch rider from Donnons des Elles au Velo (the French speaking team now in its fifth year of riding the Tour one day ahead, like us).
The next two stages saw us take on some tough climbs, including the mighty Tourmalet on stage 14. Temperatures soared, but our support crew were incredible, topping up countless much needed bottles on the move. The number of camper vans and people already lining the top part of the climb was insane. I can only imagine what it will be like when the actual race comes through!
Yesterday’s stage 15 had the most climbing of any stage yet. There were four classified cols, including one called the Mur. Anything with wall in the name can’t be good! We dug deep for the nasty last 3km which peaked at 18 per cent. I kept telling myself that I’ve ridden up steeper climbs and to just keep going. It was definitely a question of mind over matter to keep the pedals turning.
At the top of the Foix Prat d’Albis we celebrated the end of week two, and the completion of 2,544km and 36,000m. Seeing it written down I still can’t quite believe it myself! The team is feeling almost super human right now.
We’ve been living in a bit of a bubble for the past two weeks, albeit a bizarre one. But news has started to come out these last few days about positive discussions between the UCI and ASO. There is talk about creating a working group after the summer to move quickly and create an event that will be to women’s cycling what the Tour is to the world.
Is someone finally listening?