"The hailstones started on lap two and then rivers continued to poor down the hills towards me when I was climbing. It was bizarre but I kept a good recovery tempo and wasn’t the last rider on the road, which was a good job when I punctured with 6km to go!"
Escentual For VioRed headed out for the Krasna Lipa tour in the north of the Czech Republic with a slightly depleted squad due to illness and injury but with spirits high and legs ready to hit the roads of the race and see whether we could achieve a top ten overall and the odd podium spot on a couple of stages.
The team consisted of myself and Elle Hopkins from the full time Escentual For VioRed squad and then three guests riders, Karla Boddy from High Wycombe, Molly Weaver from Scott Epic and Australian Carla Ryan, former National Road Race and Road Time Trial Champion of Australia and current pro with AA Drinks. Having such a seasoned professional in the team was an exciting prospect and after a great start to the tour in stage one, the aim changed and we wanted to achieve an overall finish on the podium as well as some podium success in other stages.
Stage One started and finished in Krasna Lipa itself and included two loops taking in the Vapenka climb. This finishing circuit was hilly and allowed for some savage attacks. I was in charge of pushing the pace during the hard sections of the course to split the field and try and get the size of the peloton down to a more manageable size for the final 40km on the Vapenka circuits.
I hit the front to lead Carla out for the first mountain prime and forced a split in the field. Some of the riders who went for those mountains points then managed to get themselves up the road and when the lead went out to around 2 minutes 30, it was time to get back on the front and start the process of bringing them back.
Working with the German National team and Dolmans team, which included fellow Brit Emma Trott, we managed to reduce the breakaway to one Russian rider, Larissa Pankova and she won the stage with a solo finish just 10 seconds ahead of our chase group.
The Vapenka circuit shelled the other breakaway riders from the lead group, and Carla did a great job in the final to finish eighth overall.
Stage Two started in Jirikov and after two long loops, including two ascents of the Vapenka climb again, we headed back to the start and took in four finishing circuits before a very quick run in to the finish. The stage was not as hilly as we had hoped and the peloton rolled along quite slowly with riders seemingly hoping to survive over the Vapenka climbs.
I was annoyed to be sent the wrong way at the end of this section of the race but chased back to the front group and managed to get back to the front to string it out on the finishing circuits. There wasn’t a chance to drop too many riders and the bunch finished pretty much intact meaning there was little change on GC going into the Individual Time Trial of stage three.
Heading across the border into Poland for Stage 3, this was likely to be our team’s first chance to make the podium and with Carla’s pedigree in the event we hoped both she and I could be in amongst it at the end of the stage. The 18km route was a simple out and back course, with a turn in the road round a cone before retracing back to the athletics centre start and finish point.
The route was very rolling with two bumps in the road which required the little chain ring and with a head wind out this added some extra judgement on pacing strategy and gearing. I had some good riders to chase, catching my minute rider at the turn and then taking two other riders on the return leg to finish on the athletics track with the best sprint I could muster out of the final corner.
Last year the event had been won by Hanka Kupernagel in a 26 minutes and 38 seconds, with Amanda Spratt the eventual tour winner going 26 minutes and 46 seconds and our 2012 race leader, Larissa Pankova finishing fourth in 27.06, so when I finished in 26 minutes and 45, we knew there was a good chance of a podium, or at least improving on my best previous finish in a UCI Time Trial.
By the end of the stage, race leader, Pankova was the only other rider to dip under 27 minutes and she beat me to the stage win by an agonising 0.06 of a second! Making the podium was fantastic though and it ticked off the first of our goals as a team for the Tour.
The Time Trial stage was quickly followed by another road stage, with Stage Four of the tour being held in the same day. After a brief return to our accommodation, we headed out to Rumburk for what was expected to be 4 circuits of a 25km course. As we headed out the heavens opened and monsoon like rain soon flooded the roads and a thunderstorm sparked above with some dramatic crashes of thunder and flashes of lightening.
The standing water was quite impressive sending waves of water into the fields either side of the road as we drove through it. Needless to say the stage was delayed and the distance reduced to 3 laps. The course proved to be tough, with some shocking road surfaces on two of the trickiest descents and a lot of punctures.
I think I found my limit technically on the bike, and after concentrating hard on staying upright through the potholes and standing water of the first descent, I was off the back and passed by the race convoy.
In the car our DS, Rene Groot, told me to finish and save my legs for the final stage and so I rode the remainder of the stage by myself and encountered some of the best support from the roadside and some of the most horrendous conditions on the bike.
The hailstones started on lap two and then rivers continued to poor down the hills towards me when I was climbing. It was bizarre but I kept a good recovery tempo and wasn’t the last rider on the road, which was a good job when I punctured with 6km to go!
I rode on the flat for 2km and then walked to the 3km mark, before the car with the group behind me caught me and I got a wheel to ride to the finish. My team mate Karla was also in this group so she waited for me and we rolled to the finish together.
Stage Five was a considerably better start and we were back to the clear blue skies and blazing sunshine we had become used to in the first 3 stages. Starting in the same town as our accommodation, it was nice to roll down to the start and get prepared to try and get off the front and make the race as hard as possible.
Carla was now up to fifth on GC and some good work in the final stage would see her elevate herself to the podium on the overall. The time gaps at the top of GC were not too big and with the hilly profile and a finish on three circuits of the Vapenka climb there was a real opportunity to break the race up.
My job was to make the race as hard as possible from the start and so after bunny hopping the pavement to get past a relatively slow moving bunch in the first couple of kilometres, I attacked the peloton and took Dolman’s rider Masha and Kirsten Wild with me, before the German team dragged us back and I went back to the front to ride as hard as I could into the first hill prime.
The race settled down again after the first climb and as we made our way through the town of Ceska Kamenice, I knew it was my cue to get back to the front and stretch out the peloton up the long but not so steep climb out of town.
The plan worked and by the time we started to descend towards the Vapenka finishing circuits, there were just 19 riders left and significantly the German team, who were second on GC at that point, were not in the group. I drove as hard as I could on the sections of the course which were windy, trying to ensure the group were not caught and trying to make sure Carla didn’t have to work too much on the front. With one lap of the Vapenka circuit to go, Carla attacked and took the yellow jersey with her, so I went to the back of the group and sat on for the ride into the finish.
Gaining almost 2 minutes on the breakaway group by the finish, Carla rode herself onto the podium and finished both 2nd on the stage and 2nd overall. It was a fantastic ride throughout the tour for her and I was delighted to have been able to use my strength at various points of the race to help.
Heading back to the UK, there is less than a week to go before we get back together as a team for our final stage race of the season at the Tour of Limousin. Hopefully the team will be back to full strength with full time Escentual For VioRed riders returning to the fold, but for us in Krasna Lipa, it was amazing to have Molly Weaver and Karla Boddy in the ranks and they rode brilliantly at their first international stage race. Youngest in the team and third youngest to finish, Molly did a superb job throughout the race and also showed her promise on the Time Trial bike finishing inside the top half of the field on stage 3.
On July 14th, I am heading into London for the British Paralympic Association Team Launch and BT Celebration Dinner for the team going to the Paralympic Games in London. Since the announcement of all athletes in all sports for the London Games, the weekend will provide the first opportunity to get the majority of the team together for the first time, before we move into the Village together at the end of August.
It’s just 50 days to go as well!