After an appalling false start in Tour de Languedoc, so appalling even that we, riders, protested at the start of the first stage, the organiser of the Tour did live up to all his responsibilities in the end. There were 48 gendarmes to keep us safe, no crossing stays unattended and after the first nights in a stinky caravan with mouse dung, smelly blankets and bad food, they’ve given us better accommodation and ditto food.
During the first stage, which is actually the second one because the first stage got cancelled, I ride with my jaw dropped onto my frame. So stunning is the scenery. The French made themselves look like fools again, but my oh my, they do live in a gorgeous country. Panoramic views of the snow capped Pyrenees, fields full of poppies and corn flowers, picturesque villages; France like you only see France in films. That’s where we ride our bikes, on roads swept clean by gendarmes, nice and smooth asphalt under our wheels.
After the last climb we soar onto the plain, towards the Mediterranean Sea. The wind is blistering hard, roars in our ears, tugs our jerseys. The peloton is still complete, because the stage wasn’t difficult until now. As soon as we hit a corner and get into the crosswinds, the bunch explodes. I find myself back in the first group, until – KGGGGRRRRR – the derailleur of a Russian rider sweeps a couple of spokes out of my front wheel. I manage to keep myself upright, but I come to a standstill immediately. I put my hand in the air – to warn the jury I’ve got a mechanical, so my DS will know he has to come and help me as quick as possible.
I look over my shoulder. Tufts of riders everywhere across the long, straight road. And very far away the following cars. Shit. One by one the tufts pass me. Where is my DS? I wait and wait, with my front wheel in my hand now, and my hand in the air. If they still don’t see what’s wrong… Finally my DS arrives. “They didn’t warn us!”, the mechanic yells, while he puts a new wheel onto my bike and gives me a push. With my tongue on my shoes I chase, until I’m back in the peloton.
I am so angry that as soon as I see a good opportunity, I lift my butt and attack. And again as I’m caught. And again. And again. Until the final kilometers, where the speed is so high that attacking becomes impossible. Normally I am a big coward in a bunch sprint, but apparently the destroyed spokes gave me just that bit of extra adrenaline to manage to stay on the front. Roundabout, last corner, 500m sprint untill the finishline – I remember that from the roadbook.
There is the last corner. What we don’t see, but you would on tv if there would have been a helicopter above the peloton, are the parked cars in the street to the finishline. Business as usual in women’s cycling, we find parked cars everywhere along our courses, but of course they make things pretty dangerous. Especially in the last kilometer of a race, let alone if the cars are parked just around the corner. So what you would see coming on tv, happens.
The first seven riders sweep around the corner unscathed, yet they swerve panicky around the suddenly looming car. The eighth rider gets hit by the swaying back wheel in front of her and hits the car at full speed. I am that eighth rider. The ninth and tenth rider crash into me. The riders after us manage to save themselves, alarmed by the racket of squeaking brakes and snapping carbon.
I find myself back folded against the car, a bike that’s not mine on top of me, the chain wrapped around my elbow. The first thing I think is: SHIT! SHIT SHIT! SO FAR FOR MY TOP RESULT! I stagger upright, scramble for my bike and help the rider that crashed into me. The DS arrives and the mechanic replaces my folded back wheel. I try to get on my back again but see my handlebars are totally broken. Spare bike from the roof and off to the finish, shaking my head in disbelief, meanwhile checking my body for injuries. At first sight, they don’t seem to be too bad.
But soon the crash appears to be heavier then I thought. My elbow swells until it looks like a melon, a couple of ribs start to hurt and I see scratches and bruises over all of my backside. I fear the night that comes. Not to mention tomorrow. But hey, this is bike racing – at least, that’s our mantra. We lick our wounds and go on, smiling.
(Still shit not to have that top result, though. Shit.)