Stage 7: Squeaking brakes and smell of rubber

Giro Rosa 2014 stage - 7What if you let 150 women do a neutralized downhill of 13 kilometres?

Maybe I should explain the word ‘neutralisation’ first, cause not every each and one of you knows exactly what that is, I guess. In most of all cycling races, from the startline on, the bunch has to ride at low speed behind the car of the jury for a couple of kilometres. Mostly the pace is like 30k/h. Somewhere down the road there is a sign with a ‘0’ on it and that’s where the jury car hits the gas. The race is open. Sometimes, like today in Italy, we have a short stop at the 0-sign. In this case that came in handy, because we could hand our jackets to our teamleaders or do a quick wee in the grass next to the road.

Back to the neutralization. Most of the times it’s a lot shorter than 13k. And most of the times it’s also not downhill. But in Italy everything is possible.

So we ride down at 35k/h, behind the car of the jury and a couple of motos, from the skiing resort Aprica to the valley of the river Adda. As soon as the road drops, our ears get filled with the noise of hundreds of squeaking brakes and our noses are full of the smell of burning rubber.

A lot of riders are nervous, because once we’re in the valley we go immediately uphill again, to conquer a climb of 8k. Starting in the front is a good idea, so in the compact descending group everyone is trying to get to the front too. That’s not so difficult if you just don’t brake, because the natural speed you get on this road is much higher than the speed the jury is allowing us – which leads to a lot of fidgeting and boxing. A was at the front on the start line already, so I am more or less out of the hectic.

But I hear, smell and notice it. HEY! Someone gets boxed in. BANG! Another puncture. If you brake continuously, the rims get hot which make tires explode. I try to release the brakes now and then, to avoid a puncture, but that’s not easy if you have to stay under 35k/h in a downhill.

Each and every piece of road behind the car of the jury is taken, everyone rides as close to each other as possible to not let any space and lose position. With extra squeezing in the inner corners, and some extra space to pass in the outer corners as a result – give the pedals a short push, squeeze in and brake as hard as you can to avoid crashing into the rider in front of you.

After only 6k my hands are cramping already. A kilometre later I notice I can’t straighten my fingers anymore. My legs start to shake because of the forced low speed and the muscles in my arms and neck object as well.

I don’t like starting a race with a non-neutralized downhill, but I also dislike this.

Normally I don’t appreciate stopping at the 0-sign, but today I’m happy we do so. Not because I have to take off a jacket or have to wee, but because I can finally ease my tense muscles and straighten my cramped fingers. And the race hasn’t even started yet.

Photo: Cor Vos

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