Friday 21 August 2020

Women's Tour de France 2020

Well, it wasn't an official race, but a group of intrepid women, Donnons des Elles au Vélo managed to ride the entire route of the 2020 Tour de France. Given the current coronavirus times we are living in, that is no mean feat. 

Photo: Marie Istil photos

Originally they should have been riding the Tour one day ahead of the professionals (J-1), who were scheduled to start on 29th June. However, everything was pushed back with the professionals starting on 29th August, and the women doing their ride exactly one month ahead of the professionals (M-1).

It hadn't been sure whether or not they would start, and some wondered if it would be a good idea, given the risks.

But in the end the women went ahead and rode all of the routes without too much of a hitch. I kept in touch with them regularly, and wrote about their journey in a feature for Cycling Weekly.

I must say that even though I wasn't riding the event, I found following them to be quite a full on thing as they rattled through the stages and then had to go on-line to watch their Facebook live broadcasts, then phone up one of the women, transcribe the interview, gather data on the ride and put it together for the article. It was almost as though I was living through the ride with them, except that I didn't suffer from saddle sores, fatigue, or sleep deprivation!

The team, led by their enthusiastic captain, Claire Floret had some pretty long days. They would be up at 6am, be on the road by 7.30 to drive to the start of the stage. After meeting with the local councillors or the Mayor for a speech and photo session they would do a briefing for the many guest riders who were joining them for the day, and finally they merry band would set off around about 8.30am.

Photo: Marie Istil Photos

It was a merry band as they had in tow a support car, a van transferring their items, as well as a motorbike outrider as an escort on the road.

With the women, were a few physiotherapists, mechanics, a photographer and social media executive, as well as a Sports Director - Matthieu, Claire's partner. So they were pretty well supported. In fact the whole set-up seemed not disimilar to being in a professional team.

There were people to help them with mechanicals, with any problems like muscle cramp, have meals and refreshments ready every couple of hours. Also, on the days in the Cote d'Azur or the Pyrenees where temperatures went over 40 degC there were soigneurs ready to pass them copious amounts of water for drinking but also to shower them down.

Their day in the saddle would finish any time between 6pm and 8pm, with one of their days in the Alps finishing after 9pm. After all that, they would still need to have a reception with light refreshments and smoozing with the local councillors and sometimes local media, before travelling to their hotel, getting showered, massaged and dining in the local restaurant. No one would be in bed before midnight, so it wasn't surprising that a few of them would get shut-eye while riding!

Photo: Marie Istil Photos

Also, all of the women had a day or other where they would have a low moment. Caroline had a day on the col de la Madeleine where she just felt like she had no energy in her legs and her saddle was really rubbing on her "lady bits". Coralie had pains in her glutes, Claire was suffering on the 20% Col de la Loze and all the effects of the fatigue caught up with her. Bettina suffered on the climb to Grand Colombier, and at one point had even asked Mathieu if someone else could take her place.

But the beauty of this sort of group, when it works is that everyone got on and they were able to encourage each other through those difficult moments.

It was very important for the group to get along as they were really in a tight coronavirus "bubble" together. They were sharing rooms - sometimes three to a room, even two to a bed. They would eat all meals together, ride together, suffer together and triumph together - whether it was hard climbs such as the 20% col de Marie Blanque, the wind and rain in the Massif Central, or the rousing welcome the women were given at the ski resort of Orcières-Merlette.

So on their arrival in Paris it was just such a massive relief and joy to have finally made it, at a time when many sports events had been cancelled due to coronavirus.

I had actually booked to join them on the stage to ride up La Planche des Belles Filles, and to also ride the final stage from Mantes-La-Jolie into Paris, but UK government rules on quarantine meant that I couldn't travel to France. 

Photo: Marie Istil Photos

I have a lot of admiration for this group of women, and I feel inspired to go out and have a go as well. You can have a go at this ride by applying to be part of the Donnons des Elles au Vélo team. Applications open in October. Alternatively, you can guest ride with the group on selected stages. To find out more about the women's 2020 ride check out the Donnons des Elles au Vélo website. Also, 

Chapeau ladies!

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52 Cycling Voices: Claire Floret

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