Soigneur at Gent-Wevelgem Elite Womens Cycle race

I was invited by my good friend Jody, lead therapist at Home Massage in London, to spend this weekend helping him out as a soigneur with the Breast Cancer Care Cycle Team.

For the Ghent-Wevelgem race, the team consisted of 5 riders, Julie Leth, Anne Ewing, Ella Hopkins, Jane Barr, and Joanna Rowsell, who was guesting for the team.

With the way the weather was, snow, cold temperatures and general mayhem in Britain, it wasn’t overly certain that the race would be held, however, we needed to be over in Belgium, just in case it was going to go ahead.

Leaving Glossop on Friday, it was blizzard conditions; Manchester less so, and London was pretty pleasant in comparison, it almost wasn’t too much of a problem that I forgot my hat on the train. Doh.

We travelled to Ypres on Saturday, picking up Olympic cycling legend Joanna Rowsell on the way. She was guesting for the team and fresh from a training camp in Italy. The journey that started out snowy, become a lot less so on the way down. The temperature, though, hovered around zero for the entire weekend.

Despite the glamorous world of pro cycling that you may have seen in the Sky documentaries, that is not the day to day truth of women’s cycling, even at the highest levels. We stayed in a small hotel 20km from the start line, with the mechanics building and servicing bikes in their bedroom. Jody and I wandered around offering massage services to the racers, and after dinner, the girls retired to bed, wondering if the race would go ahead, or if snow would cancel it, while the mechanics worked into the night.

Morning came, it was still bitterly cold, but there was no sign of snow. Breakfast eaten, we sorted bottles, food and embrocation for the girls. Once at the race hq, we mingled with the other teams, applied more embrocation and helped out with last minute clothing decisions and changes and sent the girls off on their way into a cold race with a bitter, bitter wind.

The team car joined them, and we took off to the feed zone, so didn’t see anything of the start, which must have been spectacular in the little town of Ypres. Once at the zone, after a slightly roundabout way of getting there, we stood and waited. There was astonishingly little in the way of news from the peloton. The men’s race, was indeed, covered by TV etc, but there wasn’t twitter feed to give us up to date info as to breaks or anything.
I would have thought that SOMEONE with a race radio and a twitter account and a hyperactive thumb might have been around. But no. Ah well.

To entertain us, the various men’s race team cars were also there, so we spent a while taking pictures of them, and of the poor lad in the Argos Shimano camper which got stuck on the verge. (We did try to push it out, but it was well and truly beached).

It wasn’t until the peloton came into view that we could guess at who was in which group. None of ours in the rapidly fragmenting 1st group, 4 in the second, Joanna finished at the feeding station, having battled through the conditions with mild Training camp muscle fatigue hangover and Jane Barr who also succumbed to the cold. Julie was going well, and being supported by Anne and Elle, who was on her winter training bike.

We picked up another girl who dropped out at the feed zone, but had no transport, so she got a lift to the end with us too.

Travel, a bit of confusion at Ghent, and a bit of driving around until we found the way into the car park. Hot chocolate to warm the cockles of our hearts and a bit of a wait before our girls came in – 3hours and 22mins in the bitter cold and challenging conditions. They were in the main group that came in 10mins or so after the break, frozen half to death, but having survived an epic sufferfest. Stories of the cobbled climbs, the freezing crosswinds and girls attacking off the front as they were too cold to sit around at the speed the peloton was going were told as we guided them back to the car.

Back with the cars and vans we sort out bikes and wheels, warm up and de-cramp feet and before long, we pretty much head straight onto the motorway to wend our way home.

It was a good weekend, though I ended up being a lot more tired than I anticipated. I hope to be involved with the team a little more this year, hopefully with some stage racing, which will be in the summer, and hence a little warmer!

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