The start to The Women’s Tour was pretty incredible for a lot of reasons. First off, we won! Second, the spectators, the organisation, the racing – it was all amazing. The crowds were so much bigger than anything we expected. The atmosphere in the small, picturesque town of Oundle where we started was all decked out just for the race.
Along the route, there were heaps of kids out screaming and waving flags through every single town. That was especially cool to see since they are the future. To see them get so excited at an event like this is outstanding, because this is a way to get them into the sport. They were absolutely yelling their hearts out for us.
We all had extra butterflies to start this special event. As a standalone women’s race, this is by far the biggest crowd we've ever seen, even bigger than the Giro Rosa. It has been so well organised – the spectators had flags with the tour logos on them and all sorts of noise makers. The signage were really awesome. The women’s peloton wants to prove that we deserve to be treated like professionals, and that’s exactly what this race is doing for us.
In addition to rallying up massive support for women’s racing, the race organisation wants to prioritise rider safety this week, and we could definitely feel that today. There was someone standing near every dangerous spot – a corner, roundabout or obstacle – to give us direction with a loud whistle. We are extremely happy with how well the organisation has been looking after us.
There were also a lot of motorbikes on the road, which leap frog ahead of the race to control traffic. Navigating a motorbike through the peloton is not always easy, especially when the roads are narrow. When the roads are small and the bunch is anxious, it makes everyone a little nervous, but they really did a good job.
The race itself was a pretty quiet stage. I’d say most teams wanted to play it a little conservative today. No one really wanted to show their cards just yet. Teams wanted to see how things played out tactically. There are a lot of teams here with good sprinters, and they are the ones who wanted to wait till the finish to put on a good show for the crowd in the finale.
There are a lot of unknowns in a new race like this, too – roads, winds, traffic furniture – so we wanted get a good feel for the lay of the land before going on the offensive right away. It’s really quite different here than what we are used to in Belgium or Holland. It’s not the Dutch-style kind of racing where the wind can shatter the peloton on the wide open roads. Along the roadside here, there are hedges and walls that keep us protected from the wind. The wind was blowing a gale today, but the tunneling effect meant that the wind was more head or tail than coming at us from the sides. That kind of wind is much easier to manage.
Ironically, we were hoping it wouldn't come down to a bunch sprint. With riders like Lizzie Amistead (Boels Dolmans) and Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv) here who are really strong at the moment, and strong sprinters like Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda), we didn't want to take that chance. Luckily it was a finish that suited Emma perfectly. We had been told that it was a false flat finish, but it was definitely an uphill drag to the finish. The entire bunch was strung out. My teammates Nettie Edmondson and Loes Gunnewijk were there to help at the end, and it worked out beautifully.
My job today was open-ended. I was to keep myself well positioned and look for any opportunities to get into breaks or create them myself. Loes was on the same plan as me, while the rest of the girls looked after Emma in the intermediate sprints and the finish.
In a race where there is no time trial or major climbs to create big gaps, winning intermediate sprints is so important because of the time bonuses awarded. There are 3, 2 and 1 seconds given at each intermediate sprint and 10, 6 and 4 at the finish. Throughout a tour like this, it’s a race to win those valuable bonus seconds. Being second instead of first in even an intermediate sprint can mean the difference in a podium place at the end of the tour.
Getting the yellow jersey on day one was unexpected. It’s a bonus, but it also puts more pressure on us earlier than we anticipated. It would have been nice to keep the pressure on other teams a little longer, but defending the lead gives you extra motivation to do things you didn’t think you could do. And while there is pressure on us to defend the lead, there is still pressure on plenty of teams to perform as well.
Dinner tonight was followed by a glass of podium champagne shared as a team in the very glamorous Orica-AIS camper. All the riders and staff packed inside the small space to toast Emma and the team. For us, this team is family. Emma’s win made everyone just as excited as she was, and it was fun to share a nice moment together like that at the end of our very eventful day.