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Orica-AIS Women's Tour blog

Gracie Elvin

Gracie Elvin's stage 3 report

Gracie Elvin
May 10, 2014, 16:40 BST,
May 10, 2014, 16:41 BST

We're still in the fight

Stage three of the Women’s Tour started in a lovely coastal town where the crowd was just as awesome as the previous two stages. Feeling and hearing the enthusiasm at the start really gets us fired up. We aren’t used to crowds like this – it just isn’t the norm in women’s cycling – and it has been absolutely amazing to be here in the UK to experience this energy and passion.

Heading out of Felixstowe, we had the longest neutral start yet. It was so hectic in those first seven kilometres that several crashes happened as riders were anxious to be in the right place at the right time when the start flag dropped. The heavy winds at the start meant the peloton was on alert for the gutter-action in the opening kilometres. That is exactly what happened.

It was single file from the start, and it stayed that way more or less throughout the entire race. That was our plan – to make it hard. We wanted to put pressure on the other teams. We wanted to make it fast, be at the front and put other teams on the back foot.

My teammate Loes Gunnewijk and I were to save energy in the first half of the race but be prepared to follow good wheels if things got really aggressive. As the race opened up in the second half, we wanted to either put the race in the gutter as a team or get into breakaways.

Loes and I both had a few good cracks, but nothing stayed away as there were enough teams who wanted a bunch sprint. Rabobank-Liv wasn’t super keen to work a break as they wanted to help Vos get the bigger bonus seconds at the finish. Wiggle-Honda wanted a sprint for their star Giorgia Bronzini who thus far has been pretty quiet in the sprints.

Boels-Dolmans set up Lizzie Armistead perfectly for the first sprint, and she snagged the three bonus seconds ahead of Vos and Emma. In the second sprint, Vos narrowly edged out Armistead as Emma slotted in for third again. As those three were duking it out in the second sprint, they naturally opened a small gap on the field. Just as Vos and Armistead sat up to be absorbed by the bunch, Emma put in a brilliant attack.

The sirens started going off immediately as Emma started to power up the road. It was great! She was riding so strong and fast on her own. You could feel the nervousness in the peloton – the other teams were very afraid of letting a rider like Emma get away. Boels-Dolmans sent Ellen van Dijk to the front to close the gap. Using her World Champion time trialling power, she single-handedly motorpaced the rest of us back to Emma.

From that point on it was pretty much gruppo compacto until the final three kilometres when Tiffany Cromwell made a solo dash for the line. Rabobank-Liv went straight to the front and caught her with one kilometre to go. Emma and I were sitting right behind the Dutch train, and I pulled her as hard as I could into the last corner. Obviously we were hoping to beat Vos once again, but she was too strong today. Congratulations to her and her Rabobank teammates on the win.

By virtue of winning bonus points on the road and at the finish, Emma was able to slip into second overall. We are happy with our effort to move her up. We are still in a good position and have more cards to play. We are all in really good spirits at the moment. We are ready and eager to fight for two more days!



Gracie Elvin (Orica) and Annamiek van Vleuten (Rabo-Liv)

Gracie Elvin's stage 2 report

Gracie Elvin
May 09, 2014, 10:52 BST,
May 09, 2014, 10:59 BST

We're still in a good position

Day two of the Women’s Tour wasn’t quite as exciting as the opening day when my teammate Emma Johansson won and slipped into the yellow leader’s jersey. Today we relinquished the overall lead to stage winner Rosella Ratto (Estado de Mexico-Faren), but we are still sitting in a good position with three days of racing left to go.

We knew it was going to be a hard day because of the weather conditions - it was pouring rain all the way from the hotel, to sign-on, to the race start and still at the finish. Luckily we were all well prepared with our slick rain gear from Craft. I can’t reiterate enough the importance of keeping yourself as warm and dry as possible in conditions like these. It will make the difference at the finish line.

Our plan today was to play it conservative. Although we wanted to defend Emma’s yellow jersey, we weren’t going to patrol the front all day. Our job was to monitor the front to be represented in any dangerous breaks that got away, but not necessarily set the pace.

We knew the weather was going to be a factor. There are some teams like Rabobank-Liv who are very experienced in these kinds of conditions. We thought they would put the bunch under pressure, we were ready for that, but they weren’t as active as we thought they would be.

After the first QOM of the day, Ratto went clear of the peloton on her own. She wasn’t a huge threat as a solo rider so the field was content to let her go. At one point the gap was quite close, but then peloton relaxed a bit and her advantage went out again.

With about 35 kilometres to go, Susanna Zorzi (Astana BePink) bridged across to Ratto and the gap ballooned out again. Behind them the speed was really high. We sent Shara Gillow and Nettie Edmondson to the front to help Rabobank and Boels Dolmans chase the break. There were several crashes that disrupted the chase effort. With slippery roads, potholes, gravel and rain and mud in the eyes, crashes are bound to happen. Fortunately, we are reasonably skilled in these conditions and we all made it out unscathed.

In the end, the chase wasn’t quite enough, but we were certainly breathing down their necks – just 6” back. In another kilometre, we probably would have caught them.

In hindsight, maybe we should have put another rider on the front to help chase. It was a hard situation though. Loes Gunnewijk and I were looking after Emma and the other girls were prepared for last minute attacks. Had we put more riders on the front to chase, we wouldn’t have been prepared for the sprint. It was a really tough situation to judge.

Overall, we were happy with the day. We still have a lot of cards to play in the next three days. We didn’t waste much energy in the chase, and we are very much on the hunt for the yellow jersey again.

Despite the dismal weather, the atmosphere at the start, the finish and the towns in between was still super charged. We were surprised at how many people turned out to cheer us on even in the rain. There were heaps of kids around asking good questions at the start, and hearing all the cheers out on the road for the local girls was quite cool, too. Maybe we can’t change the local weather, but everything else has been so positive, there’s really no complaining.

One of the best parts of the tour is coming back to the hotel and watching an hour of the stage on TV. It’s not often we get to see ourselves racing the same day it happened! The footage is being shot from a front moto, a rear moto and helicopter in the last 30 kilometres. It shows the highlights of the race, not all the boring bits. The announcers are doing a top notch job which makes us feel very professional.

Although the race coverage isn’t live, it is being shown during prime time, not during the middle of the day when people are at work. It’s about baby steps. We don’t want to make giant leaps and cut corners in the process. We want to make women’s cycling a viable enterprise. This is a perfect platform for us to take the next step to live coverage.

By showing the coverage on the same day, not the following week like the UCI, it keeps the hype going. It gets people interested and coming back for more. And that’s exactly what we want.



Orica-AIS at the start in Oundle

Gracie Elvin's stage one report

Gracie Elvin
May 08, 2014, 2:30 BST,
May 08, 2014, 2:42 BST

First up win for Australian team

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.

Orica-AIS Women's Tour blog