If there was ever a position that gets forgotten, it's fourth place. Just off the podium means out of people's minds and a performance lost on a results sheet, but there is always a story behind fourth place. I missed the podium by millimetres but let's back up.
Right on schedule, the fireworks started as we approached the final two climbs of the Tour of Flanders. Anna van der Breggen had attacked solo and was a minute up the road. The chase had dwindled and the front bunch had swelled again, meaning there were more riders fighting for position as we hit the cobbles of the Oude Kwaremont, the penultimate climb.
If an earthquake and a trampoline had a baby, that's what it's like riding on cobbles. It's brutally jarring and unpredictable, testing every single bolt on your bike and every single cell in your body. Even your eyeballs feel like they are at the mercy of the stones, bouncing around in your head like google-eyes. Add in 12 per cent gradients and over 100km of rainy racing, and you've got Flanders with 20km to go. And the perfect place to attack.
I saw a gap on the left and from a few wheels back I went flat out. A few riders followed but as I crested the climb and turned onto wonderfully smooth cement, I was alone. It was always the team strategy to attack on the Oude Kwaremont but being alone wasn't part of the plan. I was surprised and unsure for a moment but this wasn't the time to think about anything other than the pedals.
I rode hard. Really hard. I didn't look back and held my position between Anna and the chase pack. It was possible to ride this to the finish and claim a spot on the podium but there was one cobbled beast to go: The Paterberg.
Van Vleuten had bridged across to me and we hammered up the rough stones, mashing the pedals over the 20 per cent sections. By the top we had collected into a group of four but as we came to the line we were joined by another bunch of five. The sprint opened up and I was well positioned for third but just centimetres before the line I was overtaken. Fourth.
It was one of the best rides of my career in some respects. I was really proud of my effort, going on the solo attack, and even more proud of the team for enabling me to be in a position to do so, but I knew that it was a ride that would fade into the results sheet. No one really remembers fourth.
Or so I thought. After the race I was overwhelmed by supportive messages. I could feel the excitement from each fan as I read each one. My attack on the Oude Kwaremont had given people something to remember. And that was the real win.
Flanders is one of the rare women's races to have gotten high-quality live television coverage this year. Women's cycling seems to escape people because it's not seen. Without adequate media coverage, it's quite simply forgotten, written off as lesser than or boring, often eclipsed by the main (i.e. men's) event; but, just like every fourth place, there is story worth telling, sport that is worth watching, and a performance worth celebrating.
My fourth won't be remembered but I hope that my performance, along with all the other women who made the racing exciting, shows that women's cycling deserves more than a results sheet.
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