In the past week British Cycling has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, with the resignation of Shane Sutton around allegations of discrimination against elite female and para-cyclists.
The world of elite cycling is not one that Cycle Sprog usually has anything to do with, except to cheer on at major events, such as the Track Cycling World Cup. I was once lucky enough to interview Rik Waddon, Paralympic Silver medalist, in our local Sainsbury’s, but have never been in close proximity to the elite women.
However, recently our paths crossed when we were on holiday in Groningen, a small university city in the north east of The Netherlands.
We arrived in Groningen mid afternoon for a two night stay, with the intention of hiring bikes to explore this historic city the following day. Just hours earlier we’d been told that the V&A touring exhibition “David Bowie Is” was still on at the Groningen Museum. It had been due to finish it’s final leg of a world tour before our arrival, but had been extended until the following weekend due to unprecedented demand after Bowie’s death.
Feeling lucky to have an unexpected chance to introduce the boys to Bowie’s legacy, we booked the last available tickets for the exhibition – 3pm entry that afternoon – talk about cutting it fine! We dropped our bags at our accommodation and headed off along the narrow cobbled streets (full of bikes, no cars) to the Groningen Museum. As we passed the impressive market square we commented that there must be an event being planned, as several vans had turned up.
Two hours later we emerged dazed and amazed from the “David Bowie Is” exhibition. We were surprised to see the roads transformed – metal barriers were separating the road from the pavement. This will be familiar to anyone who has watched, or taken part in, a sporting event. As we got back to the market square it was unrecognisable – cars, trailers, vans, tents were everywhere. And there were bikes – lots of women’s race bikes. In such a short space of time the slick machine that is elite cycling had come to town for the Energiewacht Tour.
We watched various teams warming up and then hunted out the British Cycling camp. The coaches kindly explained that this was the initial time trial stage and it was just over an hour until the start of the race.
Energiewacht Tour – two races for the price of one!
We were told that there were two time trials taking place in Groningen that evening. The main race was the Energiewacht Tour UCI Time Trial, in which British Cycling would be fielding an Under 23’s team from the Senior Academy. After the senior race, a team of Junior Academy riders would complete in the Junior Energiewacht Tour Time Trial.
All thoughts of an early bedtime for boys (who were still quite tired from renting bikes in Amsterdam) was forgotten. We grabbed some fuel from Burger King and bagged our place near the start line. It was fabulous to be so close up to the cyclists and see how the race is organised. It was quite remarkable how the cyclists and their bikes jostle for position in a queue, along with the team cars and spectators.
Somehow all the correct riders manage to get to the start where they have only a couple of minutes to compose themselves. Before the race, British Cycling performance pathway manager Ian Yates said:
“It is good to see a large number of our girls – particularly the juniors – getting to experience a race like Energiewacht, providing them with international stage race experience against an international calibre field.
“As well as the race experience, experiencing events of this magnitude will help them develop other key areas such as preparation, personal organisation and dealing with pressure.”
I can really see what he meant.
As the lone British supporters in a crowd of Dutch and Germans, we felt obliged to cheer at the tops of our voices for the girls as they set off.
Our support was kindly rewarded by the British Cycling team, who gave the boys each a water bottle. You can imagine their excitement!! On my advice they didn’t drink the contents, just in case they contained energy powders – that would have certainly kept them up all night!
As this was a time trial, we were able to move from the start to the finish line to cheer the riders home. The U23’s British Cycling team came in a respectable 8th place.
We then got to see the presentation to the winning team in the Energiewacht Tour Time Trial (Boels-Dolmans), and the yellow jersey to the faster rider – Eleonora Van Dijk (also of Boels-Dolmans – a clean sweep for the Dutch much to the crowd’s delight).
When we finally left the rain was pouring down, darkness had fallen, and the junior riders were still out on the course.
I felt a total lightweight returning to our snug accommodation to follow the remaining coverage on Twitter, and discover our girls came in a well deserved 2nd place in the Junior Energiewacht Tour Time Trial.
It had been a day full of unexpected surprises in the beautiful city of Groningen, and I even managed to get credited by British Cycling for one of Chris’s excellent photos!
8th in the team time trial for GB @ewachttour and 2nd in the junior event!
— British Cycling (@BritishCycling) April 6, 2016
Watching the elite cycling machine in motion, it really struck me how young some of the riders are. It brought home what a commitment it is for these girls, to be away from home so much, putting their entire life into their sport. It must also have taken years of support and encouragement from their parents, families, local clubs, teachers and friends for them to get this far at such a young age.
What was apparent was that all the riders, at what ever age, are part of a much bigger machine. They train, travel, warm up, race and depart – only to repeat in a different location the next day. The following morning there was no sign that the race had ever been in Groningen.
In light of this weeks news, I really hope that those dedicated sportswomen we cheered at the Energiewacht Tour Time Trials in Groningen, and all others going through the British Cycling machine, are being treated with the respect and equality they deserve.
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