The Tour de Feminin Krasna Lipa race is an annual four day-five stage UCI Women’s ranked stage race which takes place in the north of the Czech Republic. Four hilly road stages and a flat time trial just over the border in Poland makes it a hard race but one that second category riders can ride as well as elites. This mix of ability is part of the appeal as there are always races within the race going on between the smaller teams as well as at the top between Olympians and World Champions.
Taking part in an international multi day stage race against some of the world’s best female professional cyclists is not something you say no to or enter into lightly both physically and logistically. Yet despite being outgunned by some of the best female professional cyclists and well funded teams in the world, Team CTC more than acquitted itself in very illustrious company. This was to be the biggest race several members of Team CTC had ridden and they couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
Leaving Prague airport and heading northwards we were lulled into believing this would be flat race but the nearer we got to Krasna Lipa the more the roads went up. This was going to be a hilly race but at least there would be plenty of amazing views to ease it. Getting to the communal accommodation supplied by the organisers we realised we’d be up against more than the terrain, the difference in team budgets was instant. All the other teams had several liveried cars and vans, lots of back up staff and plenty of bikes and spares. Rather than deter us, it actually made us stronger as a team as we, five riders and three back up staff, knew we’d have to do work as a unit to support each other.
Bikes were unpacked and built by mechanic Patrick, team manager Steve went off to register with organisers and collect paperwork, numbers and radios, and assistant Thomas went to the supermarket to get plenty of water and fruit for the riders. The girls; Astrid, Jeanette, Hannah, Tam and Vittoria, then went for a quick spin to test the bikes and get the legs ready for the next day’s stage. Dinner and a quick team briefing followed before an early night for all.
Day one set the tone for the race preparation wise. Up early for breakfast; sort all kit, drinks and food for the day; pack cars and transfer to the start/finish roughly two hours before the race start. Bikes quickly checked, warms up done, riders signed on, bottles and food sorted, riders informed of where feed was and climbs and sprints along the route and then off to the start line 10 mins before the start time. Steve and Patrick would get into the team car and pull up behind the riders in their allotted position in race convoy and Thomas would drive directly to the feed zone and park up with all the other helpers giving out bottles. It was now over to the riders.
Straight from the gun it was fast despite the rolling terrain. Then disaster struck, just 10km into the very first stage Jeanette came down with several other riders on a fast gravelly corner. By the time the team car caught up with her she was back on her bike and battling to get back on to the bunch. Steve and Patrick couldn’t believe it but here she was grazed and bloodied but more annoyed at missing the bunch worrying about her injuries. Lesser people might have packed on the spot but Jeanette was pushing on hard and determined to get back into the race.
Meanwhile back in the main bunch Astrid was finding the going tough and dropped back on the first major climb. Along with a few others she tried to get on again on the descent but the main group had gone. Digging deep she pressed on catching other riders including Hannah and they all started working well together. Vittoria later joined this group and helped share the workload and they were further encouraged when Jeanette fought her way back up to this group as they thought she had withdrawn due to her crash. Tam was sitting comfortably in the main bunch and finished safely just of the back of the bunch on the fast and technical run in to the finish. The smiles and relief at the finish was clear to see as they knew they had all made the time limit and could continue in the race. Jeanette had her injuries looked at and was thankfully given the all clear and she was more than determined to continue despite the loss of skin.
Then it was back in the minibus and back to the accommodation to get food and showered as soon as possible. Patrick, Steve and Thomas made sure the bikes, bottles and paperwork were sorted for the next stage so all the riders had to do was and relax try to recover for the next stage. Everyone pulling together in their roles benefitted the riders and team as a whole and the team spirit really was evident to other bigger teams as they seemed quite distant in their relevant roles and didn’t mix much.
The same pattern of racing and recovery followed for the second stage, without Jeanette crashing, with everyone finishing safely. The 18km individual time trial on the morning of day three was held in Poland and involved a 20km transition through Germany which amused everyone as they had visited three countries in the space of 20 minutes. Here the difference in teams was even more evident as all the other riders seemed to be on time trial bikes with a choice of wheels available. However the girls knew they were strong and despite lack of equipment more than held their own with Tam and Vittoria, in her first time trial, both in the top 50. Every Team CTC rider moved up places in the overall standings so the mood was getting better.
This wasn’t the end of the day’s racing though as that afternoon saw another 100km road stage. Tam was getting stronger and managed to finish in 11th place on the stage. The rest of the girls battled in inside the time limit despite the hilly circuits and increasingly tired bodies. That night spirits were very high as we all knew there was just one more day to go and everyone had come this far and didn’t want to get eliminated on the last day.
The final stage went off without incident for riders, but not the race as a group got sent the wrong way holding the race up and shortening it by 25km, meaning Team CTC finished the race with all five riders and not in last place. This was more than a lot of the other well funded teams with big name riders and earned a lot of admiration and respect for the team. Many other riders and team managers came over to congratulate our riders and staff and ask just who this small team from the UK was. When they found out the team was funded by the national cycling charity they were even more surprised and remarked on how good this was for women cyclists in the UK and wished they had similar set ups in their respective countries to help promote women’s cycling.
Although exhausted, all the riders in Team CTC were elated to finish a UCI level race, all but Tam for the first time! The determination shown by each rider to finish each stage and come back for more the next day was incredible and very, very motivating for the riders and team helpers. Here was a group of cyclists, all with full time job commitments to go back to the very next day the race had finished, mixing it with full time professional cyclists with big budget back up and doing it proudly and without any griping.
The only slight disappointment the riders did voice was with the racing set up in the UK and the lack of similar status races for them to compete in at home to help bring them up to this standard. The disparity in the level and variety of women’s races in the UK compared to mainland Europe showed the UK still has a long way to go with women’s racing; it is getting better but there’s still a long way to go. There are lots of one day races and a few small stage races but nothing of this calibre to help prepare them for this type of race and level of competition.
Taking the knowledge and lessons learnt from this race back with them will be invaluable in their preparation for similar races in future. Passing on this knowledge to other female riders back home in the UK and being able to use Team CTC as a vehicle to encourage more women to cycle in the UK will hopefully help the sport grow and maybe who knows one day we’ll have a similar level UCI race for women in the UK.
Once they had time to reflect, we asked each member of Team CTC, riders and staff what their best bits were and not surprising from the way the team worked it wasn’t just about the racing:
Vittoria Bussi (26) University lecturer
I was thinking hard about "my best moments", and... I don't know where to start, there are so many! So much fun before and after racing, less during racing.
Seeing Thomas each race and being able to catch the bottle each time
When Patrick said the last day from the car: "20km to go"
Teaching Italian to some of you (Vittoria is Italian in case you didn’t guess it from the name)
Awareness at the end that I've done my best for the experience that I have
Jeanette Greenie (38) Physiotherapist
Eventually joining a decent sized group after my crash on day one and especially seeing three green CTC jerseys in the group
Being able to communicate with my team at all times and know exactly what's happening and when - Jeanette races a lot in the Czech Republic.
Meeting such a great group of people who all genuinely supported each other and gelled perfectly as a team.
Tamina Oliver (33) Counsellor
The sprint on the cobbles to the finish line on the penultimate stage when my legs finally worked.
On the last stage seeing Astrid cross the line and knowing that a) the whole team was safe and b) that every single one of us (including Thomas, Steve and Pat) had made it through to the finish of a gruelling few days. I think that is something to be hugely proud of as a team.
Hannah Payton (19) Student
Crossing the finishing line knowing I'd completed my first UCI tour.
Patrick telling me we had one lap less to do on the last day.
Astrid Wingler (44, second oldest women in the race) University lecturer
On the first day after getting dropped and thinking it was all over, I got in a small group and spotted the green jerseys of Vittoria and Hannah in the group ahead and caught up with them. Even better when Jeanette managed to soon join us.
That and sitting down for a civilised cup of tea after the first stage.
Steve Bailey, Team manager
Having all five riders finish the race without any major incidents!
Patrick Trainor, Mechanic
Having no mechanicals the entire race and the amazing team spirit throughout the race. The daily team car radio check with all the different languages reaffirming what a multi-national event this was .
Thomas Wallenda, Soigneur
I enjoyed every minute of the five days (besides a few moments of dodgy 80’s music while driving)
Besides seeing everyone finish the race, being at the feed stops seeing the green CTC jerseys safely turn up and not missing any bottles.
Team CTC would like to thank all their sponsors for making this trip happen:
Green Energy UK www.greenenergy.uk.com
Butterworth Spengler Insurance Group www.butterworthspengler.co.uk
Madison UK www.madison.co.uk
Merlin Cycles www.merlincycles.com