• It's not the regular team car for Waowdeals by any stretch, but they made do at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour (Jamie Finch-Penninger)Source: Jamie Finch-Penninger
During Stage 1 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, journalist Jamie Finch-Penninger got the opportunity to ride in the team car of Women's World Tour outfit Waowdeals.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
31 Jan 2018 - 11:24 AM  UPDATED 2 Feb 2018 - 2:14 PM

It’s a quiet atmosphere in the Waowdeals car, not tense, but with a certain anticipation as sports director Jeroen Blijlevens and mechanic Matijn van As wait for news to crackle through on the communal race radio. They are without a link directly to their riders, with the Herald Sun Tour too low a level to allow them.

“It’s a hard thing,” says Blijlevens, “the girls will have to work it out themselves on the road. We’ll have Jeanne (Korevaar) as the road captain, she’s the youngest but has a good head.”

Blijlevens is a former star of the road in his own right, winning stages in all three Grand Tours as part of his racing career during the nineties and noughties. He now imparts his knowledge to the Marianne Vos-led Dutch Waowdeals squad on the Women's World Tour.

The initial skirmishes at the front of the peloton produce a bit of bad luck, a puncture for Riejanne Markus and Martijn jumps out the car before it’s come to a halt, sprints forward, changes the rear and pushes Riejanne off.

An active start to the day but worse is to come as one of the team’s main hopes for the stage, Anouska Koster drops back to say her front derailleur isn’t working. That forces the team car to the side of the road to allow Martijn out to prep one of the spares in case Koster needs to swap.

The convoy passes the Waowdeals car by as Martijn works on adjusting the seat height and setup to Koster’s liking. Blijlevens hops out as well, not to assist but to flag down the trailing police car that marks the back of the convoy. Once back in the car he relates why he had to do that.

“Before in the Tour Down Under, we stopped then the police car passes us. So we’re in the normal traffic trying to get back to the convoy. Then we got back and the police car is blocking half the road and we have to keep beeping him to get let through.”

Not a situation you want with one of your riders stuck in the big chain ring and needing assistance, so he was extra cautious this time around and it’s a speedy jaunt back to the No.1 car position where Koster drops back. A bit of fiddling from Martijn, hanging out the side of the car doesn’t quite get the job done, so Koster has to stop and get a quick fix. She’s on the bike quickly and rejoins the peloton in a kilometre or two.

“You put these bikes in the truck and any knock can put some wires loose and you don’t realise until the race starts sometimes," explains Blijlevens.

It hasn’t hampered the race for Koster overly and the issue was dealt with speedily without any undue fuss. It’s part of the calm professionalism that a team car environment rarely has, many team cars run on adrenalin as much as petrol, but it’s not the case here.

Team directors come in different moulds, some ride every pedal stroke with their riders, but that’s not Blijlevens’s approach, noting everytime something happens in the race and giving his opinion on it, but never emotionally getting involved.

All the pressure, as he sees it, is on the Australian team Mitchelton-Scott.

“We come here and race,” says Blijlevens, “but for us, it’s more like pre-season. The riders, they’re out there and of course, they will race where they see opportunities. Our next race is at the end of February, so if we are good here, we are not good later.

“The Australian riders prepare for nationals, try hard to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. They are in good form and they are good quality riders also.

“The national team, they aren’t teammates normally and they have to compete for Commonwealth Games spots.

"You have to take results individually so they can’t ride as much as a team. Mitchelton-Scott ride as a team all the time, not just for a month.”

It’s an interesting year for the women’s side of the sport in Australia, the races are attracting more attention, prize money has been significantly increased at the Tour Down Under and a new race has been added, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. When asked about the spectre of prize money swaying the habits of the peloton, Blijlevens was unconvinced.

“Riders don’t make the calendar and book the races, team directors do. They want to have riders ready for Europe and it’s too early to come to Australia and do well later. There might be one or two teams more.”

Meanwhile, the race has been continuing apace, the peloton splinters midway up the first Queen of the Mountain point, coming back together only for race radio to report a large breakaway group of 12 forming off the front.

Jeanne Korevaar represents the team in the move, and the first questions to Martijn in the back with the teamsheet is who the Mitchelton-Scott riders are in the move.

Only one, Jenelle Crooks, and Blijlevens muses that Mitchelton-Scott will now have the take up the pace-making.

He turns out to be correct, Gracie Elvin and Jessica Allen return from a crash on the descent and go straight to the front and drive the peloton. They drive it all the way into the base of the final where the race splits again.

Weaving through dropped riders, it’s now a waiting game, there’s nothing to do except creep slowly along until the dropped riders are deemed safe to pass by the commissaires. Leapfrogging from group to group, passing a water bottle to a dropped Waowdeals rider along the way.

With only a slim idea of what’s happening up the road – race radio doesn’t always update the action in the most fluid manner – it appears that Waowdeals have a few riders close to the action at the front, in the main chasing group with attackers off the front.

“It’s a fast descent,” says Blijlevens, who reconnoitered the course earlier with the team.  “If you really go you can make a lot of time quite quickly.”

As the main chase group appears in between the bends, flashes of colour denoting the kit of each team and it’s clear that the group isn’t working together well. Surging and sitting up rather than driving consistently as World Time Trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten and relative unknown Brodie Chapman (Kordamentha national team) conduct their solo battle in front.

“Does she have a team, Chapman?,” asks Blijlevens, meaning a regular team outside of the national team set up. Always on the lookout for new talent.

Chapman solos to women's Herald Sun Tour lead
Brodie Chapman held off a charging Annemiek van Vleuten to win the first stage of the Women's Herald Sun Tour.

There’s not much to do but watch the back of the race into the finish, the director in the car can do only so much without radio communication to the team, a luxury not allowed at this level of racing.

The final sprint is watched on the live stream as the marshals divert the car off the course, the sprint is for third, taken out by Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) as Anouska Koster, the rider handicapped by mechanical problems at the start of the race, powers home for sixth place for Waowdeals.

The thing about being professional is that you turn up, do your job to the top level of your ability and get ready to do it all again tomorrow. Waowdeals never came to Australia expecting to beat in-form Australian riders, but they will have a lot to take away from the summer of cycling.

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