Julie Erskine on the Tour of Norway

Sitting in Oslo airport waiting for my flight home it’s a good time to reflect on the past few days racing the Ladies Tour of Norway. What an ace experience, I’ve learnt so much and definitely gained confidence racing at this level with some of the best riders in the world!

First things first I need to say some big thank yous to the people who made the trip possible. The Racing Chance Foundation, a charity supporting women’s cycling and providing opportunities for women to race across all levels of the sport. Heather Bamforth. Rene Groot. Alan Gornall and Steev Davidson for being the team’s most excellent support crew. I really tried my best to keep Steev busy, thanks guys! The Fred Whitton Challenge. Thank you all!

I was meeting the team at Oslo airport to make the 2 hour drive to Halden, near the Norwegian-Swedish border, where race HQ was. Thankfully the hotel were very nice and provided dinner at 10:30pm, despite us being a couple of hours later than expected! Then it was straight to bed, leaving bike building til the morning.

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The stunning view outside our hotel front door in Halden. (© Julie Erskine)

 

Saturday morning. Breakfast eaten, bikes built, numbers pinned and bags packed we headed off to the race start, which was a 30 minute drive away. It was hot! Coming from Scotland where anything in double figures constitutes a warm day, racing in the mid to high 20s was going to be a bit of a shock to the system… It was also pretty windy and Alan advised us before the start that the wind would likely play a part so positioning would be key!

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The Racing Chance Foundation team lineup. (photo supplied by Julie/© LToN)

 

What surprised me most was the leisurely pace that the race started off at once the flag dropped. However never again will I say “I think this is the calm before the storm” because lo and behold almost as soon as those words had left my lips, everything went a little bit crazy! There was a special sprint at 20km, the border sprint, for the first crossing of the Norwegian-Swedish border. Attacks went in contesting the sprint but there was no let up. It just continued on to the first GPM (mountain points) at 32km. I found myself chasing wheels desperately trying to hold on as it strung out up the climb. Gaps opened up and I ended up in a small group chasing the main bunch up the road. Thankfully most riders in the group were willing to work so we formed an organised chase, riding through and off in pursuit of the bunch. The team cars then started to pass and I started to think “no this can’t be it, we can’t be dropped not even half way into the race!”. Cycling is a mental battle as well as a physical one so you can never let your mind tell you it’s over, never give up! We kept riding and soon reached the back of the convoy. Only for the commissaire to pull several of the cars over and a rider almost went into the back of one! There was then another gap to close up to the next lot of cars. Some more chasing. I couldn’t understand why half the cars had been pulled out, but later learned that there was a big enough group of us to ride back to the bunch that we weren’t going to get assistance from the cars. As soon as we made it back to the bunch, I rode right towards the front for safety. So if the pace was to kick off again at least I’d have some slipping room and wouldn’t be punted off the back! Thankfully things had calmed down a bit but not for long…

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On the start line for Stage 1. (photo supplied by Julie/© LToN)

Rene had made us stickers for our top tubes that detailed where all the sprints and GPMs were, thanks Rene! So the pace ramped up again as we neared the first sprint. Having the effort of the last chase in my legs I desperately tried to hold the wheels. A lot of precious matches were being burned!

Come the next GPM I got myself into a much better position before we hit the climb, so I had that bit of slipping room. This time the pace up the climb was much more controlled with one of the big teams sitting on the front dictating the pace.

As it was so hot, drinking was crucial especially if you wanted to remain in some sort of hydrated state for the following day! I’d finished one bottle and sensing a lull in the bunch I drifted to the back and stuck my hand in the air holding my bottle. This lets the commissaire know to radio your team car up so you can get a fresh bottle. I checked with my team mates around me to see if they needed but they were ok so no sticking bottles down the back of my jersey this time. I just hoped that the pace would stay as it was and not suddenly ramp up as I was just off the back at the car. However a few other riders had also decided it was a good time to get bottles, including some from the bigger teams so I knew it would stay fairly controlled.

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Riding the finishing circuit pavé. (photo supplied by Julie/© LToN)

The last sprint points were to be contested when we hit the finishing circuit. The road back towards Halden, the town where the finish was, was very exposed with a pretty savage crosswind. The pace ramped up and the bunch was strung out in the gutter. I just focused on holding the wheel in front and hoped that I didn’t have to close any gaps if someone in front dropped a wheel.

The finishing circuit was quite technical with hairpin bends, sharp corners and cobbles. We arrived part way round the circuit with the last sprint prime over the finish line where it was then 3 full laps of the circuit to go. Small gaps were opening up and I managed to catch a group of 3 or 4 riders just in front. We were working well together but just couldn’t quite close to the lead group up the road. We kept riding though, to limit the time gap going into stage 2. The circuit was actually quite fun! A bit like a crit at the end of a long race but it definitely helped to improve my cornering. It was take a corner at speed with the correct line or get dropped! I think it’s safe to say that I was very glad to hear the bell for the last lap and then cross the finish line. 114km in the legs, pretty knackered but having learned loads, it was time to recover and focus on stage 2 the next morning.

More on the Tour of Norway from Julie soon!

Read more from Julie

 

RCFWho are the Racing Chance Foundation?

“The Racing Chance Foundation is a charity registered in England and Wales which was set up in April 2014 to provide an alternative pathway for women in competitive cycling. We focus on road-based events, providing training and racing opportunities from novice through to elite level.” Read more

 

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Brits at the Tour of Norway