Join us as we return to our favourite episodes from the 2018 season, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas.

The Women’s Tour Stage 3

2018 has been a big year for The Cycling Podcast Féminin, and one I’ve enjoyed immensely. The biggest development has been welcoming Rose Manley to the team, who is such a perfect fit that it seems strange to think that Richard and I ever did the podcast without her. We went to more races, gave the ‘Grand Tour treatment’ to the Women’s Tour for the first time, and were able to cover the women’s World Championship races in a way that was equal to the men’s. There have been so many highlights to choose from, but the episode that really stands out for me was the day I spent in the Trek Drops car with team manager Bob Varney and mechanic Mike Jenner at The Women’s Tour.

Stage three wasn’t just any stage of the race, but the longest day of racing in the entire calendar, and it was one in which the Trek Drops team suffered immensely. The day started with Abi Van Twisk forced to succumb to the injuries sustained in a dramatic crash on stage one, heading to the train station after breakfast, rather than the start line. Hannah Payton had spent much of the previous evening in the bathroom, a stomach complaint draining her of both energy and any ingested sustenance. She did manage to start, but her hopes for the day were simply of survival, with the team needing all remaining womanpower to consolidate Eva Burman’s top 10 position.

As it turned out, while Hannah Payton didn’t make it to the finish, DNS’s and DNF’s were only the beginning of the team’s woes for the day.

An early crash saw Manon Lloyd suffer a fractured pelvis, though it wouldn’t be diagnosed for several days, with 125km of racing still to do. Spat out the back of the race, Manon faced a long, solo battle on what were now open roads, physically and psychologically isolated, with only a police escort out front, and Bob’s words of encouragement from the race car behind to get within touching distance of the coat tails of the race.

Bob’s compassion and understanding, while coaxing Manon through every turn, every roundabout, past every pothole, told of humanity on the inside of professional sport that we, as bystanders, rarely get to see from the outside. Manon’s determination to keep racing as the crowds on either side of the road were packing up to go home, as she was cut-off from race radio and any indication of how much longer she would have to struggle in the saddle alone, and the physical and mental strength she showed in getting back to the gruppetto, provided one of those countless stories of a race that are so often lost in the glory and drama of the race to the line, but which make up the beautiful, complex tapestry of professional racing.

This was cycling stripped bare. No press officers to put a sheen on the suffering, no tinted windows of a team bus to hide behind. This was suffering and compassion writ large, and it was a privilege to witness it, and remember why we, as fans of the sport, love it in all its glory, all its brutality and all its unsung heroics.

by Orla Chennaoui

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