A team of a six-strong junior women were selected for the two day Stage race for junior women in Zottegam, Belguim.
Ciara Doogan (second last year), Emily Birchall, Shauna McFadden, Shenna McKivergan, Eimear Harrison and Nicole Gorry made the trip, funded and organised by the Women’s Commission, with team manager Mary Hunter and mechanic Ken Farrar.
Following an early start (4.45am at Dublin airport) the team arrived in Belgium tired but excited the village of Brakel and headed for much needed food in a local café. Following a spot of shopping, manager Mary Hunter sorted dinner out and the girls spent a relaxed evening bonding as a team.
The next morning the girls set off to Zottegam, where they rode a lap of Stage 1 and a lap of Stage 2 with some Dutch girls. Nerves were settled and the team got a good feel for the course.
After dinner they settled down to a relaxed evening playing cards. Great craic was had and the team had really started to come together as a unit. Feeding and hydration strategies for the race the next day (it was 26 degrees!) were discussed and they had an early night in preparation for the race the next day.
The girls rode out easy the next morning, as the start line was only 11k away, with mechanic Ken Farrar following in the van. Race tactics were discussed, and the girls decided what jerseys they were going to aim for, Emily put herself forward for the climbing jersey, Shauna and Nicole decided to work together for the white jersey with Sheena and Eimear to stay at the front to watch the moves.
On the 3rd lap Eimear got caught up in a crash on the cobbles, but got back on and continued. Emily was going great on the climbing G.C., in second place after the first stage, and Ciara was going for primes (taking second in the first one) for time bonuses and finished in 4th on GC.
Shauna also put up a good fight for the white jersey and was in contention with the leader after Stage 1. She finished in 8th in the first year junior category after the first day.
The girls were happy with their performances, having put themselves in body bags all day, with Ciara, Emily and Shauna finishing just 10 seconds behind the leader in a bunch down the road. They we were lagging just behind a t00-strong British Cycling teams of six riders.
Back to the accommodation for dinner, more team building card games and an early night as tiredness was kicking in. Kit was prepared, bikes washed, cleaned and fixed up for the next day. Discussions were had and plans made for the next day’s racing. Now a team of 5 riders, without Nicole, it was decided that Sheena and Eimear would ride for Ciara and Emily and Shauna would combat all the moves whilst going for the white jersey herself. The girls were sitting third in the team classification.
The same routine followed the next day, the girls rode out for their warm up, with Ken following in the van. Once again Emily was getting stuck in up the front with Ciara and Shauna sat comfortably in the bunch. Eimear lost contact on the first lap, suffering in the heat, and had to pull out on the second lap. Sheena lost contact with a chasing group but after absolutely emptying herself she had to pull out on the fourth lap, lacking road miles in the legs after concentrating on track all year.
Nicole was feeding the rest of riders and they all seemed to be going well until the last lap. Ciara had an unfortunate crash but Ken was quick to get the bike sorted and she got back onto the peloton quickly, keeping calm and riding strongly to get back on.
By this stage the two British cycling teams were controlling the race, constantly sending riders off the front. It was hard going for the three Irish girls left to keep covering attacks and attack off the front in the face of a 12 strong British cycling squad. Emily drove hard on the front to bring down the gap of a break, but unfortunately they got ahead over the line by just a few seconds.
Ciara came in in the GC leaders groups and did extremely well to finish 11th in a race there the standard is improving every year. Shauna also took a top 20 with 17th in the first year junior’s category. Emily also made good on her ambition with second in the mountains classification.
The girls rode extremely strongly. They left absolutely everything on the road and couldn’t have pushed themselves any harder. The effects of three riders riding against a team of twelve were clearly visible, making Ciara’s 11th all the more remarkable. The girls clearly gave absolutely everything they had in the race. Two British cycling girls took the top spots, Emily Dickinson in first place with Jessica Roberts in second. Dutch girl Lorena Wiebes rounded out the podium.
After a hefty feed and another night of card games the team headed out the next day for a bit of culture to Ouudenarde to see Tour of Flanders museum, which everyone enjoyed. Bodies were recovering and everyone was looking forward to getting home and a good night’s sleep.
Overall it was a positive showing, and great preparation for Rás na mBan (with Ciara taking the county jersey on Stage 3) and the upcoming European Championships in France. It’s is also a positive outcome for the development teams, with five of the riders coming through them.