The Spring Classics are over and tour season has begun. While the men prepare for the Tour de France, the women prepare for the Giro d’Italia Femminile. Likewise, while the men test their form at the Dauphine, many women test their legs at Emakumeen Euskal Bira. Needless to say, Bigla was there for business.
The hammer dropped in the race 2km before the race’s biggest climb. We had planned before the race that, even though it was during the first stage and early in the tour, the 8km climb was too good of an opportunity to pass up. The moment arose and every Bigla girl got to the front. We formed together and hammered up the pace, putting every other rider under pressure and every other team on the back foot. At 2km out from the climb, we had caught people snoozing.
The bunch shattered on the climb and I launched an attack that set up the GC for the rest of the race. Eventually it was Kasia Niewiadoma and I with an advantage and, although we were later joined by Emma Johansson and the eventual stage winner Megan Guarnier, a rivalry had been struck.
For the rest of the tour, I was tied up in a classic cycling duel. With the same time in the prologue, we were both hunting for an advantage over the other. We were both aggressive on the climbs and even on the flats. It was attack, counter attack. Sprint for sprint. Neck and neck. pedal stroke for pedal stroke. I was tied up in the kind of exciting cycling we all love to watch on television. It felt surreal and all too real at the same time.
By the last stage, I could feel fatigue growing in my legs but, as much as I wanted the win, I didn’t want to let the team down even more. We had made it very clear we were riding as a team, and that meant I had to stay strong. I wasn’t fighting the GC battle alone by any measure.
It came down to the bitter end. When the breakaway was caught at 36km to go on the final stage, Annemiek jumped off the front and kick started the action just before the final climb. We all knew the climb was a chance to get away and Emma, Megan, Anna van der Breggen, Evelyn Stevens, and, of course, Kasia in yellow and myself, got away. Kasia attacked on the ascent; not once, not twice, but three times. I followed closely every time and our group of five came towards the finish for a sprint.
I’ve never wanted one second so badly. There is a difference between sprinting for a stage win and sprinting for a stage race GC victory. In the end, I was beaten out in the sprint and the final GC results placed me in second, one second behind Kasia. I found myself thinking about many “if only” situations, about all the small changes I can make for marginal gains. I wanted to bring the win to the team. I wanted to do better after all they had given for me, after everything we had worked for and accomplished together. Second in a big stage race is fantastic, but I think I’ll always be hunting for that one second. Good thing it’s still tour season.