By Clara Hughes
There is a heat wave in Italy. It was as if the first five days of the Giro D’Italia Donne were raced in a wood burning pizza oven. Each day it feels like the cook adds more logs to the fire. It’s like racing in an inferno. Day #3 the team car dashboard read 49c. No joke.
The first day of the stage race it was scorching but we had a sea breeze almost making it tolerable. Being inland makes for oppressive and inescapable burn. I don’t know if I’ve ever taken in so much water and concoctions of electrolytes. Powders, tablets and liquid versions of what seems impossible levels to maintain. So far so good, though, for this red-head.
The plan of attack which seems to work so far has been to start with three bottles: one water, one EFS mix not too concentrated and then the ‘Evie bottle bomb’ I came to like when racing back in May. It was in the Exergy Tour in Idaho when my back was in so much pain that I couldn’t reach into my pockets after crashing that I gave The Bomb a try. Much to my surprise, it worked! The Bomb is named after Evie because Beth, our genius Goddess soigneur, came up with this solution for Evie back in April after she raced Tour of Flanders not eating a thing. Why? Because the race was and is absolute chaos and Evie just couldn’t get to her pockets for food. So Beth made her the monster drink that let her fuel for the intense races.
It’s basically a First Endurance liquid gel (vanilla) that has 400 calories mixed with water. Yes, that equals 4 gels in one bottle. Perfect for the first hour of racing. I go back and forth with The Bomb and the water bottle in the first hour and a half, then move on to EFS mix, gels and chews. And more water. Water on the head, on the back, in the mouth and down the hatch.
It works out like that most of the time. Only problem is when the bottle of water you get looks like water but is actually lemon lime flavored mix. And when you’re in a world of hurt like I was after leading Evie up the climb on day three to set up a moment to attack, and that leading took eleven kilometers of hard tempo to set her up….well in that situation I don’t really have the wherewith all to check if it’s actually water being handed up from the team car when it passes the implosion formerly known as me up the climb and offers me a drink.
This happened and our sweet mechanic Sebastien said ‘yes’ when I grunted ‘water’ as they passed me. The beautiful cold water (or so I thought) felt so good in my hand and even better on my head and neck. How refreshing! It even dripped onto my face into my Oakley sunglasses, but I did not care. Until I took a swig of the fluid and realized it was not water but lemon lime mix. Oh well. The cold did feel good.
And then there was yesterday when, again, we drilled it into the climb. The girls led Ina into the climb and it’s not too fun to be on Ina’s wheel when she is going until she blows and then have to take your turn doing the same. Ina is too strong at the worst of times and I could only whisper ‘a little slower?’ when on her wheel I was hurting so much. I was the last to lead our Evie in pink up the 10km ascent called I don’t know what because all of these towns and cols are melding into one at this point.
Yes, that ‘lead out’ that left me gasping for air and moaning in agony. How embarrassing is it when you are in such a state of hurt- like in a time trial or sometimes on the trainer in the basement- that you just scream out the pain because no one is around to hear. Well this time I had the world’s best climbers all behind me when I was grunting and groaning up that climb in the heat of the scorcher of a day. And there was Evie behind me, whispering ‘just a little longer Clara…just a little further…..you can do it….just a little more…..’ and I am screaming in front like I am about to keel over.
My prayers to the cycling gods were answered when Emma Pooley of AA Drink attacked and I went ka-boom. Emma was my goddess that day because finally I could stop the torture. I could stop the pain of producing the power and gasp for some air for myself.
The funny thing was, today, in the flat as a pancake race that saw us creeping through the countryside being Tiffany Cromwell of Greenedge Orica who must have been in a world of hurt herself some twelve minutes in front of us, Emma came to say hello.
‘Clara, how was the climb for you yesterday, were you okay? There were some awful sounds coming from you….I felt bad to attack but to be honest I wanted to put you out of that misery…it sounded like you were giving birth!!’
Emma is from England so it was even more funny hearing this with an English accent. She also weighs about the same as one of my legs. Not one of my speed skating legs, but one of my cycling legs, which is a lot less baggage. Oh, if these little climber girls could only feel the weight of 67 kilos going up those climbs instead of the barely 50kg they don’t even know they enjoy.
And that’s the Giro in a nutshell. This is a race that has some beautiful courses, some epic days with climbs and heat and chaos, and we as cyclists come in all shapes and sizes. What is so unique about this sport is that one can feel like a winner in contributing to the success of other’s abilities. We all punch above or below our weight at times when we help our climbers soar and our sprinters fly.
Evie won a stage and we had the pink jersey for a day, and we all shared this with her.
It’s been a great Giro so far. Now that it cooled down to 33c today it might be even pleasant. Yes, we’ve stayed hydrated, taken the ice baths when there is ice, the cold towels. And the times Beth has gone, like today, to nine different cafes and bars to get little bags of ice from each as she waited for us to finish today (little sacs of treasure because ice is so hard to come by here…and she only got charged by one them…) all of this has allowed us to stay as cool as we can. It’s payed off.
And then there are the nice moments like today when we reached our new hotel that is in another city I cannot remember the name of except that it’s close to Bologna which reminds me of bolony and the only reason I remember the name. Today in our room on the bed there was a big bottle of water and a little Kinder chocolate bar for each of us from Olli and Sebastien our mechanics. Or maybe from Beth or Nicole our soigneurs. Or perhaps from Jens our director. It wouldn’t surprise me if it came from all of them because they show us every day just how much they care about us.
Five days down, four to go for our team. Can’t wait to see how Evie does!