By Kimberley Wells
I’ve recently returned from Doha, Qatar with fellow High5 teammates Georgia Baker, Kendelle Hodges and Jessica Mundy where we represented Australia in the four-day, UCI Ladies Tour of Qatar. After racing through the brutal cross winds of the Qatari desert I found myself falling asleep to the sound of the grand piano and awakening to the strums of the harp because the entire peloton was housed in style at the Sheraton hotel. When we weren’t playing gutter ball in crosswinds and attempting to keep up with the car convoy to get home, we were grazing through buffet breakfasts, peering at delicate desserts, floating in the pool and soothing our tired legs at the private beach. I guess my expectations of athlete housing have now been turned on their head.
The take home message about racing in Qatar is that racing through the flat desert is dictated by the wind. As the tour progressed, I observed a direct correlation between the increasing amounts of wind and the growing smile on Martin Barras’ face (Orica-AIS). In fact, any Dutchies would have that same glimmer in their eyes with the mention of the word, ‘cross winds’. These winds can shatter the bunch in seconds and if you’re not riding good position when the peloton splits up, your race can be over in a matter of moments.
Our Australian team was that of a development bunch, testing ourselves against the best cyclists and teams in the world. Personally there were some gut wrenching moments of missing the daily break, crashing and missing the cuts and puncturing at critical race moments. But through adversity I quickly learned the good wheels to follow and tuned my gut-sense of the Qatar-style racing. This evolution allowed me to finally expend the energy required at the right time, making the front echelon cuts (even though they sat up) and being better positioned for the sprint in stage four. I finished the tour wishing there were six stages instead of four – my mind and body had finally clicked into what it would take to win a stage in Qatar. Just give me that chance now!
The tour evolved into a GC battle between fellow Australian, Chloe Hosking (Wiggle Honda) and the tag-team of Lizzie Armitstead and Ellen Van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans), with the aggressive racing tactics from Orica-AIS punctuating windy sections of the race.
The tour was run like clockwork by the organisers of the Tour de France (ASO). Interestingly, Qatar will play host to the 2016 Road World Championships where cyclists will battle in the desert for the coveted rainbow stripes.
Whilst I’m walking away with a best stage finish of 11th at my first UCI tour, I can say with assurance that it has only made me hungrier for more. Dessert or deserts; you decide.