Pro cyclist and two-time French National Time Trial champion, Audrey Cordon-Ragot captained the Wiggle High5 Pro Women’s Cycling Team going into last week’s OVO Energy Women’s Tour. After taking the Queen of the Mountains jersey on day one, she dominated the hill climbs to retain it throughout the 5-stage women’s cycling race and be crowned overall Queen of the Mountains.
I caught up with Audrey in London where the team were relaxing by the Wiggle Team Bus an hour ahead of the final stage, stage 5, of The Women’s Tour. The crit race. A fast, flat 10 laps of the 6.2km circuit and a stark comparison to the hilly Derbyshire route of the previous day’s Stage 4 (arguably the toughest stage with more than 2000m of climbing.)
So how was Audrey feeling? We chat tired legs, challenging climbs and fuelling for epic Tour stages.
Yesterday’s Stage 4 was very hilly. How did it compare to the rest of The Women’s Tour stages so far?
Yesterday was harder for sure – it was really hard from the start of the race. We had to be really focused as the first Queen of the Mountains section was 24km into the race, so we really had to look at it and then ride in front. And with the rain it was also really dangerous so we needed to be focused and to concentrate. So yes, that was probably what was different to the other days where we were waiting and challenging at times. Yesterday we were really fighting for it.
This year’s Women’s Tour is longer. Can you feel it in your legs?
Yes, really we can feel it! Actually, here in Great Britain the surface of the road is really different to the other countries, and you can really feel it that it’s harder. And obviously the stages were so long. A 150 km stage is really not common for women’s cycling; it’s more around 130km. Day-after-day you’re feeling it in your legs and you’re tired…. It was really hard to wake-up in the morning. And also the starts have been really early for us, so everything together was hard!
So has it been early starts every day so far in the Tour?
Every day accept today, actually. So it was quite okay today as we could sleep until 8.30pm, but the other days it was like, 6.30am, 7am starts every day. So when you have a long day, it’s really tough.
You look fresh considering all the miles in your legs…
I don’t think I’m so fresh! My legs are sooooo [tired]… I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee!
What have you been doing to recover after each stage finishes?
Actually, the evenings go quite fast because after the finish it’s maybe 3pm/4pm and you need to travel for 2 hours driving in the car [to the next stage], so it’s not always easy to do things to recover. But then you arrive at your hotel, you have a massage, you have food and you go straight to sleep! It’s quite a random tradition, but recovering and going to sleep is the most important thing.
Photo Credit: Jack Chevell
How do you recover nutrition-wise after a big stage?
We’re very lucky to be sponsored by High5 and they do some really good recovery products, so every time after the finish line I have this recovery shake High5 Protein Recovery which comes in chocolate and vanilla. It helps a lot to make sure that glycogen stores are better and full again for the next day.
What do you tend to have for breakfast before a race? What did you have this morning?
Actually, as it’s the last day we all took an easy breakfast today, not worrying too much about what we needed to eat, but more about what we wanted to eat! So taking a bit of pleasure in eating breakfast and having the late start meant we could just relax a bit. So it was easy today, to ease the pressure and have fun.
Personally, I usually have pasta for breakfast before a race. I know in the morning at 7am it’s not always easy to eat pasta, but that’s the meal that gives me the most energy and power, so I’m going to have that. Some of the girls have porridge, others have normal breakfast cereal. We’re all different, but personally I have pasta!
Do you have to take on a certain amount of calories during a race?
Yeah, we’re trying to feed ourselves quite a lot because it’s so important – if you don’t feed yourself in the first hour for example, you’ll need some energy before the end. So, today it’s a short race – 60km, isn’t a lot – so maybe we’d have one gel during the race to get the energy in. But in the 150km stages, you need to get a feed like every 15 or 20 minutes.
And would that all be via energy gels?
I would start with normal food, like sandwiches, and then finish with gels. When you’re going a bit harder you have gels because they’re easy to take and also give you a lot of sugar.
As this is a big stage for the Team, do you get nervous? Have you any strategies for staying calm and focused before a stage?
I think the technique we have is to all stay together [as a team] and to have jokes and fun.
And try to relieve the pressure. But sometimes we are a bit stressed, like today – it’s a big day for us, we have two of the best sprinters in the world so we know we can win. And we need to be there as teammates doing everything we can during the race to make them comfortable during the sprint. So yeah, I’m a bit stressed! But the environment here is so good and everyone is happy to be together, which helps us feel more relaxed.
We are just happy to be here, it’s a really nice day and it’s the last day, so we have fun – that’s the most important thing, having fun. And then that helps with the confidence.
What about pre-race rituals – do you have any?
Yeah, I would say that when we arrive around 1-1.5 hours before a race I would pin my number, make sure I have food in my pockets and get dressed. We have the briefing with the DS who will go through with us the key points of the course – testing the radios to make sure we hear everything in the race. Then going to the start and making sure we have ten minutes on the line to breathe and get focused on the race.
Do you ever make notes about the race?
Yeah, we also make tape notes, which go on the handlebars, where we have the key points of the course, such as the dangers you can find on the course, any tight corners, and things like that.
Photo Credit: Jack Chevell
Which has been your favourite stage of the tour so far?
I think yesterday [stage 4] was my favourite. It was the hardest one – really hard – but the most aggressive one, where you can really do the race and show the strength of women’s cycling in general. It was also really nice to see all the people there to watch the race – the biggest crowds.
You did the Tour de Yorkshire women’s race in April. How did that compare to the hilly climbs in Stage 4 of the Peak District yesterday?
It’s quite similar, yeah. The really big climb we had in Yorkshire was harder than what we had yesterday, but we only had the one really hard climb [in the TdY]. But yesterday was like the whole race was really hard. But overall it’s really similar – the roads and the crowd and the countryside. I really like this area [Yorkshire and Derbyshire], actually.
Do you feel women’s cycling should be publicised more?
Yeah, but I really feel like in Great Britain it’s improving so fast – compared to France, for example. In France, we don’t have that much coverage. We have really nice races, but I have more interviews here in Great Britain than in France. We have a big road tour race in France where I should be more in the limelight but we are more popular here in Great Britain. So yeah, I think the Women’s Tour is a chance for women’s sport in general and to show that women are able to ride a bike and do sports, and show that we are giving 100% of ourselves.
Are you flying home to France straight after today’s race?
I’m flying tomorrow for France, where I’m living in Bretagne (Brittany) in the west of France. It’s not far from here, it’s really close. Perhaps the closest region but we have really bad transfers, so I fly tomorrow and have an easy night here.
Is Brittany a good area for cycling?
It’s actually one of the best regions for cycling in France where we have the most, and biggest, races for women. So the World Cup, and last week we had two UCI races. So cycling is quite big in Brittany. I’m really lucky to live there – it’s really similar to GB with the countryside; up and down but not too hard.
Do you ever go further south and do the classic big French climbs – Mt Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez?
I’m not really a mountain climber, but I’m more a climber for this kind of stage race – so steep and short. We’re going to do the Giro, the Tour of Italy, in two weeks now and it’s something that’s more fitting for Elisa. I will be there for sure to help her as long as I can, but I’m not the type of rider that does the long climbs.
What’s your favourite kit to race in?
Actually I have two different kits to race. I have one with a skinsuit; a one-piece which is more for the type of race today, which is a fast race where you’re on the aero. For a normal race, we would have the shorter bibs and the jersey, the normal one. But today, they didn’t give me a skinsuit, so I’m not racing in it!
You can follow Audrey’s racing and training on www.instagram.com/cordonragot and www.twitter.com/cordonragot. For more information on the Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling Team visit www.wigglehigh5.com. Big thanks to www.wiggle.com for the access.