From interviewing riders to recceing the course and swotting up on stage notes, cycling journalist and commentator Rebecca Charlton’s schedule is jam-packed this week as she covers one of the biggest and exciting women’s cycling events on the pro cycling circuit: the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, which runs from 13 – 17 June.
Despite her non-stop schedule, Rebecca somehow found time to squeeze in writing a guest post for me during Wednesday’s opening stage from Framlington to Southwold. Here, the avid cyclist and OVO Energy ambassador shares a behind-the-scenes look at her hectic day commentating, reporting, and interviewing the pro peloton’s leading female cyclists.
THE OVO ENERGY WOMEN’S TOUR
When the Women’s Tour launched its inaugural event in 2014, it fast secured its spot on the calendar as the stage race in which the best of the professional peloton wanted to compete. Earlier this year, title sponsor OVO Energy confirmed the news that there will be complete parity in prize money between the Women’s Tour and the men’s Tour of Britain, and that’s a pretty special and significant development. This field is simply the best in the world and we’ve had a different overall winner in each of the previous editions – Marianne Vos, Lisa Brannauer, Lizzie Deignan and Kasia Niewiadoma – with varied team approaches since the inaugural event in 2014 which, to me, indicates that this can be a really unpredictable and exciting GC (general classification) battle.
Early start and race day prep
My day starts at 6am. When you’re the broadcast host you tend to be one of the first up in the morning. While I might like to roll out of bed and head straight to breakfast, my first jobs in front of the camera often start early and making myself presentable is part and parcel, along with prepping notes and getting up to speed on any unforeseen developments. My hotels are often a little way from the stage start, based on various factors such as interviews and feature locations from the day before. There are many logistical considerations to think about when you’re following an ever-moving race!
Today I started in Melton and travelled to Framlingham Castle first thing (Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill, by the way) and after the stage we’ll drive another three hours to the stage 2 start in Rushden with an eclectic mix of music on the way – surprisingly no Ed Sheeran today.
After I open the programme on the start line of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour there’s a lot of time spent in cars. There’s radios buzzing, Twitter feeds cascading and I’ll be watching what’s going on out on the road like a hawk, wherever possible! I tend to have my brain ticking on several elements at any one time. There’s always pre-race interviews in the morning, a transition to the end of the stage, or a stint in a team car, voiceovers to record, links to film and of course the interviews immediately after the stage. There’s never a dull moment and it’s full on.
I’m also hosting the highlights programme on ITV4 each night at 9pm from June 13th to the 17th. I’ll be chatting to riders, stage winners, key contenders and bringing you the lowdown on each day of the 2018 OVO Energy Women’s Tour.
A tough course with a brilliant atmosphere
You can recce a stage but you cannot beat the atmosphere on race day. The fans line the roads in anticipation, waiting for a glimpse of their favourite rider. The noise is incredible and we’re often shouting above the volume of the crowds at the stage start. Music banging, crowds roaring. Brilliant.
This year’s course is tough, in fact each year I think the Women’s Tour route extends in some way. Today was a relatively flat sprinters’ stage and finished up as we all predicted in a bunch gallop up the finishing straight, into a headwind on the Southwold promenade. I had butterflies in my stomach as the riders made that final 90 degree turn into the sight of the finish-line crowds. It’s such a special event and seeing a women’s stage race of this size, organisation and calibre here in the UK is something I dreamt of as a young girl.
Jolien D’hoore of Mitchelton Scott took the win today – something we may not have expected so early on, not because she isn’t a favourite but because just three weeks ago she suffered a broken collarbone! Today was incredibly impressive, showing her resilience and quick return to form.
The ones to watch
I’m really excited to watch Canyon-SRAM’s Hannah Barnes this year. I’ve watched her career for so many years and she is such a classy rider, ever present at the sharp-end and making some seriously gutsy and powerful moves on the world stage in recent years. In last year’s edition she finished third and will undoubtedly want to move up those steps.
Waowdealsstar Marianne Vos has been plagued with injury but she’s back and has been training at altitude so keep an eye on the 2014 overall winner. Watch out for world champion Chantal Blaak, teammate at Boels-Dolmans of Lizzie Deignan who won’t be in attendance as she’s expecting her first child this year. There are so many contenders and ones to watch when it comes to individual stage wins, jersey classifications and the GC. Vos’s teammate and Olympic gold medallist Dani Rowe has been a key animator on the road of late and don’t forget to look out for British teams Storey Racing, WNT Rotor and Trek-Drops.
Winner interviews then on to the next stage
When you’re the host broadcaster you will always chat to the race winner straight after the stage. The mixed zone is where the world’s press gather in order to grab the riders of the day and get their news pieces turned around quickly. It looks hectic but the cycling industry is a close-knit one and there’s so much respect, it’s a fantastic world to work in and although you’re running around, it’s a chance to see those familiar faces.
When you see a rider take a stage win or the overall leaders jersey we’re witness to the spectacular podium presentation as the riders spray the champagne and take a glug. We’re all buzzing, the riders, race organisation and the press – there’s nothing like it. The reality for the riders is that, after that moment, it’s back to discipline, a modest celebratory toast over a nutritious meal with the team, a massage and an early night. If the riders were to get straight to the bar they wouldn’t perform the next day and on a Women’s World Tour stage race such as the OVO Energy Women’s Tour there’s so much at stake that the dedication of the peloton is second to none.
I wrap up my day at around 11pm. Now, I’m not claiming my legs are hurting like the pro’s, but as a broadcaster your days are long and you’re purely focused on the job at hand so it’s a wrap up for the day and then a race to the hotel room to gain some sleep before another early start. My contact lenses need a minimum of seven hours to diffuse in their solution – on a stage race that’s a big ask! Another reason to get some early shut-eye.
The last thing you want as press is to become unwell when you’re on tour and around the peloton who are pushing themselves to the limit! You’ve really got to look after yourself and those around you in order for everyone to stay at the top of their game.
Above all though, it’s an incredible experience to be on the road with the OVO Energy Women’s Tour. Every day is exciting, different and unpredictable and that’s why I love my job. Even if sleep is sparse at times!
On that note, I’m off to bed…
Rebecca Charlton is an ambassador for OVO Energy, the UK’s largest independent energy technology company and proud sponsor of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour: http://www.ovoenergy.com.