La Grande Boucle FÃ©minine Internationale is the womens Tour de France, and stage 2 is finishing just down the road at the Lacs de Haute Charante. My chance to go and see the worlds best women road racers in action.
The normally deserted causeway across the lake has been transformed into a 500m finishing straight complete with banners, podium, sound system, souvenir stall, and hundreds of people. The commentator tells us that the girls are around 30km away. Nicole Cooke and Priska Doppmann are off the front working hard together with a gap of 35seconds. There’s heavy showers, and as Celine Deone’s double entertains the crowd with songs I wonder if Nicole is enjoying the almost Welsh weather.
Current cycling champions of the Charente are presented for the crowds appreciation. Raymond Poulidor is there, along with a host of other cycling stars. Hey, and dont forget the mayor and the other dignified guests. All there to add weight and authenticity to the event.
Lead cars and motorbikes start to arrive, the atmoshere becomes electric. The head of the race drops onto the causeway. You can hardly see the two escapees for all the vehicules. They race toward the line. Cooke allows the higher placed overall Doppmann to take the win. No fuss, no bother, it’s teamwork, job done!
It’s over a minute before Alona Andruk brings home the bunch. OK, now it’s chaos. Riders everywhere with at least five languages going on at the same time, amonst photographers, motorbikes, helpers, coaches, and idiots like me! Oh, and a group of young French lads chasing after the girls asking if they can have their bidons.
I spot Nicole Cooke coming back along the road. Every few feet she pauses for photographers. She looks clean, fresh, and very happy. You’d never guess that shed just completed over 100km in heavy showers along rural French roads. The worlds number 1 ranked woman cyclist, what a star.