Kirsten Wild previews the 2014 Ladies Tour of Qatar for the Café

Wouter Roosenboom

The Ladies Tour of Qatar, on 4th-7th February, is the traditional season-opener for the women's peloton, and it's always one of the most exciting races of the year, giving us the chance to see the new teams in action for the first time. Last year, Kirsten Wild won the race in spectacular fashion - so who better to preview this year's race for the Café? We caught up with her to talk desert racing, having her 2013 season interrupted by injury - and coming back stronger - racing for Liv-Shimano, and more!

PdC: What’s it like racing Qatar?  If someone has never seen this race before, why should they watch it?

Kirsten: It’s not much different to riding in Holland, except the fields aren’t green, the fields are sand!

People should watch it because it’s exciting racing - as you saw last year, it’s always interesting.  All the girls from the top teams are there, the standards are very high, and all the girls are motivated because it’s the first race of the season.

PdC: How is it to ride – you know all about the roads by now, but how do you approach it?

Kirsten: You always know that something will happen into the corners.  It’s like in Italy, you always have to look out for the cobbles, but here you have to count on the wind.   You just take a look at what the wind’s doing, and check how it affects the course.  It is mostly just long, straight roads, but a lot of wind.  For example, on one stage last year, the headwind meant that for the first part of the race we were riding at 19km an hour! But after 30km, you turn left and have a side-wind, and the race explodes.

PdC: So you need to be race to the front for the corners?

Kirsten: Everybody knows we’re riding to this corner, and everybody knows this corner is as important as the final.

The course is nice because the roads are very wide, there is enough space so everybody can go for these places.  It’s not like racing in Belgium, where there’s only enough space for three or four riders.  There’s also a bit of a physical part, so you have to be strong enough to make sure you are there at the good moment, and get a good position, but the other thing is that if you can get a good position and you’re feeling good, you’re there!

PdC: And what’s the atmosphere when you get there, as the first race of the season?

Kirsten: It’s nice to see the other competitors and how they’re doing.  I know some of the girls have been racing in Australia, but that’s also a very different kind of competition.  I don’t know their form, but I’m really excited!

PdC: There’ll be all the changes - new kits, new teams…

Kirsten: I think I have to study a bit!  Which kit and which team everyone is in! No, I know most of the girls quite well.

PdC: Last year was so exciting – I especially loved Stage 2, when you were out in the break with Ellen van Dijk, Trixi Worrack, Chloe Hosking and almost all of ORICA-AIS.  You rode that stage really hard, chasing down so many attacks, it was a lot of fun to watch, but what was it like to race?

Kirsten: That was actually terrible, because I kept chasing over and over, and I kept thinking "this is not possible, but OK, I’ll keep trying – oh, there’s another attack, woah, ok, ok, keep trying – oh, another one, cool!" It’s a bit like surprising yourself, thinking this is not possible – and then it was!

PdC: People on twitter were saying you were riding it like a Points Race on the track, and that they thought you were about to take a lap!

Kirsten: Yeah, that’s what it felt like! It was bit of the same feeling, maybe – looking, countering...

PdC: I think a lot of people watched it who don’t usually watch women’s racing, and were really surprised, and amazed you could do that.

Kirsten: I just did my job, I had no other option.  It’s not something you think about before, it’s in the moment, and you have to do it.  I was the only one from my team in the front, and I was riding for GC, so I had to stay there, I had to close everything.  Once you countered a few attacks, you wonder when the next one will come, and you’re looking, and you just see somebody going.  You have to, there’s no thinking, there’s just going.

PdC: Of course, you won that stage, so when it came to Stage 3 and you were out in a break again, did it give you confidence or a psychological advantage over the others?

Kirsten: You know one day it’s been possible, but I didn’t think about it like that  – I thought maybe they’d ride it differently, too.  It gives you confidence when you see it’s possible, but it also makes me scared, thinking "I don’t know if I can do it again, I was so dead yesterday, it’s impossible to recover from that."  A little bit of both!

PdC: I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the other riders attacking on those stages, especially ORICA-AIS on Stage 2 – you’d think you could get away after the 20th attack, but every time they turned around, there must have been you on their wheel.

Kirsten: Yeah, it must be a bit annoying!

PdC: Did you enjoy that?

Kirsten: Yeah, sometimes I was feeling "ha! I’m still here!", but the other times I was a bit scared, with six of them from the same team, and all of them so strong.  It’s not like I had time to relax at all.  You have to play the game all the time.

PdC: And then the final stage, watching the way your team worked with you to win the stage in a different way, as well as to support your overall win – we’d really only seen you, from Argos-Shimano up ‘til then.

Kirsten: I think maybe I was in a bit better shape than the others, I don’t know - but they were helping all though – for example when I was in a break, the team were riding behind me, controlling the front, so for me it was perfect – I was out in the breakaway and they did such a good job behind.  You can never win alone, you always need a team, and the trust and the confidence of the team.

PdC: So you started the season winning at Qatar, and won Gent-Wevelgem and four stages at the Energiewacht Tour – but then you crashed in the middle of the season, in the Omloop van Borsele

Kirsten: Yeah, that wasn’t my luckiest race!

PdC: It should have been, you’ve won it so many times.  But you broke your shoulder in that crash and still finished in 20th place.  How did you manage to get to the end?

Kirsten: I don’t know why I carried on – I crashed and then the Director said get up and keep on trying, so I was "OK, I’ll keep trying".  I got a new bike, and it really hurt, but it’s normal that it hurts when you crash, I thought it was the usual kind of pain, but I was wrong!  I think you can stop thinking a little bit, if you crash and have a lot of adrenaline, but afterwards I don’t know why I continued, because it wasn’t the best idea.

PdC: I really felt for you, because you were one of the favourites to win the ChongMing Island World Cup

Kirsten: Yeah, I was off for four or five weeks with my arm in a sling, so I wasn’t able to ride my bike.  I was very, very disappointed because I lost one of my goals for the season.  It was the first thing I asked the doctor, "do you think I can go to China to ride the World Cup in two weeks?" and he started laughing – no.

PdC: So many of the World Cups are for the climber types, and you were in such good form. But your team-mates Lucy Garner and Amy Pieters did so well in China, with Lucy winning the first day of the Stage race, and Amy coming third in the World Cup.

Kirsten: I was following them on twitter, from my bed, and I was so happy to see their results.  You know, for the team it’s important to have good results in the World Cup and in the big stage races, so it was really good.  When you see this race where you love to perform well, it’s hard, but when your team-mates have good results it makes it easier.   Still it’s painful not to be there.

PdC: But after you broke your shoulder, you came back and straight away won the first stage in the Giro Rosa.

Kirsten: Yes, I couldn’t believe it!  It had been a hard time at home, only going on the rollers, only training inside.  All the time it was hard but I was telling myself "I do this for the Giro!  I do this for the Giro!".   I was really emotional after that win – normally I’m not like that, but this was different.

PdC: What’s the plan this year -  we’ve got a new World Cup that should suit you, the Sparkassen Giro.  You were third last year weren’t you?  It should be a great race for you!

Kirsten: Yeah, I’m happy!  This year there was a big crash in the last corner, I was in the second place going into the corner, and thought "perfect", but there was a crash, and I almost came to a stop, and then come back to get third place, the first two had already gone.  But it will be one of my goals for this year.  But still I would like to do well in Qatar, and the Spring Classics, my usual goals.

PdC: Your usual goals, of doing well in the terrible weather and hard racing…

Kirsten: Yes, that’s how I like the races!

PdC: And how about the team, Liv-Shimano?  It’s pretty different this year

Kirsten: Yeah, we almost have a new team.  It’s good, we have a lot of young girls, but also some experienced riders.  I think we have a good combination.  It feels very positive, a good atmosphere, a nice level.

PdC: I really like how the men’s and women’s teams links together and support each other.  I remember last year Koen de Kort was asked who’d win in a race, you or him, and he said he thought over a long race him, but not if it was a short sprint.

Kirsten: Yes!  We had planned to race each other, but then I broke my shoulder, and it was not possible.  They said I could make up my own train, so I asked all the fast guys, but maybe next year we can do that.

PdC: You have to do that, and video it, so we can watch it!

Kirsten: It was planned for some television!  I was a bit scared about it – men are much stronger, so I think I have no chance, but it’s nice to try.

PdC: You’d have the psychological advantage, though, because he’d be more worried about losing to a woman

Kirsten: Yeah, that’s best for me.  We’ll see, one day!  But it's good for me, because at the last training camp we had a talk from Tom Veelers and Albert Timmer about the men’s team sprint train, and how they do it, to see whether we can benefit from learning what they do.  It was really interesting

PdC: It genuinely seems like it’s all connected, Giant-Shimano and Liv-Shimano as one team

Kirsten: Yes, it is, we have the same the same training camp with the men’s and women’s teams – it’s not that we train together, but we eat together and talk, it’s nice.

PdC: You’re still racing a lot of track still – which do you prefer, track or road?

Kirsten: Both! When I’m riding in the winter on the track I think "this is it" but then once the road season starts, I think "maybe I like this more".  I still really love both.  I just like the combination of riding the road in the summer, and I have to do some racing for qualification on the track.

PdC: Are you thinking about Track for the Rio Olympics?  The road course isn’t one for you there...

Kirsten: No, not really!  The road roace is not my usual kind of course, but I like track, so I think I will give it a try, to try to qualify.  It will be hard, because the level of competition is really high, so I hope I can manage it.

PdC: It must be interesting riding both.  I always think of you as a rider who races in the hard wind and the rain…

Kirsten: And then inside on the hot track!  When I’m on the track, for me it’s the same game as on the road, like what we were talking about how Qatar was like a Points race.  And one of my strengths is to ride fast for a short time, and that’s what you do on the track.  I think it’s a good combination, because it’s always essential to have the good training.  At the European Championships last year I was second in the omnium, 1,000th of a second behind Laura Trott, but it was straight from the road season, so I think it suits me, riding road and track.

PdC: You won the Points race at Europeans too, of course, but what’s the omnium like as an event?  It’s made of such different disciplines, what’s your favourite to ride?

Kirsten: My favourites are the flying lap and the elimination – riding full gas!

PdC: I love watching you ride the elimination – and how different riders race – like Laura Trott, always riding from the back

Kirsten: She has completely different tactics, I tried that once but it didn’t work for me!

PdC: Finally, we've just heard about La Course, the women's day race on the Champs Elysées on the last day of the Tour de France.  The idea of cobbles, corners and fast sprinting sounds perfect for you - what does it mean to you, having a new race like this?

Kirsten: Racing on the Champs Elysées is like the pinnacle of racing for a sprinter. For this race on the cobbles I think you need to be strong and to be able to handle the bike well. It would be amazing to ride there with all the spectators and the Tour de France atmosphere! With this team we can give it a good try!  I am looking forward to it, and I am very grateful that the ASO thinks about women's cycling and has given us a chance to perform at the highest level.

***

Follow Kirsten through her race on her twitter and website, and on the Giant-Shimano team site - and you can find out more about her on her team profile, and in these previous Café interviews, by amrook in May 2013, and with me in November 2010. To watch all the videos from the 2913 Tour of Qatar, and find out what happened, head to last year's post-race thread

The Ladies Tour of Qatar is streamed by beIN in the Middle East, and shown their tv channels including in Europe, the USA and elsewhere, but if you don't have access to that, I've written a guide to following the race live

There are full race previews for the 2014 Tour of Qatar, which you should definitely read, on VeloFocus and there's an excellent race website and the poshest roadbook I've seen.  CyclingFever has a startlist, too, with bib numbers.

If you want to see the peloton's new kits for the race - and vote for your favourite - head over to the Café poll!

Photo by Wouter Roosenboom used with very kind permission of Kirsten Wild

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