British rider Josie Nelson has been in France for the last eight days, competing in the world’s biggest race – the Tour de France Femmes. Her experience has been up and down and in the first few stages she was surprised by the route's difficulty. However, she started to settle into the race, and even though she was the lanterne rouge for one stage of the race, she has been soaking up the atmosphere from the fans and making the most of pancakes for lunch. But with her Tour experience now over, Rouleur caught up with Nelson over the last three stages of this year’s race to see how she had found her debut appearance.
After stage six:
Arriving in Blagnac, the low layer of clouds made the air feel thick, hot and sticky for those watching the race, and even hotter for the riders. As Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) went on to take the day’s victory, the Team Coop-Hitech Products riders were not having the best day. On the turbo under shelter, the Nelson explained why it wasn’t the day for the conti team.
“The DS wasn’t too pleased with us after this stage. All five of us were in the same group, all in the grupetto, so it wasn’t the best day for the team. But I mean, we are all pretty tired. None of us had the legs anymore. We had to do pretty much all the work in the group because we had five riders. We did nearly catch the bunch back up, but we didn’t quite make it.
“But he has given us a pep talk ahead of tomorrow. I mean, we are disappointed as well, but it happens. We are probably punching a bit above our level at the minute. I felt like this whole Tour has been a step up above any stage race. It has felt like one of the hard Classics, like Flèche Wallonne or Amstel Gold every single day. It’s not as much climbing, but yeah, it has felt like a one day race, every day. And it has been pretty much full gas.
“There has not been any sort of rest, surprisingly. I think stage four, the 177km stage, was actually my favourite and that was the one I was most nervous for. I think it was the most steady due to the length, so I suppose it was like a rest day.”
Josie Nelson during stage seven of the Tour de France Femmes (Image by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
After stage seven:
After a hard day for the Norwegian team, an even harder day awaited them – the mountain stage featuring the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet. The peloton left the sunshine in Lannemezan and headed high into the mountains where the low mist sat heavy around the summit. Before heading back down the legendary climb back to the team’s bus, Nelson reflected on what it was like to climb a mountain with so much history with the Tour.
“I felt pretty good to be honest. I mean, I just finished in one of the final groups, but it was hard. I had one of my teammates in there and then in the last 6km, the group sort of all split up, but me and my teammate, we stayed together as we are pretty similar at climbing, so that was good. But the climb was crazy with the low cloud, you couldn’t see any more than 10 metres ahead, which was a bit, not scary, but it was a strange experience. On one of the corners, the one with the most crowd, you could hear them but you couldn’t see them yet, the cheers were like above because we were climbing. It was really weird. But a cool experience, there were so many people there.
“We hadn’t done a recon of the Tourmalet or any of the stages, but the climb was as I expected. We kept a decent pace going up and it is good when there is a group of you. But I couldn’t have gone much harder, I was pretty much on my limit in the group."
Josie Nelson and her teammate on the Col du Tourmalet (Image by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
After stage eight:
As the crowds roared in Pau, amongst the riders there was a relaxed atmosphere. Today, the Tour de France Femmes comes to an end. As the Team Coop-Hitech Products bus was being packed away, ready to head back to Norway, Rouleur caught up with Nelson post-TT to see how her first experience had been at the world’s biggest race.
“My time trial didn’t start great. We did a course recon in the car and got stuck behind the caravan, so we were a bit late warming up. I guess it was down to poor planning, but I am not sure we could have left when the caravan wasn’t there because we tried to leave and they were already all in a line. But anyway, I think it went well. I just tried to go full gas the whole time. The hill was hard at the end, but I just had in my head that it was the last stage and just get it all out, leave it all on the course. And there were so many people cheering, so they give you that extra push.
“Tonight I think there has been mention of pizza. So we are just going to go to our hotel in Bordeaux as I think a few of us are flying home from there tomorrow afternoon, so I think it is a bit of a treat tonight as it has been rice and pasta most days.
“Overall, my first Tour experience has been incredible. I don’t think there is anything like it on the calendar in terms of other races. I think the publicity and the crowds make the most difference, and I think that is what makes it different from other races.”
*Cover image by Charly Lopez/ASO