Experience report of the Tour de Suisse Challenge 2022 by Helena Hlasova, passionate cyclist and blogger for Ride Rawr
She’s younger, smaller, faster and less sweaty than you. In dark moments when you feel exhausted and at your limit, her strength becomes your frustration. Maybe in those moments she’s everything you feel like you’re not, but maybe she’s exactly what you need.
I first met Céline at the Tour de Suisse Challenge – a unique opportunity to experience life as a pro cyclist and ride the stages of the Tour de Suisse hours before the pros come through. You get VIP access, a bottle full of electrolytes, carbs whenever you need them and any kind of mechanical support you need or physical care your legs desire. Céline won an Instagram raffle to participate in the first four days of the challenge and honestly, when she showed up to the hotel the first thing that caught my attention was the feminine dress she wore. The next day, getting on the bike however, my attention quickly shifted to her rear wheel as she hammered ahead of me and all of the well trained men in the group and I realized her sweet outer shell was a ruse, and underneath the friendly smile and feminine appearance was an absolute lion.
Lesson 1: femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive
Some of the memes we put out on our Instagram account@riderawr suggests that a women with perfect hair and a full face of makeup on her bike is not a “proper” cyclist. Although it is frustrating to see unrealistic portrayals of women saturating the internet, it is our duty to recognize our responsibility in the matter. Rather than point fingers at those girls who are simply fulfilling the expectations that we as a society have created, we should push alternative narratives and emphasize all the other versions of beauty and being a woman. Just like we don’t think society should decide what it beautiful, we as a female centric cycling community @riderawr shouldn’t decide who qualifies as “real”.
The first stage we rode together, Stage 2 of the TdS, was one destined for self discovery; 202 km would be my longest ride by far and to make matters even spicier, we had to hammer because we were being chased by the peloton. We reached a point of decision making- whoever wanted to stop at 150 km and hang in the VIP finish area could dismount their bike and go enjoy a cold beer. Conversely, whoever wanted to complete the 202 km stage would have to go – and go hard. I was on the edge of my physical limits and panicking that I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the pace of the group. Céline, who seemed to have barely broken a sweat said “come, we finish together”.
I’m not sure what motivated me to continue, whether it was Céline’s encouragement or the appeal of completing a new personal goal but I decided to press on. We got to the first climb of the last 50 km and Céline was already hundreds of meters ahead. I started to think passive aggressively to myself “well, this doesn’t feel like finishing together” watching her legs effortless pumping the pedals around with a cadence that would make Marianne Vos jealous.
In those moments of physical struggle, I was overcome with psychological frustration. I was angry at myself that I had decided to continue, that I had decided to trust myself and all of these thoughts quickly snowballed into self criticism, into comparing myself against others, into not being “enough”, and into losing belief that I could cross the finish line.
We got to the top of the climb, and I was debating asking the support staff if I could get in the bus with him but instead he handed me the holy grail of bonk cures- a can of Coca-Cola, I downed it in one gulp and was reborn.
By some miracle, the next hour, Céline and I alternated riding at the front of the pack. Everyone was destroyed and somehow, with the cola cursing through my veins we pushed on. Then, in a moment where her and I were side by side, making the slipstream for the group of men behind us, it hit me-
Lesson 2: Some people will support you by staying by your side and holding your hand when you’re suffering. Others, will silently show you that it is possible.
When Céline had said “we finish together” I had pictured her riding beside me, and maybe even complaining with me but instead, she kept her head down and hammered away. The problem wasn’t that Céline was being a bad friend and abandoning me but that I was judging the situation negatively: I read it like she was better than me and that means I suck instead of wow look at this girl leading the pack and being a role model – if she can do it, so can I.
It’s hard to surrender into your own reality and accept it, accept yourself, accept others. But the more we do it, the less we judge ourselves and the better we become at leveraging our surroundings to reach our goals rather than binding ourselves to our limits.
Thank you to Céline for your metaphorical slipstream, for opening my eyes to what is possible and for helping me realize that the only limits I have are the ones I set on myself.