THEY tend to wounds and provide much-needed mental support all year around, yet the wives and girlfriends of professional riders often feel left out in the sport’s male-dominated world.
Cycling WAGS emerged into the public consciousness during last year’s Tour de France when Chris Froome’s partner Michelle Cound engaged in a Twitter clash with Bradley Wiggins’ wife Cath over Team Sky’s tactics.
For once, pro riders’ partners took a seat at the table without asking permission, which is not always welcome.
“The teams are not really partner-friendly,” Cound explained. “I was fortunate enough to join the team at Criterium International last year, because I was still living in South Africa at the time.
“I understand there was a management meeting held to approve me being there and, even so, I wasn’t allowed to have dinner at the ‘riders table’, I was only allowed to sit with the staff,” said the South African, who also handles Froome’s personal communication.
“I do think it’s a little archaic. It is very much a male world. Also, I get the impression that people expect me to ‘know my place’ as a partner, I should be ‘seen and not heard’.”
Cound’s experiences are echoed by Australian Kaitlin Bell, who is Dutchman Koen de Kort’s partner. “I personally do feel left out,” Bell said. “I just wish the whole sport of cycling would make a little more effort for wives, girlfriends and family.
“We are the ones who support them on all levels, look after them when they have broken bones and road rash. Put up with them being away so much, and a lot of the wives are being ‘single mothers’ really.”
Following your partner around on races is not common, even if riders spend most of the year on the road.
“People always ask me if I follow Stef around but that’s not really done,” said Cindy Gabriels, partner of Dutch rider Stef Clement. “I never stay at the same hotel and never eat with them. And I always make sure Stef asks if it’s okay for me to be there because I don’t want any hassle.”
“Pretty strange if you think about it because we are so involved in what they do. People seem to forget that we are the ones that pick up the pieces when things don’t go as planned,” she added.
The women find the best way to cope with their partners’ absence and the feeling of isolation is to stick together when they can. Gabriels added: “We do support each other. When a race comes up we try to travel together or try to meet. We always say it’s such a shame we live so far apart from each other because it’s so nice to be with them, seeing as we understand each other in the lives we lead.”
While, it would be nice to think that, once the riders are back home from a race or during the off-season, they can finally relax and enjoy being with their families. Anti-doping controls, however, make sure everyone remains on their toes.
“The one time he’ll have the day off, the doorbell rings. One time Stef just left for training and they were at the door,” said Gabriels. “Rules state that he has one hour to return home so he finished his round and, in the meantime, I had to entertain them. When Stef came home he had to wait another two or three hours so they could do the tests.
“They had to follow him anywhere he went in the house, shower, bedroom etc.”
Froome’s partner Cound has a simple way of dealing with the hassle: “I just pull the covers a bit higher.”
The WAGS are happy to deal with it, though, as it is part of the effort cycling has made to clean up the sport.
While happy to share some moments together in a season, the women do not share everything at home. With cyclists usually shaving their legs, razors, for instance, are often off limits.
Gabriels added: “We don’t share a razor! Takes him forever in the shower but he has the smoothest legs.”
“Chris usually waxes or uses an epilator,” revealed Cound.