Rushlee Buchanan now heads to France to prepare for what is set to be a brutal La Course by Le Tour de France, but the Kiwi does so on the back of a successful Tour de Feminin that saw her UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling outfit dominate and come away with a stage win, the Queen of the Mountains win, the team classification and general classification for Leah Thomas.
We caught up with the multiple national champion in the road race and against the clock and reigning Criterium National champion at the end of what was a resounding triumph for her and the team; which saw Buchanan herself come away with 10th overall and 4th in the individual time trial.
“Obviously a GC win is always our goal, and we had a few tactics in place to make sure we got that on the last stage with 4 of us in the top 5 heading into the last stage. The last stage is the queen stage as such at Tour de Feminin, so we knew it was going to be a goodie,” Buchanan told RoadCycling.
UHC master the threat of Mackaij
A lot of movement in the general classification was reserved for the final day of racing. UHC’s primary rival in the fight for the general classification was Dutch rider Floortje Mackaij and at the start of the final day Mackaij was the only non-UHC rider in the top five; sitting second at 21 seconds to Lauretta Hanson. It was a threat that Rushlee and the team couldn’t afford to ignore.
“Floortje Mackaij is a very good rider so we weren’t going to give her an inch! A break went up the road just over half way through the stage with Leah [Thomas, third on GC going into the finale] in it, and while the break was in all honesty a bit bigger than we would’ve liked, we knew Leah was the best on the road so we had to play that card once it was gone,” Buchanan said.
Despite finishing 10th overall, Buchanan’s role across the week was primarily as domestique and in some ways that make her strong performance in the time trial all the more impressive given that she arrived at the race against the clock having already given so much for her teammates. “For me the tour was the beginning of a long Europe trip so I wanted to be aggressive and start the trip well, do my job as a teammate but also lay down my best legs on each day,” Buchanan explained.
“I think most people at this tour will agree with me when I say I spent a lot of time around the front and doing team work. I will always do my best to be there for the team and I enjoy the role. Let’s just say I have a very high TSS score from this race! I had a good TT here last year so wanted to improve on that. 4th on the stage, 1 sec behind my team mate Katie in 3rd and behind my 3 team mates who went 1,2,3 was pretty solid.
“I have to say I was a little more tired going into the TT than I hoped but that’s bike racing and you can’t just have an easy day because you want one! The TT was a tad hillier than I like but short enough I could tap into the track fitness. I actually had one of our soigneurs following me in the car, who has been a very successful rider himself and who has done 4 Tours de France, so that was good motivation to not suck! As tired as I think I am I always get into the race and am instantly aggressive and following moves haha.
Buchanan returns to evolved La Course
This year saw a whole host of New Zealand riders across the field from the Maaslandster International Women’s Cycling Team to the New Zealand national team. All in all 9 Kiwis were in the action in the Czech Republic, and it was more than welcome for Rushlee. “There was an unusual amount of Kiwis in the tour yes! It was great to see the track girls, and to have the Kiwis on Maaslandster,” Rushlee told us. “It’s nice to have a little home connection so far away from home and always great to hear “hey bro!” In the peloton! I did manage to sneak in a breakfast with the kiwi team before I left Czech Republic so that was a treat.”
From here Rushlee is now headed for the south of France to get ready for La Course by Le Tour de France. It is a race that the Kiwi is both familiar and unfamiliar with. In Rushlee’s only former attempt at the race in 2015 the race took place on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees, the very same venue as the final stage of the Tour de France. These days though the only similarity besides some of the teams present will be the race title! La Course has undergone quite the evolution in route, replacing the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees with the climbs of the Col de la Colombiere, the Col de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, the Col de Romme and Le Grand-Bornard.
“La Course this year is very different to last time I did it. In 2015 it was raining and 80% of the course was cobbles as we did loops of the Champs-Élysées and of the 120 women that started only 20 didn’t crash, and I was one of them! So that was epic in it’s own way, but this La Course will be epic in a different way.
“Everyone knows my forte is not going up mountains but luckily we have one of the best climbers in the world with Katie Hall. So I will do everything I can to help her get in the best position when she needs it. I’m most nervous about helping my team and doing sometime constructive in the race. Otherwise I’m going to enjoy the experience of the event and gain motivation from the atmosphere which I’m sure will be electric. We are staying in the area of La Course for this whole week prior so I’m excited about some riding time in the Alps.
“I can take confidence I have the form and strength to be a part of the European peloton. After La Course we quick smart head up to Belgium for BeNe tour which is more my terrain and by then I might be happy to be on cobbles rather than mountains!