Kaja Rysz rides alongside Scarlett Souren in a breakaway at RideLondon

Lemons to lemonade as rivals help Lifeplus-Wahoo overcome bike theft at Tour of Britain

The hometown team woke up before stage 2 to find all their bikes stolen, but other teams were quick to offer a hand and keep them in the race.

Scarlett Souren (VolkerWessels) and Kaja Rysz (Lifeplus Wahoo) ride in a breakaway at the RideLondon Classique 2024.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 07.06.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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It’s every team’s worst nightmare: waking up the morning of a race to find the van broken into and bikes missing. It happens every year it seems. In 2022 then Trek-Segafredo had two bikes stolen at the Women’s Tour a few weeks after a bike was taken from the American team during RideLondon Classique.

This time, it was Tour of Britain home team Lifeplus-Wahoo who woke up to find themselves bikeless. But a story that started badly ended on a far better note, thanks to an outpouring of support from the rest of the peloton. Other teams were quick to come to Lifeplus-Wahoo’s aid, providing bikes for the five riders to compete on Friday.

The team was staying in Shropshire after the first stage, where Babette van der Wolf was Lifeplus’ top finisher in 22nd. Going into the second stage that started and finished in Wrexham the team’s goal was for Heidi Franz to fight for the Mountains Classification jersey and make an impact on the race. But their day got off to a far different start.

“We woke this morning to find all 14 of our Ribble Endurance SLR bikes stolen from our mechanic’s van,” the team said in a statement on social media.

Luckily Cofidis, VolkerWessels and Liv AlUla Jayco were staying at the same hotel and held onto their bikes overnight. The rival teams were able to provide bikes to the five remaining Lifeplus-Wahoo riders in the race, with mechanics from other teams helping to set up the bikes in time for the start.

Franz rode Anna Trevisi’s Liv, Van der Wolf rode one of VolkerWessels’s 2023 Factor bikes (from when the Dutch team was called Parkhotel Valkenburg), and Maddie Leech rode SD Worx-Protime director Danny Stam’s personal Specialized Tarmac SL7.

The team also managed to get Nikola Nosková’s Look from Cofidis, a Cannondale from St. Michel-Mavic-Auber 93, and another Factor from Human Powered Health.

“All of our thanks and appreciation goes out to the many teams that offered and gave their spare team bikes and their mechanics’ time to get our girls on the road. We wouldn’t be starting without them,” the Lifeplus-Wahoo team said.

The loss of half the total bikes in the service course would be a blow for any team, but even more so for one of Lifeplus-Wahoo’s size. The Continental team has long been one of the key development pathways for women since its 2016 start as Drops Cycling. Ella Wyllie, now a member of Liv AlUla Jayco, rode for Lifeplus last season, but the team has also been home to Tayler Wiles (ex-professional for Lidl-Trek), Alice Wood (Human Powered Health), Joss Lowden (Uno-X Mobility), Lizzie Holden (UAE Team ADQ) and many others.

And stolen bikes have been just one of their challenges in recent years. The British team had hopes of joining the WorldTour by 2026 but instead has struggled to acquire enough funding to stay afloat. In late 2022 the team almost folded entirely when Le Col dropped sponsorship at the last minute, leaving a €400,000 gap in the budget. They were able to pick up Lifeplus as title sponsor only one month before the 2023 season.

The loss of their bikes is another setback to the team a week after one of their riders, Kate Richardson, was struck by the driver of a 4×4 and left with a broken collarbone. After competing in the 2022 and 2023 Tour de France Femmes, Lifeplus-Wahoo was not tapped to race the premier event of the season this year. They have also been left off the Giro d’Italia Women startlist, making the Tour of Britain one of their bigger stage races this summer, especially as it’s home roads.

Hopefully things are looking up for the British team that once dreamt of being a top-tier program. While Hayley Simmons didn’t finish stage 2, Ribble met the remaining four riders after the second stage with a delivery of new bikes for the final two Tour of Britain stages.

“The goal was to keep fighting for the QOM jersey and just stay engaged in the race and we did that! I had a bit of extra motivation for sure,” Franz said after the second stage. “Lizzie [Deignan] has been fun to battle with and it’s pretty wild being in that position.”

“She’s way ahead now, but there’s still some room to come back so I’m motivated!”

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