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Live tweeting a race: In the car at the Women's Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Hannah Troop
23 Apr 2018

Battery packs at the ready, we’re about to hurtle round the Ardennes tapping away at a phone screen providing live race updates

Social media black holes, you know the ones, we’ve all plunged into them at some point, you’re looking at a screen then you realise 20 minutes of your life just disappeared into thin air. This social media black hole is slightly different though. It lasts four hours, is frantic and by the time we resurface 130 riders have raced 136km for the second edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes.

To live tweet a race there’s a checklist of essentials, the first – a travel charger to give you more juice, the next four hours is going to rinse that battery.

Second – a cable that allows you to plug said charger into your phone... #fail. Luckily my Voxwomen colleague, Laura Winter, is race ready with hers, we’ll now play charging tag team for the next four hours.

At KM0 riders are positioned centimetres away from the commissaire’s car bumper, riding along they wear a 1000 yard stare, it’s like we’re not even there. Game faces ready, there’s a job to be done.

Our information life support is the race radio, but there’s a multitude of channels. A French voice on one channel is so deafening we can hardly hear Seb Piquet, the voice of Radio Tour, who delivers updates in both French and English.

'Was that rider 161 or 151? What was the time gap?' is the mode of exchange for most of the day between us. There’s an attack, the tweet is prepped but we hold off sending for a few seconds, it might not stick.

You have to sift through the data supplied, five seconds later the attack could be neutralised rendering the information obsolete and not worthy of a tweet. Focus is key.

Piquet’s voice illuminates when he reports that Marianne Vos has crashed, showing just how her name still holds weight and makes people sit up and listen.

Unfortunately the post-race report confirms a fractured collarbone for Vos.

As the peloton approach the feed zone there’s a bit of respite for the riders. The race radio lulls for a few minutes. Now it’s time to upload some of the pre-race interviews we did to fill the interlude.

Come on 4G don’t fail me now.

As the peloton takes on the first climb the break of four riders is gently reeled in. Vita Heine, the Norwegian national champion has done a sterling job of keeping it going for so long.

Cote de La Redoute splinters the peloton as expected, Canyon-SRAM are strong, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot attacks solo. She gains ground. Counter attacks come for Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Anna van der Breggen and Megan Guarnier.

The driver of our car charges down the other side of La Redoute, we thrash round corners at breakneck speed. It's the only way to stay ahead of the peloton and out of their way.

Flung from side to side, mobile phone still in hand, thumbs tapping out time gaps. It's growing, no it's shrinking, ah it doesn't matter the bloody tweet isn't sending anyway.

Come on 4G don't fail me now.

There's a counter-attack by Amanda Spratt, Kasia Niewiadoma, Sabrina Stultiens and Annemiek van Vleuten, they set off at speed to hunt the break down.

It's bridged, Spratt attacks again in search of a solo victory. Cote de La Roche-aux-Faucons is punchy to say the least.

We trail Spratt, her fate being updated in crackles of radio commentary. Van der Breggen is chasing. Van Vleuten and Moolman-Pasio can't hold her blistering pace. Dispensed.

Spratt looks back, being updated by her own team radio that the Dutch woman is closing in. A glance through the back window reminds me to look up every once in a while, eyes are also useful to see what's happening in the race.

Van der Breggen has gained ground quick, she's already caught us with Spratt.

A left-handed slingshot releases them onto the final climb to the finish. Van der Breggen's legs powerfully grind, Spratt's face grimaces.

Glancing back Van der Breggen sees she's gained enough of a lead, it's time to sit up, arms in the air, roll to the finish, enjoy. Another one in the bag for the Ardennes Queen.

Photos: Seb Piquet