SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (VN) — Tour de France palmares are fine. National titles and road race stage wins are great. But there’s only one member of British nobility in the Amgen Tour of California this year — Sarah Storey.
Dame Sarah Joanne Storey, 37, of Great Britain, is competing in the women’s stage and the individual time trial in the race’s 10th edition with Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours team she established in 2014 with her husband.
The squad, which received a wildcard invitation, is a mix of and young and veteran riders, most with other occupations or still in college.
Storey became entangled in the umbilical cord in her mother’s womb, and she was born with a non-functioning left hand. Her left arm is seven inches shorter than her right arm.
A swimmer since age four, Storey has had more than a 20-year Paralympic career. She began cycling 10 years ago because severe ear infections kept her out of the pool. She’s succeeded as an able-bodied and para-athlete in cycling.
“We’ve set up the team to be reflective of the women’s peloton in Great Britain,” said Storey. “Probably 90 percent of the women in the UK are working full-time or part-time or still in school to fulfill themselves outside of the sport. That’s the nature of the team.”
Storey holds 73 world records, 21 combined European titles, 20 world cycling titles, and six world swimming titles. She’s competed in the Paralympics four times as a swimmer and in the past two Games as a cyclist. She’s a multiple Paralympic gold medalist and a three-time able-bodied British national track cycling champion.
Storey was honored as a Dame, the British honor of chivalry, and her compatriot Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner and 2014 Tour of California winner, was named a Sir in a 2012 New Year’s Eve ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.
In Friday’s opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race, Storey moved the front early and built a one-minute lead alone after about 90 minutes of the 74.5-mile trek around Lake Tahoe. She was joined by Allison Beveridge (Canada), and the duo built a 1:30 advance with about 40 miles left. The leaders were absorbed with about 14 miles to race.
Though she had to settle for 29th place, Storey did earn the race’s first queen of the mountains jersey.
“We don’t have much of a budget, but we have a lot of volunteers back home,” Storey said. “Our team budget for the year is probably about what one of the guys are making. But we try to spread it out to make sure the riders are getting the opportunities.”
Storey’s husband, Barney, a former Paralympic tandem cyclist, is the team’s manager and mechanic. The squad doesn’t have a soigneur. Storey’s mother and father are attending the race, the former watching her 22-month-old granddaughter, the latter driving to feed zones to support the team.
Storey is not allowed to secure her deformed hand to her bike. But she does ride with a unique set-up. To prevent her hand from slipping off the bike, she has a toe strap loosely positioned on her brake, into which she slips her hand. She also has a triangle-shaped nylon safety net on her handlebar. Her brakes are split, with both brakes on one lever and the rear brake mounted slightly closer.
“If I have an emergency stop, I’m not going to go over the handlebars,” she said. “I’ve have just learned how to control it, not to have a wavy back wheel.”
Storey’s participation in the Tour of California is geared toward the individual time next week in Big Bear Lake. She won a time trial last July at the Tour of Brittany. But she’s also has the 2016 Paralympic Games on her radar.
“All the things I do in the professional peloton are to give a build-up,” said Storey. “I came into the sport late. It will be 10 years (in cycling) this summer. I just try to give me myself many different experiences, so when I go back to the Paralympics, I’ll have many more tools in the toolbox to hopefully win more races.”