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The AIS Women's Team Diary 2003
Welcome to one of our more unusual diaries, with entries from the various members of the Australian Institute of Sport's Women's team as they conduct their European campaign.
With rising stars such as Oenone Wood and established power riders like Olivia Gollan, the team has been making a strong mark on the European scene this season. Under the management and coaching of James Victor that success looks set to continue for the year.
The World Championships
We watched the television coverage of the World Championship time trial from the lounge room our base in Novellara, between Bologna and Milan. It was great to see Sara finish 5th, ahead of heaps of awesome riders at the intermediate check points and in the final results. Alison had a great ride to finish 13th.
The next day, a couple days before the road race, the four of us had an early morning start to fly to Belgium. The idea behind leaving us in Italy till the last moment was primarily due to the likelihood of poor weather and training conditions in Belgium in October. As luck would have it the weather was unusually warm and sunny that week in Belgium and better than the damp conditions in Italy!
There were seven road riders for the Aussie women's team. Margaret Hemsley joined us in Belgium directly from her home in Germany. The coaches left for Belgium at the start of the week with Alison Wright and Sara Carrigan, who had been selected to race the World Championship time trial. This left four of us home in Italy alone - Hayley Rutherford, Rochelle Gilmore, Olivia Gollan and I. It was a strange time, with packing to be done, the time to head home drawing closer and the sense that the year is over - but still with the biggest race left to be contested.
The couple of days with the other Australian men's and women's teams in our hotel flew by. The garage for the hotel was overrun by bicycles. Two bikes for most of the pro men - each so recognizable and beautiful in the pro team colours. Mechanics, soigneurs, and coaches, team buses and everything to help prepare the riders for the big day. We watched the junior and under-23 races, trying to workout exactly what the race circuit was like. Even though it was only 50km from the hotel, it was difficult to find a time when the circuit was not closed for racing, as the times allocated for training on the circuit were all earlier in the week. The other races finished in bunch kicks and featured numerous crashes.
I was feeling the start of a cold coming on in the week before the race, just as my room-mate Rochelle was getting over the last of a cold from just after the Track World Championships. It seemed that at the end of the season with immune systems stretched to the limit it was always going to be difficult to avoid. I had been hitting up on vitamin C, with Berocca, lemons and also multivitamins, and my body seemed to know that it had to hold off any sickness for just a little longer.
On the day of the race we arrived at the circuit an hour before the start. The junior men were just finishing and from the luxurious Mapei team bus, we saw the TV coverage of a vicious crash on the finish line that brought down one of the Aussie riders. We rode our bikes from the Mapei bus to the Aussie team tent, a couple hundred meters away where our mechanic, Dennis Mungoven, was waiting. As we stepped off our bikes we all looked at Dennis and each said: "The gears sound really bad. Something isn't right."
A couple people noticed Dennis looking a little pale as he said "Really? - I'll take one for a test ride." He only took about five seconds to notice what we were concerned about. Dennis noticed dirt on the chains that had only been cleaned that morning, and as calmly as possible had the cluster removed, cleaned and were working as good as new on seven bikes - all in rather limited time! The most likely theory is that the helicopter that hovered over the finish line for the end of the junior men's race stirred up dust and dirt in the down draft and our bikes were right in its path.
We signed on and warmed up, and then left most of our warm clothes behind as we headed to the line. It was a wise move. The pace was on from the gun, everyone warmed up quickly. I kept arm warmers on and an undershirt as well as a fair bit of oil and cream on my legs, arms and back, but apart from that, nothing special.
After a couple laps Petra Rossner had crashed and was out of the race. The German team looked formidable on the start list. Rochelle had thought a fair bit about how best to win a bunch kick against Rossner and Slyousareva. Other teams were thinking of how to avoid a bunch kick against Rossner - it didn't seem part of the script to lose her in the first couple of chapters. The bunch cornered miserably.
Breaking too much and changing lines, so different to other races in the season when it has been easier to have confidence in the riders around you. It seemed hard to move up in the bunch on this circuit and to hold position. I found the hill tougher than it should have been. I was not having a great day.
The pace was fairly constant and seemed fast. There were a few parts of the circuit where the bunch slowed up at the same point each time and this would cause stress behind, as riders overreacted, magnifying the change in speed further back in the bunch. I was a couple riders behind a German rider (Ina Teutenberg I think) when she got caught up in the barriers. I managed to quickly get going again and get back onto the bunch. The pace was really on and I had to give everything just to stay with the strung out field flying along the finishing straight. Some of the other riders who were caught up in that crash did not get back to the group, including two other German riders who dropped back from the peloton to help Ina. On this day, the German team did not have luck on their side.
With a couple laps to go I was in better position, and able to cover some moves - just before Sara got away with Brandli and Somarriba. Surprisingly their break stayed at 20 seconds for about a lap - so close to the end of the race.
With half a lap to go, there was a crash on the smaller climb. Riders came down on both sides of the road, undoubtedly with some barrier involvement. I could not avoid the Norwegian rider who crash just in front of me. I cut my hand and bruised my leg, but mainly felt the disappointment of the race ending in such an unsatisfying way. I could hear a little of what our coach was saying to Sara on our race radio as she came in towards the finish. I rode to the finish with a couple other riders ahead and behind. I tried to see what was shown on the big screens as I passed them, hoping Sara would win.
I went up the final climb, and just over the crest, officials motioned for us to slow down. Stahurskaja was just picking her self up off the ground from another crash. When I got to the finish I found a few friends who had come from Holland to cheer me on. They could tell it had not been a great day for me, but were cheerful anyway and a positive group to be around. It was good to see Suzanne Ljungskog win. She has been riding so impressively in the Grande Boucle and in the Giro della Toscana. It was a beautiful way to win a world championship and it will be good to see her in the rainbow jersey next year.
I caught up with my teammates, and heard Sara had come fourth and Alison fifth! I think it is hard to get it all right and feel good for a one day race. Ali had a great ride, covering heaps of moves, in a few breaks, climbing well, flying around crashing riders and then able to beat the other good sprinters in the front group for an awesome result!
Sara had already shown her talent as one of the world's best time trial riders. It was great to see her in the right move on the day. She has ridden so strongly on climbs in the Italian racing this season. It has been inspirational to ride with all the Australian girls. Many of the girls in the team are moving on to professional teams next year - proving that they have really taken the next step. The Australian Institute of Sport program based in Italy has been the crucial development environment for the Aussie road cycling women who are now making their mark on the international road scene.
We celebrated with Belgian waffles and ice cream, before heading to an Irish pub in Hasselt where we caught up with the British team and a few others. We gladly gave up our flights back to Italy in exchange for a seat in one of the cars heading back the day after the men's race.
On the Sunday morning we were dropped off near the circuit and wandered in to find a good spot. Chairs on the balcony of a restaurant/pub overlooking the finishing straight (or just a bit past it), with a big screen in view seemed ideal. We stayed there for about six hours, and it was worth it to see such an impressive race. The Italian team was incredible. Cipollini will be a very colourful world champion. Robbie McEwen did everything he could on the day and has had such an incredible year. The Aussie team were awesome, it was great to watch. The crash on the final lap for the men reminded me of our race - not that it would have altered the results - but just that it shouldn't be part of the script.
We celebrated with the Aussie men in Hasselt at the same pub as the previous night. It was a good night out, and a nice way to end the season. The following morning we were up early for the long drive back to Italy. Fatigue mainly from limited sleep meant that I lost my voice! The final packing was done the next day until late that evening. We watched the road race on TV, taped for us from Eurosport by a local Italian friend, Luca. It seemed so different on TV; it looked a lot smoother in the corners than it felt in the bunch.
There were a fair few solo attacks that were away for longer than I realized, especially Cathy Marsal and Alessandra Capellotto. Even one of the moves that I went with in the last part of the race looked so different on the TV coverage compared to how I thought it was when I was racing. It was awful to see Miriam Melchers come down on a fast, wet corner as she and Ljungskog had just got a gap on the field, and to see Stahurskaja slam straight into Miriam and somersault to land on her lower back… Alison just got around the edge of the crash - but it looked like the main part of the bunch would have ridden straight into the riders who had crashed in the middle of the road. There would have been many riders ending their seasons with injury. Not how the script should end.
Suzanne Ljungskog did it all in style, catching the front three riders with just under one kilometre to go, and then having so much more strength in the final sprint. It was a very classy way to win. It is so motivating to watch the racing. Even though the season is finished and having a decent few weeks break is the main thing on my mind, I'm already looking forward to next year.