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The AIS Women's Team Diary 2003

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The team at Fleche Wallonne
Photo: © James Victor

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.

Good legs and a great team

By Olivia Gollan

Olivia, left, on the podium with Cooke and Pucinskaite
Photo: © James Victor
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The big international result I have been searching for came today!

A new world of pain descended on my legs as I fought Edita Pucinskaite over the final 200m of the infamous Cauberg climb coming out of the town of Valkenberg in Holland. I got her on the line but Nicole Cooke was 30m in front and had already taken her victory salute - second place was enough to bring a few tears to my eyes though.

We started about an hour after the men set off on their 250km course. Watching the mobile 'profi' circus is always a great way to get revved up for a big race.

160 women set out on 114km in perfect conditions - not even much Dutch wind! The first 50km was incredibly hectic and I was struggling to keep myself out of trouble. Several near crashes put the wind up me and I gathered my concentration and put some effort into staying near the front of the bunch.

Our plan was to keep things under control until the second-last climb of the day where Oenone Wood was to attack and hopefully get a gap she could maintain until the finish. I was to sit tight and wait until the final climb into the finish. There was a lot of expectation before the race because the whole team knew Oenone and I had the legs to get on the podium. Though there were some nerves we managed to keep our heads and went into the race feeling confident.

A few goat-tracks and cross-wind sections saw some awesome efforts from Natalie Bates and Hayley Rutherford. These two drivers were instrumental in keeping Oenone and me out of the sketchy bunch. At about the 50km mark the organisers shortened the race and a few things we had carefully planned for didn't happen. Natalie and Hayley had the bunch strung out for about 8km in preparation for a steep climb. We had driven over it the day before - in the race it just never came! Great job from the girls and I was thanking the Easter Bunny for the 10km reprieve.

Team hero Oenone Wood
Photo: © James Victor
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The second-last climb started with 300m of 22 percent grade. As we approached it Emma James hit the front with Oenone on her wheel. Giving it everything she had until the hill kicked in, Emma was stomping. Oenone launched as we hit the steep part of the climb and no one had any answer. Mirjam Melchers, Edita Pucinskate, Zoulfia Zabirova, Nicole Brandli and Sara Carrigan were all there but the little Aussie just stormed away - right on cue. Over the top, Nicole Cooke and Ruano Sanchez (Prato) managed to bridge across to Oenone and the three managed to hold onto a tight eight second gap leading into the final climb up the Cauberg.

The bunch was aggressive with numerous attacks coming from Melchers, Arndt, Zabirova and Ljungskog. Sara Carrigan did a good job to keep the world cup contenders in sight and was there to finish seventh in the end. The three off the front hovered and hovered and it really looked as though the podium was going down the road.

We hit the 800m ascent into the finish as a flying group of 20 and there was heaps of jostling and I actually hit a tourist trying to get a snap shot. I managed to fight my way clear and with about 400m to go I put my head down and went into a world of agony. We caught Oenone and Ruano with about 300m to go and I could see Cooke just up in front. Head down again and I drag raced Pucinskate to the line. Not a bad place to get my first big result in a world cup - Amstel is a pretty big day to say the least.

Oenone was rewarded for her massive effort with eleventh place. We'd been hoping for top 10 - she certainly earned it. The rest of the AIS National Team finished exhausted, were fantastic through the race and all worked towards this great result for Australia.

I'm already getting nervous about Fleche Wallone on Wednesday!


Images by James Victor