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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.
Stomping on the Huy
Flèche Wallonne, Belgium, April 23, 2003
By Oenone Wood
It has been a fantastic week for our A.I.S. Australian team. We arrived with some strong performances in previous World Cup races and left with podium finishes in both Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne. Now with a total of seven Australians riders ranked in the top 20 on the World Cup standings, we're certainly making our presence known among the Europeans.
The first 85km of Wednesday's course included five climbs that were noted on the profile and several other "undulations". The bunch held a solid pace for this first part of the race but there wasn't a great deal of aggression. The numbers in the bunch gradually dwindled as the course took its toll. It was set to be a race of attrition.
In the last 15km the pressure increased as several teams attempted to get riders away. Zinaida Staturskaya (UCS Chirio) kept the tempo high up the second last climb which caused splits in the bunch, leaving only around 35 riders with 10km to go. In the last 10km numerous attempts were made by different teams to break away leading into the final climb. Eventually Louisana Tamanini (Aurora RMS) managed to move away from the bunch and held a 15 second lead. She was joined by 2002 Giro winner Svetlana Boubnenkova (Prato Marathon bike), however the bunch was not content to let these riders have any advantage and they were reeled in with 2km to go.
The infamous Mer de Huy starts with a 1km drag at a gradient of five percent. At this stage in the race the stronger climbers began to move to the front of the bunch to ensure a clear run onto the steeper part of the hill. The pace steadily increased and Olivia Gollan and I were sitting at about 10th wheel leading into the final kilometre. As the gradient suddenly increased from five to 19 percent the bunch became chaotic. Bikes were reeling all over the road and it was a battle to hold position while maintaining a strong rhythm. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and I narrowly escaped being sandwiched between Staturskaya and Lyne Bessette.
From this point to the finish it was pure pain. The hill kicked up around a tight left hand bend and Nicole Cooke (Ausra Gradis Safi) surged off the front with Sue Palmar-Komar and me chasing hard. We came within a bike's length at the "400m-to-go" sign but Cooke surged again. This time she was too strong and gained an impressive lead. She took the victory with Palmer-Komar (Canada) coming in second and myself third.
Olivia had another superb ride taking fifth place with less than a second between her and fourth-placed Pucinskaite. Even though we had driven over the course and had solid preparation leading into the race nothing could have totally prepared me for the race itself. Within the final 400m of the climb when I realised I was going to make the podium I was thrilled and at the same time I had never experienced quite the same degree of pain. Luckily our team soigneur was on the line ready to catch me and help me off my bike.
Thanks very much for the contributions of everyone in the team, it has certainly been an experience I will not forget.
We still have two days of racing to finish the week off, with the Italian National Day (Liberazione) race on Friday near Milan, then in Berne, Switzerland on Sunday. That will make five races in five countries over the last eight days, and some more opportunities to keep our good run of form on a high.
Images by James Victor