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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.

Euro first blood

Tour de Berne, Switzerland, April 27

By Olivia Gollan

Another great day at the office for the A.I.S. Australian Women's team! After a battle with crosswinds, steep climbs and two very strong Prato riders, I won my first road race in Europe!

Tour de Berne in Switzerland saw 120 elite women start a challenging 112 km course - 4 laps of a 28 km circuit that included a debilitating 1 km climb and lots of gutter action in severe crosswinds. Each lap saw the field splinter over the climb but with some awesome power from Emma James in the second lap to drive us hard onto the climb, a lead group went out to 25 secs very quickly, without local race favourite Nicole Brändli. Oenone Wood, myself, Margaret Hemsley (Nürnberger), Alison Wright (Road Runner), Zoulia Martissova (Prato), Svetlana Boubnenkova (Prato), and three members of the T-Mobile team from the USA were away over the climb.

This group of 10 played around too much and were caught after about 10 km. About 5 km before the same climb on the third lap, Boubnenkova attacked and Oenone was right with her. Kim Anderson (T-Mobile) bridged across to the two climbers and manage to scramble back on after being dropped over the top of the climb.

After winning this race in 2002, Nicole Brändli was keen for a result on home-soil, so with me in tow, she attacked the chase group hard over the climb the 2nd last time and we bridged the gap to the three leaders. So - the winning break was established - two Prato, two Aussies and a T-Mobile.

The bunch were hovering at about the 35sec mark for nearly 40 km, after some stop-start chasing from Nürnberger, Vlaanderen, and some of the smaller teams who missed the break, and T-Mobile who were trying to get another rider up to the break. The chase group was being well controlled by Aussie team-mates Emily Williams and Lorian Graham, and the remainder of the Prato team, who had made the select group of 30.

Brändli, Boubnenkova, Oenone and I were swapping off comfortably. Anderson sat on sensibly, with two riders from two opposing teams there to potentially work her over in the final kilometres. Over the final climb Boubnenkova attacked again and Oenone followed her designated rider. I was keeping all eyes on Brändli.

As the K.O.M. approached, Brändli attacked with me in behind, and we bridged up to Oenone and Boubnenkova, with Anderson struggling about 100 metres behind. I sprinted to the top to claim the K.O.M. prize for the race. Oenone was now falling behind, and chasing a 50 metre gap to try and get the two Prato riders and myself back. I knew I had them covered in the sprint but was a bit edgy, with the usual counter-attacking going non-stop in the final 7 km. I could hear James [Victor, team director] encouraging Oenone to try and get back to us, but I knew she had done an awesome job covering lots of moves. It was going to be up to me now.

The Prato riders had tried every move in the book to get one of them clear. I managed to cover everything and with a block headwind into the 400 metre finish straight, I was able to hold back until the final 100 metres and come off Brändli and take my victory salute.

An awesome time trial from Oenone over the last 10 km saw her hang onto 4th place. But my smile for the win wasn't nearly as grand as Emily Williams' when she gapped the chase group over the final few kilometres and came in for 6th place, with the hard chasing group only 30 metres behind.

I feel like a broken record, but I have to say it again - this A.I.S. Aussie team is working as well, if not better than all of the 'Pro' teams and others in the peloton. Today we won the Mountain prize, Sprints prize and the Race. NICE! Not a bad job we have!

I'm off to the Czech Republic as a guest rider with the Aussie contingent in the Italian professional team 'Road Runner/Guercotti', whilst the Novellara based A.I.S. group use the next three weeks to prepare for the all important Tour de l'Aude, France in May, which is the first real test of tour racing for the season.