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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.
Tour de l'Aude Round-up
By Olivia Gollan
The 2003 edition of Tour de l'Aude has finished and the A.I.S. Australian team has come through unscathed and smiling! Lorian Graham, Emma James, Christine Riakos, Emily Williams, Alison Wright (the ring-in from Road Runner) and I arrived back in Novellara, Italy on Monday night after a windy, wet and long drive home.
I have already given you a run down on the first few stages and won't bore you with the details of races long-finished, but there are some highlights from the remainder of the tour that need to be shared.
The Time Trial
For me the most successful day of the tour was the time trial in Castelnaudry on Wednesday. My GC goals hinged around a decent result in the time trial and then hopefully having the legs to be aggressive up the long climbs later in the week. The time trial was around the same course as last year and again the wind was blowing and rain clouds hovering ! I followed team-mate Christine in the car before I went off so I could get another look - all of the other girls in the team were not chasing GC so had a fairly cruisy ride. Unfortunately Lorian misjudged a corner on the very technical descent and crashed, injuring her knee. She was forced to abandon but she had done a great job until this mishap.
I had forgotten how long a 31km time trial could feel - especially with five days of racing already in your legs. It is so hard to judge what you are feeling when you are not fresh in a TT but I knew by the raspy throat and dripping brow that I had put everything into it. Couldn't believe the final results. I finished second behind Sara Carrigan (BIK Powerplate). An Aussie first and second in the TT of a category one tour. Woo-hoo! I was now third on GC behind Lyne Bessette and Judith Arndt.
For me the next few days were about hiding and trying to watch the main contenders. The tour kept winding its way over categorised climbs and our whole team needed to be alert and on top of those threats to the overall classification. Alison Wright was amazing - she kept everything covered and was always close by. Emma James was with me to the end of the stage that finished in Castelnaudry the day after the TT, keeping me in sight and protected.
Another double day
Friday May 23 was another double stage day which definitely took any sign of life out of our legs. The morning stage was aggressive and we were involved in every move. Coming into the finish I saw an opportunity after several of the main players had attacked and put in a big one with a kilometre to go. I had a gap and had Alison yelling in my radio to keep going - I got caught with 200m to go but Alison was there and sprinted to finish third. Great race!
The afternoon stage was again over some hills that seemed to go forever and again it was Alison who ended up in the break that finished ahead of the main field. Sara Carrigan took her 2nd stage win for the tour after riding away from the break with about 12km to go. It was an awesome ride from Ali to finish fourth. I won the bunch kick to finish 8th and maintained my GC position - Sara Carrigan moved into fourth overall. Where have all these Aussies come from?
The hills and the cold
The big climbing day finally dawned and as we prepared for the day that took us over one Category 1 climb, then onto two Hors Category climbs. We were also celebrating Christine's 25th birthday. What a day to turn 25! The rain was steady and you couldn't see the tops of the mountains we were about to climb. A few opportunists started attacking off the start line (not sure if they had looked at the profile) and a group of 15 (including Petra Rossner and Alison Wright) ended up with a three minute advantage by the bottom of the first Hors cat. No serious climbers amongst them though so there was no panic. Lyne Bessette was clearly nervous, however, as she tried to chase a few of the early moves that were no threat to her overall lead.
We caught the remains of the break away group up the climb and after surviving countless attacks from Fabiana Luperini (Aurora), I was then put into a deep abyss of pain by Judith Arndt who went to the front of the group that remained (Ljungskog, Polkanova, Melchers, Luperini, Bessette, Worrack and about three others) and drove for about 2km - she was clearly on a mission. We got to the top of the climb and knew that the descent was wet and cold; so with all of us scrambling for jackets and bidons and gloves and vests we took the descent safely. Some would say we crept.
The second climb came and I was trying my hardest to warm up. I kept stopping my teeth from chattering and was forcing food in to make sure I didn't run out of fuel in the cold. After a number of half-hearted attacks from the others, World Road Champion Suzanne Ljungskog seized an opportunity and blasted away with Judith Arndt on her wheel. The rest of us didn't really have an answer - me especially. My race was finished and as I groveled up the remaining five kilometres of the climb I was willing my legs just to turn over. Oh well, Ljungskog won the stage and Judith took the yellow. Brilliant ride from the classy German. I lost about six minutes and slipped to seventh overall - disappointed but knowing I gave everything.
The last day
With Nurnberger controlling the bunch very effectively in the final stage, a group of non-GC riders rode away from the bunch at about the 40km mark. We didn't have a representative so were all a bit edgy. After a few attacks from Lyne Bessette and Mirjam Melchers, the break came back to 30 seconds and Alison managed to jump across to the small group with about 20km to go. Having the bulldog (Alison) out there meant a guaranteed result! Saturn rider Ina Teutenberg won the stage after numerous attacks from the two Aurora girls in the break that Alison had to cover. Alison finished second behind Teutenberg - a great result from a race that with 20km to go seemed like no AIS girl was on the podium. And a great finish to the tour for Alison with a second, third and fourth in stages, and the bonus of having an experienced, reliable side-kick to help me through such a hard tour.
With the tour finished we headed for the gymnasium in Limoux where there was a gourmet meal, wine and loads of entertainment! Anita Valen proved to be the star of the show with her display of flesh, dancing skills and 'out-there' clothing. We were also treated to an unusual display of regional dancing and music which kept us all intrigued. Olga Slyusareva's son entertained the whole crowd playing 'imaginary' football and basketball on the inside court, and we gossiped the night away. The less seasoned of us are still gob smacked by the personalities that make up this great community. Nights like this are testimony to the fact that the people involved in women's cycling have a unique bond.
After arriving back in Italy, we checked the latest UCI International Women's Road Rankings after the Tour; the Aussies are not doing too bad at all.
A mid-season rest for me now; and then off training in the mountains, that will take me through to the business end of a so-far very memorable season.
Images by James Victor, AIS