Anna Wilson ReportsAnna regularly writes for www.cyclingnews.com and reports in when the email is working. Click on the Stage that you wish to read about.
Well finally we have a luxurious hotel with email facilities. This tour so far has been a bit of a hell trip. We began on Tuesday in Montlucon (Central France) in a temperature over 40 degrees. There was no nice flat sprinter's stage to kick off the Tour - it was straight into the serious stuff. It was 148 kms long and finished with a cat 1 climb.
Having agreed in our team meeting that GC was out of the question for us and that we were aiming for stage wins, I had pretty much written off this stage before we began. There is no one on the Australian team who can compete in the big climbs and so when the pressure went on halfway through the stage and my heart-rate was going through the roof I decided it was time to join the laughing group.
Only trouble was, there wasn't much laughing going on. The temperature climbed into the mid 40's and the hills kept coming and everyone was pretty much switched into survival mode. Out in front, the remainder of the bunch stayed basically together until the cat 1 climb tore the race to shreds. Edita Pukinskaite of the Dream Team attacked late in the stage and went on to win solo by about 10 seconds. Cappellotto was second with Bandini on her wheel. I finished 23 minutes back, glad that I had decided to piano the last half of the stage. I was wrecked enough as it was! The funniest part was that the race organiser thought we were going to cover the 148 kms in three and a half hours - might have been close if the stage was flat! The winner actually finished in 4 and a half hours and so the police were not impressed with having to keep the roads clear for the extra hour.
Day 2 was no cooler but at least it was a little flatter. It was 138kms long but with an 18 km neutral that went up hill and down dale it might as well have been 160 kms long. We just had to survive two cat 4 hill sprints and the rest of the stage was almost pleasant. Well it would have been if it had been 20 degrees cooler! I had a go in the intermediate sprints and collected a few points and then it was all on for a bunch kick. We swung into town with a k to go and Cappelloto hit the front. She had the whole race strung through the town and then we hit a hill with 500 to go and Cappellotto kicked it up a notch and gaps started appearing everywhere. 200 to go it flattened again and Petra Rosner kicked off the wheel to win the stage but Cappellotto held on to second - an amazing performance!
After that stage we had a 4 hour drive so we arrived at the hotel at 10 pm in time for dinner, some handwashing, a quick rub and bed. We had to get up at 7am to breakfast and get back in the cars for another hour to the start of the first stage on Day 3. Nothing like a 6 hour sleep after 160 ks on the bike to bring out the best in people! The first stage today was 47km long, over Col d'Aspin. Time for the GC riders to get serious and time for me to have another piano up the climb. All in all not a bad stage for me. The weather was finally cool and I quite enjoyed the stage. Luperini and Edita were the strongest of the climbers but Polkanova and Bandini managed to join them on the descent and Polkanova took out the stage. Edita still in the yellow jersey.
We then had a three hour break for lunch and then it was back on the bikes for 63kms ending on top of Col Soulor. Time for me to try and get the sprint jersey and then piano up the climb. Things worked out perfectly for the sprint jersey so tomorrow I will be time trialling in the "maillot rouge". Then the climb began and I went backwards rapidly. This time Edita proved too strong and she won the stage by a few seconds from Luperini and then Cappellotto. So Edita still in yellow.
That was not the end of our day though - another 4 hour drive and another 10pm arrival and dinner and handwashing and rubs. This tour organiser should be shot!
Tomorrow is the time trial - 26.5 kms over what looks to be a pretty undulating course. At least we can sleep in til 8. What a luxury!
Stages 4 to 6
Day 4 was a recovery day in comparison to the other days. A 27 km time trial around a lake foreshore. Typical lakeshore road - up and down and pretty rugged in places.
The battle was on for the yellow jersey with the top 10 not separated by a great deal of time I was off very early in the piece having cruised to the top of the mountain top finish the day before. I rode a 55 big ring and 44 little ring with a 12 - 21 on the back and it seemed to me that I was either in the 55x12 or 44x21. There were some wicked descents where I was spinning out the 55x12 and then some steep pinches where I wanted to reach for a smaller gear but there wasn't one. The last 10 km was flatter though and it was possible to get some kind of a rhythm. That was until the last km when the course went up a little goat track and the last 200 metres was a steep uphill finish.
I set a time of 38:06 and that held as the fastest time until Olympic champion Zabirova hit the course and took a whopping 44 seconds out of me. Barbara Heeb, Cappellotto and Polkanova all managed to better my time as well and then the wait was on for the last two riders on GC - Luperini and Edita Pukinskaite.
The last 10 riders had gone off at 2 minute gaps but by the time Edita and Luperini reached the finishing straight Edita was only 15 seconds behind Luperini - she was breathing down her neck.
Edita recorded the fastest time for the day - 37:06, with Zabirova second, Heeb third, Cappellotto 4th, Polkanova 5th and myself 6th. So Edita now has a comfortable buffer on GC being nearly 2 minutes in front of second place. Luperini has taken an unprecedented slide into 4th place, and there were a few tears from her after the time trial when she realised the damage that had been done.
This morning we had a bit more excitement with blood tests taking place at our hotel. It will be interesting to see some of these haematocrit levels..
Today we race 114 km up and over Mont Ventoux - a lovely 20 km climb that should well and truly split the bunch. I'll email again when it's all over for another day.
Well the email was a shemozzle at the last hotel so now it's 2 days later and here I am trying again!
Yesterday was the Mont Ventoux day and I have never ever been up a climb like that. We all had 39x25's on our bikes and we thought that would be plenty. Wrong!!! The climb started 40 km into the stage and so we tried to get one Aussie into a break to get a bit of a head start for it. Our attempts failed but 5 other riders succeeded in breaking away. Fany LeCoitus was the only one of the break who made it over the top with the leading group. When I hit the bottom with the bunch and realised that there was no chance of me making better than top 20 in the stage I sat up and waited for a laughing bunch to form.
I soon had a great little bunch including Petra Rosner and Ina Teutenberg and Anne Samplonius and we coasted up - well coast was impossible up there but we did our best. A few k's into it James offered me a change of bike so I could get a wheel with a 27 on it and I jumped at the chance. A bike change added a bit of excitement to the stage and the 27 was far more appropriate for the gradient! The climb was 18 km long and we went from about 100 metres to over 1800 metres. Now that works out at an average of less than 10% but it felt like about 15% and by the time we had covered 15 kms of it the gradient was feeling like about 20%. My group reached the top 28 minutes behind the leader. Luperini was the first over the top - about 20 seconds in front of the yellow jersey. On the descent a group formed of Luperini, Edita Pukinskaite (yellow jersey), Alessandra Cappellotto, Polkanova and Linda Jackson. Rasa Polikevicuite got to them on the descent and immediately attacked. She ended up winning solo by nearly 3 minutes and so moved up on GC.
My group finally finished 33 minutes after Rasa - well at least I should be fresher than all those climbers for the following day!
Day 6 was a good day for the Australian team - only one hill climb the whole day and it was only a cat 4. The day was also a good one on the tour - only 106 kms and only a half hour drive to the hotel after the stage. The organiser must be growing brains or something!
We were aggressive from the start of the race, sending one rider after another down the road. Over the climb and down the other side the bunch was basically strung single file and then when we hit the flats again the bunch regrouped and we started attacking again.
Tracey Gaudry had someone ram into her rear derailleur so she had to change bikes and had a heap of fun chasing back to the bunch. Meanwhile I was the lucky one who made it into the break that stuck. A bunch of 11 of us slipped off the front and with at least one rider from every major team there weren't many people interested in chasing. We quickly got a handy time gap. The only rider interested in taking time was Pia Sundstedt who was in the top 10 on GC. The rest of us were only there for the stage - way too far out of GC to care about a few minutes. So Pia did most of the driving until about 5 km to go and then there was a block headwind and no one wanted to do anything. That's where the attacks started. I thought I was the quickest there so I was pretty keen for it to stay together. I did a lot of covering attacks until about 1500 to go when the Dutch rider attacked. This time Karen Kurreck covered it and I got to sit on. We descended into the final 300 metres and then there was a sweeping left hander. I got momentum from the descent and hit the front with 300 to go. I half sprinted for 100 metres - just wanting to hold position. I reached 200 to go and went all out. No one managed to come round me and I got to do the big salute for the finish.
Well the latest news from the Women's Tour is not the best for the Australian team. Today we had a double stage - stage one was 100 km, finishing with a 25 km climb. Then to top it off we had 50 kms in the afternoon finishing with a 15 km climb. I cracked in the morning stage - there was nothing left in my little leggies to carry me any further. I rode a couple of kilometres up the climb and realised that I would only be riding myself into the ground if I finished this tour. With Commonwealth Games so close I can't afford to do that so I jumped in the car. You should have seen the smile spread across my face as I realised that I wouldn't have to grovel through another 4 and a half days of this Tour.
At the end of the morning stage both Juanita Feldhahn and Liz Tadich also abandoned the Tour, the priority being the Commonwealth Games. Tracey Gaudry and Mary Grigson perservered with the afternoon stage but have now abandoned the tour as well and we are all heading back to Hahn, Germany tomorrow to recovery and begin preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
Yesterday's stage was 146 kms but we had an hour of neutral before the start so it was actually a 165km stage and the temperature was 40 degrees. Although the profile looked reasonably flat, it was WRONG. It was up and down all day with some difficult climbs late in the stage. In the end a bunch of 18 was all that remained and no Australians were in it. I hammered myself trying to get back on the bunch on the descent but I had lost too much time on the climb. I was so fatigued at the end of that - and it didn't help when I realised that in another 12 hours I had to get out of bed to do it all again. There is just no recovery on this tour!
In the lead group, Capellotto got away in the final couple of kilometres and won solo by 19 seconds. She moved into second overall on the tour as a result with Edita Pukinskaite still leading.
So all in all today was a pretty dismal day for us at the Tour. Mind you, I feel very happy to have pulled out - I know that it is the right decision for the important races still to come later this year.
Meanwhile, back with the leaders of the Tour. Luperini laid it all on the line up the climb in this morning's stage and she managed to shake the yellow jersey. Luperini won solo by over a minute from the nearest contenders - Rasa Polikevicuite, Polkanova and Alessandra Cappellotto. Edita Pukinskaite (yellow jersey) finished one minute 31 seconds behind Luperini so she holds on to the yellow jersey but only by 41 seconds.
This afternoon Barbara Heeb surprised everyone by winning solo with Edita in the group behind her and Luperini 13 seconds behind Edita. So Edita consolidated her lead in the Tour. Tomorrow is another hilltop finish so she isn't home safe yet!
So that's about all you will hear from me about the Tour. A week of 40 degrees and 150 kms a day has killed me. Long live the one day races!