Stage 1 - June 13: Boise - Idaho City, 111.2 km
Twelve days of racing in Idaho started with a 111km stage from Boise to Idaho City. It was a cold and windy day and plenty of crosswinds to cause suffering in the bunch! About 20kms into the race, we turned right and the cross winds grew particularly severe.
The Saturn team all went to the front of the race and put the hammer down out in front. Petra Rossner and Kristy Scrymgeour waited until the bunch was all strung out in one long line on one side of the road and then surreptitiously let the wheel in front of them go, creating a gap in the bunch with about 10 riders in front of them, including four Saturn riders - Ina Teutenberg, Lyne Bessette, Kim Bruckner and myself. As we continued to drive it in front, so that the gap would grow, our bunch dwindled to six riders - the four of us, plus Jeannie Longo (Office Depot) and Rasa Polikevicuite (Acca Due).
Behind us there was carnage with the bunch in smithereens and little groups forming all over the place. For a long time there was a group of six behind us, trying to chase us. This group eventually swelled to 23 riders as other groups managed to catch them. Both Kristy Scrymgeour and Petra Rossner were in there for the Saturn team. Out in front, it was clear that Jeannie Longo and Lyne Bessette were the strongest of our group, and they were causing plenty of pain ifor the rest of us. Ina Teutenberg had to sacrifice her place at one time to make sure Kim Bruckner remained with our group and so we dwindled to five in front.
We hit the one climb of the day and Jeannie Longo began to put the pressure on. With her attacks, she dropped all of us except Lyne Bessette. Jeannie and Lyne crested the climb about one minute in front of Kim Bruckner, Rasa Polikevicuite and myself and we set about chasing them in the remaining 40kms of the stage. Lyne wasn't helping Jeannie with the work in front - she just sat behind her the whole way to the finish since she had two teammates behind her, trying to catch up again. Since she didn't contribute to the work, she didn't contest the sprint for the finish, so Jeannie won the stage and took the overall lead of the tour.
Meanwhile, Kim, Rasa and I were caught by the bunch of 24 riders containing Petra, Ina and Kristy with about 12 kms remaining in the stage. Kristy led out Petra for the sprint for 3rd place and Petra won that easily. Our group finished two minutes and 15 seconds behind Jeannie and Lyne. The next group to finish was a further eight and a half minutes back - an enormous gap! So we feel that the tour has already been whittled down to about 29 real contenders after the first day.
Stage 2 - June 14: Lowman - Stanley, 93.6 km
On day two, we raced 93kms from Lowman to Stanley. The stage begins very gently uphill for the first 35km and then the climb becomes a little more severe for the next 17km until finally it crests and there is a short descent before a flat 30km to the finish. Shortly before the first intermediate sprint of the day, there was an attack which created a breakaway of four riders - Nicole Freedman, Pam Schuster (Autotrader), Joan Wilson (Office Depot), and Catherine Cardwell.
Nicole took the sprint and the four riders continued to make time on the bunch. By the bottom of the climb they had 1 min 30 seconds. Joan Wilson proved to have the best climbing form of the break and she was soon on her own out in front as the bunch caught the rest of the break. Jeannie Longo tried some attacks shortly into the climb but she wasn't able to create any breakaways and so she contented herself with riding tempo up the climb to the top. Joan Wilson stayed away solo all the way to the top and still had a minute and a half gap at the top.
At the top of the climb we had a group of around 40 riders and another 10 riders caught us on the descent. An unusually large number for such a tough stage. The Autotrader team became active once the road flattened out and attacked many times trying to create a breakaway. However, it was Judith Arndt of the German team who seized the perfect moment and took off from the bunch solo. She was flying out in front. It was time for a Saturn rider to get on terms with her so I attacked first to try and bridge across. When that didn't work Lyne tried and when she was caught Kim attacked and she broke away, along with Rasa Polikevicuite (Acca Due).
The two of them caught Judith just as she was catching Joan Wilson and the four of them worked well together for the final 20 kms to the finish. The Intersports team and Office Depot (Jeannie Longo's team) tried to chase behind them but they continued to lose ground and the four riders finished with a 1 minute 40 second advantage over the bunch. That was great for us as it moves Kim Bruckner within 50 seconds of Jeannie Longo's lead. So Longo still retains the leader's jersey, six seconds ahead of Lyne. Judith Arndt is now in third place, 38 seconds back, Rasa is fourth, Kim fifth, Petra sixth and me seventh. A good position for Saturn with four riders in the top 7!
Stage 3 - June 15: Stanley - Ketchum, 99.7 km
Today we raced nearly 100km, starting in Stanley, climbing up to 8700 feet over Galena Pass in the middle of the stage and finishing in Ketchum 50 kms later. From the start of the stage Cathy Marsal attacked and began a solo pilgrimage to the base of the climb. Her lead grew to nearly a minute before almost being brought back as the bunch became aggressive. Then it went out again to 1 minute 20 seconds with about five kilometres left to the base of the climb.
At this point Jeannie Longo went to the front and started riding a strong tempo. By the time we were a couple of kms into the climb, Marsal was dropping back through the bunch, just as Longo and Lyne Bessette (Saturn) were going off the front. Another kilometre later and Longo was on her own, riding towards the top. Lyne was joined by Judith Arndt (Germany), Trixi Worrack (Germany), Amber Neben (Earthlink), Alison Dunlap (Boise Cascade) and Caroline Alexander (Intersports). They reached the top about one minute behind Longo. I reached the top just behind Kim Bruckner (Saturn), Ceris Gilfillan (Great Britain) and Jolanta Polikevicuite (Acca Due). I caught them on the descent and Kim and I began a frantic chase.
We didn't realise, but Judith Arndt and Caroline Alexander had been dropped by the rest of their group on the descent. We caught them with about 30 kms remaining in the race. So, since we had Lyne up the road with Jeannie Longo, Alison Dunlap, Amber Neben and Trixi Worrack, Kim and I began sitting on our group at this point and let Judith Arndt chase along with Ceris Gilfillan and Caroline Alexander. Jolanta was also sitting on our group since Acca Due was hoping their best rider overall, Rasa Polikevicuite, would be able to catch up with our group. Although we came within 20 seconds of the front group, we never caught up with them.
Instead, with one kilometre to go we were caught by a large group of around 40 riders and Petra Rossner (Saturn) won the bunch sprint for fifth place, 41 seconds behind the front group. Out in front, Lyne Bessette went for a long sprint, hoping to win the stage but she was just pipped on the line by Alison Dunlap. Jeannie Longo finished third. So overall, Jeannie Longo remains six seconds ahead of Lyne Bessette in the leader's jersey. The rest of the top 10 has remained the same except that we all lost another 41 seconds on the lead two.
Stage 4 - June 16: Sun Valley ITT, 5.1 km
Today we raced two short stages. In the morning we had a "Head to Head Time Trial" where we raced a 5 km time trial in pairs - one rider on each side of the road, time trialling side by side but not allowed to draft from one another. It was a very intense race, particularly for the last few pairs to go. The final pair was Jeannie Longo (Office Depot) and Lyne Bessette (Saturn) - the first and second in the overall standings.
Lyne had the most amazing race ever, winning the time trial and beating Jeannie Longo by 13 seconds. She also received a 5 second time bonus for beating her paired rider and so she moved into the overall lead of the whole race by 12 seconds. We were overjoyed and amazed at Lyne's performance. Jeannie Longo finished 2nd in the time trial, Kim Bruckner (Saturn) was 3rd, only a couple of seconds behind Jeannie, I was 4th and Petra Rossner (Saturn) finished in 7th place. So we still had 4 Saturn riders in the top 10 overall at the finish of the time trial.
Stage 5 - June 16: Elkhorn Circuit Race, 46 km
In the afternoon we raced a circuit race around the Elkhorn resort. We completed 18 laps of a nasty 2.6km circuit containing a steep little climb each lap. There were mountain sprint points every third lap just to spice up the action. On the second lap of the bike race a break went containing Kim Bruckner (Saturn), Sarah Conrad (Boise Cascade), Caroline Alexander (Intersports), Alison Sydor (Canada) and Katrina Berger (Autotrader). This was a good break for us since Kim was the highest placed overall in this group. Jeannie Longo had to work hard along with her teammate Joan Wilson to bring this break back.
After this things settled down for a little while until Ina Teutenberg (Saturn) took off like a rocket on the 9th lap, collected some mountain points and continued to power away. The field didn't respond for a couple of laps and Ina's lead grew to over 1 minute. The mountain sprint with 6 laps to go saw the field pick up the speed a little bit and on the following lap, Alison Dunlap (Boise Cascade) attacked from the bottom of the climb.
I set out after her along with Trixi Worrack (Germany), Rasa Polikevicuite (Acca Due), Chantal Beltman (Holland) and Andrea Ratkovic (800.com). We joined Alison Dunlap as we climbed the hill for the 4th last time but before we reached the top, Lyne Bessette attacked out of the bunch and came storming past us. Only Chantal, Rasa and Andrea were able to continue after Lyne. Alison, Trixi and I died and went back to the bunch. Once Ina heard that Lyne was in a break and trying to get across to her, she waited at the top of the hill for Lyne and then drove as hard as she could for a lap.
At this stage we had two laps left. Lyne proceeded to drive the break out in front, with the other three riders sitting on her while Ina was happy to sit up and cruise to the finish with her job complete. Jeannie Longo tried a couple of times to pick the pace up to catch the breakaway but each time she was marked by a Saturn rider. In the finish, Chantal Beltman won the sprint from Lyne Bessette, with Rasa in 3rd place and Andrea in 4th. 1 minute 22 seconds later, Petra Rossner won the bunch sprint for 5th place ahead of Alison Dunlap, Jolanta Polikevicuite and Jeannie Longo.
So a perfect race for us with Lyne extending her lead to 1 minute 39 seconds over Jeannie Longo in the overall standings. Rasa Polikevicuite is now in 3rd place overall, while Kim Bruckner is in 5th place, I am in 8th place and Petra 9th overall. Still 4 Saturn riders in the top 10!
Stage 6 - June 17: Shoshone - Burley, 128.3 km
On stage 6 we raced a flat, windy 128kms. After all the excitement of the fourth day of the tour, we were all pretty tired and hoping for an easy day. Our plan was to cover the attacks from the major players in the race, while letting Lyne Bessette and Kim Bruckner in particular sit back and take things easy in preparation for the big mountain top finish today. The best laid plans of mice and men ...
The cross winds turned out to be severe enough to make it impossible to have an easy day. There were many people keen to attack and that caused the bunch to stretch into one long line in the gutter. There was an intermediate sprint at the 48km mark and with the increase in pace caused by this sprint, a small group broke away containing Catherine Marsal (Intersports), Ina Teutenberg (Saturn), Petra Rossner (Saturn), Angela (Holland), Chantal Beltman (Holland) and Brooke Blackwelder (Goldy's). Sarah Ulmer (Autotrader) shot across the gap by herself and that inspired me to try as well. I reached the group and within a couple of seconds Lyne Bessette (Saturn), Kim Bruckner (Saturn), Rasa Polikevicuite (Acca Due), Vera Hohlfield (Acca Due) and Judith Arndt (Germany) showed up too.
So we had a group of 13 with five Saturn riders in there - what more could we want? We all buried ourselves to establish the gap. I was feeling pretty bad at this point but I think that's just because we were riding so hard to escape the clutches of the bunch. We hovered between 15 and 20 seconds for a long time as Jeannie Longo and her Office Depot team and the Boise Cascade team tried frantically to shut the move down. But we had 10 totally committed riders in our breakaway group since all five Saturn riders were keen to make time on Jeannie Longo, and Rasa and Vera from Acca Due, Chantal from Holland and Judith from Germany all had places on general classification to gain.
Eventually, our strength of numbers began to prevail and our time gap gradually began to grow. With 50kms to go we had a two minute gap, with 20 kms to go we had a four minute gap, and I think the chasers must have given up after that because by the finish we had nine minutes and 49 seconds on the bunch.
Just to top things off we led Petra out for the sprint and she won the stage as well! That consolidated Lyne's position in the leader's jersey and left Rasa Polikevicuite in second, Judith in third, Chantal in fourth, Kim in fifth, Petra in sixth, me in seventh, Sarah Ulmer in eighth, Vera Hohlfield in ninth and Jeannie Longo in tenth place.
Stage 7 - June 18: Burley - Pomerelle, 92.3 km
For stage 7 we raced only 90kms but we finished on top of Pomerelle at 8000 feet. The climb began at around the 72km mark, with a couple of kms of downhill after a mountain sprint at 78kms and then a final 10km climb to the finish. Lyne had more than a two minute buffer to her closest challenger overall and she has been climbing extremely well, so we were confident that if we kept things together for her until the climb began, she would have no troubles holding onto the leader's jersey.
Ina Teutenberg and Kristy Scrymgeour did the bulk of the work, setting a good tempo and providing shelter for Lyne in the cross winds. I pitched in when things became a little too difficult for two riders to control. The first part of the climb was very windy and so the bunch stayed together to the first mountain sprint. Jeannie Longo won the sprint and her effort created a split in the bunch with Lyne Bessette, Rasa Polikevicuite and someone else going with her!
On the downhill they were reabsorbed by the pack and Catherine Marsal (Intersports) set a fast tempo into the final climb to set up her teammates Sandy Espeseth and Caroline Alexander. It didn't take long for the pack to split on the climb. A group of four riders formed in front containing Jeannie Longo, Lyne Bessette, Trixi Worrack (Germany) and Judith Arndt (Germany). These four riders survived together until the finish and Trixi Worrack won the sprint from Lyne Bessette.
About a minute behind them was another group containing Kim Bruckner (Saturn), Caroline Alexander (Intersports), Alison Dunlap (Boise Cascade) and Ceris Gilfillan (Great Britain). Another minute or so behind came a group containing Petra Rossner (Saturn), Rasa and Jolanta Polikevicuite (Acca Due), Vera Hohlfield (Acca Due), Sandy Espeseth (Intersports), among others. I was another minute back.
So Lyne remains safely in her leader's jersey and Judith Arndt has taken over second position. I think Kim Bruckner has managed to move into third position ahead of Rasa Polikevicuite. Petra is now in 5th overall and I am in 6th. Things just keep getting better for the team!
Stage 8 - June 19: Burley - Magic Mountain, 97.1 km
Today we raced 97km, finishing with a long ascent of Magic Mountain. Before the race began Kim Bruckner (Saturn) had to pull out of the race because of severe saddle sores. A big shame for her as she was sitting in third place overall after a great ride up Pomerelle yesterday. So that left Rasa Polikevicuite (Acca Due) in third place overall and Petra Rossner (Saturn) in fourth.
For once there was very little wind to start with and everyone was content to ride a pleasantly slow first 20km. Then the race began to pick up as we approached the first intermediate sprint at 36km. There is a battle for the sprint jersey between Nicole Friedman and Catherine Marsal (Intersports). The Intersports team did a great job on the front for a good 10km before the sprint and their work paid off when Cathy won the sprint. That kick-started the racing for the day and about 15km later a group of eight riders got clear of the bunch and started powering towards the final climb.
The group contained Kristy Scrymgeour of Saturn and no riders who were threatening Lyne Bessette's lead in the overall classification so we were happy to let it go. There were three Dutch riders in there - Ghita Beltman, Marielle von Scheppingen and Angela Hellinger - along with Pia Sundstedt of Intersports, Kim Smith (Autotrader), Emma Davies (Great Britain), and someone else whose name I can't remember.
The group worked well together while Acca Due and Boise Cascade were the main teams behind trying to bring it back. Once the group got 1:40 in front, an attack from Meshy Holt (Boise Cascade) and Amber Neeban (Earthlink) succeeded and those two riders put in a big effort to join the front group. At the base of the climb, the 10 riders in front had a gap of 3:40. The German team began to set pace up the first part of the climb and the gap stabilised. With 10km to go, Jeannie Longo put the pressure on and the bunch began to split.
Out in front, Amber Neeban had attacked the breakaway and rode solo in to the finish to win the stage. An impressive ride from her! There were three other survivors of the breakaway: the someone I can't remember, Ghita Beltman and Emma Davies finished second, third and fourth in the stage. The rest of the breakaway was caught by the front runners from the bunch and it was Lyne Bessette who came in fifth, and maintained her overall lead. Kristy Scrymgeour finished 13th for the stage.
I rode to the finish in a group with Petra Rossner. We could see Rasa Polikevicuite in front of us for the last 6km of the climb and so I did my best to chase her with Petra sitting on, trying to prevent Rasa gaining too much time on Petra in the hope that later in the tour, Petra might be able to sneak into a breakaway and move into third place overall. With 1500 metres to go, I had spent everything I had and the group left me as they dashed to the finish, 40 seconds behind Rasa.
Five days left to race - the countdown has begun!!
Stage 9 - June 20: Twin Falls - Buhl, 107.2 km
On stage 9 we raced 107km, ending with three ascents of a 4km climb into Buhl. With the fierce competition for the sprint jersey, we could sit back in the bunch, safe in the knowledge that the Intersports team would be keeping everything together until the intermediate sprint was over.
The sprint was at 53km and Cathy Marsal won that to keep her sprint jersey. Fifteen kilometres later we hit the climb for the first time and Caroline Alexander (Intersports) set a tough tempo to the top. The pack split but soon regrouped on the descent and the Intersports team continued to set a high pace until we hit the climb for the second time. They were certainly on a mission!
The pack split again on the climb and took a little longer to regroup this time. Ghita Beltman (Holland) took advantage of her elevated speed as she rejoined the pack to attack straight past us and she quickly gained a 30 second advantage with about 15 km left to race. Alison Sydor (Canada) tried to bridge across to her at the base of the climb but didn't quite make it before the pack was on her. We swallowed Ghita as the climb began and Jeannie Longo (Office Depot) went on the attack.
Her speed up the climb was ferocious and she gradually shelled rider after rider until only Lyne Bessette (Saturn), Judith Arndt (Germany), Jolanta Polikevicuite (Acca Due) and Petra Rossner (Saturn) were left with her.
With three kms left to race, another 5 riders managed to catch them - Ceris Gilfillan (Great Britain), Caroline Alexander (Intersports), Rasa Polikevicuite (Acca Due), Vera Hohlfield (Acca Due) and someone else!!. I was a little further back with Trixi Worrack and Tina Liebig from Germany and Rosalind Reekie from Boise Cascade.
With two kms to go, Lyne Bessette attacked the front group. Jeannie Longo nearly managed to bring her back but Lyne surged again and held off the group to take the stage victory and retain her leader's jersey. Petra Rossner won the sprint for second place to make a perfect day for the team! I made it in 40 seconds later. Petra is still holding fourth place overall and I am in eighth.
Stage 10 - June 21: Twin Falls - Mountain Home, 155.2 km
Today we raced the longest day of the tour - 155km. To make matters worse, it was about 38 degrees today and we were in the middle of a desert. DRY!! The race was active from the start with many people keen to attempt a long breakaway. Nothing was successful though and once again the Intersports team were able to get Cathy Marsal first across the intermediate sprint line at 51kms. Then it was onto the first mountain sprint of the day and again Jeannie Longo (Office Depot) was on the offensive. At the top, Lyne Bessette (Saturn) was the only one left on her wheel.
However, with Lyne unwilling to work, the duo were soon joined by a small group and there were several attacks from the Intersport team, the French team and Autotrader.com. Again, nothing succeeded in breaking the stranglehold of the bunch and soon the rest of the bunch rejoined us. One notable absentee though was Nicole Freedman - Cathy Marsal's main competition for the sprint jersey. With Nicole missing from the bunch, the Intersports team had reason to force the pace until the next sprint at 102kms.
At that point it seemed like everyone got affected by the heat and we dribbled along for a while, drinking and pouring water over ourselves. It wasn't until the final sprint at 139kms that things really picked up again when Rasa Polikevicuite slipped into the sprint group and into a breakaway. Rasa is sitting in third place overall so we had to bring her back to the bunch fast. Petra Rossner (Saturn) did the bulk of the work and we soon had Rasa with us again.
Kristy Scrymgeour and I then tried to take control of the bunch and set tempo to the finish. However, there were more attacks to come to test us out. With 10km to go I slipped into a breakaway with Chantal Beltman (Holland) and Julie Young (Autotrader). It seemed like a good move for us and the three of us worked hard. We survived until five km to go and then the bunch caught us again. Kristy and I continued to work as long and hard as we could into the finish to try and set up our sprinters. With 500 metres to go, Petra Rossner started her lead-out for Ina Teutenberg. Petra took Ina to 200 metres to go and Ina took over from there - handing Saturn another stage victory!
Only three days left in the tour and Lyne still holds a lead in excess of three minutes. Things are looking good!