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The Emma James Diary 2002
Welcome to Cyclingnews.com's newest female diarist, Australian Emma James. Emma's enjoying her first year as a scholarship holder with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) road cycling team, managed by coach James Victor. She's a gutsy rider who's decided that she'd rather be testing the waters of professional cycling than testing the salinity of the Sydney's waterways as an environmental scientist - which used to be her previous occupation before Emma decided to take the plunge.
France, August 28 - September 1, 2002
Stage 1 - August 28: St Amand - Levet, 81.8 km, Average speed: 41 km/h
The stage started with a 3km climb and mountain sprint. The bunch rode fairly steadily for most of it, with more action a kilometre from the top. Rochelle Gilmore (Australia) claimed the mountain sprint, followed by Tatiana Stiajkina (DEIA) and then Trixi Worrack (German Team). The bunch was fairly strung out for a while, and there was a good opportunity to attack, so I had a bit of a go. The Aussie team looked keen to control things - an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) jersey driving on the front of the peloton to bring me back made it clear I am considered more a Frenchie while I'm with Mantes-la Ville!
The bunch seemed nervous and there were numerous crashes. I seem to be on a lucky streak at the moment avoiding crashes. I hope it continues! There were at least three large crashes, one in the final 100 metres which looked particularly nasty. Sara Carrigan was unlucky with one of the earlier crashes, but although sore, she is still riding - so hopefully it is not too bad.
There was a fair bit of aggressive riding from lots of the teams and some good moves went from time to time. A group of about ten of us got up the road, and I was hopeful that would work - but the commitment was not there, and the couple teams not represented brought us back. A little while later another large group got up the road, but again not quite the right mix, so Itera and DEIA riders brought it back.
A little later in the stage, I was confident that nothing would get away, and I started thinking about an attack in the final kilometre of the stage on a little pinch as the road went over a railway line. I did not position my self well enough to have a stab at that, and a couple hundred meters later there were bodies and bikes all over the road just before the line. A crash is not a good way for a stage to finish. A couple riders with the German team seemed to come off fairly badly.
Rochelle Gilmore was second to the young, talented French rider Virginie Moinard. I was happy to be still upright, and not feeling too bad or tired after the race. I think the Grande Boucle has really given me some fitness and strength. It is a good feeling to find some form!
Stage 2 - August 29: Avord - Avord, 114.9 km
The stage was two loops of about a 60km circuit, with about 15 primes keeping it interesting, basically one at every town along the route. The Australian team director James Victor warned that last year after the big money sprint (150 Euro) at the half way mark a group got away, and finished a couple minutes ahead of the peloton.
I had been hopeful to try to lead out the good Mantes-la-Ville sprinters: Miho Oki and Sylvie Riedle, for some of the sprints. I didn't have much luck on that front - not aware at first that the sprints were marked in the same way as dangerous corners - by a man with a whistle and a yellow flag! Our team could do well on the sprint front with a little practice, but as yet we just haven't really committed to it and got it right.
There were aggressive moves early on by some of the Aussie riders and always one from Mantes-la-Ville in there too. After the half way mark there were more strong attacks by the Aussies and French national team. It was quite strung out after a fair few moves, so I was hopeful that something would go. A tall French rider, Magalie Finot, who I recognised from the Grande Boucle put in a good attack and got a decent gap. I tried to get across, but was bringing a fair few with me. I kept the pressure on, and eventually someone else thought that it might work, and very quickly a group of twelve strong riders were away. The group included Hayley Rutherford (Aust), Tatiana Stiajkina (Deia), Magali Le Floc'h (France), Kim Shirley (Itera), Vibe Janne Kolding (Denmark - twin with "Pippi Longstocking"!), Sarah Duster (Stuttgart) and five other French riders Maryline Salvetat, Virginie Moinard, Delphine Guille, Carine Peter and Magalie Finot.
Very quickly we found a good rhythm and the commitment was there. There were no riders from Edilsavino - so I was a little concerned to start with, but we soon had a substantial lead on the peloton and there were plenty of teams willing to cover anyone trying to get across to our leading group. I did not contest the sprints, probably a wise decision as our group included riders with heaps more fast-twitch sprinting muscles that I possess!
I had thought that the last part of the circuit was the same as in the first loop, with a bit of a descent just before the one kilometre mark, and then a reasonable drag the whole way up to the line. It is easy to misjudge a long uphill sprint, and strong riders (not just gifted sprinters) can get a good result. I was considering attacking in the last kilometre, and suspecting that a couple of the riders that were taking a rest at the rear of our group from time to time would have a go.
About five kilometres from the finish, on a slight drag into a headwind, a couple of riders put the pressure on, and the bunch was single file with me about fourth wheel. I could sense that no one was willing to roll though to re-establish the rhythm and the riders ahead of me looked tired. It was a good time to attack on the little drag, and I gave it everything. I was surprised when I had got up to full speed and had a quick look back to see no reaction from the group.
The four kilometre sign was the next landmark, and I pushed as hard as I could on the pedals - hoping to get that gap just big enough to crack the riders behind when they start attacking one another to bring me back. Soon I realised that the finish was different to the first lap, all flat with a few corners in towards the finish. I was slowing with two kilometres to go, not able to accelerate fast enough out of each corner. I knew I was tiring and was not surprised when I was caught by the young Danish rider Kolding with Guille just losing her wheel. I was glad it was only two riders, and I rested behind Guille, not confident I could bridge the little gap to the Danish rider.
Tatiana Stiajkina came storming through with less than a kilometre to go, and managed to win the stage just ahead of Kolding. I found enough in my legs to stay ahead of Guille and claim third place in the stage! I was fourth on GC, ten seconds behind Stiajkina and Kolding, and equal time with Guille (who had more points from the first stage). The young French rider, Moinard finished fifth just ahead of Magali Le Floc'h, with Kim Shirley 9th and Hayley Rutherford 10th.
Stage 3a - August 30: Fussy-Bourges-Orval, 78.5 km
There were two stages on the third day. The profile for the morning stage was dead flat, but by the 15 km mark, we were riding through the centre of Bourges, on a steep cobbled road, with the bunch spread out and really moving. It was quite a spectacle and was managed well by the organisers. Last year in the Grande Boucle (Women's Tour de France) I had a big crash involving a central island as we finished a 160km stage into the town of Bourges just before the rest day at the end of the first week. I looked slightly nervously at similar red and white plastic barricades set up around obstacles, and was glad when we were out of the town and on more open roads.
The race was rather uneventful for me. It was marred by a nasty crash close to the front of the group in the midway sprint which brought down a number of riders. On fast flat roads the bunch seemed to be likely to stay together. Our team director, Dominique Chignoli, had looked at the last ten kilometres of the race and told me there was a nice little one km climb with five kilometres to go, before a narrow, fast descent and then three kilometres to the finish.
I looked after myself all race - hoping to make use of the knowledge gained from "race course reconnaissance". I was not well enough positioned on the climb to attack, but Elizabeth Chevanne-Brunel from my team did. She got a small gap but was covered by Luperini (Edilsavino). The field was reduced substantially over the climb to perhaps half the field, with Rochelle Gilmore (Aust) claiming the stage. I moved in to 3rd on GC as I finished ahead of the rider on the same time as me.
Magali Paché Memorial Ceremony
Between the two stages, flowers were laid on the memorial plaque at the intersection where an accident involving a car claimed the life of the Swiss rider Magali Pache two years ago, just after the final stage. It was a moving ceremony, attended by riders, representatives from the town and race organisation, the gendarmerie and Magali's fiance, Andre.
Stage 3b - August 30: Orval - St Amand, 62.9 km
The second stage finished in the town hosting the race, not far from where all the teams stay in dormitory style accommodation at a school / college. We had done a little more "course reconnaissance" in the car - checking the last ten kilometres to think more clearly about how to best lead out our sprinters for the stage, and know any tricky corners.
On the start line people were whispering about Edilsavino, confident that they would be active today after missing the break yesterday. Our team, C.A. Mantes-la-Ville started it all with a strong attack almost from the gun by Marcia Eicher-Vouets. She stayed just in front of the group for nearly the first ten kilometres even though heaps of riders were attacking hard to join her and establish a break. It was easy for the riders from our team, taking turns to cover moves and watching Marcia stay just out of reach as she kept the pressure on.
The most unusual part of the race came just before the main climb after about 25 kilometres. At an intersection just ahead of the bunch, I saw two motor bikes come flying in from the left, and then the sound of a crash! I thought maybe the first riders of the bunch had been hit or that the road had not been closed to traffic but as the Italian riders yelled "Piano, Piano" it all became clear. Loose gravel on the corner had brought down the bike and the pride of one of the police escort motorbikes, and we all rolled past the debris and bike on its side as he sat there in the middle of the road!
By the top of the climb the bunch had regrouped and a few riders were contesting the mountain sprint. Rochelle Gilmore was leading the competition, but was pushed into the dirt by Stiajkina! (she was later "relegated" to second place behind Rochelle for the mountain sprint points for an irregular sprint). In the next ten kilometres a fair few attacks went on hilly roads, and there seemed to be some hesitation to chase things down at times. Stiajkina waited a couple of times for someone else to chase, and a couple of the French national team riders had a little success in getting a bit of a gap on the field.
At the crest of a little climb, I countered a move - thinking that I might get into another nice little break with some of the strong riders who were attacking. Once I got up to full speed, and looked around, I was surprise that no-one was keen to chase! I thought about Marcia's attack at the start of the stage, and imagined that I could cause the other teams some stress if I got a big enough gap. I got to the 20km to go sign, and the gap from me to the peloton was growing. The bunch was not reacting the rider 3rd on GC going up the road!
I tried to attack the steep sections of the undulating road in a bigger gear than I normally would, occasionally thinking by the crest that I had pushed too hard! My team director, Dominique, reminded me I would need something for the last three kilometres, when the bunch speed would be hard to hold off. The time gap at the 10km to go sign was about one minute. I don't think the time gap ever got much over one minute, and it was always going to be close. My team blocked as best they could, even breaking a little on a descent and being yelled at by other girls (I love that! - thanks Sylvie).
At one point Tatiana Stiajkina started to chase, and later Luperini, but luckily for me not for long enough! The Aussie team were willing to sit back and not attack to get across to me - but just contest the last couple intermediate sprints, knowing that any moves they made would speed the bunch and almost certainly destroy my precious gap. I claimed the last three sprints (total of 90 Euro for the team), and kept driving as hard as I could towards the line.
I was glad to get to the road we had driven over in our pre-race reconnaissance. Dominique told me not to look around, and I think the bunch may have been closer in the last couple kilometres than I would have liked! I thought about how I had got caught with two kilometres to go in the second stage, and I knew that I had to accelerate out of the corners as hard as I could. I sprinted out of the corners each time, and felt the speed coming up. I knew the roads and took the best line I could. Out of the last corner I could see the finish line, I had no idea if I would be swamped or not.
My legs were killing and I thought I could not stand up to sprint and get speed again. I clicked through the gear and pushed as hard as a diesel engine could. Just before the line I felt that magic feeling in the moment when you realise you have won. I got my hands in the air for a victory salute and enjoyed it like you wouldn't believe!
Everyone with C.A. Mantes la Ville was really happy. It was a great moment of celebration. Next there was the presentation protocols. I was not as familiar with all of that as some of the others, and next time I will make sure I take the time to change and get essential things for recovery first! I was given a beautiful gold bracelet, as the St Amand town is known as the city of gold, and a jeweler sponsored some prizes! I was given the blue jersey for winner of the stage, and the leaders yellow jersey! I had finished 16 seconds ahead of the bunch, and Stiajkina was only 10 seconds ahead on GC before the fourth stage. It was a wonderful feeling!
Stage 4 - August 31: Cosne-sur-Loire - Sancerre / Cosne, 81.9 km
The final road stage was rumoured to be really hard, on steep roads in vineyard territory. We left early for the race, and had a look at part of the circuit including a couple of the climbs and descents. I was rather nervous, but knowing I could only do as much as I physically could to hold onto the jersey. The first part of the race was two laps of a fairly flat but technical nine kilometre circuit around the start town. Our team decided not to try to control everything at first, knowing that it was going to be a long hard day in the hills for most of the race.
At about the 20km mark, Tatiana Stiajkina attacked when the bunch was strung out, and she was not seen again! A little while later a french rider, Aline Camboulives got up the road and stayed just ahead for the first two climbs.
The main climb of the day was a three kilometre climb with switchback corners climbing up to Sancerre (home of good white wine). At the base of the climb, I was on the edge of the bunch, close to the front, and coming into the first of the corners I knew that I would be pushed back as the group rounded the corner if I didn't get there first. I moved up, and Luperini moved ahead from the other side of the bunch. She attacked just before the corner and I went with her. It was really cool to be on the wheel of Luperini on a hill! She kept the pressure on and I stayed on her wheel, trying to ride smoothly and relaxed. Eventually she swung over to the right side of the road - not happy to force the pace with the yellow jersey second wheel!
There were a few more attacks up the climb, with the young Danish rider Kolding riding strongly. I was struggling a little towards the top, but still in contact, and getting back to the front group of about 30 riders just after the descent. Straight away I focused on being ready to cover Luperini. There were a few more attacks, and I felt I was going with them easily on the flatter roads.
On the next climb I suffered a bit, and may have panicked a bit rather than just trying to climb smoothly. My team mate Elizabeth Chevanne Brunel stayed with the top few riders over the climb, but would not work with them. I was just off the back over the top of the climb, and struggling to get back on. Sylvie Riedle helped me back on, and I tried to recover for a while.
The Aussie team did most of the work to pull back the group of better climbers who had got a little way up the road. There was one more climb, and again after that I was just losing contact with the group. I felt rather smashed, and in windy conditions I was hoping for some help again! Luckily the other riders in the peloton did not attack at that time, and after a little confusion and dramas, a few of the girls from my team dropped back to help me get back on.
The last 15 kilometres of the race was an impressive bit of team work from the Mantes-la-Ville girls. They drove it on the front in the gutter - causing some trouble behind, but with me sitting comfortably in the front part of the group. Coming into the finish there were a few attacks, but enough riders keen for our group to stay together.
Tatiana Stiajkina finished more than two minutes ahead. Aline Camboulives had attacked again in the final part of the race and finished second, 30 seconds ahead of our group of 25 riders. I had lost the jersey to a much stronger rider. I was very tired, and felt that I had done all I could just to stay with the group I was in. Luckily that was enough to hold on to my second place on GC.
Stage 5 - September 1: St Amand ITT, 9.3 km
The time trial circuit started in the town centre, with a long three km drag up to the base of a steep climb (750m), before a fairly easy descent and then a fair few corners over the remaining section. I had all the good gear I needed from the Australian camp (time trial bike, wheels, helmet and ergo!). I rode over the circuit a few times in the morning and followed the first rider off from our team in the car. I was only six seconds ahead of Kolding, and only 20 seconds ahead of another five riders including a couple good time trialists.
I warmed up fairly well, and had no particular dramas on the circuit. There were a few corners I could have taken a little faster - but I had good speed for most of it, and did OK on the climb. I finished in 8th place, about 30 seconds behind Stiajkina! Olga Zabelinskia (Itera) was second, and then Alison Wright (Aust). Hayley did a great ride and moved into 3rd place on GC. I was glad I had enough time on GC to hold onto my second place.
I was really happy with how the racing went for my first time at Trophée D'Or. It is one of the races that is important for selection for the Australian team for the World Championships. With a little bit of luck and hopefully continuing good form in September - I will be with the Aussie team in Zolder (Belgium) on the 12th October - ready to show the world what the Aussies can do!