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The Emma James Diary 2003

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Emma and the Cannibal
Photo: © CN/Anthony Tan

Welcome to one of Cyclingnews' up-and-coming female talents, Australian Emma James. Emma's enjoying her second year as a scholarship holder with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) road cycling team, based in Tuscany, Italy. 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.

Dictating the race

Amstel Gold Race, Netherlands, April 20, 2003

It has been a while since I have been able to get 'fingers to keyboard', and write about the racing block we have just done. This is partly due to a fatal fall that my computer suffered from a Belgian hotel bed on to the floor just as we began our 'five races in five different countries in one week' challenge. We considered it a bit like a Contiki bus tour where you see 27 countries in three weeks (postcard style photos at each major tourist attraction). It wasn't much like that at all for us except for the serious amount of traveling between the hard and important races. We did end up with photos of either Olivia Gollan or Oenone Wood on the podium for the three most important races, so the Aussie team were leaving a much stronger impression on the European scene than most groups of Aussie tourists!

We had a couple hours drive early one morning to take a flight from Pisa, Italy to Charleroi, Belgium. We stayed in the same hotel as we had done for the world championships last year, close to Zolder and the Dutch border in a little Belgian town called Opeteren. We were wonderfully looked after with glorious food, and good weather. A couple days later we were lining up for the Amstel Gold race, starting an hour after the professional men from Maastricht in Holland, and finishing a couple hours earlier on the steep one kilometer climb of the Cauberg, in the Dutch town of Valkenberg. Olivia and Oenone are in particularly good form on the climbs at the moment, and have been smashing us all in training. We knew they would be contenders on the World Cup circuits in Holland and Belgium, so the team plan was to cover early moves, ensure our top two climbers were always being looked after, and to lead them onto the second last climb (with a nasty grade of 22 percent) in good position where all the action would be in the final 15km.

The race was fast and quite dangerous through the towns in the first half of the race. Everyone was trying to hold good position, and no moves were allowed to go. It was strung out at times and plenty of riders suffering to maintain contact with the group. The first time up the Cauberg at about the 65km mark the bunch split, with Oenone in a leading group of three riders, with a gap to the main field, and then to our second group of about 30 riders which was being driven by AccaDue O hoping to get Zilute back in contention after a dirty crash into a flower bed!

It all regrouped about 10km later before the last two climbs. We had driven this section of the course the previous day with our director James Victor. It was important to know when the crucial climbs were coming, and it all paid off. I was on the same side of the bunch as both Olivia and Oenone, and the peloton was being led by the Prato team. I thought they must have the same idea as us, to lead their best climbers onto the final climbs. I recognised the road from the previous day, and could see the corner marking just over a kilometer to the climb. I led Oenone up the side of the bunch, and looked across at the Prato team. We could take them on!

A car with an unsuspecting driver caused a little confusion, but we managed to get around it and we sped towards the critical corner. I led the bunch into the corner, and was relieved to hear Oenone telling me to drive it. She had held good position and now we were able dictate the race to the Euros. I did all I could to string it out and pace Oenone on to the climb. We knew the road, and we knew what we had to do. At the base of the climb she sprang off my wheel, and flew up the steepest of the hills for the day. The other riders were grouped together, not matching Oenone's pace. I was the first rider onto the climb, and still recovering over the top, I managed to hold on to the back of the second group! The top 25 riders were just ahead, and I thought it would regroup.

Oenone had a small gap on the field by the top of the climb, but on her own with just over 10kms to go. James had found a corner where he would be able to see the race after the critical climb, and he told her to sit up and save it for the finish. As soon as she sat up, the chasers eased. James shouted "GO!, GO!" A few kilometers later Nicole Cooke bridged across with a Prato rider, Ruano Sanchon, who rode with Cooke on the Deia team last year. They caught Oenone with 4km to go. The bunch caught these three on the final climb, with less than a kilometer to go. Cooke had enough to drive it up the climb, and win. Olivia launched from the group half way up the climb, and drag raced Edita Pucinskaite to the line to finish in second place! It was a great result, and a sign of things to come from the Aussie team.

We had a race in Koln to look forward to before the next world cup in Belgium where the terrain again would suit our two gun climbers.