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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.

Giro d'Italia Femminile, part one

Prologue - Stage 5: Disorganisation, rubbish, rain and beachside racing

I love Italy. These crazy late night prologues and the confusion and last minute details all changing is quintessentially Italian.

For the start of the Giro we were in a town 20km from Napoli, called Castel Volturno. This area is really different to any place I have been before; so different to Northern Italy! There is a beach a few hundred meters away from the flash hotel we were staying in, but you can't get onto the sand because it is fenced off - the top of it even has barbed wire to really discourage an enthusiastic swimmer. The beaches are marked out with thousands of umbrellas and deck chairs.

The inside of our hotel is beautiful and we have great food and a perfect swimming pool, but even the front window of the hotel has been smashed, along with every car and most shop fronts along the roads outside. The rubbish on every roadside, and the rubbish bins burnt out and twisted, the bin lids missing and rubbish spewing out from any vacant block of land changes the mood of the whole place. Now I appreciate all the efforts that councils and most people make with their rubbish when I see the alternative that I have never really experienced before in my travels in Europe or in Australia!

Prologue - July 4: Grumo Nevano ITT, 2.2 km

The first rider for the 2.2km prologue was due to start at 8.30pm, with one minute gaps taking us through to about 10.30pm. We had been told the prologue times did not count towards the General Classification. We had dinner at the hotel at 5pm, and headed to the circuit about 20km away. At 8.30pm we still did not have a start list. I laughed a little as I warmed up on the circuit and the large, digital clock said 8:27:00, and the officials shook their heads saying they still had no idea when we would be starting. Any time in the next three hours. The start list printed earlier had all the riders for one team starting consecutively. The Aussie team were all due to start at about 10pm, or half an hour later as the organisation realised there was no chance of starting on time. They agreed to reorder the start list so one from each team would go in each wave. The only problem then was printing out the lists for the teams. We were assured that someone had gone to find a printer cable or some ink...

I love Italy, and to me these crazy late night prologues through cobbled piazzas and narrow streets bustling with people and the confusion and last minute details all changing is something quintessentially Italian. We now knew that the times would be the first split of GC riders. We had not brought time trial bikes or ergos to warm up on, and with the confusion Olivia got about 10 minutes warning before she had to start - plenty of adrenalin, but not the normal warm up.

It was a bit of fun, and we all did OK. Dutch rider Bertine Spikeman cleaned up by a good five second margin to take the first pink leader's jersey of the tour. We had an epic drive back to the hotel, touring all the roads that did not lead us to on to the main freeway home. A long evening of debacles, but plenty of memories.

Stage 1 - July 5: Grumo Nevano (NA) - Guardia Sanframondi (BN), 119 km

We returned to the same car park near the prologue circuit the next morning to get ready for the first road stage of 119km with two cat one climbs. The race was aggressive early, but nothing was going to go on the flat terrain with everyone fresh and ready to race. The bunch split in half on the first of the cat one climbs. On the descent Olivia came down on one of the hair pins, with Boubnenkova and one other. Natalie Bates and I waited and paced Olivia back to the group by the end of the descent, still with ten kilometres to race up the final cat one climb.

James [Victor, AIS coach - Ed] had seen Boubenenkova (who won the Giro last year) getting a spare bike after the crash on the descent. He warned of attacks, and moments later as the climb began Jolanta Polikieviciute (Aurora) launched from the field. Lorian Graham (Australian National Team) tried to cover the move, and had the field within 50m of Jolanta, but no one else would work to bridge the gap. The field let her ride away, securing a lead of one or two minutes in the final ten kilometres and taking the pink jersey.

On a flatter section I attacked, but moves were all being covered quickly by the Aurora team, in a very strong position with Jolanta up the road. In the final couple of kilometres Amy and Lorian both were unlucky with punctures. Oenone and Olivia were both in the top ten, and well placed on GC. I was happy to finish with the tail of the front group. I am climbing much better than earlier in the season, and feeling stronger, ready for some tough racing.

Stage 2 - July 6: Colle Sannita (BN) - San Marco dei Cavoti (BN), 85 km

I struggled on this 85 km stage. I was caught out too far back on a descent early in the race. A few of us were caught up behind crashes and had to work hard to get back to the group on the first climb. At about the half way mark (40 km) the pace was really on though a hilly little town. Amy and Natalie were working hard to get a group of about fifteen of us back to the front group. I didn't dig deep enough to stay with that group on a tight little pinch, and regretted that as I tried for the next ten kilometres to get back to the group on the flat with a Dutchie glued to to my wheel and 'unable' to come through. The chief commissaire was particularly strict with the convoy that day, so there was not even a chance to rest a little in the race cars to help us to get back to the main field. We ended up with a group of about 20 rolling to the finish. A disappointing day for me.

Up the road Amy and Lorian were putting the pressure on and hoping to set it up for a result for Olivia or Oenone. The television coverage later showed Amy riding strongly in a break with Taminini (Aurora), and Lorian countering the move as it was brought back. It was great to have the team working well together, and being recognised as a strong and aggressive force in the peloton. Olivia attacked on the final corner with about 750m to go, but was caught just before the line but bunch. Oenone sprinted well to finish third in the stage and take the lead in the young rider classification, and her first white jersey.

Stage 3 - July 7: Monteroduni (IS) - Castelpizzuto (IS), 84 km

The stage was 85km long with three cat 1 climbs, and a cat 3 as well. We started at the top of a climb, and had Naomi Williams on the front trying to split the field on the descent with Olivia and Oenone in good position. On one of the first few corners Naomi had other riders scared with one foot unclipped, and a bit too much speed, but Olivia and Oenone had full confidence in her, and could only laugh at the screams behind and the sound of a few riders running off the road! The descent was not steep enough or long enough. By the bottom it had been strung out, but still together. I attacked hoping to keep the pressure on those who had been forced to fill gaps on the descent. A couple riders from Road Runner Guerciotti team came with me, but we didn't get too far. I pushed hard over the first GPM, and got in a break on the next descent with Katia Longhin, a T-mobile rider, and then joined by Boubnenkova. We worked hard for a while, but the gap never got big enough, the field was just spread out chasing.

A couple kilometres later it started raining. It had been incredibly hot as Italian summers tend to be, so it was heavy, thundery rain that had been building up for a while. On a sharp corner coming off a small bridge after about 35km Oenone crashed on the slippery roads. Three or four of our team paced Oenone back to the bunch, and Dennis checked her bike from the team car. It was still raining heavily, and my new sunnies (20 Euro purchase) bit the dust as they fell from my jersey under my front wheel. Sad moment!

We continued climbing for the next GPM, and towards the top, one of the top climbers put the pressure on. It was spread out on the descent, with riders taking it fairly cautiously. We were just on the back of the group as we crossed another bridge to start the next GPM. Nicole Brandli (Prato) lit it up at this point, taking only Edita Pucinskaite (Fanini) with her. In the remaining 25 kilometres they put three minutes into Joanne Somarriba (Bizkaia Sabeco) and about five minutes into the next group of about ten riders (including Olivia).

I rode steadily up the GPM where Brandli had made her decisive move. The Fatato team ensured one of their riders made it into the top 40 for the day by taking an amazingly long time to hand her a bidon on the climb. It is a pity when the riders don't take themselves seriously enough to want to race. I kept coming across crash victims. Almost half the field crashed, Oenone four times. Amy needed five stitches to her elbow, and even riders who I had seen being cautious on earlier descents were now picking themselves up and hobbling towards the finish. Marshalls were on every sharp corner signaling the dangerous spots where riders in groups ahead had crashed. Boubnenkova had again come down, and she led a group of about ten of us to the finish. We finished between ten and fifteen minutes behind Brandli and Pucinskaite.

It had been a very tough day. We all searched for warm clothes to put on at the end of the stage, resorting to towels, leg warmers, arm warmers and long-sleeved cycling jackets that we had laughed as we packed saying 'I won't be needing these!' The top couple places on GC seemed to have been determined with courageous moves and perfect timing. I was surprised that the other strong climbers did not split up on the final GPM to the finish line. On such a tough day they all must have felt there was not a lot left in them for the effort to salvage fourth in the stage and on GC. Oenone lost a bit of time with some nasty crashes, including one where she aquaplaned into the gutter, followed closely by the team car and another rider. Her ankle took a lot of the impact, and the whole day left her more than a little bruised and battered. Modesta Vzesniauskaite (Acca Due O) took the white jersey, and a significant lead over Oenone in the young rider competition.

Stage 4 - July 8: Frosolone (IS) - San Vito Chietino (CH), 141 km

Despite the dramas of the previous day, we had all been looking forward to this stage. The profile was great! Start at nearly 1000 metres, and descend to sea level racing close to the coast for the last part of the 140km stage. Most of the field got over the early climbs, and started a seriously fast 50 km section of freeway. There was not much chance of something getting away with the speed so high, but we made sure we were there to go with it if it did. As the road flattened out we got more aggressive, Natalie in a break of four riders for a while, countered by Amy who seemed to just pull the bunch apart from the head of the field! The group of twelve that got away with about 60km to go included a fair representation from all teams except T-mobile-USA. They then tried to send three of their riders up the road together... which was not surprisingly brought back! The group ahead had a lead of about four minutes. Prato and Michela Fanini ensured that the gap did not get any larger. They strung it out in cross winds at one point, and made it a little interesting, but otherwise it was a roll in for those not in the break.

Our DS James Victor was trying to help Amy leading into the finish. She attacked hard in the last 15 kilometres trying to break the group, and in particular tire the fast German sprinter Regina Schleicher (Chirio). The other girls in the break seemed to be happy to sprint rather than get a break before the final pinch up to the line in the last two kilometres. Amy led the group up the climb, riding hard on the front to leave only six left to contest the sprint. She had nothing left as they hit the 500m to go mark. Regina won easily ahead of Sats rider Tina Mayoloric.

Stage 5 - July 9: Lanciano (CH) - Alba Adriatica (TE), 103 km

This stage was another flat one along the beach for just over 100km. I remember it being particularly aggressive, and nothing getting away. We did two final circuits of about four kilometres. There was a bit of confusion, and some gutsy attack from riders from Chirio, Acca Due O and in the final 800m from Bettine Spikermann (Ondernemers). We were trying to lead out Oenone or Olivia for the sprint, but it seemed hard to get us all together at the same time! Regina Schleicher took the stage (her second in a row!), and Spikermann held on to second place. The most memorable bit for the day was swimming at the beach only a couple hundred metres from the line. There were waves, sand and it was exactly what we needed to cool us down.

That night we stayed in a wonderful place (Hotel de' Conti) near Ancona in a town called Serra de' Conti. The hotel staff were so welcoming and friendly. The food was wonderful, and the area has all sorts of attractions from beaches, archaeological sites, nature parks and wine routes. It is also close to the town for the next stage in Jesi which looked so beautiful! It has a castle built on a hill, and the surrounding brick wall still remains and forms the foundation for buildings and shops! There is even an escalator (like at any big shopping complex), which you can see from the outer ring road as it takes people up to the centre cobbled section of the town. The shops all looked beautiful, and I reckon I will make my way back there one day when I have more time and don't have to be racing my bicycle!