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The Emma James Diary 2003
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 three: The finale
Stage 7a - July 11: Gabicce Mare (PU) - Cesenatico (FO), 47 km
We had two short stages this day. The first was 45 km of dead flat coastal roads up past Rimini, a popular beach side town, known for good night clubs (not verified by personal experience, yet). It was a really fast stage, taking just a little over one hour to finish. It was aggressive with teams trying to send riders up the road, but the speed of the peloton suggested that it was likely to finish in a bunch kick. I covered an attack from a rider with the Conero team, and then jumped past her on a freeway overpass. I had a good gap to the field with about 8km to go, but was reeled in a short while later. Olivia was in the next move that went, and had a group of about six working, but again this was pulled back with about three kilometres to go.
We had information about the finish, and planned to try a bit of a lead out for Olivia or Oenone. It did not go to plan, with each of us not together early enough. With the speed of the peloton in the last couple of kilometres you have to be organised with five km to go, and ready to bury yourself when the right moment comes. We were a bit disappointed with the way it panned out, all sure we had the strength to do a good lead out, and get a result.
Schleicher won another stage! I'd lost count of how many at this point. Rochelle Gilmore (Acca Due O) was second I think, and her team mate Katia Longhin third.
Stage 7b - July 11: Cento (FE) - Cento (FE), 45 km
The second race this day was on the Cento circuit where we had raced the year before, and would be racing a week after the Giro. It is a good circuit, flat but with two bridges over a river which provide a good point for attacks. There is a long paved section for the 500m before the line, nothing like real cobbles in Belgium, but rough enough to make it uncomfortable, hard to sprint on, and string the bunch out a bit. The circuit took an extra little loop through the next town, with a little arch way to ride through and a couple narrow points where the sharp building edges seemed just a bit too close a couple of times!
It was only six laps, for 45km of racing, but it was tough in the heat, and with plenty of action through the race. The move for the day included Lorian Graham (Australian National Team), Longhin and Ghita Beltman (Acca Due O), as well as D'Ettorre (Fatato), and a rider from both Prato and SATS. Lorian was riding really well that day, covering lots of moves, and being aggressive at the right time. She came into the sprint in third wheel, but struggled on the rough paving to get into her sprint. She finished sixth, with Longhin taking the stage ahead of D'Ettorre.
Stage 8 - July 12: Cento (FE) - Salzano (VE), 147 km
The last road stage for the tour was a long one: 150 km from Cento along the dead flat roads of the Po Valley, near the town of Ferrara and finishing about 30 km from Venice in Salzano. The last part of the race was two laps of an eight kilometre circuit.
There had been plenty of attacks through the race, and we had all been riding well to cover moves, and race hard. Our DS James was hoping that if it was raced hard enough early on, there was still a chance for our GC riders to get into a group up the road in the last part of the race, and move up a few spots. The peloton seemed to have other ideas, with even nice groups of riders not high on GC from a variety of teams being pulled back to keep the group together. The GC riders from other teams were getting their noses into everything - and immediately convincing me that those moves were going to be shut down very quickly.
I was in a good move as we headed towards the finishing circuit with about 20 km to go, but again it was shut down after a couple of kilometres. Into the last lap of the circuit we were all trying to get together for a lead-out. It was perfect for us with a not too technical finish - dead straight for about two kilometres before the line! Amy Safe did a great job to lead us for a couple of kilometres into the finishing straight. Lorian took over and really picked up the speed to about the one kilometre to go mark. I had managed to squeeze up onto her wheel, and did all I could to take Olivia to about the 400m mark. An Acca Due O rider jumped, and Olivia went with it. Rochelle Gilmore (Acca Due O) came around me on my right, and I drifted back hoping Olivia had found a fast wheel, and satisfied that we had strung together a good lead out.
The TV coverage showed all the action from the 300m to go mark! Stathurstkaia had moved from the left side of the road to charge at Rochelle. They clashed, and both pulled up for a second, then charged on with Stathurstkaia taking Rochelle closer and closer to the barriers on the right hand side of the road. Rochelle protested as she crossed the line, Stathurstkaia claiming the victory. As we warmed down, they relegated Stathurskaia to last position for not holding her line in the sprint, and Rochelle Gilmore claimed the stage!
We were a rider or two short of a perfect lead-out at the one kilometre to go mark, and an Ekimov move may have paid off. I would have loved to launch off Amy, charging for the line, with Lorian ready to cover which ever team is forced to react and cover my move. Lorian could then give Olivia a good lead out much closer to the line as the chasers tire - or we get a stage win with the 'kilometre to go' attack paying off! Keep dreaming! Could have, would have, should have!
Stage 9 - July 13: Mira (VE) - Venezia ITT, 24 km
The final day of the Giro would see us racing an individual time trial of 24 km into the city of Venice. James had been over the circuit with a couple of the girls, and they had a detailed report of the final two kilometres which included a few interesting little ramps and bridges to get us right into the heart of the city where cars cannot go.
We have a limited number of wonderful and expensive time trial bikes, which are incredibly aerodynamic, and really advantageous particularly for flat time trials. I don't have to share bikes with most of the girls on the team, who ride 50 cm bikes rather than my 56 cm, but Amy Safe rides the same size frame as me. She is a strong rider, and will be racing on the ITT bike later in the year for the Oceania Championships. The Giro time trial is her only chance to race on the bike at least once before hand.
I found some time trial bars which really make time trialling much more enjoyable (even if you are not racing hard, or do not have all the specialist time trial equipment). We didn't have a lot of disc wheels, or time trial helmets so I looked a bit like a hubbard [roughly translated from Australian: 'fool' - Ed], and had no chance of doing a really good time compared to someone with a time trial bike, but winning the stage isn't always the reason you get on the start line. The UCI commissaire didn't even like my skinsuit (which was not the same as the team kit) so he told me to go and change into the official team kit (normal jersey over a skin suit!). It didn't seem like things were going my way that day, but I was keen to have a solid hit out. I know I can improve my time trialing, and we don't race many over the year. If it had been the middle of the tour (like in L'Aude), I would not ride it hard if I am not riding for GC, but on the final day of a tour, and without the reins, this horse wants to run full stride.
The director of the team I will be riding the Grande Boucle with, Dominique Chignoli, had come to the Giro for the last couple days, and had offered to follow me for the ITT. I had been feeling stronger as the Giro went on, and similarly to last year, finally some form arriving just in time for me to leave Italy and head to France! I rode hard in the time trial, well fueled. All good preparation for the racing ahead in August. I caught two riders, both on normal bikes, and ended with a respectable time.
The finish of the stage was bizarre. The final section into Venice was not included in the time trial. We came across the clock marking the final time under a large banner, and then we were onto a path of makeshift board bridges, leading us along the edge of the water, and up over little ramps to bring us to the main church in the centre right on the water's edge, and another ARRIVO banner. We were a couple of kilometres from the team cars and the only way back was by ferry! I sat for a while with my feet in the water, recovering, and trying to appreciate where I was. I was not in the mood for tourist travel, but with time to kill waiting for the final riders to come in and GC to be confirmed, I left my bike in safe hands and wandered around a few blocks of Venice in my cycling kit. It would have been much more enjoyable as a real tourist I think! Quite an amazing place for artists and tourists.
The big move for the day was Nicole Braendli taking the pink jersey from Edita Pucinskaite, and winning the tour by about 15 seconds. Olivia rode a good time trial and moved up a couple places on GC. The Dutchies proved their strength again with Loes Gunnewijk winning the stage.
A couple days later we headed to Verona to see the opera Carmen. It was in the 'Arena' amphitheatre which is just how I imagined it would be. It is huge, and you can see that it would have been even bigger with chunks of sandstone forming archways at the top of all the seating. We wondered what history of animals and humans had fought it out as spectacle for the crowds on the same seats as us over the last couple of thousand years!
Pretty much the whole team came for the big night out. It started after 9pm, and finished probably around 1am. We were on the huge stone steps (about 25 Euro) tickets, and with a direct, front-on view of the stage from almost as high up as you can get. I had got the story from the Internet, and printed it out just before we left, so on the drive to Verona we sorted out the story and characters. I recognised heaps of the music and it sounded so wonderful! They didn't have microphones, but we could hear them pretty well (probably better from the seats in the middle that cost 100 Euro!). It was a beautiful night with a full moon. It was wonderful to follow the story as best we could, and just enjoy the amazing atmosphere. Good recovery after a long week.