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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.
Tour de Haute Vienne, part two
Stage 3, Saturday July 26
I had kept the leader's jersey in the road stage on Friday, and now the following day the challenge would be to hold it over the six laps of a 15km circuit for 90km of racing at St Sulpice Lauriere. I rode the circuit before the start as a bit of warm up. With the wind, a steep 1.5km climb, and really dead roads, I knew I was in for a tough day. On the second lap, Magalie Finot-Laivier (Inter Est) attacked. I was happy to let her go, still confident it was too hard a circuit to survive alone for long. It had been an easy roll in the bunch for the first lap. Elizabeth Chevanne Brunel (Team Interclubs) was the next to make a move, and I was not too worried, thinking that with the next GPM the bunch would split, and in the second half of the race we could make up any gap a small group had made early on.
The next time up the climb the pressure was not really on and the bunch still seemed quite large with probably 40 riders. Sharon van Essen (Ondernemers) attacked the following lap, about mid-way through the race. A miscalculation on my part, I let this move go, hearing one of Sharon's team-mates telling her with a race radio that she had a good gap. It was a nice little part of the circuit, with a long drag, then a fast section cornering through a little village, and another little pinch just after. I now wish I had covered that move, and played things differently. As it was I let Sharon and another rider go, the following lap Beatrice Thomas (Mazza) attacked on the same part of the circuit. We had pulled the gap back to 15 seconds after the climb on the fourth lap. I was confident that when the pressure went on, we would pull in the tired break away, labouring just in sight occasionally on the undulating roads ahead.
I tried to communicate with my team-mates, but they seemed to lead the group on the flat windy sections, where as I was keen to go hard on the hill and try to break the remnants of the peloton, and get a strong chase group together. My problem was that there were now five teams represented ahead, no motivation for their team-mates to chase, and no mountain points on offer with them all being taken by the rides ahead. I tried to keep the pace on just before the climb, stringing it out as best I could in the crosswinds, driving hard on the descent and taking my speed onto the climb, and trying to push hard to the top. My legs were not so impressed with this plan, and still with 500m of the climb, I was easing too much. I was not in danger of losing contact with the group, but I did not have the punch to break the group on the climb.
With a lap to go, the time split we got said about 25 seconds for the group we could occasionally see ahead, and someone at 1'07! I wondered who it was a minute up the road, obviously not reading the numbers they write to indicate how many riders and who it is in the break. I heard Joel Bruneau (the speaker for the race, and a good friend who looked after me after this tour two years ago, and this year), saying that the riders on the front of the main group had sensed the danger of the break away. I should have begun a 15km time trial over the last lap to pull back the minute advance of Beatrice Thomas and Elizabeth Chevanne Brunel, who had launched from the fatigued group of early break away riders, and were now swapping off smoothly together, one hoping for the stage win, the other my pink leaders jersey!
There were some attacks, and the pace was on for much of the last lap. Again I drove it on the front before the climb, on the climb, and after it - including going with a couple of attacks. We caught the group of three (Finot, Essen, and one other) on the finish line, but when I saw Elizabeth rolling towards me just after the line, I realized she must have been a fair bit ahead of the other group. I have got a bit too used to having radio communication and a team director to confirm what is going on in a race. I learnt the hard way not to give a minute head start for 15 kilometres of racing to a clever rider like Elizabeth Chevanne Brunel (former junior world champion '92, and my team mate last year and for the Grande Boucle next week!). My Swiss team-mates, and Mr Heeb reminded me that it was not a wise decision. They talked about having had the plan to swap off to keep any break at no more than 20 sec up the road. I think this would have been a really good idea, and something we should have chatted about before the start!
I was pretty disappointed, now relegated to third on GC. I had let the jersey go by being too calm, not sensing the urgency when I should have. The Russian Colnago Velodames team rode so hard in the Alfa Lum Italian National Series race in San Marino a week before. They just got on the front, and kept riding hard for 30kms. They didn't win, and tactically should have played it differently earlier in the race, but they are strong and their unquestioning focus is impressive. I have to ride more like a Russian sometimes!
Elizabeth was happy to have the jersey, winning in her local area, where she has raced for many years, and with good friends amongst the spectators to cheer us all on. A friend (Fabien Raymondbaud) who had looked after me for a few days before the start of the tour said it was good for our team morale leading into the Grande Boucle with me having won the prologue, and Elizabeth with the leaders jersey. I wasn't happy with the way I had lost the jersey, and still had some training to do. Hard racing for the last day was the only solution.
Stage 4, Sunday 27 July 2003
It was pouring rain with a big storm passing through Limoges during the night, and I was half dreaming about racing in the rain as I slept. Even driving to the race, as the rain smashed against the windscreen of the car, I wondered how short a warm up is still a reasonable thing. We drove up the 16% short climb at Rochechouart, which we would race over twice, and that was likely to split the field. It was 300m at a really steep grade, but a long drag of at least a kilometer just after it. There were two other mountain sprints out on the large loop, but it was this 16% 'Cote du Chateau' which kicked up from a flat road under an old stone archway entrance, and that we would hit for the first time after only 8km of racing that had me thinking.
An hour before the start it cleared up. I rode over part of the circuit that we would race on for the final 20km. I was thinking that the race would have to be hard to wear out Elizabeth's strong team, and then with a bit of luck, towards the end a well-timed attack, giving 100% might have a tiny chance to get 26 seconds advance the peloton. It would be hard close to the stage. I had talked to my Swiss team-mates, and tried to elaborate on the advantages to them of not chasing me if I attacked! I was ahead of them both on GC, so they would not lose any places if I was up the road, but if they tried to force Elizabeth's team to chase me instead, any attack they made would then be more likely to succeed. Not sure how convincing my argument was. The next question I was asked was if I was working with Elizabeth when I let her take the jersey from me the previous day!
On the line I had a quick look at the list of GC riders again, realizing that I could lose my third on GC if I did not race well, with only a couple seconds separating me and a couple Dutch riders, and everyone else not too far behind with the only significant time gaps in the top 20 from the prologue and the two riders in the break the day before. It was just 26 seconds I needed to get that jersey back!
I rolled off at the back of the group, and was surprised when the first attacks got a decent gap at about the 3km mark! I moved up as best I could, ready as well for the climb after just 8km of racing. On that first climb the group split a bit, with me a little further back than desirable, but with strong riders chasing back on. I was keen to attack as everyone tried to recover from the chase, and to hopefully reduce the number of team-mates Elizabeth and Beatrice would have to chase me later. I smashed it up a nice little drag on the finishing circuit that I had rode over warming up. I was joined by two others, Loes Gunnewijk (Ondernemers, and 2s behind me on GC), and Karine Dalmais (St Julien en Genvois, and leading the mountains classification). It was only 12km into a 91km race. We had a long way to go, but it was a strong break away. Loes won the final ITT of the Giro. You couldn't ask for any people better for an 80km team time trial, but if you had the choice you would opt for a shorter distance!
We worked well together, and the gap blew out to 55s at about the 30km mark. I was quite confident at this stage, and just trying to ensure I looked after myself eating and not pushing too big a gear. After 45km of racing we were on one of the mountain sprints, and the gap had been reduced to 10s! I turned around and saw the peloton strung out behind me so much closer than I had imagined. Karine was keen to get the mountain points, and darted up the hill. Loes and I looked at the peloton and Dalmais, and both chose to keep going. We swapped off and caught Dalmais, with the gap to the main bunch increasing again to 20s not too long afterwards.
We had another GPM about 10k further on. Karine had cleaned up easily in the mountain classification, but still rode hard for the sprints. I went through some not-so-great patches, but stayed latched to the wheel in front, and felt better when the road flattened out, or when we were on the descents. The undulating route took us back towards the town where we started (Rochechouart), and one more time up the 16% monster. I was worried Dalmais would attack up the climb, and quite sure that we would need to ride hard to hold off the peloton, not muck around attacking one another. I wasn't sure how Loes would handle the climb, but we were pretty much together at the top, with plenty of work to do, with the time gap around 20s.
The three laps of the 6.5km circuit to finish would have been good for the spectators! I rode as hard as I could, with the others putting in solid efforts. At one point Beatrice Thomas (Mazza and second on GC) was just 16 seconds behind us, and on her own. I was sure I could hold her off, especially with the help of two other riders. We put in a solid lap, and the gap grew. Next there was a group of seven chasing us, 20 seconds behind. I was not sure at the time, but it did not include Elizabeth. I rode hard, remembering that the day before I had had enough in my legs for a sprint, when I should have been minimizing any gap that the break had established. This time every second would count!
We came into the final corner, and I had a little gap on the two behind. I tried to kick with about 450m to go, but not surprisingly the fatigue from time trialling for 80km had taken a bit of zap out of me. It would have been a good sprint, but I groveled to hang on to Karine's wheel as Loes Gunnewijk took the stage.
The peloton rolled in what seemed only seconds later. It took the organizers ages to confirm the places for GC. I tried to get all my stuff sorted, and recover a little, keeping an ear out for them to announce the results overall. I had drug control, and was told to ride a couple of kilometers down the road, and then back ten minutes later to confirm if I was actually one of the first two on GC who were to be the ones up for testing. I found I had finished 2nd on GC, with Elizabeth holding on to the lead by only three seconds! I knew I had done all I could from about the 12km mark in the race. It was hard fought, and well contested, with Elizabeth thanking her team, and sounding quite emotional on the stage with all the stress from the delay with the final decision about GC and all the nervous energy from racing. I was satisfied with a good hard ride, and glad to have had some hard racing in preparation for the Grande Boucle. There was a tiny bit of disappointment, but I am happy with my form and ready for some good result in the racing ahead!
It was great to race such a well organised and tough tour. The set-up is easy, based all around the one complex (CHEOPS) in Limoges, and the organizers (Gerard Loiraud & Claude Lecourt and all their helpers) have been wonderfully supportive every moment from when I first met them two years ago. I still haven't won a road stage in this tour, so I will have to come back next year!
After a wonderful dinner in Limoges that night, I headed to Tarbes the following day to recover for the week with Joel Bruneau and his wife Marie-Jose. It is not bad riding in the valley here with the Tourmalet, Col d'Aspin and Luz Ardiden each about 50km away. It is an amazing view with the Pyrenees towering above the flat area near Lourdes. We even managed a bit of tourist action at the observatory 'Pic Du Midi'. I am all ready for the Grande Boucle, with only a train trip from Tarbes to Marseille and a couple days of team organisation to go!
A toute a l'heure