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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.
Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale
August 3-17, 2003
Getting to Corsica
After a few days of recovery in the Pyrenees, and a night train to Marseille, I met up with my team 'Pruneaux D'Agen', and we headed down to the port where we would take a large car carrying boat to Corsica. We were delayed by about three hours, waiting in queues of cars occasionally tooting their frustration at what I think was a problem with the mechanics of the doors on the boat. Plenty of other theories went around, including checking for bombs after some car explosions on Corsica a couple days ago by separatist protesters!
We had time to catch up with each other, and the girls whose train was delayed an hour from Paris had time to relax from the stress of trying to get to the boat to board in time. My team is sponsored by a company that sells prunes from the Agen area, in the south west of France. We have a wonderful cycling kit that is predominantly white, with red trimming, and numerous black prunes dotted all over it. We could be mistaken for Dalmatians from a distance, but Pruneaux D'Agen is one of the official partners and sponsors of the race organization, so we are well recognized and supported by the public, and people involved with the racing.
The team is made up of mainly people who were involved with the Mantes La Ville cycling team, that I was with for the last half of last year, and that no longer exists (leaving France with no professional women's cycling team). The director is Dominique Chignoli, and six riders are Elisabeth Chevanne Brunel, Sylvie Riedle, Giovanna Troldi, Vicky Fournial, Cynthia Compain and me. We have a mechanic Guilluame, and assistant mechanic Yves, two soigneurs Marion and Delphine, as well as an assistant chef Sebastian! We have a great camping car and truck for the bikes, provided with the assistance of our other sponsor Oddass, a company from Luxembourg that sells luminescent signage all across Europe.
The trip on the boat was long and slow, with the delay putting everything back a bit. We killed time having lunch and dinner, reading, and looking for whales after someone with a good imagination announced over the boat radio that there were whales in sight - perhaps to distract people from the regular announcements of how late we would arrive in Corsica! The sunset was beautiful from the back of the boat, and Marion had us all massaged during the trip in the comfort of the doctors cabin, complete with TV to keep us entertained. Having the camper van was a real advantage, allowing us to sleep for the two hour transfer, arriving at the hotel just before 2am!
We rode part of the way from our hotel in Corte towards Ajaccio for the presentation of the teams the day before the tour started. After two serious bergs, we had a wonderful descent, and could tell we were getting close to a valley that would let us spin our legs a bit. We were running out of time, so after quick showers in the camper van we drove the last bit into the coastal town of Ajaccio. The twelve teams of six riders mean that the peloton is quite small from the start (71 riders for the first day), and the terrain reduces the size of the group even more.
The Grande Boucle has taken to having a nominated popular media figure as the 'marraine' or 'godmother' of the tour each year. Last year it was the Lido dancer with our team, Cynthia Compain. This year it is a tall, blonde basketball player, Yannick Souvre, the captain of the women's French national basketball team. Her role is as a media personality, supporting women's sport, and the need for some recognition in the media.
Stage 1 - August 3: Sartene - Ajaccio, 107 km
We had a three hour drive to the race start on the southern part of Corsica, in Sartene. The roads are great. Well maintained, and smooth, but with as many corners as you could imagine. It is OK in the front seat of a car, but plenty of people were struggling with the transfers on Corsica.
The first sprint point was 12 km into the race after a five kilometre climb. Just after the sprint, Rasa Polikeviciute (Aurora) and Olga Zabelinskaia (Velodames) attacked. They flew down the descent, and a short while later had a lead of one minute on the peloton. No one did anything for a while, and the gap grew quickly. Sara Carrigan (Bik) started to pace the group at about the 40km mark, and was helped later by more of the girls from Bik, and a few from Nürnberger. At about the 60km mark we came across Rasa who had had a mechanical problem or crash. Zabelinskaia was five minutes up the road! I thought it was Jolanta who attacked next at the start of the first GPM, but it was Rasa again. I lost contact with the front group of about 20 riders quite quickly on a cat four climb, very tough cat four though.
I rode hard, but steadily for the next ten kilometres on towards the next cat. four climb. At the top of that one, I was just 20 seconds behind a couple of riders (Hemsley and Corneo), but well down on the front group of 20. My two rabbits on the climb seemed to have disappeared on the descent, and I thought I would have to do the last 25 km alone. Luckily I caught sight of them finally, and gave a bit more to catch them on the descent. We swapped off to the finish. I was disappointed not to be able to get over cat. four climbs with the group, and be able to race for a good result in the last few kilometres. More hill training on the program. I finished 22nd for the day, which was not too bad considering the quality of the field. The weather was incredibly hot, and drinking enough, and racing in these conditions left everyone feeling a bit off. My body wasn't convinced that this could be just the first day of fourteen days of racing in the next two weeks.
Zabelinskaia had finished an impressive 5 mins ahead of the main group. Sara Carrigan (Bik) had led the peloton down the descent, and no one could stay with her. She finished second in the stage, about a minute ahead of the main group. There were attacks on the flat final 15 km, but resulting in a 20s margin for a few individual riders, but not the main GC players.
Stage 2 - August 4: Corte - St Florent, 106 km
We found out after 10am that the stage would start half an hour earlier, at 11:30, and not midday! The start was in the town where we had been staying, so there was not too much drama for us. The first cat. four climb was in the first four kilometres! The Velodames controlled it nicely on the berg, and with a long descent afterwards, the bulk of the group was still together a short while later. This cat. four was much easier that the ones the previous day, so I managed OK.
There were a few attacks, but nothing getting too far. We took a fairly main road that descended gradually for 10 km, and the bunch moved easily. After 50km, we were approaching an uncategorised climb after turning off the main road. There was an attack just before we approached a gradual rise up to the turn off. I countered the move, and led a few riders up the first part of the climb. I was not certain how long the climb was, and began to think my enthusiasm may have been taking me out of my depth. Zabirova (Road Runner) countered, but the group was just strung out on the climb. Somarriba went with the next move, and I knew that now the chase would be on. I followed wheels, trying to stay sheltered, and maintaining contact. It was hard over the crest of the climb, on a gradual descent in the wind. It regrouped over the next ten kilometres, and we rode steadily towards the final, long cat. three climb about 10 km from the finish on the coast at St Florent.
I was too quickly spat from the group, but with a climb of about eight kilometres, I didn't think I could get over with the group in any sort of shape that would help me get a stage result today or in the next 12 days. I still rode hard, hanging on to my climbing partner for the last couple days Sigrid Corneo, and we caught a couple Frenchies dropped from the group ahead. On the descent, Anita Valen (Bik) joined us, and at the end of the descent swapped off hard for the last five kilometres with one of the Aurora girls to secure 23rd place in the stage, 20 seconds ahead of a group of five. We cooled down from the 40+ degree heat by swimming at the pebble beach next to the finish line. A couple of us got massages under the shade of Eucalyptus trees (familiar Aussie tree species!) before the cars had to leave for the port to catch the ferry to Nice.
The day had been an interesting one for GC, with Somarriba (Bizkaia) wining the stage by a minute to a group of four GC riders (Brändli, Pucinskaite, J Polikeviciute, and Arndt), and another four coming in before the main group. Suzanne Ljungskog (Bik) conceded three minutes and Polkhanova (Velodames) seven minutes. A hard, hot and aggressive race followed by a long wait in a hot car park for a cold, over air conditioned boat that left two or three hours late, and meant that we got very little sleep if any before getting to our hotels after 2am.
I am having trouble keeping my eyes open in the mornings! Serious fatigue on day three is not sounding promising, but we all feel a bit like we have been out on the town every night, not getting to bed till ridiculously late with transfers and boats and energy sapping heat. Maybe some more racing will fix that. We hit the Alps tomorrow with a cat one climb to Valberg, and a few other bergs on the way. Mmmm.