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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.

Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale - Stages 3-5

August 3-17, 2003

Stage 3 - August 5: Fayence - Valberg, 90 km instead of 122 km, and without first 25km cat. 2

On the boat at about midnight there had been discussions about how reasonable it was to expect the peloton to ride a serious mountain stage in the Alps after not getting to sleep until two or three am. The confirmation came the next day, the stage would start an hour later with a 3 km roll out in Fayence to ensure the media and officials all got the right photos, and then we would get in team cars for a 30 km drive to eliminate the first cat. 2 climb.

The roll out was on a steep climb, and the group divided into two. Plenty of spectators from the town looked in amazement and disbelief as the girls in the second group didn't seem to care about getting dropped in the first kilometre. We were just chatting, and in the heat not keen to hit a solid climb for a media spectacle. It was like we were pretending to be cyclists. I hated it. People cheering but obviously aware we were not racing. A bit like when you have ridden badly in a race, and roll to the finish line wishing it was over. We piled into the cars as soon as we were out of sight...

People on the side of the road gave us the 'thumbs down' as we drove past. They filmed us with video cameras in amazement, wondering why they had waited there an hour after the time the peloton was expected, just to see cars drive by. I wished that the organizers had thought about the logistics of the Corsica boat experience, and put in a short flat stage near Nice that would allow a little recovery from a serious amount of travel made a million times worse with the heat. This is the Grande Boucle, I should not be surprised.

A few kilometres in to the race the Velodames girls took their place at the head of the peloton with the gold jersey of Zabelinskaia well protected. We were racing. Not too long later Kachalka (Aurora) attacked on a bit of a climb. A couple went with her including Sara Carrigan (Bik), and a few more riders in the following kilometres to get a group of ten up the road. They got a lead of about four minutes after 40kms of racing.

It started raining just ahead of the race. The roads were wet, but with the heat, the moisture on the roads evaporated to make it as humid as I can possibly imagine. We came to a long descent after a negligible climb, and the roads were incredibly slippery. In the group ahead Carrigan (Bik) and Dalmais (France) and one other had come down. Edita Pucinskaite (Fanini) and a Prato rider came down just ahead of me. I managed to just roll past with one foot unclipped, but rather close to someone's head! Behind one of my team mates, and the youngest rider in the Tour, Vicky Fournial crashed doing 50 km/h, with Kirsty Robb (Bik) coming down at the same time. Vicky was taken to hospital with a fractured hip, and has to stay immobile for three weeks!

I took it very easy on the descent, and chased back on the flat with a few others. We regrouped with 30 km to go, with Ghita Beltman (Bizkaia) taking the peloton through the valley, reducing the gap to the ten riders ahead from three minutes to two in about ten kilometres. It was clear Somarriba (Bizkaia) would be driving up the climb to Valberg. Judith Arndt (Nürnberger) marshaled the rear of the group until the final climb was in sight. Ljungskog (Bik) had been third wheel most of the time behind Somarriba and Beltman. As they hit the climb Brändli (Prato) and Luperini (Aurora) went with Somarriba. By the end they came in one by one, Somarriba 50s ahead of Brändli, 1'49 to Luperini, and a bit more to Pucinskaite (Fanini). Zabelinskaia (Velodames) lost four minutes, but held onto the leaders jersey, finishing with Arndt, Ljungskog and J. Polikeviciute.

I rode up at a steady pace with a few others around me. I tried to ride harder from time to time, but using a small gear and hoping to get to the end of it in not too bad shape. The 12km climb dragged on, with threatening weather ahead and the occasional flash of lightning. I got a little encouragement by someone with three km to go saying 'Go Emma, I read your diary!' It was pretty funny compared to the previous half hour of slogging up a steady grade berg.

I was glad to get to the summit with a faster final kilometre basically descending into the village. Everyone from the village was out lining the road in the last 500m, but only a few real enthusiasts on the climb. I took a bit of time to roll down, and once I was showered I didn't feel too bad. I was given a wonderful piece of flan to refuel.

We had finished the stage at about 7:30pm, and we had a bit of a transfer to the hotel, so dinner was a late affair. It was worse for teams that had to drive to a town closer to the race start for the next day over some goat track in bad weather. The excitement continues.

Stage 3 results

Stage 4 - August 6: Val d'Allos - Puy-Saint-Vincent, 30 km instead of 113 km, and without first 8 km of cat. 1 and the Hors Cat 'Col de Vars'.

Alright, now this is ridiculous! A landslide resulting from the first serious rain in three months took out part of the road on the Col de Vars (along with houses and 40 people seriously injured). We did the podium protocol bit, and rode a few kilometres out of town really slow, and again once out of sight, we jumped in the cars for a 100km drive and detour around the climb to rejoin the race at what would have been the 80 km point with about 30 km to race.

We had to stop from time to time during the transfer with girls feeling car sick, and the stage did not start till around 5pm. I was not so concerned about the charade today. At least they explained the reason for reducing the stage distance on the podium at the start. I am just along for the ride, amazed by everything that is going on!

It was raining when the cars pulled up roughly where they had said we would start. People were talking about canceling the stage, riding it all neutral, protest and all sorts of stuff. I saw a couple riders rolling past looking ready to race. Dominique (our DS) was telling us that they might take a different road that would be really hilly and a bit of a goat track. I grabbed my helmet, rain jacket and bike and rolled up to the small group waiting in the rain.

As half of them were waving their arms as if to say it is cancelled, and others were garnering support for protest, the other half of the group rolled off! They went out of the blocks, and in the wind, the rest followed. I wasn't sure whether my team mates had made to the line or not, and in the rain I had a hard time seeing much at all. The lead cars tried to overtake me on a corner with a railway crossing in the rain. It was a joke. There had been no neutral, no call up for the riders, no start time announced. Pierre Boue didn't even get to wave his flag or blow his whistle!

My teammate Giovana Troldi had missed the start, and basically time trialed for the bulk of the stage. They had taken the smaller, hilly road rather than the planned route, and there was a serious climb. I was a bit off the back by the top of it, lacking a bit of enthusiasm, and a bit amazed by the circumstances of the day.

My other teammate Elisabeth Chevanne Brunel had also missed the start, and had rode as hard as she could to catch the group just before the climb. She was just ahead of me by the top, so I did all I could over the final 20km to get her back to the group in front, and limit the amount of time she was losing. She had been 16th on GC, and the best placed French rider before that stage. It turned out to be a harder stage than I had thought. It would be good to know what is going on before the start, and to know the start time. I should not expect anything and then I will not be disappointed.

Luperini won the stage ahead of Brändli, with Somarriba claiming the leaders jersey.

Stage 4 results

Stage 5 - August 7: L'Argentiere-La-Bessee - Vaujany, 100 km - doing all of it today!

The stage started with a nasty three kilometre climb with sections 10% grade. We had seen it as we drove to the start from our hotel in Briançon. Brändli (Prato) wasted no time and attacked at about the one kilometre mark. I didn't see her for the rest of the day. She took a few with her, basically one from most teams except Velodames (and us, Pruneaux d'Agen). Three riders from Velodames drove our group from about the 10km mark, with Zabelinskaia protected, wearing the points jersey and still second on GC at the start.

The rest of the stage was a display of serious Russian commitment and tireless work. Probably better if they hadn't missed the break, but it was an impressive show of force from ten kilometres into the race. It changed the race dynamics for the other teams. We just had to hold on as they drove it up climbs and through valleys, all knowing that we had a six kilometre climb (7% grade) up to Vaujany at the end of the day.

The group of initially 20 riders ahead split at about the 20km mark, with Brändli, Luperini, Ljungskog and Somarriba heading off, leaving a group of 12 and a few stragglers. The Russian Velodames train picked up the group of 12 as we started the long cat 2 climb 'Col du Lautaret'. I struggled on this climb, dropping back to chat to a few of the cars following about four kilometres from the summit. I eventually clambered out of the hole I had found myself in, and got back onto the bunch. I was drinking heaps, but must have been dehydrated before the start of the stage. The descent was rough, but helped us get a little closer to Vaujany a bit faster. We still had the Velodames train leading us. It did not seem easy, but I didn't have to put my nose in the wind, so it could have been much harder for my tired legs.

We eventually got to the Vaujany climb. There is a climb to lead you up onto the dam wall, and then a couple kilometres flat before the climb kicks up, winding its way fairly steadily with switchbacks every 500m, and a few little houses along the way. I tried to climb hard, thinking that a six kilometre effort might give me an idea of how my climbing is going. I was going alright in the first kilometre, then blew chunks, and started climbing a little more steadily. I finished 20th, and I am 22nd on GC. I am still more interested in a nice stage result in the next week. Must do more climbing before next year.

Interesting things were happening with the group of four ahead. The race report told of numerous attacks, with Brändli the most active, and Luperini following wheels. Ljungskog had got 30s advance at the base of the climb. Brändli and Somarriba took off with Luperini just behind. Luperini then reeled them all in, and took the stage just ahead of Somarriba, to bring her number of stage wins to 16, six of them at Vaujany!

Stage 5 results