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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 - Stages 11-14
August 3-17, 2003
Stage 11 - August 14: Mouzeuil Saint Martin - Trelaze 150 km (+ 10km neutral)
After the neutral, where I told the English speaking riders we were all doing an extra 10 km more than the official book said, we stopped for a quick pee stop, and then rolled on to the crest of a hill for the stage start. In the first minute, Petra Rossner (Nürnberger) attacked. There was a bit of laughing, and jokes about how she will not regain the position of lantern rouge for the tour if she is off the front.
I was scared. Judith Arndt moved into a position close to the front of the group. I was expecting Nürnberger to choose their moment, light it up, and end up with Arndt bridging across to Rossner (with a group without a couple GC riders), and then the team burying themselves to get time for Judith over the remaining 140kms. It would be hard to do, and no other team could pull it off. Last year in the USA, Saturn (with Petra, Judith, Ina Teutenberg, Anna Millward, Lyne Bessette and Cathy Marsal) put it in the gutter, blew everyone off their wheel except Geneviève Jeanson, to finish five riders in the top six for the stage, and set one of them up for GC).
If it was more windy or more hilly maybe something would have happened. In the end it just served to make me nervous for the first 40km. Groups went across to Rossner, and she got caught at one point - and went again! I used more energy stressing about what they were up to than riding.
The Velodames girls have a financial Spanish connection, so spent the day on the front, maintaining the pace too high for any groups to get away. Tamanini (Aurora) attacked with just under 100 km to go. She managed to get three minutes advance even with the bunch moving pretty fast. Even more incredibly, she managed to hold the lead for 90kms! SOLO. Nürnberger got on the front with 25km to go, and pulled her back over the next 15kms. They drove it into the finish, and let Petra out perfectly for her first win for the tour.
I looked for opportunities, but found none. I followed wheels all day, bit of rest day even though we did 160 km all up.
Stage 12 - August 15: Trelaze, Angers - Gorron 130 km (+ 10 km neutral)
The neutral was amusing half way through, when the police motor bikes and caravan of lead cars went the wrong way! The driver of the director's car noticed straight away, and tried to alert the cars ahead with his horn. They signaled for us to stop, and then as they started to do a U turn, everyone was groaning and laughing. I led the group down the right road, calling the riders on a bit like the lead car, or the pied piper. I enjoyed the debacle as the convoy of vehicles tried to pass the group before the stage start a couple of kilometres later.
The Russians are down to two riders, Zabelinskaia and Stiajkina. They kept the bunch rolling along, and convinced me at least that there was no point to a long breakaway. If they are willing to keep the peloton moving at over 40km/h, it would have to be a strong and dedicated group able to hold them off. The Prato girls seemed to be the most motivated and optimistic to get up the road on their own. Two of them had a go today for a few kilometres at different times but both straight after nearly taking themselves out on a gutter when they tried to fit in a gap that is too small.
The last fifteen kilometres of the race was interesting. We finally got on to a smaller road, and I was hoping there would be a chance for something to get away. On the first solid climb Sigrid Corneo (RoadRunner) attacked, with Nürnberger riding on the front to maintain the gap to Sigrid at about 50m. The next attack was from Nürnberger, and shortly after the group split when some GC riders got into the action.
I followed wheels trying to conserve all the time, ready to make one 100% effort when I could. The bunch regrouped with five kilometres to go, and then a kilometre later Zabirova (Road Runner) launched from the bunch. Bik rider Francis Linthorst went with her, and with two kilometres to go Giovanna Troldi (Pruneaux D'Agen) flew up the side of the bunch to bridge across to Zabirova. Troldi never made it, and Linthorst could not hold the wheel of Zabirova as she moved to another gear to hold off the peloton and win the stage. Petra Rossner (Nürnberger) won the bunch kick for second, finishing just behind Zabirova.
We drove towards Flers where the time trial would be the following day. The accommodation was a debacle. We were showered in our camping car, and I was happily typing away on my laptop, but other riders were still in their cycling clothing three hours after the race waiting for someone to unlock the building where we would sleep. The doors had no locks, there were no blankets, and as we discovered after dinner no electricity. It was surprising to be without the basics, but at the same time blackouts in the USA left five million people without power.
We drove over the time trial circuit, and met a three day old goat being nursed with a bottle by a surrogate father. We came very close to having a team mascot for the last couple of days. The time trial was a challenging 36 kilometres of small country roads linking every hill in the local area. We slept to the sound of some bizarre alarm, dreaming of the challenge of the day ahead.
Stage 13 - August 16: Individual Time Trial, Flers 36 km
The only bars I had for the time trial were spinaccis, which although I love them dearly, and they served me well for a short prologue at the Tour de Haute Vienne, they would not be much good for a rough 36km time trial. I needed something I could pull on in an aero position. I managed to borrow some bars that morning (a couple hours before the race!). We taped on pads knowing the circuit was rough, and over a long distance comfort is somewhat important.
Everything ran smoothly for warming up and getting to the line. In the race it was useful to have Dominique, our DS giving me information about the course with the small race radios. He had driven the circuit a fair few times by the time I was up to race over it, and he could judge well when to push hard knowing there was recovery with a descent not too far off, or a small dip that you could get speed on to get over the next little rise. I was using a disc wheel that he had used in an attempt at the hour record ten years ago! It really helped to have the disc wheel, the sound of it got me focused when I was warming up, and the momentum helped me on every descent.
I had the fourth fastest time when I finished, but with the top fifteen riders starting behind me, I knew it would not stay like that. I ended up 16th, and happy with my effort.
The ride of the day was Judith Arndt (Nürnberger). She won the time trial, by about a minute, but put nearly four minutes into me and more importantly to Luperini (Aurora). This moved her from 5th to 3rd on GC. An awesome effort!
Stage 14 - August 17: Versailles - Paris 50 km
The LAST DAY! We started with the chateau of Versailles as a back drop, and a couple kilometres into the race, we had the Eiffel Tour looming ahead of us. We chatted in the bunch, with a nice rolling pace towards a final circuit in the Bois de Boulogne.
On the circuit the racing began. There were a few attacks in the first lap, and I took a chance to counter with still two laps (15km) to go. The next move was made by my team mate Sylvie Riedle (Pruneaux D'Agen) as we passed through the finishing straight. A group of about eight went with her, including Petra Rossner and Hemsley (Nürnberger), Tamanini (Aurora), Valen (Bik), and Zabirova (Road Runner). The group worked, with Petra sitting on the back waiting for the sprint.
Suzanne Ljungskog (Bik) tried to get across a couple of times, as did a few other riders, but the gap had grown quickly to over thirty seconds. The girls in the front group continued to work hard together to lead Petra to the line for the stage win. I was hopeful Sylvie would do well in the sprint, but she clipped the edge of a bike path rubber obstacle as they entered the finishing straight. Valen was close with Tamanini for second and third, but Petra comfortably ahead of them both.
It was a bizarre feeling at the end. Teams of riders were leaving straight away for the long drive back to Italy, or flights further a field. Our team was again welcomed at the Lido de Paris, and we had a wonderful meal, and enjoyed the spectacle performance 'C'est Magique'. The Champs Elysées doesn't slow down at all. We had a drink at a café, as we chatted on for a few hours, eventually heading home as it started to rain.
The post-race recovery week has been great, staying on the outskirts of Paris, relaxing, with a bit of tourist action, a bit of riding, and generally just enjoying having an apartment to kick back in and not have to move every night. The Plouay world cup is just around the corner, followed closely by the five day Trophée D'Or race. My father arrives in Paris just in time for us to travel together to Plouay and for the following week of racing. The cycling will keep him entertained before he heads to Vichy in central France for the World Masters Rowing Championships at the start of September.
I was happy with my riding in the tour overall. I have finally found some form this year. It took me half the year to get a decent result of any note. The second place in a stage, and 18th place overall will be good memories. I learnt more with each race through the tour, and I have plenty of more racing in the coming month to get a win!