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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.

Geelong Bellarine Tour

Stage 1 - February 23: Eastern Beach Criterium, 30km

Emma's team-mate Olivia Gollan
Photo: © James Victor
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After a week of VO2 and time trial testing at the AIS, and the official launch for the AIS women's team (sponsored by TREK, Shimano and Clarence St Cyclery) we flew down to Melbourne for a new three day tour based around Geelong. It is a familiar environment for most of the Aussie riders, because the Bay Series of criteriums in January is based in and around this area. The first stage for this tour was on the same criterium circuit, near the Geelong Botanic Gardens, where we had raced on a month or so earlier.

We are staying in the Carlton Central Hotel, which I am told was the most famous pub in Geelong for many years. It is still popular with the locals early on Sunday morning after a big Saturday night out. The rooms are all positioned perfectly for drunks to serenade those sleeping two floors up from the gutter below. A classic Australian experience. The week has gradually brought calmer and cooler evenings, but before the world cup next Sunday I am sure there will be more Saturday night entertainment.

There are 14 teams lining up for the first round of the Women's World Cup in one weeks time, so a field of about 75 riders contested the first day of this tour, a criterium near the Geelong Botanic Gardens. There were two intermediate sprints and 30 laps in total. We had thought it would be good to send some one up the road to get the time bonus and sprint points. Olivia took a perfect opportunity after 8 laps, and had a good gap on the field. She kept it going after the sprint, Oenone and I ready to cover anyone that tried to get across, and hoping to slow the chase group a little. Olivia's lead was hovering around 200m lap after lap, and just after the second sprint (Olivia out the front for 12 laps by that stage) it seemed she would be pulled in.

James told Oenone to attack into the finishing straight, and five riders went with her. I was suffering a fair bit at this point, and let the gap go, forcing anyone behind to chase it. When Oenone's group got to Olivia, she was able to get bit of a rest for a lap. The other riders were still recovering from Oenone's attack, and so were not in a position to respond when Olivia went again. It was an awesome move - and no one responded. The group I was with managed to pull back the five who had been just ahead, but Olivia was well up the road, and catching groups of lapped riders. With five laps to go we were simply trying to be ready for anything that went. There were a few moves, but nothing broke the group again.

Olivia finished about 45 seconds ahead of our group of about 15-20 riders. It was an awesome effort. Hayley Rutherford won the bunch kick ahead of her team mate Alison Wright (both with the Italian based team Road Racer-Guerciotto). I limped across the line at the back of the pack, still looking for some zap in my legs. I must have been using too big a gear for most of the crit, and my legs have been feeling a little flat in the last few days.

It was a great result for Olivia, and an impressive ride. The team was really happy for her, and ready to do all we can for the rest of the tour to hold on to the leader's jersey.


Stage 2 - February 24: Drysdale Road Circuit, 84km

Here comes the peloton
Photo: © John Veage
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Monday's stage started at 11:30, on quite a warm day with temperatures at least 36 degrees. The 23km circuit was tough with a strong wind blowing and some steep little pinches on fairly dead roads. We were to do four laps, about 90kms. I was impressed by the strength of the field. It seemed the bunch never really thinned, still with 50 riders coming into the last lap. There had been a few eventful moments with Alison Wright having to change bikes after an early attack on her rear derailleur and gear cable by a adventurous front wheel. There was a bit of aggression through the start finish line for the time bonus sprints, but the strong head winds favored the group rolling along, and the sharp pinches seemed to be followed by long enough descents to allow it to regroup. Into the last lap James was keen for the team to put the pressure on. He buried Amy Safe and Natalie Bates; getting them to ride hard in the cross winds leaving as little shelter as possible for the bunch behind. Onto the steepest hill Oenone drove the bunch and the field was strung out over the crest, but still a few good sprinters were able to stay with the leading group.

There were about five hills in the last eight kilometres, and riders from a few teams tried to have a go. It seemed that most teams wanted to keep it together. Not enough people putting everything on the line, and a tail wind that kept the speed up and made getting a gap just a little harder. With about two kilometres to go Judith Arndt attacked (now with the German team Nurnberger). A rider with T-Mobile covered the move, and I went with them. I was just assessing the situation when the counter move went from Margaret Hemsley (also with Nurnberger). She got a good gap with about five riders chasing including Olivia Gollan (AIS), Sara Carrigan (Power-Plate-Bik), Katie Mactier (VIS) and Elizabeth Williams (VIS), all with at least 100m back to the next group of fifteen chasers.

Margaret stayed away for the win, with Sara Carrigan second and Katie Mactier third. The 115km stage tomorrow has a solid two kilometre climb, with a sharp pinch at the top, so we should see the field blown to pieces, and the time gaps deciding the final GC places. Olivia still leads the tour, so our team has some work to do, but are in a strong position to take out the race.


Stage 3 - February 25: Lara to Lara (via You Yangs & Bacchus Marsh), 129km

Photo: © John Veage
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A damp and overcast morning greeted us and some girls were still recovering from heat exhaustion and sun-burn from the previous day. One New Zealand rider, after a good effort in the stage yesterday, but lousy re-hydration techniques, was taken to hospital, put on a drip, suffered through the night and was still not in any position to race or to celebrate her birthday today!

We did not bother with much of a warm up as the roads were wet, and the decisive part of the race was not likely to come before the 50km mark. We looked over the last few kilometers to the finish line, at the town of Lara, about 20km from Geelong. The first part of the race was rather subdued, but a small group sparked it up at about the 35km mark. A Tasmanian rider, Louise Yaxley (Alchemy team) initiated the move from the front of the bunch. A few went with it, and I tagged on behind a Grace team rider. She did not have the ticker to close the gap, and I wasn't sure it was going to stick, so I sat up as the bunch drew nearer. I should have gone across to it, as the peloton then let it go, and it was then our team that needed to ensure the gap didn't blow out. The best placed rider on GC in the group of about five was Rosalind Reekie-May. This group took the points for the first sprint, then James gave us the word for our team to make it hard.

Our race plan was to use Amy Safe and Natalie Bates to smash the bunch before the climb and then have Oenone and Olivia do as much damage as possible on the climb and take advantage of any small groups together at the top. There was just enough of a cross wind on the narrow roads to string it out, and when Amy (a good pursuit rider) got going it was single file and causing trouble all the way to the base of the climb. Oenone motored up the hill and then eased up to work with the first couple of riders over the crest, Olivia Gollan (AIS) and Margaret Hemsley (Nurnberger). They were soon joined by Katie Mactier, Hayley Rutherford, with Mirjam Melchers and not too far behind them.

On the climb, we were having fun. Sara Carrigan (Power-plate) had to unclip with her 23 cog resisting all her efforts to keep momentum on the steepest part of one switchback. She ended up standing in the gravel on the side of the road with little hope of quickly rejoining the crawl. Miho Oki, the best of the Japanese riders and a good climber stopped, screamed and then decided to walk for a bit. There were falls and spills and plenty of entertaining stories. It was an impressively steep climb, and one the race organisation are sure to return to.

I was over the top of the climb with the second group of riders. I got a free ride back to the front group that seemed not to be committed to staying away for the last 50km of the race. Our group included a couple NZ riders (Reekie-May and Wood) as well as Arndt (Nurnberger), Bruckner (T-mobile), Carrigan, Wright, Kym Shirley (Road-Racer) and Jessica Ridder (ACTAS). There were a couple attacks from our group. USA National ITT champion Bruckner countered and soon was 20 seconds up the road. James called Oenone and me in to keep the bunch moving and limit the surging and attacks. We worked fairly solidly, and ensured that the break would not blow out and lose us the bike race. Limiting the attacks kept Olivia fresh, and this was critical for the end of the race.

In the last 10km the crosswinds were strong and after Judith Arndt had attacked we put it in the gutter, with Olivia third wheel, and tried to wear the bunch down. The more experienced riders knew exactly what was happening. Judith brought Margaret to the front, to join Melchers and Mactier. They swapped off with Oenone and I and the group suffered. There were a few corners and attacks. Holding the wheel was tough in the cross winds at the end of a long stage. Gaps opened up when Margaret attacked. Oenone covered the move with Mactier and Melchers there too, but then Oenone dropped back to pace Olivia up to join the front six riders (Mactier, Melchers, Reekie May, Hemsley, Bruckner and Arndt). I was with the remanants of the group, with Sara Carrigan trying to claw back to the group in front to save her second place on GC. All three riders from the Road Runner team were with us, but the front group stayed away. Katie Mactier winning the sprint ahead of Miriam Melchers, Olivia Gollan in third.

I was 8th for the stage (prize money for top five), and Oenone and I finished 11th and 12th on GC (prize money for top 10). Olivia earned some good money for the team, and most importantly had held on to the leaders jersey to take out the inaugural Geelong Bellarine Tour, and give the AIS team a great start to the season. The team was in fine spirits at the end of the race, already looking forward to the first round of the World Cup next weekend.