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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.
One against 150
Primavera Rosa, Varazze to San Remo, Italy, March 22, 2003
After the first round of the world cup for women's road cycling in Geelong, the beautiful leader's jersey was with Sara Carrigan (Australian with Bik-PowerPlate). Now a few weeks later we were lining up against a huge field of strong teams, for a race of 120km on fast and primarily flat terrain. It was exciting to have the women's race finishing just over an hour before the men, and held over the last part of their epic 294km from Milan to San Remo. I had not done this race before, but knew of the famous last two climbs; the Cipressa and the Poggio, as friends a couple years ago had gone like pilgrims to Italy from France just to ride over these roads.
Our Australian Institute of Sport team was hopeful of a good result with both Olivia Gollan and Oenone Wood in great form in the hills. The final two climbs were obviously where it was all going to happen, but a landslide on the main beach road a week earlier had introduced another climb/long drag (about 5% for 2km) on a section of autostrada (freeway) about midway through the race.
We drove the three hours from Novellara to Varazze the day before the race. I had a chance to see a bit of the town that afternoon. It is set right on the coast, not far from Genova. The sand on the beach is grey-ish, and the waves are very small, but plenty of people were enjoying the atmosphere and playing around on the esplanade late in the afternoon. There were a few lemon and orange trees around near bus stops on the main street - something of a local specialty!? The oranges you get here are totally different to the ones in Australia with deep red and purple flesh, and the better ones have a strong, rich flavour. The pedestrian shopping streets were beautiful, narrow, little mazes with plenty of interesting, quality purchases to tempt the would-be window shopper. The large old buildings are painted strong shades of pink, orange or yellow, with details like columns and decorative facade work painted on. A few barometers are set up on walls (one directly above an odorous drainage grate!) to indicate temperature, relative humidity and changing weather conditions. The area obviously has had strong connection to fishermen and sea faring people at least in the past.
The morning of the race we warmed up on the rollers before breakfast to kick start the body and make sure we would be ready for the 11.30 start in conditions that were rather cool for Aussie riders used to summer. The beach road that follows the coast down to San Remo passes through little tunnels and winds up and over numerous small headlands and dives through little villages every so often. It is a fairly wide road, and our large bunch seemed to spread across and always take up whatever space was available. The bunch would surge on one side or the other pushing chunks of riders back or forward, but everyone trying to be at the front in these conditions made it hard to hold good position. There were a few nasty crashes, one rider I later heard broke her hip. The others were bruised, battered and out for the day, but most not too seriously hurt. I had luck on my side on that front, with the crashes near me still leaving gaps big enough to avoid almost all of the drama.
Before the autostrada climb our DS, James Victor, was keen for the race to be dynamic and not too easy for the sprinters. I finally managed to get out of the tangle of riders mid-field and try to stir it up with a little attack. Riders from the Prato teams covered anything aggressive very quickly. The head of the peloton chasing me back was led by four rather aggressive-looking, angry riders from the twelve in either 'Prato Bike - Aki' or the very strong 'Prato Marathon Bike' riders. I was hopeful that more moves would go to keep things active, but the momentum of the 15-wide peloton with a tail wind made it difficult for moves to go and it seemed nothing would change that on the flat, fast coast road. I should have kept it going, attacking a few more times to keep the pressure on leading on to the next climb, but one rider against at least 150 didn't seem good odds. I needed a few other teams to be interested in the same concept.
Soon we got onto the autostrada climb. Oenone (Australian Team), got into a break with Miho Oki (Farm Frites-Hartol), Hanka Kupfernagel (Nurnberger), and a couple others. They had about 20 seconds at the top of the long drag on the freeway, but as we started to come back down and towards the freeway exit and the descent to the toll gates the bunch was rolling at over 75km/h. It was as scary as hell at the back of the group. At that speed they easily pulled back the few riders off the front.
Back on the beach road we soon came to a significant little climb, Capo Berta, that split the back of the field. It regrouped a little later through the next town, but the speed remained fast leading up towards the two critical climbs. I wasn't feeling great at this point, and was not climbing well. I had bad position going onto the climbs, and it wasn't my day. (My day is coming soon!) I was dropped over the top of the Cipressa, and finished with a small group that caught me on the Poggio.
For the two from our team in the front group, it was down to the business end of the race. Zoulfia Zabirova (Prato Marathon Bike) attacked a couple of kilometres from the top of the Cipressa, with about 20km to the finish. The gap stayed at 20 seconds for a while and the world time trial champion still had plenty of teammates to control proceedings in the chasing group. Oenone Wood (Australian team) attacked half way up the Poggio, and was covered by Brandli (Prato). They were caught by Stahurstkaia (Chirio) bringing the group back together at the top of the climb. On the descent a few riders tried to get a gap but nothing was going to get away with only five kilometres to go.
Zabirova rode impressively to stay away from the rest of the field and win the second round of the world cup. She is now eight points behind Sara Carrigan who still holds the leader's jersey. Regina Schleicher was second, and third was Rochelle Gilmore (from team 'Ausra Gruodis' - also known as 'the other AccaDueO team with different coloured sleeves'!). Oenone finished sixth, with excellent places for other Aussie riders with Alison Wright and Hayley Rutherford both in the top ten (Road Runner Guerciotti team).
We had enough time to warm down, get changed, grab a bit of food and start the search for a place to watch the finish of the men's race. The bar we had been told about seemed to have disappeared. We saw a huddle of people outside a shop window, and soon barged our way in to get front row seats (on the ground) in front of a wide screen plasma TV that was on display. Bettini was amazing on the Cipressa and Poggio. Awesome teamwork in the Quick-Step camp. It was impressive to see them race over the same climbs we had just done. We had to turn away from the gripping TV coverage to grab a glimpse of the sprint past the 150m to go mark, and then see Cipollini in his world champion jersey just about to launch from the group for fourth place. It was great to be there. It was quite a different atmosphere compared to the Tour de France stages that I saw a couple years ago. Only one block was sectioned off for the presentation, and it was packed with people. The team buses were lined up just beyond the finish, and but there were fewer spectators hanging around than in the summer holiday crowds in France.
We had a long drive home in a slow van, a few hours easy riding the next day, and then packed for Spain. We have a three day tour in the Castilla y Leon region (north west part of Spain), before the third round of the world cup next Sunday. Motivation is strong, so form should follow!