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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.

The smell of asphalt

GP Feminas Castilla y Leon World Cup round, Spain, March 30, 2003

It was an early start from the hotel in cool, foggy conditions for the hour drive to the circuit from Burgos in the north of Spain. It was not raining, but overcast and ominous given the memories of three days racing in the cold and rain were still fresh in our mind. Alison Wright, who is now a professional rider with the Italian Road Racer Guerciotti team, was riding with us in the Australian team as her team did not get a start for this week of Spanish racing.

The circuit was a 15km loop to be done seven times for a total of just over 100km. The circuit started in the centre of the small country town Villercayo, passed over a little bridge and on to a few kilometres of fairly straight, flat roads. There were a few little undulations before the sharp left hand corner onto the main climb. The climb was steepest at the bottom, and perhaps one kilometre to the crest. The roads had been resurfaced very recently, with the strong smell of asphalt still lingering, particularly on the climb. Over the top the descent opened up with just a couple corners you had to slow up for. There was some loose surface gravel in some of the corners making people wary and cautious. The motorbike marshals skidded out a few times losing traction, and a few riders took a closer look at the fresh surface. The road then wound back towards the town, following the river and overshadowed by a solid, sharp vertical cliff bounding the road edge.

After about 10km I had a puncture, but was easily back to the group by the end of the first lap. At the front of the group there was a large crash leading onto the small bridge for the start of the second lap. Oenone Wood from our team was caught behind, and Natalie Bates did a great job to get her back to the group in no time. The pace was fairly steady for the first half of the race, with the climb stringing it out, and the peloton regrouping on the wider, fast road back into town. There was no rain, and the bunch seemed to be moving fairly steadily so the laps ticked by quite quickly. I was not climbing with the leaders, but tried to be in a position to cover moves once it had regrouped along the flatter section of the course. There were a few groups away for short periods of time, but nothing really stuck early on.

With just over three laps to go Olivia Gollan (Australian Team) had attacked on the climb, and was with the leaders as it started to regroup on the flatter roads. She and Nicole Brandli (Prato) got a gap from this group and worked well together to establish a lead of about a minute. Nicole Cooke (Ausra Gruodis) and Mirjam Melchers (Farm Frites) worked to pull the gap back to 20 seconds, with the front group now only 25 riders. With one lap to go Olivia and Brandli were caught. Melchers attacked in the final lap about five kilometres from the finish and managed to just hold off the riders sprinting behind. Anita Valen (Bik Powerplate) took second place (and crucial World Cup points), just ahead of her team mate, and leader of the world cup series, Sara Carrigan! Alison Wright (riding with Australian team) was fourth.

The last three laps for the rest of the peloton were not too eventful. Katia Longhin tried to get across to the leaders, attacking up the climb. I went with her, but the gap was too large to get to the front group, and a sprinter like Longhin would be a threat to the other Aussie riders already in the front group. Our group was still quite large, and regrouped again shortly before the end of the second lap. Longhin won the sprint for 25th place from our group.

We scrubbed up as best we could for a four hour drive to Pau in France. I was very glad to be in France again, as my French is much better than my poco-Italian and my non-existent Spanish! It is so much easier to feel comfortable and to ask for things and to enjoy everything you are doing when you can understand and communicate with the locals. We left very early the next morning to start the 12 hour drive to Italy. Lunch was an entertaining sight for French people passing our little picnic spot with a rug set out on a tiny strip of grass near a car park, and a gourmet selection of food from the nearby mega-supermarket! Eating informally like this has not yet taken off with the French! I have had a few weird looks and semi sarcastic 'Bon appetit' comments in similar circumstances.

Back to our base in Italy for a few weeks of solid training before the world cup rounds in Holland (Amstel Gold) and Belgium (Fleche Wallone). I am starting to settle in now after three weeks in Europe and the first couple of races done. We are here for at least another six months. It is hard to believe the European racing season is just warming up!