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The AIS Women's Team Diary 2004

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On the podium at Milan San Remo
Photo: © AIS

Welcome to one of our more unusual diaries, with entries from the various members of the Australian Institute of Sport's Women's team as they conduct their European campaign.

In 2003 the AIS team was the top women's squad in the world and has started 2004 with a bang as pocket rocket sprinter Oenone Wood leads the World Cup after two rounds. Follow Wood and team-mates such as Olivia Gollan and Sara Carrigan in their diary, only on Cyclingnews.

Welcome to Flanders

By Oenone Wood

Ronde van Vlaanderen World Cup, Belgium, April 4, 2004

A little nervous before the start
Photo ©: Rudie Ottens

We had been hearing stories about the notorious Flanders course for weeks leading into Round 4 of the WC series. So lining up for the start we were anticipating a challenging day on the bike, complete with narrow roads and cobbled climbs. The race did not disappoint...

From the start, Farm Frites was on the front, keeping up a furious pace with Leontien van Moorsel at the fore. With at least 180 riders on the narrow roads it was chaotic. The sound of brakes being applied too suddenly and bikes going down quickly became an all too familiar sound. Inside the first 20km I was held up behind a crash - fortunately, apart from having to unclip and disentangle my front wheel there was no damage. I chased back onto the bunch only to come down 10km later. 3 bikes came down in front of me and with nowhere to go I soon followed. I quickly realized I would need a bike change and just at that moment Natalie Bates was by my side handing me her bike to ride.

Incidentally, Natalie is at least 11cm taller than me, so as you can probably imagine it was a little comical with me riding out of the saddle because my legs weren't long enough to enable me to sit down. Our team car was held up behind the crash, so I was really lucky to be assisted by the German National Team. With the seat back down to a reasonable height I made my way back to the main group. By this time Olivia Gollan and Sara Carrigan had come back to help out and they paced me back to the front of the bunch.

We had just reached the top of the first climb and were planning a second bike change for me. It never eventuated as Sara punctured and needed to go back for a wheel change.

Through the next three climbs Leontien tirelessly drove the pace on the front. The bunch had reduced to about 80 riders by this stage and as the kms ticked over, more riders were dropped. A sharp left hand turn brought us onto the start of climb number 5 and a 2km stretch of cobbles. The bunch splintered almost immediately, and Olivia and I found ourselves about 30 riders back with two smaller groups in front.

The cobbles were not the only hazard. Several riders crashed on this section making it difficult to pick a safe line and close the gap to the leaders. On the final 500m of the climb the road turned back to bitumen and we rode back onto the front group. The front bunch had reduced again to about 40 riders. This group stayed together over the 6th climb but riders were already pushing to the front in anticipation of the Muur.

Within 300m of riding onto the Muur, Zabirova attacked and held a 20m gap over the bunch, gradually increasing her lead. I had fairly good position, sitting about 4th wheel behind Melchers, Worrack and Van Moorsel. There is clearly and art to riding cobbles that I am yet to learn and as a group of five riders (Van Moorsel, Melchers, Worrack, Kupfernagel and Slyusareva) surged over the crest of the climb. I was unable to go with them.

Back on the bitumen again Alison Wright, Margaret Hemsley and I chased back on and had just rejoined the group before the start of the final climb. The effort of the chase clearly took its toll and the group soon split again on the cobbles. By the top, three riders were again clear of the bunch, Van Moorsel, Melchers and Worrack.

The chase bunch gradually regrouped and with about 10km to go Olivia came to the front and led the bunch into the final kilometres. With 3km to go Zabirova was still out in front and the other three leaders had established a strong lead over the chasing group of 30 riders. Zabirova held onto her lead to take her second WC win for the season. Trixi Worrack sprinted for 2nd place, with Van Moorsel taking 3rd and Melchers 4th.

Inside the final kilometre I had really bad position for the sprint. I was boxed in and just managed to move out to the outside with 250m to go. Slyusareva led the sprint out and took 5th place, closely followed by her teammate Alison Wright. Loes Gunnewijk took 7th place and I came in at 8th. This placing enabled me to maintain my lead on the series overall. There are now 28 points separating me (178 points) and Zabirova (150 points) in 2nd place. Melchers is now 3rd overall with 115 points.

Despite some adversity in today's race, the Aussie team has managed to achieve its main objective of retaining the jersey. Today was yet another strong demonstration of team work and we are looking forward to tackling "the Huy" in Round 5.