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All American Gal: The Kimberly Baldwin Diary 2006
With both the men's and women's teams as one in 2006, Kimberly Baldwin now finds herself part of the all-powerful German-based T-Mobile squad. Everything is "pretty much kick-ass" is how Kim describes things. And once racing begins, kicking ass is something she's intent on doing!
Germany, April 4, 2006
Tour of Flanders
I’d raced Tour of Flanders once before, in 2004. Actually it was the first year they even had a women’s race for this course. I didn’t have very good luck then. I was lined up pretty far back in the field of about 150 women, so as soon as we started rolling out, I followed some women up onto the sidewalk to try and move up. My front wheel fell into a crack, throwing me forwards straight into the side of a brick building. My hand took the brunt of the crash, breaking in 3 places. I remember talking to my director at the time, Jim Miller, about it later. Literally, I crashed within the first 200 meters of the race. So when one of the girls came on the radio to tell Jim I had gone down, he thought it was a total joke. How could someone crash in 200 meters? Yea, only me. Lucky for me, it was so damn cold that day, my hands were already numb and I had long fingered gloves on. So I couldn’t really tell what was wrong with my hand during the race. I just knew it hurt. So this year, in thinking of the 12 climbs and several kilometers of cobbles we were going to be racing over, I just kept telling myself, “Well, last time I raced it with a broken hand. This year should be no problem!” Ha! I think this race has it out for me.
It was fast from the gun - really fast. But I felt good and I could see all of us right up there, despite a field of 160 starters. Ina was looking great in her World Cup leader jersey and Judith always looks so calm and collected. There was the normal pack movement where you’re racing along a mach speed then all of a sudden everyone brakes. One time when this happened, I felt someone smash into my rear wheel but I held it up and thought nothing else of it. I was really liking our new Shimano deep-section carbon wheels!
When we hit the first section of cobbles, all hell broke loose. Two and a half km’s of cobbles doesn’t seem like much until you’re racing over them losing ground every second. It’s such a crazy feeling. I kept Kim in my sights and we tried to stay together and help each other stay connected to the “field” as girls were crashing and getting dropped left and right. We came out of that section alright and after a little bit of chasing back on, we regrouped and were able to catch our breath. But wow, our field had just shrunk by about 100 women! Incredible.
It was then that I noticed my gearing wasn’t working so well. The chain was jumping and it seemed there was an awful lot of noise going on down there. When we hit the next hill, I shifted into my 25. That did it. The derailleur went right into the rear wheel, jamming the wheel, and breaking off the derailleur entirely. Everyone around me scattered like I was diseased. I pulled over and came on the radio yelling, “My derailleur broke off!” I was devastated. I knew in a race like this, catching back on to the field was most likely a lost cause. As I stood there on the side waiting for our team car, I could not believe how many women were going by me that we had already dropped. Group after group of women. And oh no, there went Magali. Something must have happened to her on the cobbles.
As Andrzej came driving up, he yelled in the radio, ”Kimberly! What do you need?” A new bike. As Bernard jumped out and took down the spare bike, I winced when I saw how big the bike was and the fact that it had a “normal” saddle on it. I only ride saddles with holes cut out in the center for obvious reasons. This was going to be a very painful rest of the race. And we were only about 25 km into our 112km race.
When I got going again, there were still women going by me. So I hopped into a group that had Svetlana Boubnekova driving it at the front. She must have obviously had some problem early in the race because she’s usually Queen of the Mountains in all the big stage races. Being this far back in a race seemed odd for her. We quickly caught Magali’s group and then drove it into the first of 12 climbs.
This was the climb that Andrzej had warned us about. The road was no wider than a doorway. It literally looked like someone’s driveway. The cobbles were rough and really slippery. I turned the corner and went into it with as much momentum as I could. But as soon as I turned the corner, all I saw were brake lights. The entire caravan was at a complete stop on the climb and with the narrowness of the road, there was no way for the women to ride past the cars. Total jam. This left us no choice but to get off and try to run up the climb. The cobbles were so slippery though that I couldn’t get any traction. As the women ran by all the fans (that were laughing at us) all I could think was that this wasn’t doing much for improving the state of women’s cycling!
As soon as I could, I hopped back on my bike and went off in pursuit of maybe catching the main field. I was driving a small group now and we were speeding along the narrow roads. Then the comedy of errors continued. The course officials sent us left instead of straight. I started hearing all this yelling behind me and when I finally turned around, I noticed the girls slowly turning around and heading the other way. Oh good grief. But I wasn’t going to give up yet.
Up the next climb, I found myself solo at the top and drove it. I could hear Andrzej clearly in the radio talking to Christina which was a good sign. At least I was in radio contact! I could see the caravan ahead of me on the twisting roads and my hope surged. I just might make it back! But then, I heard a ping. And then another. My front wheel broke a spoke and as it went flying off, my wheel started wavering like a drunk man. I had to laugh. If I didn’t, I was going to cry. It was at that moment that I thought… well, perhaps this race just isn’t for me. One year a broken hand, the next year a broken bike. Maybe I’ll just watch next time!
I rode alone with my wheel rubbing both sides of the brakes… for about 30km. Where was neutral? Obviously up ahead where it counted. I tried radioing to the team car for a new wheel but I guess in the mixed communication, they thought it was ina that needed a new wheel. So they zoomed up to her instead. I didn’t really expect them to come back for me at that point. I knew I was out of any contention of getting back in to the real racing. Riding the roads alone like that at least gave me an opportunity to really look around and take in where I was and what I was doing (well, what I had tried to do.) I really wanted to at least finish the race, to ride up the cobbled Muur, but if I didn’t get a damn new wheel soon, I was going to have to drop out.
I finally just started flagging down any team car that would give me attention. One car finally stopped and jumped out with a new front wheel. When I went to take off my front wheel, I dropped it like a hot potato. That thing was so hot from the friction! Once I had my wheel, I caught on to the big laughing group so I could at least ride it in. Going up the Muur was cool. Some people were cheering, others were making fun of us. Oh well, all part of the experience. I had no idea how far down we were at this point, but it had to be a long time.
As we came into the finish, I was hoping that the Judith, Ina, and Kim had faired better. But as I tried to listen to the Flemish announcer pronounce the podium, I didn’t think I heard Ina’s name. I found the team car and the other girls. To my complete sadness, I was told that Kim had crashed and broken her collarbone. All of a sudden, all the crap things that had happened to me during the race didn’t amount to a hill of beans. I just wanted my roomie to be ok! Kim was the toughest chic I’ve ever seen. As soon as I opened the car door to talk to her, I started to cry. Then again, I always cry. But she didn’t shed a single tear. She stayed strong throughout everything. Luckily for us, our team doctor was there and he took Kim back with him to his medical center in Freiburg for x-rays. I’m hoping to be able to pick her up at the train station today.
Tour of Flanders was supposed to be a big T-Mobile event. But with races like this, you never know what’s going to happen. Overall, Judith finished a very respectable 9th (I would be ecstatic with that!) and Ina won the field sprint for 11th, retaining the World Cup jersey. We’re down another rider, but hopefully with surgery, Kim will be back soon. Now next weekend, we have a 3-day race in Holland. And my friends know how much I love racing in Holland! Until then… bis dann!