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Billy Cornelius HP Women's Challenge diary
Billy Cornelius is an employee of HP, working at the company's Boise, Idaho printer plant. At the 2002 HP Women's Challenge he has volunteered for the job of working as a gopher for the Italian-based Itera team.
Itera makes the break
Stage 2 - June 16: Lowman to Stanley: 58.5 miles, ~3000 feet of climbing
As I write this journal entry, I'm sitting in the back seat of our team car. Our car is fourth from the front of the race caravan, all behind the peloton. There is a lottery to decide the order of the 16 team cars in the caravan, which are in charge of fixing flats and other mechanical support. This car is equipped with a spare bike, three sets of wheels, the tool briefcase, some extra water, and some packets of gel fuel. Itera manager Walter Zini is driving and working two radios: one provided by the race and one for his cyclists. The race radio provides information on who needs what within the peloton, and coordinates the movement of the cars if and when the peloton breaks up on the climbs. It also broadcasts results of sprints. The second radio provides communication to the team. Before the race each rider is outfitted with a transmitter, typically fitting in the back middle pocket of her race bib. Then a wire is routed up the neck and an earpiece is taped into place.
We have a ~2000 foot climb ahead over about 31 miles. Just before the peak, there is a feed zone. Ryan left before the start to provide water and 'electrolyte' to the cyclists as they refuel before the 30 or so mile descent into Stanley. A rider just got a flat - she breaks, hops off her bike, and the lead van in the caravan, the neutral support vehicle swoops over and someone leaps out. We are only four cars back, but the front wheel change occurs so fast that the mechanic is already pushing the cyclist up the hill to get her back into the peloton. He does this right beside us and within another minute she is back with the peloton.
We are climbing steep terrain now and riders begin to fall out of the peloton. Each of the 20 or so cars in the caravan has to negotiate around them. The official radio announces each rider 's number as this occurs. The peloton has no break-aways, and team Rona is driving the pace with Genevieve Jeanson in the forefront as she so often is in the mountains. We have now peaked out briefly at 5000 feet and the cyclists enjoy a nice breeze and a long chug of water on the descent. Walter has only occasionally spoke to the riders on his radio to them. He is speaking Italian, so I have no idea what he is saying. Soon we pass Itera riders Kym Shirley and Sylvia Valsecchi, who get dropped from the peloton, and Walter shouts the distance to the feed zone as we pass them.
Now Rasa Polikeviciute is leading a group of 12 riders off the front up the steep parts of the climb. As we pass riders they cut in close behind us to catch a bit of draft from the car. There is not much available since we are moving about 10-15mph. Vera drops off and we catch her and exchange water bottles, and a little advice. I feel pretty comfortable in the back seat but Vera looks quite hot and she squeezes most of her bottle on her head. Now we are almost to the top and we pass the stationary feed zone. The girls are coming in one at a time so Ryan has no problem handing them bottles.
Walter tells me Valentina Polkhanova is the team's best climber as well as the GC hope, and Svetlana Samokhvalova is the top sprinter. Valentina is a part of the small break-away that has escaped from the peloton. Walter keeps talking to Barbara Lancioni, and seems irritated, but I don't bother him now. As we get closer to the finish, there is a lot of activity on the team radios. The official announces each break, the rider numbers, and gap times. There are many breaks. What's left in this lead group criss-crosses the two lane highway as they try to form breakaways. I find out later that Walter was irritated because Barbara was leading the peloton as they chased the break-away group. Because Valentina was in the breakaway, there was no need for an Itera team member to give chase. I think Genevieve Jeanson was the first over the mountain top. This small group kept their lead over the next 20+ downhill miles into Stanley. Saturn's Anna Millward placed first, Rasa Polikeviciute finished second, and our Itera team GC leader Valentina Polkhanova placed third!