The Tracey Gaudry Diary 1999

The Local East Coast Australian Time is

Tour de l'Aude, May 7-16

Friday May 7, Prologue: Gruissan - Gruissan, 2.4km

What a kick-off to a 10 day tour, a mini pursuit? And this tour is renownedfor its long, mountainous stages. Not today. Where are our track riderswhen we need them!

The prologue was staged in the main streets of Gruissan, with only 3sweeping corners. The start time of 4pm for the first rider makes it a verylong, uninteresting day while you sit around conserving energy, waiting foryour start time. I was seeded high, near the end, so I had the knowledge ofthe times of the best riders to date. Hanka Kupfernagel was the one to beatwith a blistering time of 3 minutes, 0.77 seconds - 47.8km/hr average! Nowthis is where I stuffed up, thinking that that was soooo fast when I shouldhave remembered about an ITT I did in '96 with an average of 48.5km/hr over22km.

I warmed up well, and arrived at the start feeling good. It was juststarting to drizzle, darn! Off I went - clunk! The chain immediatelyjumped, not running smoothly on the cog. Another darn, as I didn'tpersonally test the wheel before the start (lesson number one foreverybody, even when they tell you it has been checked!!!!!). Sat down andclicked down into a bigger gear and off I went, turning into the headwindwith good cadence. At 1.5km, I was feeling comfortable still, which isnecessary in a normal ITT, but not for a 2.4km one! I buried my head andthrew the gear lever down into the 12 as I swept around the bend into theslight tail wind drag. I stormed home with too much left in my legs. Overin 3 minutes 11 seconds. No podium for me today, but a very respectableeffort for such a specific event. The Saturn riders cleaned up the rest ofthe placings after Kupfernagel, not surprising given the reports we havebeen receiving from Anna this year.

Saturday May 8, Stage 1: Lezignan Corbieres - return, 122km

Time to get used to late starting races. Normal brekky, light rollbefore/after, drive to the next destination for the night, lunch in thecommunal school hall (where the standard fare for the 10 days will beboiled pasta/potatoes and chicken - practical, but oh so boring!), race,dinner, massage, washing, stretch, WRITE MY RACE DIARY, bed.

One of the flattest stages today, only two climbs: Cat 1 and Cat 3, plusfour road sprints. The major difficulty would be navigating the narrow goattrails and staying upright in the crosswinds. We were called to the line inorder of the team presentation on the first day, which meant we were nearlylast, hmmph! So, it took me about 15km to actually see the front of thepeloton! A bad crash occurred at the back (behind me) after only 3km.Jolanta Polekeviciute (Lithuania) sustained a broken wrist. Meanwhile aSaturn rider, Susy Pryde, had made a solo break. She ended up staying awayfor 100km, only to get reeled in by the Greenery Hawk girls to make surethat Hanka kept the yellow jersey for the start of the mountain stages.

At the base of the first hill climb (the hard one), I settled in at thefront to make sure I had good position for the sprint at the top. Thenalas, I was dealt my third bad hand of cards for the day. Already, my bikecomputer had completely malfunctioned so I was reliant on memory of thedetails of the race. And only 10 minutes prior to the race start, ourmechanic had frantically changed my head stem as the new one that was puton only yesterday didn't know which way was forward! Now, I suffered a flatback tyre at the bottom of the climb. I sunk to the back of the bunch andsignaled for our team car. The jerk of a commissaire didn't bother to callMichel on the radio, so it took 2-3 minutes for him to see me and get up tome. The commissaire wouldn't let Michel through the convoy to the front soI had to drift half-way back before getting assistance. I stopped, made aquick change and spent the next 4km climbing at my limit to get back to thepeleton. I reached the back at 1km to go, exhausted. Then a gap formed overthe top and I was dagged again. My teammates had seen me coming back to thebunch so quickly and thought I was ok. Not so. The next 10km was spentchasing with a small, unruly group but we made it back on. Only 60-odd kmsto go. I resolved to 'get through this stage' and think about doingsomething decent tomorrow.

All was going well. The bunch was together for the finish, a narrow,sharply cornered, rough road through city streets one minute and countrylanes the next. I prepared to launch a solo attack at around 1.5km to go,knowing the finish would be messy. I moved up quickly on the outside of thebunch seeing all my teammates ahead. Good. Just as I was about tocircumvent the last couple of riders and go for it, CRASH!! Thefront-middle section of the peleton came down like a tonne of bricks. I wason the outside and kept storming past until Juanita got dominoed from theside, taking me down with her. Straight off the edge into a grassy metredeep gully. Lucky I guess, I was damaged more by the bike and other riders'bikes than the ground. Got up, wound the chain back on, and sprint the last1.5k with Juanita to try to reduce the time deficit. Only 500m later andall would have received 'bunch' time. That's the way it goes. [Note. Inroad races, if a mishap occurs in the final km, causing a rider to losecontact with the bunch they were with at the time, then they still receivethe same time as that bunch as long as they finish the race.] Lost 40-oddseconds in one foul swoop. What a way to go from 6th on GC to 46th! I'msporting a very bruised sacrum and a huge slice down a very swollen rightshin. Our sprinter also crashed, so it was not a good day for Ebly. I'msurprised I had the motivation to even write about it. Four bad deals inone day. Feels like a Monday in the office with a hangover from theweekend, except there are nine more consecutive working days to go!Tomorrow's a new day.

Sunday May 9, Stage 2: Rieux Minervois - return, 106km

Redemption is a wonderful thing!Today we rode into the mountains, the start of things to come. Another faststart down narrow winding roads. Another day of starting at the back. Thecommissaire is still calling teams up by the presentation order, not GC orteams classification. Still no excuses when a break of 9 (yes 9, with mostgood teams represented) riders went up the road before any of us saw thefront. I had a quick look around and settled a little knowing that theCanadian and Greenery Hawk riders away were not strong and that Hanka andLinda Jackson (big climbing threats) would be keen to pick up the break inthe mountains. Now, I just had to stay with them.

Some crazy things often happend during tours, and this was one of them -the whole race went the wrong way! About 2km down the wrong road we werecalled to a halt. The breakaway group was stopped down the road, broughtback to us and let go for a couple of minutes (down the right track) tore-establish the break. This gave them a decent breather, and got the wholebunch in a panic. Still the mountains were looming. Gradually ridersdropped back from the break (which was sitting at about 2 minutes), and wehad caught 5 of them by the top of the first KOM, a Cat 2. Not too hard. Wehad been warned about the extremely dangerous descents (broken roads,narrow, switchbacks, gravel - the lot!) so I did the smart thing today andstuck on or near the front all the way. At the base of the first Cat 1climb, the pace was on quickly. A long climb, 7km and steep in places. Thelast breakaway, Dede Demet was reeled in 2km from the top and quickly wentout the back of the front group (now only 15 or so) like a lead sinker.Seven riders went over the top in front - yes I was one of them, good. Wedidn't really drive hard down the other side, knowing that the next climbwould be the decider. The rest of the 15 riders got back on.

Ahead loomed the first 'Hors' Category climb, only 4.5km long but extremelyrough and steep in places (Hors Category climbs are the hardestclassification of a mountain, due to a combination of length, gradient,altitude and the difficulty of climbs preceding it - in layman's terms: the'gut busters'!). This time I decided to set the tempo, fast. It worked WOW,and by half way only six riders remained. Maria, a teammate had told me allabout the climb that morning so I knew how to ride it smartly. It wasamazing to look back and see the 'real' climbers dropping away (Jackson,Brunel, Polkhanova, Polikevicuite). Then it was on! Our bunch consisted ofmyself, Hanka, Meike De Bruijn, Heidi VandeVijver, Lyne Bessette and EmilyRobbins. I was outnumbered by two Greenery Hawk and two Saturn riders. Iknew the chase group would be also turning themselves inside out. Still Idrove as hard as possible knowing that I had more time to make back up fromyesterday's crash. The last 30km was mostly downhill, with some awesometechnical sections. We dropped Emily on a small hill, and then prepared forthe sprint to the line. Hanka and Meike played the numbers game one-twoingus, so in the end I bolted with 400m to go, and only Hanka came over me.2nd!!! Pretty happy with that indeed, for a tour of this calibre and a realclimbers stage. Even Longo was happy!

Tomorrow will be tough, due to the many short steep hills, and wind. GCplaces will be up for the taking and many riders will be having a fair go,especially from teams like Saturn, France and Russia.

Monday May 10, Stage 3: Port Lauragais - return, 101km

Some respite today. Despite the strong crosswinds and unforgiving terrain,not a lot happened. With only four riders in our team (This is what westarted the tour with, while all other teams fielded six which is thestandard team size), it is difficult to 'make the race'. I was somewhatdependent upon the teams of other high GC riders, and was careful to staynear the front. Laurence and Maria kept a good eye on me and the majorthreats which was good.

The only potential breaks were following two of the three significantclimbs of the day, both Cat 2. The good thing about being high up on GC isthat the riders allow you more leeway in the bunch, so it was easy to getto the front for each climb (similar to flat stages when the sprinters moveup swiftly for the sprint - good for up-and-coming riders to take this onboard as motivation). About a dozen riders went over the top with a decentbreak over the first Cat 2. Nobody would work as there were four Saturnriders (Lyne, Emily, Anna, Susy) and three Greenery Hawk. Saturn wasclearly wanting to keep it together for a bunch finish, and didn't want togive Hanka any further advantage. We cruised to the next KOM. This one waslonger and steep, but relatively fast. Meike DeBruijn, Hanka's teammate seta hot tempo, and soon there were only five of us left - similar toyesterday. Again, Lyne and Emily refused to work after the top to allow thesmall chase group with Saturn riders to get back to us. Time to resign amajor effort for the next real climbing day.

Pretty easy to the finish, except I lost my race food while eating on abumpy section (all sections were bumpy), so I was going a bit flat. TheGerman National Team kept things under control by keeping the pace high toeliminate the possibility of a late break. They set Petra up for the win,and she came up with the goods again! We all finished safely in the bunchtoday. It is not worth the risk contesting a tailwind downhill sprint downa goattrail, when the riders were fighting for 20th place! Sounds a littlelaissez faire', especially when we have a sprinter that I would love tolead out, but necessary when there is potential for better finishes on moresuitable days. Horses for courses!

Tuesday May 11, Stage 4: Castelnaudry - return, 126km

The second to longest stage of the tour, but one of the flattest, good.Only one Categorised climb, Cat 1 at 90km. We figured this would be a dayfor a non-GC contender, hopefully one of ours!

Started off pretty easy, though there were a few crashes on a verytechnical descent. I felt good early but tired quickly, this being the 5thday of the tour when general fatigue starts to set in. A few early breakswent, but were brought back with minimal effort on our part. There arestill a number of complete teams who are doing a lot of the work. AnnaWilson was away for about 10km early in the race, into a headwind, lookingstrong, but it was too early and she is too much of a threat. She cameback. She is riding herself into better form each day. About half way aFrench girl slipped away. Juanita tried to go across but her efforts werethwarted. This girl ended up winning the stage. She was 30 minutes down onGC so nobody worried.

The climb wasn't steep, but was long and heavy. I felt shocking and wasthankful that France were setting a steady tempo to stop any attacks whichwould potentially reel their teammate in, and blow the French support outthe back. We went for the sprint over the top and sat up. Then EmilyRobbins (Saturn) and Meike De Bruijn attacked as the road was still goingup. Darn, both were from the 'enemy' teams on GC. It was up to us. I wasstuffed and looked around for support. Nothing, but I could see a bunch of20 or so just getting back to us. Juanita was in it, great. I went back andcalled her up to the front for additional help. Although tired andrequesting to be able to recover first, she went to the front after someencouragement and quickly did most of the work to reel the girls back in. Asuperb effort, which is also good for her confidence. The danger for theday was over.

The last 30km was undulating downhill, so it was thankfully quite fastwhich helps to get the race over with and lessens the potential foraccidents. A bunch of 30-40 riders contested the finish which was a doozy.Very fast for the 10km until 2km to go, through winding city streets withtraffic lights, median strips, high gutters, the lot! Then a right, right,left, right, veer right, 200m, cobbles, right, uphill, roundabout, uphilldrag - all in the last 1500m. I was 2nd wheel until the 2nd right, when thefront rider balked. No stopping now. I launched into my attempt at the'kilo', knowing that it would be messy on the cobbles with a bunch ofriders, and that I didn't have anyone to lead me out, or for me to leadthem out. I think/hope it was good for Anna, who saw me preparing for thelaunch. I died fast on the uphill drags to the finish having gone out soearly, so it really was a 'kilo', which ended at the roundabout. Stillmanaged 9th in the stage, so I was reasonably satisfied with that giventhat most of the sprinters were still there, except ours.

We are now half way through the tour in terms of days: 5 down, 5 to go.Unfortunately though, we have raced only a prologue and 4 stages. We stillhave a time trial and 6 stages to go, in the next 5 days! Yes, that doesmean we have 2 days with 2 stages in the same day, ugh.

Now to switch the brain and body into time trial mode for tomorrow. Therewere more than a few riders looking like they were saving themselves today.

Thursday May 13, Stage 6 (morning): Mazamet - Pic de Nore, 61km

Potentially, a GC shuffler, this stage had an 11km Cat 1 climb plus a 7kmHors. Cat mountain finish. It was fast early, with several attacks goingbut to no avail. We rode into the first climb at considerable pace, itwasn't steep (about Mt. Stromlo). Then, a funny thing happened. Annaattacked and the bunch let her go. Very silly of them. Juanita tried tobridge across, but left it a little too late, not being quick enough toclose the gap. I knew then that Anna would win the stage. It was then up tome to race the last climb well to contest GC with the climbers. Anna hadmaintained a 2 minute lead for 25km, until the last climb. That's when theclimbers hit the straps. Emily, Hanka and I took turns at pace todisintegrate the bunch, after which I settled in knowing that Emily andLyne (Saturn) would play the numbers game against Hanka and Meike (GreeneryHawk). Emily set a cracking pace, Meike continually attacked. It was tough.I was already in the 25 cog! I kept bridging across to the attacks. Thiswent on for about 5km (20 minutes or so of absolutely gutwrenching agony).With 1.5km to go, Lyne (who had been sitting in) attacked furiously andgapped us all. I went first, the others cracked. The last 1km was absoluteagony, up a tortorous mountain in the open with a solid headwind. I crossedthe line a few seconds behind Lyne, in third. Anna had won the stage with a50 second lead. Hanka was now worried.

Stage 7 (afternoon): Pradelles Cabardes - Mazamet, 76km

We had lunch 10km down from the mountain finish. I cruised down themountain on my bike to clear my head from the stern dressing down I hadjust received from Longo, for not climbing harder at the finish. She waswatching from the side at 500m to go, when I peddled in the saddle for amoment to catch my breath: "You don't listen to me? You have no power inthe saddle, you must climb in and out of the saddle!". I was aghast. I hadjust finished 3rd in one of the most heavily contested finishes to date,and got a huge dressing down. Later, she and Patrice softened, saying theywere only trying to help. Ok. My skin is getting thicker, my shouldersbroader, my chin up. I can deal with this method. After all, she is20-times World Medallist!

The afternoon stage was another doozy, with a great descent and anotherHors. Category climb! It was really tough. I had received word that themiddle 2km were really hard (after a steady 2km), and then it evened out. Iattacked up the climb early and only 6 were left. We were all grovelling.Then Hanka attacked at 4km and Lyne went with her. Emily went but faltered.Heidi and I took turns to chase. I begged for the gradient to soften but itdidn't! 25 cog all the way! We were nearly throwing up over the top.Jeannie yelled encouragement from the road side (now that she is notracing, she rides these mountain passes for fun!?!). I was thankful to seea descent as steep and winding as the climb we had ascended. We flew downthe other side, keeping Hanka and Lyne in sight. Emily sat on. The chasewas on at the bottom. Meanwhile a bunch of 4 riders were working togetherto get back to us, with more Saturn and Greenery Hawk rivals! They got tous, and sat on while Heidi and I towed them back up to Hanka and Lyne. Wewere totally exhausted, while they were recovering. I quickly downed a Cokeand a Musashi bar to prepare for a furious 20km numbers game. 10 riders:3xSaturn (including Anna who was continuing a great day), 3xGreenery Hawk(with 1 ally from Lithuania), a Frenchie, Heidi and myself. How would Isurvive this one. The main bunch was already more than 2 minutes behind, sothat wasn't a problem.

As expected, the attacks went every which way. I had to keep anticipatingthem, and jumped onto the back of each attack or chasing rider. All thatrepeated sprint training this summer was paying off. I could do it. Theremust have been a dozen savage attacks in 5km! With only 3km to go, EmilyRobbins launched, taking 4 riders with her. Each rider had a compatriotblocking. This was it. I bridged across, and sat on the back of the 4riders as Emily drove. Meanwhile, Hanka, Lyne, Heidi, Anna, Meike wereplaying cat-and-mouse behind. I had ridden the final few kms that morningbefore the start of the morning stage and knew it well: a steady drag forthe final km with a roundabout and railway lines. Patience now. Waiting forthe moment. At 400m to go, I attacked from the back and established a 20mgap, winning with the true victory salute, a rare opportunity. I had WONTHE STAGE, WOW!!!! I was a few seconds in front of my group, and the othertope GC riders a long way back, after a break only 3km from the finish.

Friday May 14, Stage 8: Saint Laurent - Durban Corbieres, 125km

After such a tough two-stage day yesterday, and another two-stage daytomorrow, I was hoping to have a relatively quiet ride today. In every longtour there are usually a couple of stages where you are completelyfatigued, no matter how well you try to rest and recuperate between stages.I expected that today I would be tired and was at ease with this given aslightly less mountainous terrain. There would be a larger bunch to enableenergy conservation by sitting in. All of my surmising came to fruition,except that several teams decided to have an aggressive day. My fuel tankwas empty. I ate all my food, drank everything, took Coke on board andstill had no energy. I grovelled up the climbs (harder than expected inwindy conditions) willing myself to stay with the lead riders. I rolleddown the downhills with not enough energy to peddle at a furious pace. Ifollowed the lead of my teammate Laurence when my glasses fogged up in themisty conditions. I chased down the attacks when a serious GC threat wasgoing away, and followed wheels when other attacks occurred, hoping thatall would come back together. I was counting down the kilometres, willingthe stage to end. I sought solace from the sight of my teammates jerseysstill in the bunch for most of the stage.To be honest, I can't evenremember who won the stage as I am writing this a couple of days later. Ispoke to Lyne Bessette that night, who also acknowledged feeling the sameway. I was glad to get through the race and knew that tomorrow I would bein much better shape to tackle the toughest mountains of the tour. When youare totally energy depleted, your body overcompensates to store every ounceof replenishment it gets.

Saturday May 15, Stage 9 (a.m.): Quillan - Matemale, 60km

This morning stage was destined to be the decider of the Yellow Jersey. Thestage was short, but the terrain would more than make up for it, climbingfrom 200m to 1550m during the stage (with one 11km Hors. Cat climb aboutthe gradient of Black Mountain all the way, and one 9km Cat 1 climb,blimey!). Last time I raced this particular course (1996) there was ablizzard at the top. Still, I started the race with a short sleeve jerseyonly, expecting to be in the 'hot' seat all the way! In contrast, Anna,clad in complete thermal attire was obviously set for a recovery day toprepare to help Lyne on the final day of the tour.

The start of the race was unnecessarily furious, despite the early roadsprint at 9km. Dutch, Spanish and Russians going left, right and centre.This is totally futile, and particularly dangerous when it is obvious thatthe peloton is going to break up as soon as the tough climbs begin. Iclimbed well early and soon only 6 were left. Then Lyne attacked afterEmily had set tempo for a few km. Hanka blew up so Heidi and I were chasingLyne. I tired first and dropped back a little. As I neared the top of thismammoth climb, I was only 100m behind Heidi. She accelerated down the otherside as I was winding up over the top, and caught up to Lyne. I was chasingin no-mans's land. Hanka and her team-mate worked to climb back to me upthe next intermediate hill and so my chase to Heidi and Lyne was over - Iwould be towing the Yellow Jersey with me. Emily (Lyne's team-mate) sat atthe back of our tiny group under radio instruction from the Saturn coach.1st and 2nd on GC were now 1.5 minutes up the road. Even in a small bunchas one of the true GC riders of the tour, I felt very alone in thismomentous stage. With such a small team and very little tactical directionand guidance from our manager, it has really been a heavy weight to carrythis position for the whole tour. We are one of the few teams without raceradio contact with our manager during the race, and I missed the positiveinfluence of my previous National coaches James and Andrew. Lyne gave the stage win to Heidi, while she assumed the Yellow jersey froma devastated Hanka. If I am feeling a little morose for losing 3rd overall,imagine how it feels to lose the overall lead after holding it for 8 daysstraight! Still, running 4th in the stage after 10 stages was gratifying. Icollected the Mountains jersey for my efforts today.

Stage 10 (p.m.): Matemale - Quillan, 77km

Lunch was provided by hotels on the mountain top, where the weatherprogressively worsened. Today was another of 'those days' where you keepgetting dealt a bad hand. By 3pm, it had completely misted over and wasdrizzling. We all donned every item of clothing we had. Being the bearer ofthe Mountains jersey meant that I could wear an extra layer - not enough. The first 10km was downhill and neutralized because of the dangerousdescent. We commenced racing at the bottom of a Cat 1 climb. I attackedright from the start, partly to get in front of bad wheels, and partly towarm myself up. It worked on both fronts. The only problem was that Hankagot to me first and counter-attacked. I took one breath hesistated and shewas gone, with Lyne Bessett on her wheel. I got swamped, and Heidi wascaught behind the 'bad wheels'. The road went down again after only 2km, soI had no chance to break away again from the bunch before the next risemarking the end of the QOM sprint (not a true Cat 1 climb if it goesdownhill for 1.5km in the middle of a 4.5km climb!). Anyway, she whohesitates is lost. Bad luck Tracey.

We then commenced an extremely precarious 10km descent on narrow, rough,gravelly goat trails in light rain. My head wasn't in it - a few days ago Iwas descending like a bullet earning admiration from some of the 'masters',but yesterday and today I have been mentally tired and have lost a littleself-assurance in my skills. I let a few riders go past and then I lost mynerve, focussing on the wheels in front of me instead of looking throughthe corners and taking my own line on the wet roads. Juanita came past andnavigated some of the way down, while I regained speed. She then suffered abroken spoke! I flew past, and as the road dried out gained speed andcaught the peleton just after reaching the bottom of the descent. Good,until I looked around and saw that Hanka and Lyne were nowhere to be seen.They had maintained a break, along with Ina Teutenberg (descenderextraordinaire), a Dutch rider and a Russian.

I immediately went to the front and drove the bunch, while Laurence came upto help. The Dutchies were really trying to block me out - they could havethe stage, but I wanted to reduce the time gap so that I might still have achance of bettering my GC position if things went well tomorrow. Heidi cameto help after a while, with the peleton strung out behind. I planned toattack up the next climb, but then the next 'deal' of the afternoon wentagainst me. They stopped the race 25km short because of the regionalprotest that was blocking the streets of the town we were to race throughand eventually finish in! Believe it or not - I didn't want to go toRipley's today! So, the race was over. A no result, but held my GC positioneasily and am still running 3rd on Points and 4th in the Mountains Jersey.

Tonite, the team was in good spirits, looking forward to the end of thetour and letting our hair down. I had a nightcap with all the race supportstaff tonite who had dinner at our hotel, who have been a very pleasantbonus to this tour. They are great, and despite the language barrier, Ihave really enjoyed their friendliness and support. They also revel in alittle gratitude for their efforts!

Sunday May 16, Stage 11: Limoux - return, 132km

Yippee, the last stage. We were all in good spirits. The sun was shining,wind was blowing (doh!) and I nearly missed the start! Oh well, nothinglike an adrenalin rush, when your jersey goes missing (had to do a swap ofthe Classification jerseys at the last minute). A long and hilly stage fora final stage: 5 road sprints and 5 mountain sprints. Doesn't make for arelaxing day for Lyne Bessette, the Tour Leader. The 'professional' way ofracing tours is that the Tour Leader faces no grave danger of losing theoverall lead on the final stage, as he/she has well and truly earnt it bythen (except of course if there is a very close tussle going on from day today).

I was tired, but so was Lyne. I was happy to know the ways of Saturn andhow they would protect her. I used that to my advantage knowing that Dedewould set tempo on the flat, Emily would set tempo on the climbs and Annawould manage them both according to how Lyne was feeling. Clara and Suzydid their bit around all of that. That's what a team is all about, and thegirls are paid handsomely for it - one of the few truly 'professional'teams. Hanka was resigned to 2nd.

A break went very early, and Laurence from my team was in it. There were nodanger riders in the break. This meant that I could relax and not worryabout chasing. Juanita and Marie were in the main bunch with me, so for thefirst time in the whole tour I had the whole team fully involved in therace. I could do with more of this in the future, though I must say thatour comraderie off the bike has more than made up for the limitedassistance during the racing. We have had a great time.

With a large break (10 riders) down the road, representing the lesserriders of most of the strong teams, there was motive for anyone to chasethem down. It made for a steady final stage, though the climbs were stilltough. There was relief all-round. We were happy, anticipating at least atop 5 finish from Laurence.

At the final Mountain sprint, only 10km from the finish, Emily and Hanka'shelper absolutely drove it up the climb. The usual 5 or 6 remained. Saturncontrolled it until they had their full contingent, and the pace was on tocontest the finish (racing for 11th place in the stage, still worth moneyand points) with a bunch of about 20 riders by then - a much safer sprintfor Lyne Bessette than 40 or 50. I finished 3rd in the kick after leadingout (later than usual) from a Russian, then Anna. Unfortunately, Laurence(in the front breakaway group) was side-swiped into a ditch by a Frenchrival, crashing with 4km to go. She got back on before our bunch camethrough to finish 9th, and was disappointed for us all, knowing how wellthe stage had been setup. That's bike racing. I retained my place on theoverall classification, and was more than satisfied with my fitness giventhe circumstances and the fact that I am not aiming to peak again rightnow, and just a little relieved. One of the race commissaires (from theUCI) remarked how unlucky I was to crash way back in the first road stage(seems like an eon ago), but that's but one of the many quirks of racing.Going from 6th to 46th and back to 4th overall feels a little more specialwhen you think of it that way.

Now, less than a week's rest (no that doesn't mean a rest from training!)before we are supposed to race the Tour de Bretagne, a six-day UCI Category1 race! Crikey, will we recover in time?!?! I'm hoeing into the chocolateright now to put some meat back on these bones first!