The Tracey Gaudry Diary 1999

The Local East Coast Australian Time is

HP Women's Challenge

Stage 1: Boise to Idaho City, 112 kms

A fine morning, slightly chilly with a soft breeze welcomed us for thestart of this year's Hewlett Packard Womens' Challenge. This year the tourhas been granted UCI Category 1 status, putting it on par with Tour deSnowy, Tour de l'Aude, Tour de Bretagne, Tour de France-Feminin, etc. Atotal of 23 teams with 138 riders.

This stage had only one climb of about 5km and pretty steady. Hence todaywas going to be the 'settling in' day, given that the traditional 2.8kmuphill prologue time trial has been omitted from the race for the firsttime. A solo rider went away at about 30km into the race, and the pelotonsimply piano-ed along. Emily Robbins (Saturn) and I even had time to stopfor a nature call! It was a surprisingly pleasant change to find theformation of the peleton comfortable and the riders' courteous, in contrastto the usual frantic tightly packed, jostling, vocal peletons experiencedin all our races in Europe. The wider roads do have something to do withit, I guess.

Jeannie had a few digs up the climb, but wasn't going anywhere, so sheproceeded to set a very good tempo. Despite this, the climb wasaccomplished with minimal effort, not that my body really felt it would beable to come to the party if things got hard. After a week of mostlyrecovery and suffering from hay fever (it's worse here than in Canberra inNovember), I hope to settle in over the next few days. The solo ridergained several time bonus seconds on road sprints and the mountain sprintbefore getting reeled in after the 3rd sprint. Anna Wilson was having a go,placing in most of the sprints. Once the bunch was intact again someactivity occurred in the final 30km but it was clearly going to be a verybig bunch sprint. I followed good wheels to get near the front, and thengot onto Juanita's wheel, but she wound up just a little too slowly so wegot swamped. I stepped out to attempt to get back to the front but with noavail in the wind. I finished in the bunch while Anna Wilson repeated herperformance of last year to win the first stage with Ina Teutenberg insecond.

Stage 2: Lowman to Stanley, 93 kms

A lovely, crisp morning at around 2000m altitude greeted us for the firstof the mountain stages. A climb of over 10km in length, but steady and notsteep. It was steady on the way out to the climb, gradually uphill all theway. I woke up feeling terribly flat, hoping to ride my legs into the race.Alas, after 40km my quads still felt like they had been pummelled with ahammer. As the climb started I made a token effort to ride at the front,but sunk like a lead weight right through the field within the first km.Jeannie had hit the front and was absolutely driving up the climb,stringing the field out like a trail of ants. Many riders looked at me insurprise as they went past me, 'Have you got a puncure?'. Yes, a puncturedlung! Memories of Montreal were very painful at this time. Did I actuallywin that 'climbers' race?

By half way I had recovered enough to ride at a steady tempo, picking upriders along the way. At 1km from the top I was only 50m off the main bunchand drove hard to get to them before the descent. Phew! I was safe for now.Meanwhile Jeannie had attacked the lead riders and rode away solo over thetop of the climb. Juanita had had a super climb and was with the leaderriders until only a few km to go from the top, then settling back into thebunch that I had caught. So we had no work to do now, as many strong riderswere in our bunch (including Lyne Bessette who won at l'Aude), and the 15riders up the road would be chasing Jeannie who is virtually unbeatable ona climb, at altitude, when she is focussed, went on to win the stage by 1and a half minutes, most of it on her own. Our bunch which didn't do anychasing, came in a few minutes down on the small chase group. Jeannie iswell and truly in yellow today, so we will have our work cut out for therest of the tour.

Someone please tell me that the old adage "you are only as good as yourlast race" isn't true! If it is, I should have quit 'while I was ahead'after Montreal! Alas, here I am, 2 days down, only 10 to go... Still, mymind is coping well with today's downturn in form, as it is impossible tobe firing all the time.

Stage 3: Stanley to Ketchum, 100 kms

This is the stage that was stopped short in 1995 when it snowed on GalenaPass, an 8km climb. This year, the weather was perfect, if a little chilly- we are in the heartland of the winter ski slopes.It was a pretty solid start with several attacks, which Juanita, Jeannieand I covered safely. Then Petra did her customary attack to try to getover the climb before the bunch caught her. She had a gap of over 2 minutesat one stage, so I thought she might just make it. Unfortunately for her,we had set a reasonable tempo in the cross-head wind to discourage furtherattacks, and this strategy had her caught and spat out at the base of theclimb. I was feeling a little better than yesterday, but still nowhere nearmy condition when I am in 'form'. I climbed with the front group feelingrelatively comfortable for most of the way, and then the wind went out ofmy sails with no warning. Time for survival mode again. Jeannie waspowering on, yet again and Juanita was extremely comfortable in theclimbers bunch - wow. I settled in between the climbers bunch and the nextgroup and rode tempo until I recovered. Over the top, Jeannie had attackedand taken Mari Holden and Linda Jackson with her. Over the top, I joinedwith the bunch behind me and let them chase (as did Anna and Clara) back tothe group in front which was also chasing the break. We both had riders upthe road.

Once the bunch was back together with about 50 riders, I went to the frontto help Juanita and the HP Toner team thwart the chase. Then Saturn gotorganised, instigating a huge chase to bring back the break of threebecause their GC rider Emily had missed the earlier attack. It was prettymessy for a while with Saturn riders teams time trialing and Ebly and HPToner chopping into their formation. At one stage, Clara Hughes tried toshove Diana Ziliute (current World Champion) out of the way! The break ofthree was being reeled in as they tired in the cross-head wind, so we kepttrying to balk the chase. All this at 50-60km/hr. At the end, they stayedaway by only 4 seconds!

Saturday 12th, Stage 4/1: SunValley Head-to-Head Time Trial, 5.1 kms

This morning's event is peculiar to the HP tour. A short time trial,gradually uphill where riders are paired against their adjacent competitoron GC, starting with the lowest ranked pair. Each pair starts together,each in their own lane, with pairs separated by 30 seconds. If you beatyour paired rider you get a bonus 10 seconds deducted from your GC time. Ifyou catch BOTH of the riders of the pair that started 30 seconds in frontof you, your bonus deduction is 20 seconds, a pretty good incentive. I wasranked about 40th on GC before the stage, given that most of the riders areon the same GC time because of the bunch finishes. My paired rider wasCybil Diguistini from Canada, so I had no worries about beating her. Ididn't know the riders in front of me. I had a quick warmup with the teamover the course seeing that it would be tough to pace correctly as the last300m was even steeper than the rest of the uphill drag that the course was.There was no start ramp, and so I was slightly overgeared and I didn't takethis into consideration. Cybil started in a smaller gear and whipped away.I wound up gradually and caught and passed her by 400m feeling smooth.Then, a mishap nearly spelt the end of my time trial, and possibly thetour. A coyote had wandered onto the road and was loping directly towardsme! I braked hard, swerved into the other lane and just missed the'nightmare' of being taken out again by a dog! I have been victim of thisin the past, suffering head and body injuries along with my bike beingcompletely written off. There was no team car following, nor a commissaireso nobody except spectators saw the event. I had no recourse for a protest.Still it would have cost 2-3 seconds at the most, which would have made asmall difference in my placing.Saturday 12th, Stage 5: Elkhorn Circuit Race, 18 x 2.56km laps, 46 kmsOn I ride. I settled back in and used the two riders in the preceding pairas bait. I caught one of them by 3km and focussed on the other rider.Instead of going all out to catch her early, I conserved energy and gainedgradually on the drags until the last 500m and then gave it everything topass her on the climb and still finish strong, gasping heavily in the thinair - we are at nearly 2000m altitude.My ride was strong, considering the way I am feeling at the moment, and Iwas pleased to finish 8th overall. Three Aussies in the Top 10 with Anna6th and Kathy 5th. The 'blast' of the event was Jeannie Longo who won,beating the course record by 7 seconds. Anna and I both beat the pair infront of us, gaining an extra 20 second bonus.

Saturday 12th, Stage 5: Elkhorn Circuit Race, 18 x 2.56km laps, 46 kms

A 6pm start meant a lazy afternoon, catching up with other Aussies on tour,Anna and Liz. The field rolled out on the dot, straight down the fastdescent, turning onto 500m of flat before the reasonably steep 800m ascentto the finish line. I felt much better than expected and mixed it at thefront with Jeannie to keep a good tempo while trying not to blow myself upcompletely too early. Attacks and changes of pace occurred throughout therace with several sprint priems for prizes, money and time bonuses ondesignated laps of the race. This made for some heavy sprinting up the hillon about half of the 18 laps. After severall small breaks had been broughtback, Elizabeth Brunel and Rasa Polikevicuite attacked with another girl. Ijumped to go across and was about halfway when Timex and several otherteams were on the chase. I kept the pace up until Jeannie indicated not toworry about them. We would keep them at a save gap. They got out to 30seconds. The third rider was dropped. Meanwhile many riders had been lappedand were pulled out of the race after 9 laps with time penalties. Then thecounter attacks occurred with Saturn having the numbers to be very active.Eventually Lyne Bessette got across to the pair ahead. The pace was on forthe last few laps and the bunch finished only 19 seconds behind the breakwith Anna winning the sprint for 4th. Rasa won, followed by Lyne andElizabeth

Sunday 13th, Stage 6: Massacre Rocks Teams Time Trial, 40 kms

What a perfect way to prepare for a teams time trial, a 3 hour stint in thecar! The location was hot and windy, with thunderclouds threatening. Teamsset off at five minute intervals. Our strategy was to ride conservativelyas the result counted only towards the Teams Classification, not IndividualGeneral Classification. Even though we were currently running second,behind HP Toner, it was more important to keep Jeannie and us fresh todefend the Yellow Jersey. Only Jeannie and I were on TT bikes so we werealready at a disadvantage. It was hard to know which teams would be havinga real go today, especially given the full TT bike setup that some had.

I drew the short straw by being designated to follow Jeannie in theformation. You do not really get a 'sit' behind a 47kg waif on a super lowbike with a 24 inch front wheel. Juanita was behind me, Edita, Laurence andSabrina followed. We would rotate with Jeannie and I doing the longestturns. We started smoothly with Jeannie on the front. It was 1km uphillalready! By the time Sabrina came through to do a turn she was alreadyexhausted and we soon lost her. This was ok, as the time was taken on the3rd rider across the line. Juanita was bombing through, and looked strong.Jeannie motioned for her to ease up a little. It was a tailwind out, so itwas easy to push to hard too early. Jeannie was a good pacer, riding verysmoothly and efficiently. Even though it wasn't flat out, I learnt a greatdeal from the way she rode today. The way back was tough, into a strongheadwind and the roads were rough. Edita got stronger, Juanita tired, butwe still maintained a steady-but-not-flat-out pace. At just under 3km togo, I was about to tell Juanita to 'sit up' as only the third rider's timewas counted. She could then cruise in. Next moment, ppsssssss, a tired hadblown - mine! Oh well, I got to take it easy to the finish after a no-rushwheel change.

We were all surprised and pleased to win by 1minute 20seconds from HPToner, with minimal physical fatigue, we hope! This was good for the team,as the speculators are looking at the teams' strengths on paper to look atwho has the best team to win the Yellow jersey. With a mix of mountainstages and undulating windy stages to go, we will hopefully have theclimbing strength in Juanita and Edita, and the driving strength on theflat in me to be able to help Jeannie.

Monday 14th, Stage 7: Pocatello to American Falls, 174 kms

A little apprehension about what would be in store for today. We planned totry to keep it together, unless on of us went away without a 'danger'rider, and to make sure that no danger riders got away without Jeannie ormyself. In this situation I would do no work.

Right from the outset, Saturn was the most aggressive as expected, though Inoticed that Emily was keeping quiet in wait for the mountain stagetomorrow, I assumed. HP Toner, Timex and other teams were all having a go.We were on our toes the whole day. 174km is a bl***** long way, but you cando it the hard way or the easy way. Ebly got the 'hard way' draw, indefence of the Yellow Jersey. There were 20 or so 'dangers' and they wereall active and so we were bridging, chasing, tempoing for every one of the174km. It was very tough, but this is the role of the team in thissituation. Even when the bunch at the finish was 100 strong, there wouldhave been 60-70 riders who simply sat in, while the others made it hard forus. At about 50km Anna went away with Julie Young (Timex). Even though Annawas several minutes down on GC, we couldn't let her go, knowing how she wonthis Tour in 1996(when we were the Australian Team) and also knowing thatshe is getting stronger every day. That was a very tough chase, mentallyand physically. As she was caught Saturn and others were straight back intoit. It was hot and dry and we were copping it. Eventually Susy Pryde gotaway and we made a pact with HP Toner and Timex to leave her out there, butto get no more than 2 minutes. She was away for about 30km before losingout to the distance and trying conditions. 120km down, 55km to go. Againthe attacks were on. We were more selective about who we chased, and let agroup of four go. We could see that the whole German team was still in thepeleton and knew that if Petra and Ina got over the final mountain thenGermany would bring that break back for the sprint. The theory came tofruition and the bulk of the field was together in one thriving mass forthe sprint finish. A crash marred the final sprint, but we safely avoidedit to roll over the line, exhausted, while Ina Teutenberg won from Anna whois sprinting better than ever, especially after an aggressive ride today.Anna is now in the lead in the Points jersey.

Jeannie was very motivated by our commitment to her today, and was pleasedwith our efforts. This is great for our morale especially after our TeamTime Trial win yesterday. The only downside of today was notification thatEdita Pucinskaite had retired before the race 'unwell'. Diana Ziliute (HPToner) also retired after yesterday's stage. They are both riding theGirodonne (Giro d'Italia) which begins on July 1 (or thereabouts). Thiscreates a huge gap in our team especially now that my climbing legs arefailing me - allet Juanita! Jeannie is very disappointed in Edita, giventhat the race organisers flew her in from Italy to do this race, and placedher with our team because of her abilities. Still, we will march on.

Tuesday 15th, Stage 8: Massacre Rocks to Pomerelle, 106 kms

Another hot, windy day greeted us. Even so, I donned arm-warmers (rolleddown) as we would be climbing to nearly 3000m altitude today, the final dayfor the true climbers. I felt shocking this morning, with extremeindigestion but there are no such things as 'sickies' in a 12-day tour. Wehad a job to do. Jeannie was also feeling a little flat.

The pace was on, right from the start. Jeannie wanted us to watch Timexclosely today. A few early attacks occurred and I wasted energy chasing onedown when I thought it was one of the HP Toner girls, Rasa down the road.It was one of their low GC riders trying to make an early break. Jeanniewas a little nervous barking commands left, right and centre. As that breakcame back a very strong break went down the road with about a dozen girlsin it. They were already 25 seconds away after several riders had attemptedto chase or get across. One of us had to be there. I attacked down thewrong side of the road and drove until I made it to them. A couple of otherriders were also trying to get across. Once I got to the break, most of theriders 'sat up' as I was the highest ranked rider there. Darn! A few moreriders came across and it looked like we were going to get caught when ourgroup went away again. I was glad to be out there with this group as wewere riding along miles of extremely neglected roads, with gravel, widecracks and huge potholes. Later on we road through road works with unsealedtar and more half filled potholes. Very poor planning on the part of theorganizer, given that on the whole, he has dotted his i's and crossed hist's.

We soon got word that a huge crash had occurred back in the main bunchbehind us. Without a radio, I had no idea who came down. Most other teamshave communication with their manager and other riders. What do I do now?Go back and see if Jeannie is ok, or stay in the break because Mari Holden(2nd on GC) was there with two of her teammates? I decided to stay in thebreak, and a good thing to, as Mari and her mates started attacking anddriving the break. There were also two Saturn riders, two Timex and atleast one or two of every other major team. There had to be someone uphere. Unfortunately Juanita came down heavily in the crash, but remountedand worked with Jeannie, Timex and Barbara Heeb's team to bring the breakback. Emily Robbins, Saturn's GC rider cracked her shoulder and LindaJackson suffered extensive grazing but was otherwise ok.

The bunch was back together by 70km but lasted only a few moments beforethe attacks flew yet again. Jeannie was recovering in the bunch, Juanitawas starting to become aware of her injuries now that she had time todigest what had happened. Another break formed and luckily I was in it.Again I sat on the back, not doing a turn. The riders were playing games,and in the end three riders got away from the break and we were broughtback by the main bunch. I recovered, spoke to Jeannie and waited for theclimb.

It was tough and the bunch broke up early. Jeannie hung at the back of theclimbing bunch for a while where I was and then gradually rode away to tryto catch Elizabeth Brunel and Linda Jackson who had attacked early. 15kmlater, Linda had won from Mari Holden. Jeannie lost some time but stillretains the jersey by over a minute, not really a comfortable margin withfour days to go.I climbed as well as I could, which is nowhere near my Tourde l'Aude form, but was also keeping in mind the huge job in store over thenext few days. I hope Jeannie will be able to recover over the next twodays of racing and focus on the Time Trial on Friday.

We have lost our lead in the Teams Classification as a result of losingEdita yesterday, and Juanita's climbing strength today.

Juanita this evening is badly grazed but managing very well.

Wednesday 16th, Stage 9: Burley to Buhl, 135 kms

Jeannie was very tired and sombre this morning. Hmmm, how to motivate amulti-time World Champion. A few encouraging words and a squeeze on theshoulder might have helped? Patrice advised me to look after her today andkeep track of the HP Toner team and the Top 15 on GC. Let anyone else go.Okay, that's easy. @#$%$@###!!!!! Juanita would be understandably findingher legs again and hopefully be right for tomorrow. Our young rider wasstrong enough to stay in the bunch but not confident enough to put it onthe line yet. Laurence would help out where possible.

Well, it was on for young and old, and I guess we have both extremes in ourteam: Sabrina is 18 and Jeannie is 41 this year! The course waspredominantly cross-tail-wind but it was even faster than anyone could haveexpected. Attacks were going everywhere and in the cross-winds it wasdifficult to keep an eye on Jeannie who was lagging down the back in theearly stages, and keep tabs on the danger riders. A break of 4 low GCriders went down the road. Obviously I wouldn't be going anywhere. Thenanother 3 went including Kathy Watt. One of our girls should have gone too,but they weren't in a position to see or do anything about it. None of theriders would threaten Jeannie so I wasn't worried about any time that theymight take out of my GC time. My overall result is of no consequence. Thebreak went out quickly but it was still extremely fast and tough in thepeleton. At least in a break of 7, riders would be working evenly in thecrosswinds, helping to work efficiently. In the bunch, attacks were alwaysoccurring, causing gaps to form in the bunch. Jeannie started to use memore to shelter her, which meant I often had to sit out in the wind so shewasn't riding in the gutter as the gailforce winds gusted straight acrossthe roads.

About 60km into the race, we had been going for only 1hour 15mins! Crikeyit was fast. Then as Jeannie and I were gasping to catch our breathmidfield, a huge attack took about 8 riders away, with Mari Holden (2nd onGC) in it. In winds like this it is just as hard for the chase bunch as itis for a small group. This could be our undoing if we didn't bring it back.I have a 53/11 on my rear wheel and it wasn't big enough! I drove so hardin the chase that when I swung up, I dropped back nearly past the back ofthe 100 strong peloton! Fortunately I had conferred with Petra Rossner whoalso had her girls chase, as they wanted their junior rider (who was in thefirst break) to stay away and get a Top 10 result. The Germans chased hardfor about 10km and it was so fast I couldn't get back up to the front.Instead I kept an eye on Jeannie. Juanita and Laurence stayed nearby tohelp shelter us. Eventually the 2nd break was caught, and so new attackswere fired. Timex now joined in the chase of the danger riders, but whenZabirova went (HP Toner), they were tired. Here we go again. I drove untilthey could come through and we got her quickly. To cut a long story short,it was like this for 135km! The last hill climb was only 6km from thefinish, and the bunch split completely in the crosswinds. We were all inthe front bunch with Juanita looking better than at the start, me danglingon the back by a single thread! Laurence dropped back to give me a hand. Wegot up to Jeannie and protected her in the wind, and scrambled across theline in the middle of the bunch, as Anna continued her sprinting form for8th place, about 2 minutes down from the break away group. The averagespeed for 135km was a searing 45+km/hr, in 38 degree heat!

It is amazing how there can be many riders in the same bunch with so manydifferent roles and perspectives. We observed in Tour de l'Aude howdifficult it was for Hanka Kupfernagel to hold the Yellow jersey from thefirst day of the tour and how much her team suffered. In the end, Lyne Bessette and Saturn worked them over and took the lead from her on thesecond last day. And that was only a 10 day tour, this is 12! It is not theideal circumstance to defend the lead for a whole tour, but we are sofortunate to have such a champion to work for. She was again veryappreciative of our efforts and is using this as motivation to continue on.It is bizarre to believe that she is 40 and can still do this stuff,mentally and physically.

Any encouragement via E-S-P, Email, telepathy over the next few days is extremely welcome!!!!!

Thursday 17th, Stage 10: Twin Falls to Glenns Ferry, 125km

Oh dear, this domestique business is pretty tough. After yesterday'sefforts, my energy system nearly expired. Today was another windy day,predominantly cross-tail winds, so again we finished the stage in recordtime, averaging 42km/hr. And again, attacks were going left right andcentre. Nothing was too dangerous until Lyne Bessette got away at about45km into the stage. She was several minutes down from Longo, so we let herget out to one and a half minutes. She was away for a while, with HP Tonerchasing at first and then giving up. We didn't panic until she started topull away again. Linda Jackson (Timex) was worrying more than us. Ridersfrom both teams went to the front and we team time trialed at a steady paceto keep her at a safe distance but not bringing her back. Juanita was inmuch better shape again today. After about 10km of this Jeannie told me tosit up and look after myself, not that I had much left to look aftermyself. I was getting 'dropped' on every hill in this stage, yet if Jeanniewas stuck in a cross-wind I could find strength to protect her by sittingin the wind a little. Amazing how you can respond for the benefit of yourteam above and beyond your capacity to assist yourself in times like this.So on it goes.

Lyne eventually tired (as we had hoped) and was caught by the bunch. A fewother breaks went, but Germany started to chase, obviously looking to setPetra or Ina up for a bunch sprint. A great birthday present would havebeen to get away for a solo finish, or in a small break, but my jersey wasmarked even though I was only in 17th position on GC. I had a feelingsomething would go though. About 10km from the finish I counter-attackedfrom a returning break but was across to by Linda Jackson - why may I ask?She should know I wouldn't be working with her. Hmmm. Then up a longishdrag I had Jeannie on my wheel and I was behind Zabirova. I settled backinto the bunch over the top and Zabirova attacked from the side, andabsolutely drove all the way for 5km to the finish! Jeannie had also sensedit coming and would have liked for me to get the result, but we both missedit. I would have been too tired to work with her had I gone with her. Abouthalf of the bunch, including me, lost 5 seconds at the finish as a gapformed around the final corner. I couldn't even bridge across to the backof the front group, only 20 metres in front at the finish line. If I can'teven stay with the front bunch up the climbs today, I can't wait to see howI fare in the Individual Time Trial tomorrow, given that there were severalriders having an easy ride in the middle of the peleton today.

Friday 18th, Stage 11: Swan Falls to Melba (Individual Time Trial), 40km

Yesterday we had planned to drive over the ITT course to have a picture ofit to focus on. All I can say is I'm glad we didn't have time! The profileshowed a steep climb at the start, but nothing prepared us for the verticalescarpment that loomed ahead of us when we arrived. The first 3km of thetime trial would have us scaling the wall of a cliff, rising about 400m ata gradient of 13%. I quickly requested a change of gear to have a 42/25 forthe climb, with a 54/12 if it got fast after the top. I warmed up steadily,but not flat out. The only way to get up the climb and be able to settle inover the top was to ride up with a steady, smooth tempo.

The strategy worked and I wound up quickly over the top of the climb. Manyriders switched bikes (from standard road bikes up the climb to TT bikesafter it), but we didn't have that option, but I was happy climbing on theTT bike anyhow. I caught the two riders in front of me shortly after theclimb. Then it was a block headwind in open desert-like plains for the next25km! True grovel stuff! Don't panic, just keep smooth and efficient whichmeant staying low on the TT bars as much as possible. I could see riderslike little ants for several kms in front of me. A couple of sharp pinchesreally hurt, but I hung out until the left hand turn into the cross-tailwind and threw the gear lever down into the 12 cog for the next 10km or so.As a sharp left turn came up, a truck turned onto the road a couple ofhundred metres in front of me and got caught around the corner. Screech, ongo the brakes and a quick manouvre - phew! Now into a tail wind for acouple of km before the series of left and right corners to the finish. Icaught another few riders quickly and drove it over the line. Done. Anextremely long, arduous time trial on trying terrain with hot, windyconditions. Jim Rabdau certainly is an extremist! I was very happy with myride considering how tired I have been after the last few long road stages,so I was rapt to hear that I had finished 5th in front of some of the biggun time triallists. Jeannie continued to astound us all by flogging thewhole field yet again. Two Aussies in the Top 5 was another bonus.

Saturday 19th, Stage 12: Statehouse Criterium, 45 x 1.23km laps, 55.5km

With Jeannie commanding a very comfortable lead on GC, our only real'worry' was to make sure that Mari Holden didn't get away. Of course,Jeannie would have to stay upright and in the bunch. This stage is renownedfor being super fast, furious and dangerous with 8 right-angled corners ineach figure 8 lap. I have always suffered in this race, and wanted to atleast feel comfortable today and participate significantly to help the teamcause. With two Ebly riders in the Top 10, we wanted to keep things the waythey were. 20 or so riders were called up to pole position on the startgrid, so once the gun went off, the initial attacks came from them - Inaand Anna in particular. By the end of the first lap I was in a position todo something. I tried to bridge across but was chased down. I sat back andtried again, and again was covered. Legs weren't that supple just yetanyway. It was very fast, but holding good position helped matters greatly.Jeannie was managing very well, riding smoothly near the front third of thestrung out field. Juanita was concentrating very hard, having crashed badlyin this race last year, and still feeling tentative after her incident lastweek. She did well to stay amid the field. Anna and Ina were working hardbut only ever got out to 20 seconds.

After the first sprint lap, Anna sat up and came back to the bunch. Inawouldn't last long now. She came back. I attacked but again didn't get far,they were onto me. Drifting back a few wheels, another attack went,courtesy of Ina who was very active today. Alison Sydor went with her, then4 others. They had 200m before we knew it, and were all strong riders. Isaw Jeannie on the front riding a fast tempo. If I was going to make itacross to the break, I had to be quick off the mark and powerful enough toget across quickly. I attacked down the side of the road into a corner andburied myself completely to the cause. In one lap I was halfway, anotherhalf a lap and I just tacked onto the back as they went for another sprint.A quick look around confirmed that I was the highest on GC in the break,and hence there were no threats to Jeannie, good. Also the riders were from7 different teams so we had a good 'blocking' force back in the bunch.There were still 22 laps to go.

Patrice yelled at me to sit at the back and not work, but there was no waythe other girls would tolerate that, so I rode through steadily. Most ofthe break were the 'sprinter' type which meant they were interested in thewin, whereas I was interested in the GC time that could be gained. Thebreak worked smoothly and we soon had 45 seconds. We had lapped a few smallbunches of riders including Kathy and a French rider who had been droppedfrom the main bunch. They tacked onto the back of our break. Any riders whowere lapped by the main bunch (not us) were pulled out of the race with atime penalty, so they were the only dropped riders who were able to keepthemselves in the race. By 10 laps to go we could see the main bunch aheadof us as we rounded the corners - either we were really moving or they weretaking it easy. A bit of both I think. We had now lapped the field anddrove through to the front of the bunch to set up for the final laps. Onlywe would be contesting 1st place, but amidst the whole bunch now. A verymessy scenario. This also meant that the riders in the break with me nowhad their teammates to set them up! My team is unfortunately not built forsprinting, rather more the true road-endurance type. I knew I wouldn't havea chance, being strong but having lost any kick I might have had earlier inthe season. Jeannie went to the front to keep the pace high and safe for usall. The last lap was absolutely going with lead outs everywhere. I startedon Ina's wheel but ended somewhere midfield, to end up 7th in the stage, alap ahead of the main bunch, the break group all gaining nearly two minuteson the bulk of riders. Great also for Jeannie, who had a comfortable ridemaintaining her lead with no dangers in the break, and also moving me up onGC to 7th overall, completing a surprising turnaround over the past twodays.

Sunday 20th, Stage 13: Middleton to Boise, 81km

Yippee, the Grand Finale. We were all counting down the hours to go untilwe could relax at last. Jeannie was very nervous and hadn't slept allnight. Understandable. I don't think that any of us slept well actually. Itwas hot again, and the race would be fast. The first 3km was neutral, andof all the roads in rural Boise, they took us up 500m of extremely roughgravel road! We all stopped at the end to wait for wheel changes for thosethat punctured. Then the gun was fired for the 13th and final time. Rightfrom the start, riders were attacking continually trying to gain thoseextra few seconds that might move them up a spot on GC. Anna was tailingMari Holden like a shadow, in order to make sure that Mari didn't gain anysprint or mountain points so that Anna would retain the Points jersey.Jeannie kept herself in the front third of the bunch again and out oftrouble. Juanita punctured at 20km so we had only three in the bunch tokeep things under control. I kept an eye on all the riders down to about15th on GC, and made sure that either Jeannie or myself went with anydangerous moves, or could see that other riders were chasing them down.Heck, with only 80km to go, I didn't care how trashed I was at the end, andpossibly a break I got in might stay away though I wasn't counting on this.

Linda Jackson was having a solid go to try to get away before and up theonly mountain for the day. The bunch blew to smitherines up the climb withsix or so riders going across the top first. Jeannie was in it, so I satsmack behind Zabirova in the next small bunch of riders (including the restof the Top 10 riders) and let the others chase back on. I got into a smallbreak shortly after, but it didn't stay away. Again, again, again ...Eventually, attacks subsided and a huge chase bunch got back on. Fromhereon, Kathy Watt was going berserk, attacking and counter-attacking totry to get away. Unfortunately for her, riders around her on GC continuallybridged across and the bunch chased back on. A few other riders were alsomaking repeated attempts, maybe to try to win the 'most aggressive' prizefor the tour, worth over $1500USD! A lot of money for 'just having a go'!Mind you, Anna won this last year, and fully deserved it.

In the final 10km, just before the finishing circuit, Zabirova attemptedher trademark solo breakaway, and a few of us attempted to bridge across. Iblew up about halfway across and looked to see the bunch thundering upbehind me. Jumping back in, I looked for Jeannie to make sure she was wellpositioned for the 2-lap finishing circuit. Yep, she was fine. As thelead-outs were setting up the sprinters, we cruised in the middle of thebunch with huge smiles on our faces. It was good to see both Anna andLizzie finish in the Top 10 in this final stage to cap off a strong Aussiecampaign even though we were all on opposing teams. For Ebly, 11 days ofdefending the Yellow Jersey successfully completed. Plus 7th overall on GC,plus 2nd overall in the Teams classification, after losing one of thestrongest riders in Edita, plus everyone finishing nearly in one piece.

An amazing race for Ebly to cap off a most successful 1999 season to date.Despite the pressures and stresses of the team environment, I keep pinchingmyself to believe that we have just played a significant role in assistingthe world's best ever woman cyclist to win this gruelling tour. Before HPhad even commenced Jeannie was not even planning to finish the tour. Shewas truly motivated to finish and to win, by the commitment of the team toher cause, and was astounded by the level of team support. Something tellsme she is not used to it. Juanita and I have been nurtured in a fantasticteam-oriented environment under the guidance of National coaches JamesVictor and Andrew Logan, and at State/National level with Warren McDonaldand Donna Rae-Szalenski. These experiences truly make all the trials andtribulations that accompany this most gruelling lifestyle worthwhile.

1999 HP Womens' Challenge conquered. Nought to do now except to count downthe hours 'til my plane leaves Boise, Australia bound!!!!!!!

Sunday May 30, Montreal World Cup, 11 x 8.3 km circuits

I awoke to a warm, windy morning, feeling much better than I could havepossibly expected and had a look at the start list over brekky. An elitefield indeed.

The race kicked off at noon, a nice change from the 3pm starts we have beenenduring in France of late. I was hoping that things wouldn't happen tooearly to allow my legs to settle in after the heavy racing that finishedonly 2 days before, the complete day of air and car travel the day before,and the jetlag. Being hot meant that dehydration would be a big factor ifreserves were used up too early.

I was fortunate as obviously many other riders were erring on the side ofcaution with the weather being hot, so by half way through the race, Iactually felt pretty good and floated up the climb wondering how theremainder of the field (about half had already dropped from the front bunchdue to natural attrition) was feeling. The climb was long, 2km with a veryfalse flat (ie. still uphill), and of around 9% gradient in places.

I was riding on a composite team because Longo did not want tocome to this race with Ebly (she has no great interest in the World Cupseries this year - until I told her that the Montreal race finished at thetop of the hill this year and not down the bottom!) and the UCI disallowedcompetitors from racing with other registered teams. Hence I had no directaffiliation or responsibility to the other riders. This meant that while Iwas free to 'ride my own race' I had to be careful about how I used myenergy with no teammates to counter-attack or help chase attacks, etc.

On the 6th lap I had a small dig over the top and was away with Lyne andDiana Ziluite. We were brought back by Hanka's team. I rested and ponderedover how the next 4-5 laps would unfold. Hanka was looking sluggish, Heebwas putting on a bit of the pace on the climbs. Most of Saturn looked incontrol. It was clear that Lyne was their 'pea' rider for this race, havingsuch great form in l'Aude and Montreal being her home town. Halfway throughthe 9th lap I saw Anna preparing to attack, and went with her. We were awaywith Bonanomi coming across too. Bonanomi is a high contender in thisseries, but wasn't working the break. I started to work with Anna, thinkingthat maybe this would be the move, and that Bonanomi wouldn't climb well.

If this break stayed, Anna would gain valuable World Cup points againstHanka. Anna sat up in front of Bonanomi as I came through and I was awayjust before the climb. I tempoed up the climb, knowing that something majorwould happen back in the bunch. There was too much at stake for many of theriders back there. Sure enough, I glanced under my arm to see Lyne Bessettepowering across, with the bunch further back. I decided that two was betterthan to keep going it alone for as long as possible and recovered a littleas she got to me. I was already tired and the heat was getting to me. Withtwo laps to go we had 30 seconds. I was suffering and downed a squeezie anda Coke and the remains of my Musashi bar. Lyne did most of the work on the10th lap and I really worried up the climb with one lap to go. Still I dugin, and found enough energy to work even turns in the last lap. If I wasgoing to contest the sprint/grovel to the line, I wanted to have earned theright.

We had over a minute and knew it was going to be 1-2 for us, barringan adversity. As the climb commenced Lyne settled into a steady tempo, andI started thinking about the finish. She had beaten me up a similar finishin l'Aude only a fortnight ago. If I went too early I might blow up, toolate and she might jump first. With 800m to go we were side-by-side. Theroar from the crowd was deafening and vibrating in the air. Me against thehometown favourite. With 600m to go, she was dropping back. Was she tiringor preparing to attack me? No time to ponder. At 500m I attacked straightup the road, giving it everything. She was on my wheel but not coming up,so I kept going. For 200m she stayed, and then suddenly blew up! I hadabout 50m on her with 250m to go. It was the longest 250m I have everridden. Steep uphill, headwind, legs screaming, lungs gasping andgutwrenching spasms but I knew I had her as she didn't have a ride on mywheel any longer. It was a most satisfying victory.

To top it off, Anna won the bunch sprint for 3rd, so has narrowed the gapto be a close 2nd behind Hanka in the World Cup series. It will be a fiercecontest in Philadelphia next weekend. I am now 3rd in the Series, but won'tbe doing Philly as it was already a major undertaking to get to Montreal. Asmall sacrifice in lieu of the most important thing at the moment, recoveryfor Hewlett Packard.