The Tracey Gaudry Diary 1999

The Local East Coast Australian Time is

La Grande Boucle féminine, August 8-22

For this tour, I am riding for my trade team Ebly, which consists of:

  • Karine Dalmais (regional rider from Lyon, France)
  • Juanita Feldhahn (showing some great form last week in Haute Vienne)
  • Laurence Restoin (3rd in French National Pursuit)
  • Kimberly Smith (US-based MTB rider)
  • Tracey Gaudry

This tour is often used by the Australian National Team as part of the basepreparation for the World Championships. Having only raced a handful oftimes since June, I will certainly be taking it day by day, hoping tocatpitalise on opportunities if they arise.Unfortunately for us, the 'management' did not take up several requests fora 6th rider, so as with the Tour de l'Aude in May we are starting with amotor with only 5 cylinders, instead of 6! The D-S, Michel Arnaud withdrewonly last week, and so we have a new D-S which makes for somewhatunsettling times in the early days. Still, we have 3 english-speakingriders which is nice.

Everyone is here for this most prestigious race, including GAS, EdilSavino, Dream Team, EBLY, Holland, Germany, Norway, Nurnberg, Mazza, GreatBritain, Fannini, Spain, Over 15 days, we race 1581km, making it the longestTour de France Feminin in history, being more than 200km longer than in 1995 (1371 km over 15 days). This doesn't include neutral starts of between 10 and 20km most days! At least we won't have to warm up!

Stage 1, Pornic L'Aiguillon sur Vie "Atlantica" 94.3 kms:

Not very often that the 'prologue' to a 15 day tour is a 122km World Cupevent with the pressure on! Couple that with 7 hours in the car in a severestorm after the race to get to the start of the Tour, and you have thecircumstances typical of Monsieur Pierre Boue's sadistic organisationalflair! You guessed, he is the Director of both the World Cup and the Tour,and he DID plan the World Cup and the Tour to be on consecutive days, witha 600+km drive between them!

As usual, it was rainy on the morn' of the stage, and was still drizzlingas we signed on. Somehow, the wind kept blowing and the clouds scudded awayjust as we rolled out - great to have one potential adversity out of theway. The first day is always a frantic thrash of bikes and bodies and todaywas no different. For the first 35km until the first intermediate sprint,there was absolutely no letting up in the tough cross winds. Having hopedfor a bit of a motorpace session to recover from yesterday, my wishesweren't heeded so far. After the sprint, things settled down, and we allrelaxed a little. The two or three customary bingles had occurred, andriders started to ride in a more civilised fashion and formation in thepeleton. Obviously for me, I had no visions of making any attempts to breakaway or do anything in the finish, so I rolled across the line in themiddle of the peleton, some 44 seconds after a daring move from InaTeutenberg (GER) and Elsbeth Vink (NED). This means that potentially Inacould be wearing 'Yellow' for a few days until the mountains - a very goodploy.

Stage 2, La Rochelle - Chateauneuf sur Charente, 127.5 kms

After brekky, we sat around all morning watching the teeming rain peltingdown outside our window. Needless to say, I packed the 'gear for allweather conditions' bag for the race! With a 90km drive, we left 2 hoursbefore the start, only to receive a call as we left to say that the startwas being brought forward 30 minutes early to avoid an encounter with ascheduled train during the stage! Fine, we had a long neutral, so thatcould be our warm up. Then the fun began - a huge traffic jam on a smallroad brought half of the race convoy to a screaming halt! As time tickedaway, we started 'hopping' spots down the wrong side of the road, with theGermans taking the footpath option! 30 minutes later we were clear, only tofind that there were no directions or signage to guide us to the start ofthe race. It may as well have been a car rally. Of course, most teams werelate, so the original start time was reinstated.

The race was as per yesterday's: furious until the first sprint, withstrong cross-winds, narrow roads and intermittent rain. Great fun! Even Inawas whingeing about the 'nervous' state of the peleton, though clearlyrevelling in the prestige of wearing the 'maillot or' ('gold' jersey). Istayed up closer to the front today, which made things easier, but wasextremely uncomfortable in the saddle (an unpleasant side effect of thepave - cobbles - from the World Cup only two days earlier) and wasn'triding efficiently at all. Though the pace was extremely fast, no seriousattacks occurred with riders content to wait until later in the raceconserving energy for the sprint and for the mountains in days to come.

The first climb of the tour was only 7km from the finish. I had visions ofwearing the 'polka dot' jersey for at least a day and thought I would havea go. With 2km to go, an attack occurred taking 3 riders away. I wentacross with Mari Holden on my wheel. The bunch was chasing furiously. Theycaught me as I got to the small break, and then another rider attacked andMari jumped onto her wheel. There went my hopes of the jersey! From then onit was fast into the finish. I shall have to instigate some aggression intomy riding again a.s.a.p. (as if it were a 1-day race), because the finishturned out to be an uphill drag - perfect for moi! Not much you can do whenyou turn into the final straight in 50th position. I jumped from wheel towheel trying to make up ground, but it was too late. A gap had formedahead, and I didn't quite make it across, losing a few seconds (though itcertainly helped the train of riders behind me minimise their damage). This is where the importance of radio communication (which we don't have)during the race is so paramount. When riding with the Australian team, astaff member usually goes ahead to 'suss out' the tricky bits of the courseand the finish to communicate the information back to the manager andriders. The bulk of the peleton are wearing communication devices in racesat this level. Let's hope I start to feel 'alive' someday soon.

Stage 3, Chateauneuf sue Charante - Mussidan, 106.9 kms

This morning I woke up feeling like it was 13 days down, 2 to go, and notthe other way around! An extra large brunch and the mandatory coffee, and Ifigured that would help. Not really, as I was feeling sick in the stomach -maybe drinking the natural water was not a good idea last night? Anyway, onwith it.

As usual it poured right up to the start of the race, and we knew we werein for sun-shower type of afternoon. Mmmmm, lots more wet, winding, narrowroads in windy conditions. Surprisingly, I felt better as the race went onand sat comfortably amid the peleton. A solo breakaway by a Molteni (?)Masters rider was very brave, lasting until about 20km to go. She suffereda puncture just as she was getting caught by the peleton driven by theGermans who were keen to keep their unlikely heroin Ina Teutenberg, inyellow for one more day. Good stuff to have such a great personality upthere improving the image of our sport. At 10km to go I remembered readingsomewhere the words "routes tres etroites dans le final", meaning that theroads into the finish were very narrow, so I attacked (about time you say).Didn't get away, but at least it got me to a safe position in the front ofthe peleton. It was pretty fast and furious but there were no reallyreckless riding in the front of the group as I finished feeling much betterthan I did 3 hours ago.

Stage 4, Aire sur l'Adour - Arette-la Pierre-Saint-Martin, 128.8 kms

This year's tour is flat by previous standards, but still contains fivestages with Cat 1 or Hors Cat climbs, which will sort out the GC spots.Today was one of those days. I floated over the Cat 3 climb with the frontbunch, but my relative position was shortlived when we hit the Hors Catclimb. I dropped back through the bunch like a sinker, finally settlinginto a rhythm that I knew would get me up this extremely steep climb withonly a 23-cog. This was definitely not going to be a tour for me to eventhink about contending GC. The body just won't go. I came in severalminutes down from the winner, Ziliute, with a very small bunch. Juanitafinished well, only a couple of minutes off the pace.

Stage 5, Arrens Marsous - Loudenvielle, 121.9 kms

Pondered all evening about how bad I am feeling during this tour. Yes, Iknow that every race can't be raced at peak, but I am feeling sooooo bad. Irealised that I had neglected to look after my iron stores which might be asmall factor. Time to take action on that front which of course won't helpfor this tour.

Today's race included one Cat 3 and two Cat 1 climbs so the 25-cog waswisely put on my bike, though nothing would have helped get me up thosemountains in decent condition today. I got over the Cat 3 climb with thebunch, and then faded so quickly it was like someone had let the air out ofmy tyres. 10km before the base of the first Cat 1 climb, I was so tired Icouldn't even inspire myself to stay in the bunch on the flat, and droppedoff the back, beginning the climb alone and eventually picking up andspitting out riders along the way. I climbed with a GAS girl up the secondCat 1 climb and we at least had some fun on the descent to the finish,coming in around 20 minutes down around about mid-field. Juanita againclimbed well, finishing in one of the better climbing groups which is goodto see.

It is certainly interesting to observe the fluctuating states of form thatthe riders are in. Barbara Heeb pulled out on the first day,Chevanne-Brunel is not doing much better than me, Luperini is not doinganything considering she is 3x winner of this Tour, Marsal is climbing welleven though she is relatively 'big'. Ziliute is literally flying.

This race has been marred by crashes every day, due to the very windyconditions and the extremely nervous state of the peleton. Today, a hugecrash occurred bringing down about 15-20 riders including Petra and Ina,whom I had been sitting behind as they are traditionally very safe riders.Unfortunately Ina retired from the race with a broken arm/collarbone,emphasising the fact that we are all at risk every day.

Stage 6a, Narbonne plage - Adge, 54.2 kms

Today was meant to be the easy day - flat and fast. But it still wouldrequire concentration. Having arrived at our hotel at 10pm the nightbefore, downing a late dinner and getting to bed after midnight didn't makefor an alert rising at 6am. We weren't the only ones who got lost, I hoped!

This morning, my head and legs were so cloudy, I couldn't even ride to thestart of the race at a steady pace with my team. 20km after the start ofthe race, it was taking more concentration to will myself to stay in thebunch than to drop off the back, so I opted to ride the remaining 35kmalone to the finish, losing 7 minutes on the bunch that quickly! MeanwhilePregnolato had broken away 20km from the end and finished a minute ahead ofthe bunch - what a complete contrast.

Over lunch I pondered about my plight, depressed and wondering whether 9more days would completely ruin any chances of coming up later in theseason. Wisely I thought sensibly after a while and decided to ride theafternoon stage of only 40km and think more rationally about it again thatevening perhaps.

Stage 6b, Adge - Balaruc-les-Bains, 40.1 kms

This afternoon's stage was like the morning, flat, fast, hot. I sat amidstthe field with relative ease, able to concentrate after a sleep in betweenstages. Again the race was dangerous with another huge crash involvingJuanita and Kim. They were both ok. I was fine in the bunch until 5km to gowhen small gaps formed after a flurry of attacks. With no GC objectives, Isaved energy and sat on the back of the train to the finish. Pregnolato wonagain, with a very late attack off the front of the bunch, when the bunchwas already doing over 50km/hr!

I will race until the rest day on Monday, and reassess my sanity then!

The noticeable brevity of these race reports is obvious due to the factthat I am not involved in much of 'the real race' and it doesn't make forvery interesting reading to read about the trials and tribulations ofuneventful personal experiences. We are also not getting time to sit downand write, and are only receiving (sometimes) copies of the race resultsvery late in the evening unfortunately. I shall attempt to rectify all ofthese factors for your reading pleasure.

Stage 7, Les Baux de Provence - Valreas, 141.4 km

Another climbing day today. James and I had both given Juanita the big pepchat this morning, as she is in such good form right now. Today was the daywhere she really could mix it with the best climbers in the world. I wasreally hoping for her.

I felt a bit better in the early stages of the race, even managing toattack on a number of occasions. Didn't get away, as people still think Imust have some form hiding somewhere - yeah right! Again there werecrashes, but this time caused by the commissaire's vehicle which ran intothe back of the Tour leader Diana Ziliute! I was right beside her and wastotally amazed that neither she nor the bike was crushed under the car.Fortunately she was ok and went on to finish in the lead group. As we rode into the climb, I settled quickly into a pace that I knew Icould maintain in my current state of health and fitness. Though it isnowhere near 'flying' at least I got over the 18km Mont Ventoux in onepiece, and had a ball down the other side with Vera Holfield, Alison Sydorand a couple of others. I rode in with a respectable group of a dozen or soriders, many minutes after the race had been fought out by a lead group ofseven, with Juanita's extremely strong group a few minutes behind them. Ithink Polkanova won.

Stage 8, ITT, Le Teil Aubenas, 34.5 kms

After having grovelled for the first week of the tour and nearly handedback my race numbers to formally abandon the race, it was a huge mentalchallenge to gear up for the time trial when I normally relish theseevents. My brand new ITT bike sat waiting for its inaugural flogging (ifyou exclude the recent damage suffered when it fell off the roof of theCanadian support van), and I felt sad that my 'motor' might not do thebike's extraordinary design justice. [On that matter I normally enjoyclimbing too, but these mountains seem like a world away from the backyardtraining ground in Chambery where the mountain passes are just as long andsteep.] Jeannie Longo and Patrice had arrived the evening before to'motivate' us all. After a look at the course, this morning Jeanniepromptly told me that it was a course for me: hard, hilly and windy. Hmmm,thanks Jeannie. If I am in good shape it would be. I warmed up as usual,but the heart rate was going nowhere. Still it was a long ITT, so a steady,strong pace would be better for me than a short sharp one in thiscondition.

I set off steadily, and it was a gradual drag for the first 5km, with a 1kmsteeper section after that. Cross-head wind as well. Jeannie was followingme with a loudspeaker, and I was grateful for the controlled, supportiveadvice she was giving me. Going up the hill, I nearly came to grief asDiana Ziliute (and teammate) came hurtling down towards me on their wayback from a warm up. Some quick manouvring and all was well with only asmall disruption in momentum. Of course, they were illegally using thecourse, but worse things have happened in bike racing. The whole 35-odd kmwas full of long drags with sharp peaks, shorter downhills and cross-winds.It hurt immensely the whole way - especially the customary 1km uphill dragat the end, but I kept it smooth and controlled and revelled in the joy ofriding my brand-new super-aero TT bike which must take some of the creditfor my 8th place result. Juanita also had a ball on her new 'twin' bike,recording her best ever international ITT result to finish 11th. DianaZiliute flogged everyone by over a minute, clearing away outright with theYellow Jersey.

Rest Day

Yippee, nothing to do all day. It chose to rain all day today, meaning thatan hour on the trainer was about the extent of our recovery training - anda trip into town for a stroll around to tune out from the race. Jeannie hadus stay back at the previous night's accommodation in a lovely countryguesthouse instead of the programmed move to the next town. It was good tonot have to re-pack the bags and move for a change.

By the way, I have been 'encouraged' to finish the tour, even though therewill only be two days to recover until the next tour which is Trophee D'Or.I think there is some respite after that. Ahhh, including the World Cup,the rest day we have just had, and the two days between tours, it will havebeen 23 races in 23 days, resulting in more races in total than in themen's Tour de France - a mere walk in the park! Who needs rest?

Stage 9, La Chapelle en Vercors - Vaujany, 129.8 kms

After the rest day, Juanita and I forced ourselves into doing a pre-start(a warmup before brekky), as today's race was going to be hard, and thelegs and lungs needed to be ready and firing from the gun.The race started downhill, and it was fast and furious. Once you got pastthe unpredictable wheels it was ok. The descent turned suddenly into ashort, sharp climb where the bunch split in half, literally. I felt muchbetter today and was comfortable in the front of the bunch. Following that,another screaming descent with gentle bends where we were averaging between75-85km/hr for around 10km! A 'small' amount of trust comes into play here,when you have no choice but to follow the wheel in front of you. I foundPetra in front of me and felt at once safe. Unfortunately again, a messycrash occurred just over the top of the climb as we started to descend andthree girls were taken to hospital.

After the descent we again climbed, a Cat 2 mountain which was extremelyfast, big chain ring all the way. Somehow I even scored KOM points! Afterthat, with a bunch of about 50 attacks were flying in an attempt for ridersto get away before the Cat 1 climb to Vaujany. For some reason again, Imust have 'CHASE ME' written on my back. I am an hour down on GeneralClassification (yes, that's right) yet the Dream Team and other strongteams won't give me an inch. Instead, Pia Sundstedt and Pregnolato were letgo with a couple of others. After 20km of trying I realised that the effortwas futile and hoped to save some energy to at least have a respectableclimb, though I had used up too much energy already. It will make mestronger again in the end, I know. Juanita was looking quite comfy, and washappy that she had 3 teammates handy in case anything went wrong.Most of the break was brought back by the climb, and then it was on foryoung and old. Fast climbing for 15km when I realised that the race hadbeen shortened by 10km (our D-S forgot to tell us), and then it was 6kmstraight up! In the 23 or 25 cog all the way. I hung on for as long as Icould and then settled into a steady pace, watching Juanita bolting up themountain to catch Capellotto and Sundstedt. She was going great guns. Inthe end Juanita finished 8th in the stage, an awesome effort, about 2m20off the lightning pace of Polkanova. She is now 13th on GC! I was happy tohave climbed better than in the past week, finishing @3m40 in 24th place -not a significant placing by any means, but at least encouraging mentally.

Stage 10 , Vaujany - Rive de Gier, 135.5 kms

Today was bound to be a tough one. The major climbs were supposedly over,but lo and behold, there was a Cat 3 (it said Cat 1 on an earlier page inthe race bible) and a Cat 2. Before that though, we climbed for 3km rightoff the gun, with a wicked descent after which I sustained a blow out (thetyre, not me for a change) on the flat just before the pseudo Cat 3. Theclimb was fast, but hard for the first 4km, and then went straight up for3km. The bunch had already waned in the early stages, and thendisintegrated up the steep section. I was in the 2nd group with Luperini,Pregnolato and co. and we chased down the other side to get within 50m ofthe front group as the next climb loomed ahead. I was already wasted fromthe first effort. It was a steamy, hot day and the race was in the middleof the afternoon. For 5km up the climb I dangled just 30-50m behind thefront bunch but couldn't summon the single effort to get back to the draftof the girls ahead. With 1km to go, I found just enough from somewhere waydown in the depths of determination and latched onto them, immediatelygetting an easier ride. I knew that this was D-day, in terms of the race.There would be no other chance.

The group once it settled numbered about 40. Being the 11th day of thetour, the endurance and pure grit of the riders is now showing. We had 4 ofour 5 riders in this bunch which was good for Juanita. We were all tired,but so were most of the girls. Except Mazza's latest recruit BogumilaMatusiak (Polish National Champion) who attacked the bunch with 60km to goand rode to a solo win about 2 minutes ahead of the strong bunch. Wetackled crosswinds all the way, and it was damn tough. Juanita and I bothhad punctures, when going back to the team car for drinks, there were nonemade up and I had to tackle the convoy for too long waiting. For Kim had towear my spare cycling shoes because our support car took off before therace started with her shoes in it! It was the day that was destined tooccur. Just before the last climb (uncategorised, but a hard one) at 20kmto go, we were stopped at a railway line for 5 minutes while a freighttrain idled by. The chase groups behind us were not stopped so they lostconsiderably less time than they would have, but it was of no consquence inthe end. My legs went completely lactic up the final climb from havingstopped and I grovelled to get back on over the top. Soon after, CathyMarsal launched an attack from the front and stayed away for the final 10kmto finish 2nd. How she can do that when we can thrash her in a time trial Idon't know. A crash occurred in the last 10km as tired bodies allowed bikesand wheels to wander off their line. I don't think anybody was really hurt.We all finished safely, but completely exhausted in the bunch.

Stage 11, Roanne - Montlucon, 146.7 kms

And I thought yesterday was the ultimate 'grovel' day. I had had several ofthese and figured the home stretch wouldn't be too bad. The neutral was20km making for a long day in the saddle. Everyone was tired and hence thepace was a little slower than it had been, making the small mountains,inconsistent terrain, wind, narrow roads and rough bitumen even moregruelling. Ebly 'management' decided that we would be active today, butnone of us had anything in reserve to do anything. My biggest effort was tobe the 'water boy' fetching drinks for everyone on treacherous roads. Ithad taken ages to get back to the front after that, so then I wasdetermined to stay there. It was much easier. Germany was determined for abunch finish, and Petra didn't disappoint them, with another sprint stagewin for Germany.

Stage 12a, Montlucon - Saint Florent sur Cher, 86.5 kms

Waking to a 6am alarm was a rude shock to the system when we are used to9am brekkies for a 1-2pm start. It was actually dark still at 7am! Was apretty quiet brekky, while everyone slowly woke up and prepared to departfor the morning stage.

Thankfully it was a fast, smooth stage. All of us girls wondered whether wewere feeling better or whether it was definitely easier. Must have been thelatter. Karine and I had a few solid goes at getting away. Somehow mytiming must be wrong in this tour, as it just isn't happening. Ho hum. Inthe end, Mirjam Melchers (NED) jumped away by herself and went out to aminute before being nearly reeled back in. Then the bunch settled and shewent away to win by just over a minute. There was no way anyone else wasgetting away. It is interesting that the race dynamics are such thatbreakaway groups are not occurring when GC is more or less sorted out.Doesn't make for much excitement.

Another catastrophe occurred, actually two. With 3km to go we werescreaming downhill through the centre of town, which had pedestriancrossings at 100m intervals. One of them was pave' (cobbles) with a high'lip'. You guessed it, head down, bum up and all the pressure on thehandlebars (hence the front wheel too), and Liuda Trabaite (EBLY/LITHUANIA)hit the lip at full force doing around 70km/hr. I was right beside her asshe and the bike catapulted into the air with Liuda smashing headfirst intothe bitumen. It was so absolutely sickening. She ended up with her teethknocked out, face completely mashed and who knows what other injuries. Ifshe didn't break her neck I would be surprised. Others came down behindher. Then at the final turn into the finishing straight, another crashoccurred bringing down several riders including poor Margaret Hemsley. Herrun of extreme illfortune must have been exhausted by now. Apparently therewere broken bones in that incident. This tour has turned into a raceagainst the odds to stay upright. The number of severe mishaps has beenfrightening.

Stage 12b, ITT, Chateaudun - Chateaudun, 19.8 kms

Here we go again! Our great preparation for the 2nd ITT consisted ofjumping straight off our bikes after the morning stage, changing without ashower, scoffing down a quick lunch of rice and fish, and being bundledinto the car for nearly 2.5 hours to drive to the start of the ITT stage!It was staged in the centreville with people swarming everywhere, so alittle 'downtime' was not to be had. We rode over the course with Jeanniebefore the start, and it looked pretty good - if you were fresh. Some powerhills and good straight stretches, some corners, and a steep climb to thefinish (as usual). Something for everyone. Jeannie (who had come up for theday) put the pressure on me because it was the home town of Ebly. Hmmm,does she remember how I was nearly 2 weeks ago at the start of the tour?

Anyway, off I went. I didn't get a great start, nearly overshooting anacute corner which I had forgotten about! Then it took me a few kms tosettle in, without blowing up on the early power hills. After that I gotinto a smooth rhythm, strong and steady but not firing. A little tooconservative, keeping out of that 'excrutiating pain zone'. I had passedfour girls at the finish so it was a reasonable time trial where I finished14th overall, but way off the pace of the winner. Can't wait to be firingagain.

Stage 13, Chateaudun - Mantes la Ville, 128.8 kms

Another windy day. It was flat for the first 50km with the pace very slow.Dream Team and Russia completely controlling the peleton. At 30km a 'loo'stop was called, so the very unorthodox, yet comical sight of 50 or sogirls squatting by the side of the road was viewed with interest by theFrench gendarmerie! From 50km onwards in was undulating. I had feltterrible up to this point and then started to come good. It was againrequested that our team play an active part in this race, but with 2 weeksof complete disorganisation, no team plan and no team meetings, there wasabsolutely no commitment nor cohesion. Two of the girls had their boyfriendand father 'helping' with the team, thus with no management from the D-Sthere were many conflicting agendas involved. Laurence and I workedtogether, she helping me to the front and countering my attacks. It isimpossible to plan any moves when an individual (or two) are racing againstcompletely committed teams like Dream Team, Russia, Holland, Germany, AlfaLum. I tried many times, but if any break went without a rider from one ofthese teams, then it was brought back. A few times I nearly went out theback, trying to recuperate from an attack, but with noone to protect in thebunch. At one stage a serious break did occur, with riders from 10 teams(noone from ours), and I tried to get across with Judith Arndt, but EdilSavino brought us back. Eventually the break came back and it was set upfor another bunch sprint (only about 70 riders left in the bunch from 100as it was pretty fierce out there).

Laurence took me to the front, and I attacked furiously with 4km to go andhad a solid gap for 1km. But lo and behold, Russia was on the front drivingback to me because they were setting up their sprinter. Then I was in thethick of it for the sprint. All was well until a French/English riderbeside me was pushed into me and for two or three seconds (seemed like aneternity) we were locked together leaning into each other to hold ourselvesup while trying to keep our front wheels from sliding out. Somehow we bothkeep it upright and continued on, our hearts in our mouths. Finished safelyin the bunch in the end. The Russian sprinter whose team chased me downended up winning. It was an extremely disappointing race. There is no waythat races like this can be successful without completely organised andmotivated teams, and to look at the wasted potential of individuals in ourteam, it is very sad that we are not obtaining the results we are capableof.

Stage 14, Paris - Paris, 85 kms

The grand finale, and it was actually staged in Paris! It was the safestcircuit by far, wide roads, with a reasonable surface. It was like akermisse, and proved to be extremely fast, with an average of 44km/hr forthe 85km race. I felt the best I had for the whole tour, and was extremelyaggressive making and going with many attacks. Kim also got into the acttoday and was very helpful. The rest of the team was resigned to simplyfinish the race, with no motivation to obtain a result for Ebly on thefinal stage. By half way it was obvious that the Dream Team were not goingto let anything go away, keeping Diana up the front with the whole teamdriving the train. I knew if I had a hand at the end that I could finishwell, and asked for a hand from the girls, nobody terribly willing with thepace being so high. With two laps to go it was important to stay up nearthe front because the pace was in the high 40's and 50's consistently. Onthe final lap, the whole field was strung out in a single line and I wasglad to be in the first 10 riders. The Germans came to the front to drivefor Petra, and I moved up to 5th wheel. Then the fury began with all thelead outs happening. I am not quick enough to accelerate with Petra in thefinal 200m so went out earlier but at 55km/hr already it was impossible tosprint for long. Frustrating, because I would have liked to have a sprinterto lead out, or to be led out with an attack in the final kilometre, or tobe 'quick' enough to go with the speedsters!. Petra won again! She has hadsuperb form in her sprinting ability, and also did a great job helpingJudith Arndt, their best GC rider.

Diana Ziliute was a true champion, and a deserved winner of the GrandeBoucle, winning both Time Trials, a flat stage and a mountain stage. Sheproved her ability across all facets of road racing, and was extremely wellassisted by all members of the Dream Team when it was necessary for her toreceived protection, safety and recovery throughout this 15 day epicjourney.

We were all relieved to finish the tour in good health and with noinjuries, which is an accomplishment in itself. I look forward to positiveoutcomes in the upcoming tours and World Cup events.