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The Emma James Diary 2002
Welcome to Cyclingnews.com's newest female diarist, Australian Emma James. Emma's enjoying her first year as a scholarship holder with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) road cycling team, managed by coach James Victor. She's a gutsy rider who's decided that she'd rather be testing the waters of professional cycling than testing the salinity of the Sydney's waterways as an environmental scientist - which used to be her previous occupation before Emma decided to take the plunge.
Tour de Haute Vienne
July 25-27, 2002
From Italy to France, riding for Mantes la Ville
While most of the Aussie team headed to England to compete in the Commonwealth Games, I took the opportunity join up with the French Mantes la Ville team for some racing in France including the 'Grande Boucle Internationale' (Women's Tour of France). After a final taste of the glorious Italian gelato in Parma I caught a night train from Italy to Paris, with two bikes and luggage. The conductor on the train was not impressed, and thought a 200 Euro tip would be a fair thing! Given that was more than the cost of the ticket I managed to get out of handing over any money at that point. The police knocked on the door at 3.50am at the border to check passports, and eventually the train got to Paris two hours late. I was met by the director of the team 'Mantes la Ville', who assisted me in a rapid departure from platform. The very helpful conductor (not!) expressed his disapproval with colourful language as I left without rewarding him for putting up with me and my luggage.
I then took the TGV to Anguleme, with even more entertainment on this trip: Two seats away a large lady had a live dog in her bag, which she would occasionally open to check it was still OK! The three year old opposite threw a tantrum for 30 minutes, then after plenty of junk food to bribe him to behave and a short walk to the buffet car, he vomited all over the table and himself. The trip went incredibly quickly, and I was met by the mechanic and masseuse for the team. We headed to a castle (or servants quarters of a castle) where the team was staying before the start of a three/four day tour that I did last year: the Tour de Haute Vienne, based in Limoges. I finished 9th the previous year, and I was keen to do well this year.
Mantes-la-ville is a town/locality just outside Paris (a bit to the west, but still on the Seine river). They are the one of the key sponsors for the team which is the only professional team in France at the moment. Dominique Chingoli is the directeur sportif for the team. The mechanic is Guillume, and the soigneur / masseuse is Delphin, who was racing until last year.
Stage 1: July 25
The first stage of the Tour de Haute Vienne was a five km prologue on a hilly course with a fair few twists and turns. Warming up on the circuit, I was confident that I could get over all the sharp pinches in the big chain ring, and I thought about where I would try to get speed to smash over the hard ones quickly. During the TT, the hardest of the pinches were really tough when my legs were already full of lactic acid! - it is frustrating knowing you could go faster, but lactic legs seem to decide your pace more than what you plan or desire! Limited luggage space had determined that our team would be without ergos to warm up on. We did well to have three of the team in the top 10 and everyone doing good times.
The Spanish rider with the Catalonian team, Marta Villajosana, who won the time trial in this race last year, and normally rides for the Kookai team in Italy won in 6.41 (average of just under 45 km/hr). A Belgian rider Evy Van Damme was second, I was fifth, my team mate Marcia sixth, with the times around 7 minutes all very close. It was quite a late start at around 8-9pm, so a late evening for all.
Stage 2: July 26
Almost got there…
The second day was a 100km stage over a circuit of about 15km. The mountain sprints were not on a particularly long or steep climb, but the energy of the group definitely dropped a little on the drag just after that point. There were some nice small roads leading us back to a couple small pinches in the last couple kilometres before the line. The team plan was to do as little as possible in the first hour, but to be sure we were in any substantial moves, and then to do more in the final stages of the race. Sylvie and Marcia both got up the road in small groups, but with a couple laps to go there was two riders up the road, neither from our team.
The Catalonian team had been maintaining the pace for the first half of the race, and attacks in the latter stages ensured the peloton was never too far from the break. With one lap to go I tried to get up the road, or at least ensure the break was brought back for Miho Oki, our team's sprinter. After a few attacks the break was caught, but I had not been able to get away. We were not far from the hill where the mountain sprint had been. I was keen to attack just after it if the impetus of the bunch let up.
It was a nice bit of teamwork to have two teammates at the front just where everyone was feeling the effects of the hill. I got away easily, and had a decent gap with 5kms to go. The slightly down hill and twisty small roads were good. My speed was around 50 kms/h in sections, and my lead grew to 15 seconds with two km to go. There were two sharp pinches in the last two km, and I felt my speed dropping more than I would like. The peloton could see me, and I needed to find some fresh vitality for the last km. The gap dropped to seven seconds, and the peloton knew they had me. I was caught with about 400m to go, and managed to tack onto the last rider to ensure I would not lose time for the stage. Miho won the long uphill sprint in fine form to take the stage. I spent a few hours that evening wondering where I could have found just a little more energy for the last one or two kilometres.
Stage 3: July 27
In the leader's jersey
The third day was another 100km stage, with a 40km loop, and then six laps of a really tough circuit with a hard little climb in it. I was sure that the later part of the race would be the most crucial part, and any early breaks would suffer later. On about the second time up the drag leading to the mountain sprint/finish line on the circuit, the bunch was spread out, and a little gap opened up. I quickly went with the front 10 riders, and then continued the pace after the mountain sprint. Our little group had a decent gap, and worked well on a fast section of road to establish the break. Our team had Miho and myself in the move, and that would see us second and first on GC if the break stayed away.
Our team controlled things in the peloton, with a couple more from our team going with the next strongest riders who were keen to make a move. Our group worked fairly well most of the time, with a couple riders occasional sitting on the back of the group, but the pace maintained by at least a few all the time. I was wary of attacks on the climb, but I was able to go with any of the girls when they forced the pace. I was not keen to attack myself, knowing that if I got to the finish line with all the girls in the group, I would have the leaders jersey! It would have been nice to have the confidence to attack anyway and have the strength to win the stage solo with a big margin - I'll have to leave that to next time.
I helped Miho for the mountains jersey by taking second place in the sprint to increase the margin to the next rider in that competition who was also in the break. In the final sprint, I positioned myself badly and found myself boxed in - again hindsight gives me a perfect view of how I should have played that one. At the very least a lead out for Miho would have got us the stage. It was not to be, with the sprint won by Marina Jaunatre, just ahead of Miho. With a video camera the official judges saw a gap between a few of the wheels in the sprint, and the riders behind the gap (including me in 5th place) were given a time one second longer. With the very small time gaps on GC from the prologue, suddenly the sprint time gaps were rather significant!
I enjoyed the podium time and beautiful flowers. Plenty of photos were taken as the team had cleaned up! Miho was now in the mountain jersey and the jersey for the most points. Vicky had claimed the lead in the young rider classification, and Mantes la Ville now led the teams classification.
Stage 4: July 28
The sweet taste of success
The final day was another 100 km stage, with an initial loop of 40 km, and then a very tough circuit of ten km to be done six times including a really steep little climb two kilometres from the finish line. There was a list of about 10 riders that I stuck on my stem, half within about 20 seconds, and a few only a couple seconds behind on GC. Again any early breaks were sure to suffer on the tough final circuit, but Mantes la Ville was in control from the start.
Sylvie and Marcia swapped off at the front for the first 40 km. If there were any attacks they were brought back by simply maintaining the pace - leaving the break just ahead to wear them out a little and because there are then less counter attacks. I was glad when we were onto the final circuit. A few people tried to attack down the descent - but with no success. It was quite an easy descent with the only technical part the final sharp corner just before a railway crossing, and still with four kilometres to the finish. There were no really strong attacks up the climb; no efforts more than 50-100m. I had expected it to explode up there, and I was anticipating it each time.
In the second half of the race, Marcia maintained the pace almost all the time. After the climb Marcia was always quickly back to the front of the group ready to control anything dangerous. It was really comforting for me, and probably explains why there was less aggression than I expected with such small time gaps separating all the top places on GC. I learnt a great deal from how the team rode, and I'm sure when I'm in the domestique role I will be thinking about how the riders in Mantes la Ville rode for me in the Tour de Haute Vienne.
The final time up the climb there were a few moves, but I was able to go with them. I covered quite a few attacks from girls in the Belgian team just before one kilometre to go. There was one Belgian girl who was only a couple seconds down on me for the GC, and I was worried that the consecutive Belgian attacks were preparing for a final attack by this rider to get the couple of seconds she needed. When Evy Van Damme (who was further down on GC) attacked with one km to go, no one responded. She got a gap and I was not willing to risk the jersey by bringing it back and having the possibility of the other Belgian closer on GC countering the move. Miho started to bring the gap down, but we were close to the finish and the sprint was in everyone's mind. Van Damme stayed away to win the stage by 7 seconds in style.
I was very happy to have a nice result as the first experience with the 'Mantes la Ville' team. It was great preparation also for the team to work together before the Grande Boucle. No doubt with the strength of riders in the international field, the team will not dominate in the same manner as at the Tour de Haute Vienne. We will work as well as we can together, enjoy ourselves and take advantage of any opportunities that we can to get results for the team.
A toute a l'heure,
Emma's racing exploits in 2002