Tour de L'Aude Feminin - France, May 13-22, 2005

The Tour de L'Aude is a 10-day stage race in the South of France – in the region where the NZ training base is located. So there were a few benefits for us - we were familiar with some of the roads and we were able to stay at home (rather than in hotels) for the majority of the tour. This is one of the longest stage races for women in the world (alongside the Giro in Italy) and there are 19 international teams competing comprising 112 women. The daily results can be found on
And here’s a pic of me from cyclingnews: Stage 2
Here’s how each day panned out for the NZ team.

Prologue - May 13: Gruissan-Gruissan ITT, 3.9 km
Time trials are not my thing but I was pretty excited about this short 3.9km prologue, especially since it was my first time in an aero helmet and using a disc wheel. Still, this equipment didn’t help my performance. The course was not particularly technical though had a uphill drag straight into the head wind – boy did that hurt. I finished 95th (out of 112 riders) in a time of 5 minutes and 50 seconds, almost a minute behind the winner. Oh well, things can only get better from here.

Stage 1 - May 14: Lezignan Corbières - Lezignan Corbières, 114 km
What a great way to start a tour - 114km consisting of 2 Category 2 climbs. The plan for the team was to help Joh Buick, as she currently had the best form and is a very strong hill climber… and this tour is for the climbers, especially since Day 10 ends atop a 10km climb. So when Joh started having mechanicals on the first climb, Dale and I were called back to look after her and not only ensure she rejoined the bunch but had good positioning for the climb. The pace up the climb was high and the bunch split and unfortunately we were too far back which meant chasing down the other side. We got back on just in time for the second climb and then whammo we were off again. That’s basically how the stage ended up – Joh, Dale and I in a chase group of about 40 riders ending 4 minutes down. Toni, Michelle and Tammy stayed with the main bunch then Tammy had a great sprint to finish 11th. Yay. So after 2 days Tammy is our best placed GC rider in 38th position.

Stage 2 - May 15: Rieux Minervois-Rieux Minervois, 112 Km
Today consisted of one Category 1 climb, which we thought was a mere 9km long, turned out to be 15km! At the base of the climb the pace went nuts as there was a break of 10 up the road and the yellow jersey was in the bunch. Again, my positioning was poor and before long I was off the back but there were some strong riders coming backwards so I kept the pace on and managed to rejoin the bunch once the break was caught and the pace eased. From there I positioned myself better and stayed with the bunch til the finish. Bunch sprint and Tammy was awesome to get 5th. Unfortunately a terrible day for Dale who had mechanicals then punctured and there was no race support to give her a wheel. She ended up time trialling 45km on her own. Fellow kiwi Jo Kiesanowski is in the sprint leaders jersey which is fantastic.

Stage 3a - May 16: Bram-Bram, 45 km
Yay, two short stages today – this is more me. The first stage was two laps of a 27km circuit on some narrow roads. The pace was high, the circuit was pretty flat with a few rolling hills, the wind blew, it was well dodgy in the bunch and there were heaps of crashes. Again, it wasn’t Dale’s day as she came out of a crash with a nice chain ring scrape down her thigh but she got up and finished with the bunch. The stage ended in a bunch sprint and I got to the front to help Tammy with a leadout, however I got boxed in on the wrong side. Luckily Toni and Michelle were there to help out. It was well dodgy. Jo K got 3rd.

Stage 3b - May 16: Bram-Fanjeaux, 46 km
A short 46km but boy was it a tough stage. There was a big crash early on in the stage on one of the narrow windy roads which took Joh down pretty hard. Her bike was damaged so she was given the spare Avanti and luckily Chris managed to motorpace her back to the convoy. Meanwhile I was called back to get Joh back into the bunch just as we approached the Cat 2 climb. I had to work super hard to stay in contact with the bunch and keep Joh on my wheel. We crested the top off the bunch but soon formed a chasing group. It took awhile but we got back on. Joh’s wounds started aching now and she was feeling pretty bad and ended up getting dropped. Next job, I helped Tammy who was also in the chasing bunch. Though same old story, come the last hill climb we were positioned near the back of the bunch, and as expected the 2km climb at a 12% gradient split the field to pieces. I set my own tempo, weaved around riders, and climbed pretty well to finish 53rd.

Stage 4 - May 17: Castelnaudary-Castelnaudary, 111 km
Disgusting weather today but made for a somewhat easy pace in the bunch, for the start at least. We had it all – three categorised climbs, super slick roads, really cold descents, nasty cross winds, and pouring rain. With 8km to go the bunch split on the final GPM. I was with Tammy, Dale and Joh but ended up cruising the last 4km to the finish. I was glad to see the end of this stage. Jo K finished 2nd and is well in the lead with the sprint ace jersey.

Stage 5 - May 18: Castelnaudary-Castelnaudary ITT, 28 km
What can I say? This stage just re-emphasised that I really do not like time trials. Since I was way down on GC, the plan was to treat this stage as a recovery day and try to cruise the 28km. That was impossible. It wasn’t a course for cruising. It was hilly, headwind, long false flats and dead roads. Once out there and suffering I was concerned about not making the time cut as we expected the leaders to go sub 40 minutes, thus with a 25% time cut we estimated I had to do a sub 50 minutes. Swiss rider Karin Thurig won the stage with an amazing time of 39 minutes and 40 seconds while I rode 49 minutes and 3 seconds (geez, a mere 9 minutes and 23 seconds down) but at least I was inside the time cut of 51 minutes and could start the next stage.

Stage 6 - May 19: Limoux-Limoux, 107 km
It was fantastic to be able to walk out of our front door and race in our home town of Limoux. And it was such a stunning day with little wind. It would’ve been nice for some success in this stage especially since we’re not contesting GC. However it was another tough day at the office. In the first 20km a break of 15 went up the road and unfortunately we were not represented so we got the instructions to get someone up there. Michelle had a great effort in trying to bridge but was soon reeled back in and unfortunately the huge effort blew her to pieces. The break increased its lead in the hills but dropped some of it’s riders until they became a group of 7. Up one of the very steep hills a rider in front of Tammy dropped a chain and with no where to go Tammy’s bike got tangled up and at this time the chasing peloton split into two. I made it into the first group along with Toni and Joh. The yellow jersey was also in this group so to defend her jersey she was forced to chase the break so the pace was high. Our chase group finished just under two minutes down on the leading seven riders. The second chase group was a further 10 minutes back. Again it wasn’t Dale’s day, as with her cold she could hardly breathe at times, but she kept with it and finished with a group of 6.

Stage 7 - May 20: Arques-Quillan, 115 km
A hot 33 degrees and a hell stage with three Cat 1 climbs and one Cat 3 climb. This was one stage I was dreading as there were no flat sections for the first 90km of the stage. But since yesterday was so full on the peloton was pretty happy to go piano (softly) up the first three climbs and let the little attacks go. An early break of 3 got up the road and stayed away to win the stage by 41 seconds. The pace went on up the last Cat 3 climb at about 88km to pull back the break and the bunch split into small groups. Over the top Toni had climbed strongly to make the 2nd group while Michelle, Joh and I were in the 3rd group and Tammy was just a little behind in the 4th group. From there it was a huge descent before our group cruised the last 20km along the flat to the finish. We finished 10 minutes down on the leaders, and I was just happy to have made it through the stage. Unfortunately Dale’s cold hadn’t improved so she did the best thing by not starting the stage. Only 2 days to go and we’re looking forward to tomorrow which we are treating as a rest day since it’s a small 5.6km time trial. However Chris is cracking the whip and forcing all of us on our bikes tomorrow morning for an easy one hour recovery ride.

Stage 8 - May 21: Port La Nouvelle-Port La Nouvelle ITT, 5.6 km
Again we couldn’t just cruise this flat 5.6km circuit for the fear that we might miss the time cut as we were sure the leaders would be averaging around 45kmph. This time I opted for my aero bars but no disc wheel or aero helmet as that equipment might make me look like a time trialist. I was feeling pretty fatigued and couldn’t get my heart rate up during my short warmup on the trainer so I knew it was important that I didn’t go out of the blocks too hard. I think this was key to my not so bad result finishing 64th in a time of 8 minutes and 23 seconds. Despite being a minute down on the leaders this was an improvement on my prologue. 9 days down and only one to go!

Stage 9 - May 22: Axat - Station De Ski Mijanes-Donezan, 101 km
What a hell stage! And the weather didn’t make it any easier – it averaged 12 degrees for the 4 hour stage. We endured one category one and two hors category climbs and 101km of racing. It may have been less painful if the peloton had decided to piano up the first climb but no, it was all go from the gun and the pace was unbelievably high. No time to warm up the legs. On the first climb the bunch splintered and I ended up with a pretty strong bunch of 20 odd riders, but everyone knew it was going to be a long day so pretty much rode tempo, each just rolling through steadily. That’s pretty much how it went up the first hors category climb which was documented as 11km but in reality we were climbing for 30km to cover the 1000m altitude gain. It hurt. And at times I was wishing I had a 27! By now the skies had opened up and the rain had started, just enough to make the descent slippery - so our bunch had agreed to take it easy. I slipped into the front 5 to descend but by the bottom I was soooooh cold I couldn’t feel my hands or feet, and was just in survival mode, so I wasn’t at all stressed that I had let a 100m gap go to the first 4. When I reached the flat I was so cold I kept pedalling thinking that eventually the ones behind would regroup and we would catch up with the 4 ahead. But no, I ended up riding the last 25km solo and put 3 minutes into the ones I lost on the descent. The last 25km was basically all uphill, climbing just under another 1000m to finish atop a ski resort at 1520m. By now the thunder had boomed and the rain teemed down – it felt like hail. It was miserable. And I hurt even more. But I kept myself positive to ride my own pace – 12 seated, 12 standing, 12 seated, 12 standing. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right? And supposedly it’s character building. So there were loads of positives – NOT. I finished the stage in 58th place while 5 riders fell victim to the conditions and withdrew from the race. I am stoked to have finished – it was one nasty stage to finish on after 9 days of full on racing. My overall GC classification is nothing to note at 57th but again it was a great learning experience for myself and for the team and I hope to be flying after this.

Next up, a Mountain Bike World Cup in Houffalize in Belgium on Sunday. I fly from Carcassone to Charleroi on Wednesday to meet up with the KiwiCad team (Kiara, Sonia, Rosara, Carissa and Sylvain). It’s all go.

World Cup #2, Madrid, Spain – May 8, 2005

Madrid definitely puts on an exciting race! The organisers estimated that 15,000 spectators would be at the inner city course at Casa de Campo for the second round of the Mountain Bike World Cup Series. The fully enthusiastic Spanish yelled “Venga, venga, venga” and “animal, animal” and with their bells and horns created a very colourful, entertaining and very loud atmosphere. They certainly made a day of it - many on bikes cruising around the park and many enjoying a cold beer or few in the scorching heat.

I was here last year for the same race on an almost identical course. It wasn’t a good race for me then so I wanted to put those demons at rest and I was positive I could build on my pleasing result at the last World Cup in Spa. The 8km course had 3 short sharp climbs and the rest consisted of flats, false flats and fast descents – all on a hard packed base with a loose, dusty surface which was potentially wash out material. My Maxxis Larsen TT’s were an ideal choice of tyre for this course.

The KiwiCad team grew this trip with Rosara Joseph, who arrived into Limoux earlier in the week, and MTBNZ rep John Lee who was making the most of his business trip. We took 2 vehicles, 6 bods, and 8 bikes with us on the 9 hour trip to Madrid. We spent the five nights at a camp ground with Bungalow accommodation in El Escorial, about 50km northwest of Madrid (and once a venue for a Spanish World Cup). The travel to the course was only 35 minutes as the drive was on the motorway and without too much traffic 150kmph wasn’t out of the question. Another kiwi Tim Madgwick (and his girlfriend Sarah) was also competing in the World Cup so stayed at the same accommodation. On race day when we hooked up with Kashi and his Dad, Arne, we had a decent size kiwi contingent (see pic).

I have been depriving myself of the daily morning coffee for the past year to give myself more of a caffeine kick on race day. And it works. On the drive to the race course I was wired...Kiara and I were even boggying away to Flashdance! I had a good warm up on the trainer (Sylvain kindly borrowed from French Team Lapierre), a quick blat on the course and was called up to the grid in 21st position – the best starting position for me in a World Cup (but still 3rd row). I had a good start for the first 500m not losing any places but as with road racing riders moved up the outside and the middle was edged back. The first kilometre was a super fast drag along a flat dusty road then at the first corner, of course there was a crash! I managed to manoeuvre around it. I was feeling pretty good during the first lap and pushed hard finishing that lap in 30th place. It would’ve been sweet had I been able to pick it up a notch (like in Spa) or even remain consistent but instead on the 3rd lap I blew. I crept and felt like I was going backwards. It wasn’t a good feeling. I persevered, recovered and tried to go hard again. I was suffering and had nothing in the legs. The bike was performing well and the skills were fine (with no crashes) - but there was something wrong with the engine. I put it down to not drinking enough during the first couple of laps and in the 32 degree heat this was critical. In the last lap I managed to hold off 2 chasers and finished 32nd.

Rosara and Sonia both had great races finishing 26th and 27th. This was very impressive for Rosara since it was her first big international race and her start position was right at the back of the grid – the 7th row. And I think this is also Sonia’s best World Cup result. Kiara also had a great result with 18th place. The best result of the day was Kashi’s 11th place – he had a wicked race, finishing very strongly in a top line up of guys. Tim didn’t have such luck with a puncture at the end of the first lap however he managed to keep going until he was pulled out of the race after 3 laps.

Next World Cup race is in Houffalize, Belgium on May 29. After 2 races I have held my overall ranking at 21st so I'm happy at that.

Trophee des Grimpeurs, French Cup - May 1, 2005

A great day for the team. A shite day for me! I DNF’ed (did not finish) due to a flat.

This was hugely disappointing for me for a couple of reasons… it was a selection race for the upcoming 10 day tour de l’aude where we are limited to six riders (and have seven girls available). And also, it was a load of travelling to not finish a race.

However it was success all round for the team with Joh getting a gap in the final of eight laps and winning solo. Carissa got 6th and took the Under-23 win. Then we had Toni, Michelle and Tammy in the top 25. We were also the first team.

The race was 7.5 laps of a 8.3km circuit which ended with a short but sharp hill. After the first couple of laps I started having problems with my gearing and on lap four conveyed this to our team directors Chris (Jenner) and Marion (Clignet) via our radio’s, who then started making their way through the convoy to provide assistance. It was then on the descent that I flatted in the rear… and unfortunately had a very messy wheel change. It’s a problem that we’re all on different bikes so the spares are not adjusted for all bikes. Time I got going from the wheel change I was well off the peloton and well off the convoy. Our team vehicle tried to motor pace me but was given the official “move along” so I was all alone in the chase and, of course it was at a time when attacks were happening and the pace was high. I chased for a lap then rode tempo for another lap. Despite there being a few small bunches of stragglers they were well off the pace so I warmed down in time to see the finish. As I said, very disappointing as I was riding well, my positioning was good, and I was really hoping for a great race.

For more detailed race reports, check out my team members websites: Joh Buick and Michelle Kiesanowski.

The race also had a Pro Men’s category and we caught a brief glimpse of New Zealander Heath Blackgrove.

One bonus was our wee excursion to Paris after the race on Sunday afternoon. Bob, our mechanic gave us a whirlwind tour of Paris taking in the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and the Champs Elysees. I first visited Paris back in 1993 and was astounded by the magnificent sights and the warm, buzzing and yes, the romantic ambience. I’m pleased to say that it’s still the same - it’s still an amazing city, however I was much more aware of the huge number of tourists and I wouldn’t have been keen to queue to go up the Eiffel Tower again!

Monday April 25

A compulsory day off the bike and a super long day of driving from Belgium back home to Limoux. Departure: 7:15am. Arrival: 8:30pm. Total distance: around 1100km.

Back in Limoux we were just in time for our very own ANZAC day service. Dale gave the history and read a moving poem before we had a minute of silence to remember all those soldiers who died in Gallipoli. We played Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms” and ate ANZAC biscuits baked by Nades.

Friday April 29

Primo weather this week which made the week of long training rides very enjoyable. Bring it on. I’m sure soon enough we’ll be wishing for the colder weather again, but at the moment I’m happy to be getting the tan lines back.

On Wednesday we had a team training ride over the 9th and final stage with mountain top finish of the Tour d’Laude. It’s going to be a hell stage. It’s only 115km but there are some challenging climbs - including one ascending to 1200m and the final, a 10km climb at 1800m. The bonus is the wicked descent! Toni and I were the only brave (or was that foolish) ones to do the 10km climb. She was one mean climb and I’m sure after 8 days of tour riding, it’s going to crack many riders. By the time we rode back to Limoux we had done a 4.5hour ride.

It was another long stint of travelling for the final of the French Cup road race series near Paris. To better prepare us for the racing on Sunday the 10 hours of travel was split over Friday and Saturday with a night in Orleans.

I’m reading a very entertaining book at the moment written by Bob Roll, ex pro roadie and mountain biker and more commonly known as a tv commentator on America’s Outdoor Life Network. It’s called “Bobke II” and is a journal of his cycling career covering racing the Tour de France through to World Cup Mountain bike races and tells the sport as he sees it. For the avid cyclist, it’s a very amusing read.