Dropped from La Grande Boucle

On Saturday, the day before our intended departure, we found out that the NZ team had been dropped from 5 day, 6 stage, la grand boucle (or the women’s Tour de France), for what seem political reasons. The French Cycling Federation has decided to enforce their rule of allowing only three foreign national teams to start in a National French sanctioned race and the organisers have chosen Switzerland (Univega), Italy and Belgium. The FFC have conveniently not applied this rule to other races we have competed in and to inform us at such late notice seems to be a dig at the organisers. Jacques did everything he could to get us in the tour but it was a no go. So it was all a real shock and a real disappointment for all of us since we were amped for it.

So, instead we headed to the beach at Narbonne, soaked up some rays, relaxed and some ventured out with Bob on his jet ski. Our next race is the tour de Bretagne starting July 13. Now it’s back to training…

Tour de la Drome – France, June 14-18, 2005

This is the 16th year for the Tour Cycliste Feminin de la Drome-Vaucluse, organised by the Region Rhone-Alpes and consisting of five stages and 430km. We were very fortunate to get two kiwi teams into the tour (10 girls and 6 support staff) and despite being totally separate teams with separate tactics we had a lot of fun. Our “Mixte Internationale” team consisted of myself, Joh, Dale, Tammy and Marielle (a French girl who teaches English and lives in Vermont, USA). And our support crew consisted of Jacques as Director Sportif, Brendon “Doon” Cameron as mechanic, and Nick as soigneur.

For 4 of the 5 nights we were accommodated at the Viviers Seminaire (or what we called the Monastry or Convent) but a Seminaire is a boarding house for visiting students and sports teams. Very basic rooms with communal bathrooms.

The tour de la Drome is not a large international tour like l’Aude so it was our chance to be competitive. My overall GC position of 24th wasn’t great but I was pleased with my form during the 5 days, being aggressive and mixing it up, and have seen improvement since the Tour de l’Aude, so it’s all good. Here’s how it panned out…

Stage 1 – Tuesday June 14: Montboucher Sur Jabron – Taulignan, 80.8km

It was so much easier to position myself well in the bunch of 64 riders and I rode mostly at the front of the peloton – a stark contrast to my positioning with the 120 riders in l’Aude! There were a few early attacks but nothing stuck and it was all together for the only categorised climb of the day. This was a cat three climb at 498m which started at 20km. Joh was 4th in the GPM and I was just behind in 6th. For the rest of the stage the peloton stayed pretty much together. I attacked but didn’t get far, then in the final kilometres I pulled back a 5 man break for a bunch sprint for Tammy. I didn’t do well for a leadout but Tammy didn’t need much help and had a wicked sprint to take 2nd. Priska Doppman from the Swiss team Univega took the win. The official results had me down as 27th but with no video finish the organisers are only concerned about the top 5 positions. I was stoked to finish 9th.

Stage 2 – Wednesday June 15: Montbrun Les Bains – Sederon, 87km

What an amazing region – spectactular mountain scenery with fantastic views of Mont Ventoux (at 2,000m). After a solid start yesterday I was hoping to have a good race in the hills today but there was no doubt that it would be the toughest stage of the tour with three Cat 1 climbs – 6km, 10km and 9km long, all climbing to over 1000m in altitude (but we did start at 600m). [Col de Macuegne: 1068m (468m); Col St Jean: 1158m (360m); Col de Perty: 1302m (500m)]

I stayed with the front bunch on the first climb when it splintered, though it all regrouped on the descent. On the second climb the Belgium rider, An Van Rie, in the Mountains Jersey attacked and the group split. I was just off the back of the 10 leaders who got a break near the top and crested with 30 seconds. Joh was in the front bunch so we were happy about that. Our group of 7 chased down the descent but the gap widened and the biggest GPM of the day was still to come. So from then on it was ride tempo and without a solid chase group our bunch got larger and stopped working. We ended up 7 minutes down. Now I’m 17th on GC. Joh was best placed at 6th.

Stage 3a – Thursday June 16: Buisson – Vaison La Romaine, 11.4km Team Time Trial (TTT)

The rule was – the kiwi team with the highest place GC rider would get the aero equipment (disc wheels and aero helmets). Sarah was sitting 4th so bummer, no equipment for us. So we were out to beat the other kiwi team! We had a team practice before the stage – pretty scary that some of us weren’t too experienced but we were going to give this stage a good nudge. And that we did. We worked together well and finished 3rd, only 16 seconds down on the other kiwi team, and only 1 minute down on Univega who had the full on TT bikes.

Stage 3b – Thursday June 16: Saint Romain En Viennois – Rasteau, 89.4km

The afternoon stage had far too many GPM’s - 7 to be exact, but all relatively small and nothing over 360m. The winds were going to play a role today. I wasn’t in for protecting my 17th place on GC and now that Univega was dominating the stage race it was time to start “lighting it up.” On the first GPM I attacked hard and got a gap but was chased down by a Univega rider and the QOM Jersey so I sat up and the peloton regrouped. Then Jacques gave the orders for someone to “light it up” over the top but I was pretty spent so gave it a few minutes on the descent before I launched again. My legs were spinning out like a sewing machine with a cadence up to 137rpm. I gapped the bunch and didn’t look back. Obviously Univega weren’t going to let a thing go today as they were protecting the yellow jersey so Swiss National Champ Sereina Trachsel chased me down and sat on for the ride – there was no way she was going to pull through for a turn. At one time the bunch brought us back to about 20 seconds but I got the orders to give it stick and keep the pressure on as we wanted Univega to work in the peloton. Then the gap opened more. Sereina attacked me at the start of the next GPM and since she was fresh from sitting on in the winds she gapped me and took out the GPM. I took the points for 2nd. I must’ve been out in front for about 15km before 3 riders bridged across, though again there was a Univega patrolling the break. As we were caught by the bunch it was obvious someone would attack, but it would’ve been nice if it wasn’t the 2 strongest riders in the peloton – Sarah Ulmer and Priska Doppman. The hammer went down and the bunch was strung out in the cross winds. I can tell you I was really suffering. I stayed with it til the start of the next GPM and whammo I started going backwards. Doh. I was with Tammy and about a dozen others and happy to cruise to the finish. Sereina stayed away for the rest of the race while 4 others including Carissa bridged up to her and gained 3 minutes on the field giving her the lead in the Under 23 category. Christine Soeder took the yellow jersey off her team mate Priska. I ended up 10 minutes down but I was stoked to have given it a go and contributing to making the race. And if I didn't try, I wouldn't know.

Stage 4 – Friday June 17: Saint Jean En Royans – Montelier, 86.6km
Today, only 3 GPM’s but it was a hot 36 degrees. Again, orders were to “light it up” and attacks were going strong. One rider went off the front and I first tried to bridge with Toni with no success, then I attacked on a hill - got a gap, but there was no sticking. Eventually Toni got away and bridged up to the French rider and stayed away for most of the race. Univega were happy to let it go until the last 10km when they picked the pace up and caught the two within the last kilometre. We knew the finish was dodgy so I got Tammy near the front with 5km to go. Then I put my head down and started a leadout. I was sitting in a good position through the road works but didn’t realise Tammy had lost my wheel in the disarray. I was next to Sarah into the last corner and with 500m to go I was pushed aside by one of the Prune riders. I lost all composure and finished 11th just behind Tammy who was 10th. (Again the official results were wrong). The Prune crossed the line first but was DQ’ed as apparently she hooked Sarah into the barriers. Sarah got the official stage win. Wahoo.

Stage 5 - Saturday June 18: Pierrelatte – Chateauneuf Du Rhone, 75km
Final day and our plan was to unleash Joh on the 3rd GPM. Today we had 5 GPM’s (185m, 300m, 430m, 180m, 180m) and had to contend with the 40 degree heat. To think that only 2 months ago we were complaining of the cold. It was a tough day at the office especially since the first GPM started within the first 5km! And that’s where the damage was done. It went from the gun and a group of 10 riders snuck away on the first GPM – this included Joh, Sarah, Toni and 4 Univega’s. In the main peloton there wasn’t a lot of chasing going on so some teams were trying to break away unsuccessfully. Meanwhile in the front, Priska wanted the yellow jersey back and broke away solo to win the stage and the tour. The attacks were flowing fast amongst the next 4 and finally Joh got away and time trialled the final 8km to take 2nd place. Sarah caught her just on the line for 3rd. Joh got awarded the “most combative.” Nice. And there was never any doubt over the Sprint Ace Jersey which Sarah held from start to finish. Carissa finished in the chase bunch with me and retained her Under 23 Jersey.

Final GC:
1. Priska Doppmann 11:56:17
2. Sarah Grab @ 01:30
3. Christiane Soeder @ 01:38
5. Sarah Ulmer @ 02:12
6. Joh Buick @ 02:28
9. Michelle Kiesanowski @ 10:55
11. Carissa Wilkes @ 12:50
12. Toni Bradshaw @ 13:22
24. Robyn Wong @ 23:05
27. Dale Tye @ 24:10
36. Marielle Aunave @ 51:08


Points Jersey: Sarah Ulmer (NZL)
Espoir: Carissa Wilkes (NZL)
Mountains: Christiane Soeder (Univega)
Teams: Univega

I will update with some photo’s soon…

Tour de la Drome Preview

Just a brief blog as we're just about to head to Drome for the 5 day tour de la drome. It's quite unusual but we've got 2 kiwi teams competing. My team consists of Tammy, Joh, Dale and a French girl and the other team is Sarah Ulmer, Toni, Michelle, Carissa and Nadene. Here are the stages:

Tuesday: 80.8 kms starting at 14h40
Wednesday: 87 kms starting at 14:30
Thursday: AM - 11.4 km TTT first team off at 9:30; PM - 90kms starting at 15:00
Friday: 86kms starting at 14:30
Saturday: 75kms starting at 14:25

Apparently we're staying in a Monastry. Should be fun. Will update you all when I'm back in Limoux Monday week.

World Cup #4, Willingen, Germany – June 5, 2005

We had a bit of an adventure getting to the next World Cup in Germany. We drove to the wrong Willingen (near Giessen). Yep, believe it or not, Germany has THREE Willingen’s. The correct one was Willingen Upland (2 hours north of Frankfurt). Luckily though, it wasn’t too far out of the way. What we thought was a short 3-4 hour trip, turned into an 7 hour drive. Oh well, we weren’t in any rush and we met up with the Merida van - so we weren’t the only ones to make the mistake!

Willingen is a small but very cute village which for the past eight years has hosted an annual Bike Festival. This was the first year for the festival to include the World Cup Cross Country, Downhill and 4X – so it was one huge event. 160 expo sites! And for the citizens, there were 3 different length marathon races. We figured that one year Willingen will bid for the World Championships as they designed all the courses in the same location (same finish area) and have been able to provide all the public and media facilities for such an event. Unfortunately though this meant we had a very unexciting and short cross country circuit. It was only 5km long! We were originally racing 8 laps though on race day this got shortened to 7! The course was still being built on the Tuesday with heavy machinery bulldozing tracks and gravel being laid for the steep climbs. There was 218m of vertical climbing each lap – and it felt like most of the time we were climbing. The only short bit of downhill single track in the forest was brand new and had not been bedded in at all – mostly off camber with exposed tree roots. One positive about the short lap was great spectator viewing and television coverage.

The KiwiCad team were not particularly impressed with the course and were all concerned that the lap times could potentially be very short at around 15 minutes, bringing into play the 80% rule whereby if a rider is more than 20% of the leaders lap time they will be pulled out of the race. Those who are pulled out are still given a finish position but obviously don’t have the chance to complete the entire race. The long range forecast was for rain so we thought that could add some excitement to race day. We usually race on Sunday but it was a pleasant change to race on Saturday and to have the chance to relax and enjoy the festival after our race. The only disadvantage was the one less day of recovery since the World Cup on the previous Sunday.

We had a wicked thunderstorm on Friday night which excited us all – though it didn’t last long enough to dramatically change the conditions of the course. I had opted earlier in the week to run my Maxxis UST High Rollers for clearance and traction, running a 2.1 on the front and a 1.9 on the rear. This worked a treat.

Geez, one of my best positions on the start grid in the middle of the second row, but this was one of the worst starts I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what happened but there was no way through, then suddenly I was at the back! Carissa started on the 6th row and had a great start, racing past on the outside. So I had to fight my way back up and by the first steep climb I was slightly better positioned about mid field. Not ideal.

When Rosara, myself and Sonia consecutively passed through the start/finish at the end of the first lap the English commentator mentioned that the New Zealanders had a team time trial going on. From then on, Rosara was always just a couple of riders ahead and Sonia just a couple of riders behind for the entire race. I was feeling a lot fresher compared to last week and felt positive during the race, however I felt like I only had one speed. Coming up to the final lap, I was optimistic that I could still pull a few places back as the German Adelheid Morath was just ahead. But No, I was pulled at the 80% zone and wasn’t allowed to finish my final lap. I finished 28th. My time was around 1 hour 43 minutes. Only 27 riders completed the full 7 laps. I was disappointed because I knew I still had more to give and some riders were fading. Adelheid finished 26th and 12 minutes 30 seconds down on the winner Gunn-Rita Dahle. Gunn Rita’s time was 1 hour 49 minutes – so averaging 15.5 minutes per lap! Wicked. Rosara finished 23rd, Sonia 31st, Carissa 61st and Gen 68th. I’m still happy to be holding 22nd place in the World Cup series but I will not be contesting the next 3 races in Canada, America and South America. The final of the series is in Fort William in Scotland in September.

It tried to rain for the Men’s race but held off though it was pretty cold. Kashi had a solid race to finish 18th. We had a huge support team out there screaming for him. Tim, again didn’t have good luck getting caught up in the bottleneck on the climb and with so many riders and such a short circuit, it was inevitable for him not to be lapped out.

Sunday provided some very sketchy weather for the marathon riders and downhill racers. After cleaning our bikes, getting in a recovery spin, and doing some packing we managed to get to the downhill. It was an exciting race since the conditions changed for the top 15 riders when it rained heavily, but still South African rider Greg Minnaar took the win. We met up with most of the kiwi’s there – Vanessa Quin, Scarlett Hagen, Justin Leov, Craig Pattle and Tom Holland.

It’s now late Monday night and we’ve had the long haul home. We were up at 4:30am to get Kiara, Rosara and Sonia to Frankfurt airport by 8am for their flights home. Kiara is off to Quebec to race the Canadian National Champs at Mont St Anne next weekend. Rosara and Sonia will be back in NZ for the next two months before returning to Europe for a build-up to the World Champs in August. The drive to from Frankfurt to Limoux for Sylvain, Carissa and I was 12 hours. It was cold and raining heavily in Germany but the further south we drove the warmer the weather got. Ahhhh, it’s nice to be back in Limoux.

From here I need to chat with coach Reidy and National road coach Jacques but the plan is to race the 5 day Tour de la Drome starting Tuesday week (June 14-18).

World Cup #3, Houffalize, Belgium – May 29, 2005

Curious – would be the word to describe how I was feeling about the 3rd World Cup. Curious about my recovery from the 10 day tour de l’Aude; curious about the benefits from the hard road racing.

On Monday, the day after the tour de l’Aude, I woke with a sore throat which promptly turned into a blocked nose. Uh oh. So for the next few days before I left for Belgium I slept, relaxed, ate (a lot) and did a few easy spins. Then two complete days off the bike. Oh, how I had looked forward to that – always the best thing about racing a stage race! The flight from Carcassone to Charleroi (Brussells) was only ninety minutes, but then the drive to Houffalize was a further ninety minutes. We had a house for the six of us, 6km or an easy ride from the race course in Houffalize.

We took an excursion into Luxembourg to check out the shops. Of course, each of the girls brought some clothes, shoes or handbags! It’s a very pretty city, very busy, touristy, but also very convenient that most of the locals spoke English.

I was amping to get back on my mountain bike. The last time I had touched it was the Madrid World Cup! I got on the course on Friday and had a blast. The course was exactly the same as last year – 6.6km of full on mountain biking, hard and fast with little rest. We were up for 5 laps (including one shorter start lap) which fortunately, was one lap shorter than last year. I remembered last year’s race very well since it was my last chance to qualify for the Olympics and foremost in my mind was how long the race was and how stinking hot it was. Well, at least this year the race would be shorter, but we were not guaranteed cooler. The temperatures were in the early thirties and it was rumoured that this unusually hot weather could cause a thunderstorm. A little bit of rain on this course would’ve helped to settle the dust but we weren’t so lucky.

The morning of race day was slightly cooler but the clouds soon cleared and it turned out to be another scorcher. Drinking was going to be important. There were 3 combined feed/technical zones and due to the heat a fourth neutral feedzone was established to hand out water. Race started 11am. 83 riders were called to the start line including 5 New Zealanders – Rosara, Sonia, Carissa, Genevieve Whitson and myself. As far as starts go, this one wasn’t so bad but there was heaps of jostling on the roadie climb. The field spread out on the 4WD gravel climb and there were no bottlenecks, though the pace was high and there was a bit of sucking in of dust. I stayed out of trouble, just trying to gain places on the climbs. The first few laps of the race started off fine for me and I was with a bunch of 5 strong riders but by the last couple of laps I was battling – both mentally and physically. I could keep going at the same pace but I had no added spark. Maybe my body was still fatigued from the tour. Also in the last lap I was right behind the German Katrin Schwinn on the steep dirt climb off the tarmac when she faltered and came backwards, making me crash and fall heavily backwards on my butt and knee. It took me a bit to unclip, run my bike, and regain composure. Meanwhile Sonia passed by.

I came in 30th in a time of 1 hour 55 minutes. Rosara had a stormer of a race to finish 14th – wicked. Sonia was 29th, Carissa 56th and Gen 71st. Again Gunn Rita Dahl took the victory with Sabine Spitz in 2nd and Irina Kalentieva in 3rd. Sabine showed that some can do a 10 day world class road tour (and finish 12th) and recover well to have a stormer of a MTB World Cup seven days later. She was pretty happy! I talked to her prior to the race and her main concern was to avoid getting sick on the final stage in the very cold conditions.

Results & lap times