Tour de l'Aude stages 1 & 2, France, May 12 & 13, 2006
Oh la France. There are definitely some things I love about this country and some things…not so much. The l'Aude region of France is very beautiful, and since we arrived here on Monday, the weather has brought out the best of the area. It's been great riding on little roads without much traffic. And it's been really cool because these extra days have given us a chance to really see the area. I just don't always 'see' it when I'm racing.
We've been staying in the seaside beach area of Gruissan and most of the 19 teams in this race are staying in the same place. We're housed in little beach shacks just a short walk from the ocean. I'm sure this area is absolutely packed during the summer season, but now it's the off-season so its pretty much just us cyclists and the random surfers. We had to drive to Carcassonne yesterday for the team presentation and then were supposed to return for a 7:30pm dinner. Nobody arrived back here until 8pm and we all went straight to the dining hall. I was absolutely starving by this time. But nothing was ready. We all sat there staring at this crazy French woman running around like a chicken with her head cut off. She was supposedly in charge. All I wanted was some bread to appease my growling stomach, but we couldn't even get that. Our soigneur, Jeremiah, had brought a number of condiments to our table…items like pasta sauce, olive oil, jam, and nutella. Amy and I were so desperate, we started eating pasta sauce out of the jar. Kim started scooping out nutella with her fork. When we were finally each given one morsel of bread, I ate that with more pasta sauce. Then bread with jam and bread with nutella. By the time the actual food was served, I have to admit I was rather full - from condiments.
Stage 1 - May 12: Gruissan – Gruissan TTT, 28 km
The first stage of the tour started with a team time trial. The course was 28km long, starting and finishing in the town of Gruissan. The course wound through vineyards, up to the top of Col de la Clape, giving us an amazing view of the ocean, and then headed back down the mountain to the seaside.
I was rather nervous for this one. Descending a mountain on my time trial bike is not my speciality, so when I pre-rode the loop this morning, I was rather happy to see there was a stiff headwind the whole descent. Maybe this would assist me in staying with the team. Unfortunately, it did not. You could have cut the tension with a knife as the six of us were lined up on the stage ready to take off. Ina led us out of the gate, and she led us out hard. The first 10km was flat to rolling and we got in a good rhythm.
When we hit the climb, things started to come apart a little bit. Lyne had a difficult moment and in a team time trial, all it takes is having a bad 30 seconds and you're off. This is Lyne's first race back since Australia where she fell and separated her shoulder. No doubt this race was a shock to her system. We got to the top of the climb with five of us. At the top were a number of rollers and we were still pushing the pace hard. Then I heard Andrzej come over the radio and say, "Ok, go with four!" Oh no, we lost Amy.
Next came the descent and it was my turn to worry. I left a little bit of a gap after one corner and yelled, "Wait!" in my little high-pitched red-lined voice. As soon as I got back on the wheel, I yelled, "Okay!" If I hadn't been hurting so hard, I would have laughed. It immediately reminded me of a "team" time trial I did with my husband, Chris, and our friend Chuck Coyle. I don't know if you can actually call it a team time trial if you never take a pull. But all during the race, I kept coming off the back and yelling, "Wait!" The boys would sit up, I'd catch the wheel, and then yell, "Okay!". It went back and forth like that the entire race. We still somehow won that TTT, but no thanks to me. To this day, Chuck still makes fun of me saying in a high-pitched voice, "Wait! Okay!"
I made it down the descent and was so happy that I did, that I stupidly went to the front to take a pull. I don't think I even came around Ina on that one, but I managed to blow myself up. We hit a roundabout, and Ina came flying by me. I had no pick-up-and-go left and was gapped. "Wait!" I yelled in my head. But of course no one heard me. I just needed a second to get back on, but that's the thing with TTTs. The other girls don't know that I just need a second. For all they knew, I had flatted or crashed and burned. They've got a race to try and win. So sadly I watched the three of them motor away for the final 8km. The girls did great in finishing second overall though, putting them in a good position in the overall GC. The timing with the TTT is really screwy though, so Lyne, Amy, and I were given times much slower than teams we actually beat overall. So hopefully it will all come out in the end.
Stage 2 - May 13: Rieux Minervois – Rieux Minervois, 103.5 km
The next day's stage was a tough one with a category 1 climb and an hors categorie climb (out of category… so hard they can't classify it). And it was pouring rain at the start. How pleasant. Luckily the rain cleared up not too long after we started. The first climb was about 17km long, or at least it felt like that. Buitenpoort went to the front and set tempo up the entire first climb and blew apart the field. I wasn't looking back but I could tell the crowd behind me was thinning greatly. I think it's mentally tough when you see the 5km to the top sign. It feels like such a long way to go. I was laughing so hard later that night as Kim and I were laying in our beds talking about the race. She told me while she was climbing, she started making deals with God saying in her mind, "I promise I won't eat any more M&M's, no more doughnuts, I'll eat healthy." But then as soon as she finished, she went straight for the Pringles.
At those moments, you're willing to do just about anything to stay with that top group. And it's such a feeling of accomplishment when you do get to the top with the front group. We hit the top of the first climb and the feed zone was coming up in a few kilometers where Jeremiah was waiting for us. It was the coolest feeling to hear Andrzej come over the radio and say, "Jeremiah! You've got four girls in this group!" And it was only a group of about 17 total. But it wasn't over yet.
After a short descent, we had another 4 km of climbing, this time the HC climb. Steep and difficult. There were some really steep pitches where I couldn't even turn the pedals over with my 27 unless I was standing up. Judith attacked over the top and only about four other girls went with her. That woman can descend like a crazy person, so I knew she could put the others in trouble. But after descending a few switchbacks, we came upon Amber Neben from Buitenpoort laid up on the road. You know how they tell you to never look where you don't want to go, but to look where you do want to go? Well, I couldn't take my eyes off of Amber, so of course my bike headed directly for her. I slid in the dirt next to her but luckily didn't hit her. I could tell she was shaken up from her fall, but seemed okay. Judith and the others let up in the front to give Amber and her teammates time to get back on. Once our front group was all back together, Buitenpoort again went to the front and set tempo all the way down the descent to the finish. Priska Doppman of Univega won the sprint to take first for the stage.
This morning before we left for the race, Kim had given Judith a can of "Riz au Lait" (rice pudding) to have after the race. In the car on the way back from the race, Amy said she was sitting in front and all of a sudden heard a commotion in the back seat. Judith was back there cursing up a storm because she had tried to pop the top to the rice pudding and it broke off. She said she had been thinking about the rice pudding the whole race and was so looking forward to it. And now she couldn't get to it. We found her a can opener as soon as we got to our hotel. It is imperative we keep our GC leader happy!
Till next time,