School of hard knocks

I love small world stories. Now I have another one. We have a second soigneur with us for this race....

Route de France Feminin, August 11, 2006

I love small world stories. Now I have another one. We have a second soigneur with us for this race. It's Magali's French boyfriend, Francis. Francis lives in Paris so I was telling him how my husband raced on the Beauvais amateur French team. Even though this was nine years ago, Francis remembers him from racing. He had this look of sudden recognition, saying "He's blond, tall, skinny…Chreese Baldwin….yes, I know him!" Crazy. I didn't even know my own husband then.

Maybe this is only funny to Kim and I, but there's a mechanic on the Belgian Capri-Sonne team that we think looks exactly like Jiri Mainus, our logistics director. Every morning before the race, we see him in the same position, leaning against his car, just kind of staring. We always say, "hi Jiri!" but he never even looks…for the obvious reason that Jiri is not his name. But it makes us laugh and we need all the humour we can get during a Tour like this. I tried taking a stealth picture of him today but it didn't turn out, so I will try again tomorrow.

Tuesday's stage was just 105km but with more climbs than the other days. It's been great positive energy on the team, as all five of us are always up front, taking turns going with attacks, and really trying to force a break. Its motivating when you see all the pink around you, knowing your team-mates are there to back you up.

The roads were very twisting when we raced through towns and often times, the field would split, as it normally does, around roundabouts and divided roads. At one point, however, the field split on a divided road and for some reason, I was leading my side and Amy was leading her side. When we came to the next roundabout, her lead motorcycle led her to the left and my lead motorcycle led our group to the right….right into each other! No one crashed, it was more comical than anything.

Finally with about 40km to go, Kim followed an attack by Sarah Grab of Univega, and a six-woman break went up the road. They quickly gained a minute on the chasing field and it looked really good for Kim. Since Bigla was in the yellow jersey, they chased the rest of the race and with about 10km to go, it looked like they were about to reel it in. They brought the gap down to 30 seconds and we could see the girls ahead of us, but all of a sudden they lost steam, and the gap blossomed again to 45-50 seconds. Kim knew she probably couldn't win out of a sprint, so she attacked the break with two km to go, and ALMOST held it off. We could hear Andrzej yelling in the radio and we were all hoping she would win. But the girls came around her with just 500metres to go. Oh so close! Kim finished fifth, still a great finish for her, and it moved her up to sixth overall in GC.

After the stage, we had a 150km transfer to our next school, our housing for the next two nights. We were travelling along these small French roads, speeding along, and started noticing these very eerie black figures set up along the road. They looked like silhouettes of a person, totally black, with a bolt of red through the head. David, our German soigneur, who is also half French, explained to us that these figures were called, 'the black men'. Wherever one was posted meant someone had died there on the road due to a car accident. It was supposed to be a sign to drivers to be careful. It was really, really eerie though and personally, if I had a loved one die in a car accident, I would not want that place to be signified by a 'black man'. I asked Magali if this was everywhere in France, but she said it wasn't. Just in this area for some reason.

I must admit, this school was much better than our last one. It was a sport school, so I assume young people would stay at this school during sports camps since there was a big swimming pool, large soccer fields, etc around the complex. Our showers were hot, we had actual towels, sheets were clean, and the food was relatively good, considering what we've been served so far. So we were pleasantly surprised. Marion Clignet had written me after my last diary and said that one time in Switzerland, their team had been housed in a nuclear fallout shelter! So things can always be worse. When compared to a nuclear fallout shelter, I feel like I'm living the high life here.

Wednesday was a double stage day, which always means getting up very early, racing, sitting around for 3-4 hours in a parking lot, and then racing again. Today was no different. Our first stage of 90km started in the town of Gien, which was really beautiful and had a lovely chateau as it's centrepiece. It was situated right along the river, and our stage pretty much followed the river the entire time. About half way through the stage, we hit a construction zone and the road became very narrow and full of gravel. Someone at the front of the peloton took this opportunity to attack, and by the time we were able to get ourselves OUT of the construction zone, a break of 10 women was up the road. Very sneaky. Amy was in the break, but since two big GC riders were also in the break, she was able to sit on. She later told us only 3 girls were really working the break, which was impressive because 3 teams were chasing behind, and the break kept putting time into the field. It gave us a chance to motorpace behind the chase, really spinning our legs out for the team time trial to come in the afternoon.

Our two soigneurs and mechanic set up our team tents in the gravel parking lot after the race and hung up blankets all around to keep out the sun and peeping Toms. The mix of gravel, dust, blankets, and tents made me feel like I was in the middle of Saudi Arabia, not that I've ever been there of course. But it just had that feel. The organisation served us a box lunch after the stage and it was a box lunch unlike anything we've ever seen before. Judith lifted off her plastic lid first and the biting odour of smelly cheese hit our noses with a bang. She put the lid straight back on. We peered through the plastic to see what was for lunch. Nothing looked very good except for the crème caramel or apricot tart. So we ended up going through boxes grabbing out the desserts, and just eating our sandwiches that Francis had made us.

I honestly can't remember the last year that I did a team time trial. It may have been in 2001 when we did the women's Tour de Feminine. But this year, it seems to be the 'in' thing to do! This will be our third team time trial this year, and we've still got one more to go at the Tour of Holland. We were at a disadvantage for the TTT since we had only five riders and most of the other teams had six. But we have always been at a great advantage with our aero equipment so we have no complaints there. Some of the women's teams only have clip on bars to add to their road bikes, so when we roll out in full aero gear, I feel very lucky.

Overall, we rode the 28km course really well and everyone stayed strong and hung on until the end. The hardest part for me was actually AFTER my pull. Judith followed me and since her pulls are so incredibly strong and long, I had problems just getting back on to the back of our train! Every time Amy would come by me, I'd have to stand up and sprint to get back on to her wheel. I'm sure my SRM had an interesting read after this race. When we finished and realized that we were only five seconds out of second place, and only three seconds out of third place, however, we were really disappointed. We are really in need of a podium finish, and a total team effort to a podium would have really boosted the spirits. We all kept running the final two corners over and over in our minds, as things had gotten a little rattled there. But it doesn't matter how hard you kick yourself. It is what it is. And we've still got four more days of racing to get that podium.

We arrived at the start of Thursday's stage to a scene that was reminiscent of a county fair. And to top off the fair atmosphere, they had on display the absolute largest bull I have ever seen in my life and I grew up in Wisconsin so I've seen my fair share of bulls! I don't know if this was a bull on a ton of testosterone or what, but he was absolutely enormous. He apparently had won a lot of medals and blue ribbons for his size as well, as they were posted right next to his head. Kim commented that she has never in her life seen as ass that big. I would have to agree.

Today's stage was the longest and hardest yet. We started out again with a 10km neutral, which I never can quite understand. It's not like they're running the neutral through streets full of fans cheering for us. It's usually run through barren country roads. What is the point?? The course was up and down all day. The field continued to be very active, and about 30km into the race, I bridged up to a break with Liv Gollan from Nobili. We really thought this break was going to stick. With two Univega riders, a Frenchie, a Safi-Pasta rider, a Fenix rider, Liv, and I, all absolute non-GC threats, all rolling through smoothly, I really thought it would stick. But of course not. The Buitenpoort team all went to the front and started rotating to bring us back. Liv rode by me at one point and said, "Yes Kimberly, they must really be worried that we're only 13 minutes down." My thoughts exactly. Maybe we should be flattered!

The two hardest climbs came near the end of the stage, at 92km and 101km. The second climb was where things really started splitting up. Poor Judith. She had asked me to attack in the midst of the climb but I was having such a hard time even staying with the front group, I wasn't even able to attack. When I saw her attack, I knew first, that she was probably very frustrated with me, and two, now I was going to come shooting off the back with her attack! Somehow I managed to cling to the wheel in front of me but by the time we got to the top of the climb, Magali, Kim, and I found ourselves in the 'second' group. Judith had made the front group, so we let the others chase to get back on. It was a very fast final 24km after the climb. Buitenpoort drove it hard, leaving not much chance to attack and go for the solo win. Judith rode super strong today though and finished second in the "field" sprint to Ziluite of Safi Pasta. This was Ziluite's third stage win. And we finally got the podium finish we've been in the hunt for. Nice going Judith!

Tomorrow's stage is the hardest and longest yet. So how are we preparing? We're kicking back in the Camponile hotel, complete with hot showers, towels, and wireless. It may be for only one night, but we are making the most of it. I hear that more schools are in our future.

Happy riding,

Happy riding,

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