Thüringen-Rundfahrt, Germany, July 18-23, 2006
Kim [Anderson] and I returned to our team house in Germany after our U.S. Nationals. The Nationals didn't go as well as we had hoped, so we were fired up for the start of the second part of the European season. The best part of coming back to Germany was that my parents were already there, half way though their summer vacation. Amy, Kim, and I had a great time showing them around our home away from home in that first week back in Langerwehe. It made us get out and see things we hadn't even explored yet. Mom cooked dinner for us, which was a real treat, and we really enjoyed the beautiful summer weather sitting out on our deck.
Two days before Thuringen started, we took the party south and drove 500 Kilometres to Zeulenroda, Germany. It was hot, damn hot. The host hotel in this old East German city is beautiful and just a few years old. It has everything racers could want except one thing…air conditioning. We still haven't quite figured out why Europeans are so against air. It's what helps you sleep comfortably through the night! The hotel, Seehotel, was considered a 'bio' hotel, serving many organic foods, offering lots of walking and riding trails through the woods, among other amenities. The biggest thing it was missing though was some cool air. One night I was having dinner with my parents in the beautiful upstairs restaurant, gorgeous view of the lake, great bottle of wine. But we sat there just sweating. It wasn't pretty.
The team presentation the night prior to the start was the most organised, professional presentation I've ever been a part of. This was due to the sad fact that the presentation marked the one year anniversary of the death of Amy Gillett of the Australian National team. A beautiful presentation complete with full orchestra was given in her honour. Present were both of Amy's parents and her husband. Many words of remembrance and love were shared and many tears were shed. It was a beautiful way to remember and honour a beautiful young woman. I will never forget that night last summer when I first heard about the accident. I was meeting my Aussie friend, Katie Mactier, at a local Boulder restaurant for dinner. Katie was late, which was very unlike her. When I finally saw her walking up to the door, tears streaming down her face, I felt the biggest pit in my stomach and I knew something terrible had happened. Amy's death affected all of us in our small, close-knit, cycling community. She will never be forgotten.
Thuringen Rundfahrt is historically a very hard stage race and this year was no different. Historically speaking, I think this was even the 19th running of the event. Considering that just five years ago, when I first did this race with Saturn in 2001, all the teams were staying in old workers' barracks. I can't imagine how different this race and this entire area must have been 19 years ago.
The first stage was a short prologue through the town of Zeulenroda on Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, our T-Mobile team was missing one of our star riders. Judith Arndt has had the worst luck lately. It started the day before the Wachovia Classic when she and Ina were hit by a car while we were riding the course. Judith still rode an incredibly strong race at Philly despite having broken two fingers in the accident. But then shortly after arriving back home in Leipzig, she came down with a horrible virus and was out for a number of weeks. Still weak from her sickness, she had decided it best if she stayed out of Thuringen and built her strength back up for the upcoming World Cups.
My parents were there at the start cheering loudly, ringing their cowbells, which was good for our motivation. It was a blazing fast brief effort through town…five minutes for some, six minutes for others. And many in between. It was a good opener for the long stages to come.
Wednesday afternoon we had a German oom-pah band to send us off on our first 130 kilometre trek, a fitting start to a tough day. With the course going up and down all day, the final group to come into the finish in Greiz was only 35 women strong. Kim, Magali, and I managed to hang on to the front group but since none of us are very good sprinters, we couldn't really pull off anything stunning in the finish. We got the worst news of the day though when we got back to our team car. Our soigneur, Jeremiah, had been hit by one of the official race cars in the feed zone, and his leg was broken. The ambulance took him straight to the hospital in Gera and due to the extent of his injuries, he needed to have surgery straight away so that he didn't lose his leg. We couldn't believe it. It was a horrible hit to the team. Jeremiah's always so enthusiastic, always has a smile on his face, and to lose that for most likely the rest of the season is truly a loss to this team.
Apparently, there's a heat wave all over the world right now, but it was hitting especially hard in the Thuringen region. During the next day's stage, I looked down at my SRM and it said it was 41 degrees Celsius. Wait…isn't that approximately 111 degrees Fahrenheit? Okay, maybe it wasn't quite THAT hot, but that's exactly how my left foot felt. Due to my shoes and the extreme heat, I was suffering badly from some serious pain. It starts in my foot but then the pain becomes so extreme, it sends pain shooting up my ankle into my knee. It honestly feels like knives are digging their way into my skin. I noticed during stage one that the pain started approximately one hour into the race. Stage two - it started 45 minutes into the race. Considering these stages were taking us around three to five hours, it was a long time to deal with the pain.
Then to make matters worse on stage two, we hit a QOM climb approximately 30 Kilometres from the finish. A group of seven made it over the climb first, but I managed to get into the second group just behind. As soon as we crested the climb, our group started chasing. Unfortunately, an Aussie girl turned to look behind her. That was a mistake. She crossed wheels with the girl in front of her and went crashing down. Since the Aussie was only two girls ahead of me, I had a choice to either send myself catapulting over her onto the pavement or hit the cornfield to the left. The Belgian girl and I chose the cornfield. I wish I could have seen the picture. Kim was in the group behind me and she says imprinted on her mind forever is the image of me riding my bike like a bucking bronco across the corn stacks and dirt. We were going so fast at the time I had to veer off the road that I went quite a ways into the field. When I finally was able to stop and turn around, I just kept seeing group after group go flying down the road. I knew I was going to be stuck out there alone when I finally got back to the road. It was a long 30 kilometres but luckily a group came up behind me, so at least I had company.
During stage three we were determined to try and get into a break and to try and go for a stage win. Unfortunately, the heat took its toll on another team-mate and Ina had to pull out about 30 kilometres into the stage. I think about 30 women had already pulled out due to the extreme heat we were riding in. I felt like I was going to be next, as the heat was making me nauseous and the pain in my leg kept getting worse and worse. Luckily for us, Magali got in a non-GC break, and the break stuck for the rest of the stage. Mag just missed the podium with a fourth place finish, and the field came in about three minutes behind.
No rest for the weary. Saturday was a double stage with a morning 18-kilometre time trial and an afternoon circuit race consisting of four laps of the time trial course. This was no easy feat. And my remaining team-mates, Kim, Amy, and Magali, were much stronger than I. After completing the time trial, I decided not to start the afternoon stage. I really wanted to be on top form for the following weekend's World Cups, and I didn't feel continuing would help me with that. Athletes come to know their bodies well and I knew mine wasn't doing very well. I don't think I was alone either, as 98 women started the race and only 47 finished. Kim, Amy, and Magali rode strongly through the last two stages, especially Kim. She's really been a strong force on this team this year after having surgery on her back at the end of last season. I've never seen her ride so well.
Thuringen gave our team a chance to get our legs back under us, gain some race fitness, and hopefully come out that much stronger as we head up to Sweden and Denmark for the next two World Cups. We're just hoping it's either cooler up north or they at least have air conditioning!
Till next time,