Giro della Toscana, Italy, September 18, 2005
Day 1: Prologue
After finishing second at the last World Cup of the season I went into Toscana confident with my form, but somewhat mentally distressed after not being selected for Worlds. The 1.8km prologue to start the tour was rather simple, not very technical. Some riders were decked out on time trial bikes with disc wheels, aero helmets, etc. Not being a TT specialist I chose to ride a standard bike.
I went hard out of the blocks and had good legs but didn't completely waste myself. By mistake I followed my lead car when it exited the course 200 metres before the finish - my fault for not knowing the exact course. At the end of the day I was content with the ride and excited about the rest of the week.
Day 2: Stage1a/1b
The morning stage on Day 2 was about 70km; three laps that included a significant hill. In our team meeting before the start of the race we felt that Nicole Cooke was our best chance for a stage victory. Nicole proved that her form is back by breaking away from the bunch and winning solo. My job was going to be in the afternoon stage, so I got to the finish as fresh as possible.
The afternoon stage really suited the sprinters. The race finished on three loops so I had the opportunity to study the finish, uphill with a left hand corner about 70 metres from the line. First into the last corner was definitely going to win this stage.
Entering the last kilometre I found myself totally boxed in, surrounded by about 20 riders. At the last minute a gap opened and allowed me to sprint through the last corner in first position. I accelerated out of the corner and crossed the finish line a couple of lengths clear of the next rider.
Taking the win was a major relief and reinforcement of my form, but to my amazement I was relegated for not abiding to a race rule that I was unfamiliar with. In the jury room where the protest took place I requested to see the video replay. The video did not show any impedance of any other riders' line or any physical contact. The explanation given for my disqualification was that I had taken a direct straight line to the finish, when in fact I should have followed the curves of the barriers through the S-bends.
Day 3: Stage 2
Stage 2 was a course for the climbers with two 10km climbs and a mountain top finish. As the climbers broke up the race I found myself in a large friendly hoop group, one of the most pleasant groups that I have worked with. I was extremely surprised with the way that I felt after such a demanding stage and I was eager to race the next morning's stage.
Day 4: Stage 3a/3b
I traveled to the beginning of Stage 3a pumped and ready to go. However, after arriving at the start I was informed by team staff that overnight my bike had been stolen along with three others, including bikes of riders who are riding Worlds in about a week's time.
At the last minute I was given a replacement bike but we didn't have enough time to set it up before we rolled out. Fortunately the stage was not too long or challenging. Some small attacks got away, but nothing more than 15 seconds, the race ended in a bunch sprint.
With about 800 metres to go Katia Longhin and another rider gapped the main bunch. I was positioned well near the front. While two other riders in my team were keen for the stage victory I felt responsible to attempt bridging the gap. As I accelerated I also gapped the bunch and rapidly closed in on the two lead riders. However, by the time I kicked around Katia I had nothing left and felt like a snail when Giorgia Bronzini came flying past. Once again I was very satisfied with my current form, but not necessarily with the end result - second.
Many riders were fearing stage 3b - nighttime circuit race. On the start line riders proposed to the event organisers that the stage be neutralised or cancelled due to insufficient lighting. Our proposal was not unreasonable with safety being our main concern, especially with many riders scheduled to compete at the World Championships in about a week's time. The organisers refused our proposal and insisted we race.
Instead, lead riders and the majority of the bunch decided that we would complete the distance neutralized anyway. Things did not go exactly according to plan as one rider took her lifetime opportunity to take a stage win riding off the front.
Day 5: Stage 4
I began stage 4, but with my position not appropriately set up on the spare bike I didn't feel comfortable. The seat position in relation to the bottom bracket was very different from my previous bike and made it difficult to produce adequate power. Rather than risking the development of an injury I took the pressure off the pedals and the bunch pulled away.
With Worlds out of reach and the road season in Europe ending I decided to call it a day just as the rain started to bucket now.
I've had a great European season and feel that I'm possibly in the best road form of my life. This has been my best Tour of Toscana. I've managed to cross the line in front of one of the World Championship favourites, Giorgia Bronzini, and I also picked up a second placing. I'm disappointed that the season is now finished for me - while I'm at my fittest...although I'm already thinking about representing Australia at the next track World Cups, World Champs and Commonwealth Games!
I would like to take this opportunity to wish Oenone, Sara, Liv, Kate, Nat and Helen all the best for the Road World Championships next weekend. We all know that we have the ability to win and I hope that it all falls into place for you girls on the day.