Route de France Féminine report, August 17, 2006
Well, the longest, hardest day certainly ended up being long, but wasn't even close to being as difficult as everyone had anticipated. We started with a 10km neutral and then 136km of racing. Today's course was supposed to have two category 1 climbs, the only cat 1 climbs of the entire tour. The first one was at 47km. We were thinking everything would splinter over that first climb, having images of Col de la Madeleine in our heads from the Tour in 2001. Maybe everyone else was thinking the same thing, because things were pretty quiet leading up to the dreaded 47km mark.
Anticipation, excitement, dread. But before we knew it, the entire field was still together at 44km, and at 46km. Wouldn't you know it, we crested the top of this dreaded climb all together. What? That was it? I'm still on?
The next cat 1 wasn't until 113km so a little more racing started. A French National team girl and a very skinny, stick-like Spanish National champion got away and had decent gap. Now the Queen of the Mountains leader at this point in time was Svetlana Bubnenkova from the Fenixs team. She has usually been the QOM leader in pretty much every tour I've done with her. In fact, I don't even know if anyone was even challenging her for the QOM points. She was leading the competition by about 75 points, and there were only two QOM mountains left in the entire tour. No one had the slightest chance of stealing the QOM jersey off of her shoulders. Yet for some reason, she had her team go to the front and chase down the two breakaway riders in her hope of winning the next QOM. I don't think they quite caught the two by the next 'cat 1' climb, but she still was third, increasing her lead. And with her team giving her a solid lead out, we flew over the climb like it was nothing.
Now that the finish was near and the 'tough' climbs were behind us, teams started getting antsy for a stage win. Safi-pasta went to the front to reel in the lone Spanish rider. I had to give it to this girl. She really held off a chasing peloton for a long time. So it was with a bit of regret that we came flying around her with just 300 metres to go. At least I felt a bit of regret…. I don't know if anyone else did! It was an uphill finish, a good one for Judith, and she finished second to Diana Ziliute… again. It was unfortunate that there weren't bonus seconds for the stage finishes, since Judith and Ziliute would be slowly moving themselves up in GC!
With the individual time trial as the final stage on Sunday, Saturday's stage looked to be a chance for a breakaway or another field sprint. It came down to a field sprint. Several attacks were attempted but nothing stuck. And again, with 10km to go, Safi Pasta started leading it out again for Ziliute. It was another slightly uphill finish, reminiscent of yesterday, and again it was Ziliute first and Judith second.
The organisation had arranged a 'dinner' for all the riders at a school right by the finish. Of course the dinner wasn't for two hours, so we towelled off and sat around waiting. David started massage since we had time on our hands, and I went with that. I couldn't eat another meal of pasta and greasy chicken. The sandwiches that our soigneurs have been making us have become a staple in my life! Thanks guys!
After the meal, we drove to our final accommodation of the Tour, and thank God it was the final. Another sports school, and although the setting was pretty, as it was right along a river, the room was a bit sub-par. All 5 of us were in one room with three bunk beds with toilets down the hall. I could give further description but it's not pretty, so I'll stop there. I could see that staying at a place like this could be really cool and fun…. If I was 12.
Amy and I went for a walk in the little town that evening and oddly enough we came across a bakery that was still open at 9pm. What followed was like a scene out of 'Seinfeld'. The man behind the counter was very hairy, covered in flour, and was wearing what looked to be ONLY an apron. I just couldn't buy bread from this man although I did buy some wine, as he explained to me it was from the region and very good. Amy really wanted to take a picture, and it would have been a classic one, but we didn't want to be rude.
When we woke up in the morning, we walked over to the dining hall for breakfast. It REALLY felt like I was at summer camp. Sugar corn pops and baguettes were the items of the day. But this was the final morning, we had a beautiful view of the river, and our dear old breakfast box would keep us well fed.
The only girls on our team really gunning for the time trial were Judith and Kim, as they were still in the top ten of GC. The course was 30km and it was a very cool course, with two climbs and lots of rolling hills providing us with lots of room to pick up some serious speed. During my race I only heard, 'Allez Jan Ullrich!' once, but it always makes me laugh inside. I really enjoyed my race. Sometimes I wonder if I don't end up doing a little better when there's absolutely no pressure and I'm just out there truly enjoying my ride. Well, its not like I broke any records or had a phenomenal finishing time, but I did enjoy it.
After the race, everyone was packing up their cars, trucks, and buses to hit the road and go their separate ways. One of our cars was going to Frieburg, Germany after dropping Kim and I off in Perigueux, the other to Paris, and the other to Langerwehe. See you all in two weeks in Plouay at the French World cup. In the meantime Kim and I will be kicking it in Girona, Spain. We cannot wait!