By Ben Atkins in Gruissan
Katie Mactier (Australia) surprised herself by winning a blustery 3.9-kilometre prologue to take the first race leader's jersey in this year's Tour de l'Aude. The 2005 world pursuit champion found the distance to her liking and recorded a time of 5:02.78, just over half a second quicker than Dutch time trial champion and World scratch race champion Ellen Van Dijk (Netherlands), with 2007 Aude champion Susanne Ljungskog (Menikini Selle Italia) six tenths of a second behind her. Alison Powers (United States National Team) and Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Netherlands) rounded out the top five.
The day began cloudy and overcast, but by the time the 3:00 pm start time arrived, the skies had cleared and first rider off Gabriella Day (Swift Racing) took the start in bright sunshine. The strong wind that has been present for the preceding days persisted, however, making conditions difficult in the back part of the coastal circuit. As the afternoon progressed, more clouds moved in causing some light rain to fall over the later starters, but there was nothing to worry anyone or make the conditions any worse.
Winner Katie Mactier was under the impression that she had been beaten into second place by someone until Cyclingnews told that she had won which completely took her by surprise. The pursuit specialist has no long-term personal goals in the race though, besides supporting the rest of the Australian team and preparing for the Olympic Games this summer, when she would like to go one better than her silver medal of Athens four years ago.
"The main emphasis for the rest of the tour is to help my team-mates," she said after the victory had sunk in. "We've got some really good talent coming through and so I'm hoping to just get out of the wind and help them.
"To be honest," she went on, "I've taken a good look at the profile tomorrow and we've got a few cards we can play in terms of overall, looking at GC riders. The main purpose of me to race the Tour is to get some good preparation in for the Olympics and that kind of thing."
As one of the earlier starters (number 10), it was almost an hour and three quarters before the last rider had finished and her victory was confirmed. This time difference made little difference to the conditions though, and the later riders had similar windy weather to contend with.
"I was early," continued Mactier, "so I rode to the accommodation and then I rode back. The wind is always going to be a factor and whether it was windier or less windy I couldn't really say, but you've just got to go out there and make the most out of the conditions and give it everything."
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Tour de l'Aude prologue.