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Back in Italy

Italy, April 27, 2006

After everything that happened with the AIS women's team last year, it must be kind of strange for everyone to be back, but we are, and everything looks to be going to plan so far - well, almost! The current team consists of AIS road cycling scholarship holders Alexis Rhodes (SA), Hannah Banks (QLD), Candice Sullivan (QLD), Amanda Spratt (NSW) and myself (VIC). Sally Cowman (NSW) has been invited as a development rider to further her experience of international racing.

We arrived safely in Italy on April 13, and have settled into our studio apartments in Castronno, Varese quite nicely. The building is brand new, and has 12 apartments, so the Aussie team has rented the whole building for the next two years. That team consists of the women’s team, the guys, coaches, mechanics, physio, and soigneurs. Trent Lowe and Chris Jongeward are also renting rooms in the building, and Michael Rogers, Scott Davis and Cadel Evans are also living nearby.

Our rooms are pretty small (three people in a what is supposed to be for two), and the roof is very low. The boys ( team) got here three weeks before us, so they have the apartments below with actual bedrooms and normal ceilings, whilst us girls have to walk up three flights of stairs to our little hobbit caves. Seriously, I have to duck under the doorway and can’t stand up straight in the bathroom without hitting my head, because of the wooden beams that support the roof!

We are riding the same bikes as last year, the silver Bianchi L’una’s, which they're very nice to ride. They are pretty light and I can definitely notice the difference when climbing. I haven’t done any full-on sprints yet, so hopefully they should be pretty stiff, too. We are using FSA (Full Speed Ahead) seats, seat posts, handlebars, cranks, and wheels (for training). Shimano have supplied us with Dura-Ace gearing, race wheels, pedals and shoes.

Castronno is about 8km out of Varese, and quite an industrial/suburban area. There is a bank next door, a restaurant, phone shop and gelateria over the road. The supermarket, train station and bakery are a five-minute ride away, but all other shops are in Varese, which is about 10 minutes away on the train. Milan is the nearest major city, and is 50km south of Varese.

These are the races we will be doing in the first trip:

April 17: Trofeo A. Binda (local Italian race)
April 23: World Cup (Bern, Switzerland)
April 25: Liberazione (local Italian race)
May 7: Gurareshci (local Italian race)
May 12–21: Tour de L’Aude (France)

I have also included the race report and photos from the April 17 race. This race didn’t end up so well for me, therefore I’m missed out on the Swiss World Cup and Liberazione, which is a real bummer.

Our first race in Europe this year was a local Italian race, Trofeo A. Binda, with about 120 girls on the start line. It was 10 laps of a fast, flat 6.9km circuit then three laps of an 8.3km circuit, which included a 1km climb which was steep enough to hurt this non-climber’s legs.

The bunch was dropping riders every lap, and when it came to the last three laps less than half the field was left. After the first climb it almost halved again. I was lucky enough to make it into the front group over the climb, but wasn’t so hopeful for the next two laps! My teammates were all behind me now and were hoping I’d conserved enough during the race whilst they had been out in front trying to get in breakaways.

Coming around with two laps to go, the speed increased again, and this time I was off the back going up the climb. I managed to keep them in sight, thanks to the assistance of the convoy, but could not manage to get back on before the last climb.

Down the last descent with only about 5km to go, I came off my bike. Cars were not supposed to be on the course, so I was riding down the middle of the road, getting into position to take the next corner. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the car driving around the corner, and I smashed into the front right hand side of it.

To add to my shock, the driver came over to me whilst I was still on the ground. All I could hear was him ranting and raving something in Italian and then he started slapping my body with both hands! Not to see if I was all right, but to lay into me like some crazy man!

All I wanted to do was get out of the way knowing that more cyclists were about to come down the descent and possibly cause more havoc. Luckily, everyone else managed to avoid the danger. The driver continued to be aggressive and loud as the police and ambulance arrived; it was quite disturbing and I began to get quite emotional at this stage. Everyone was making a lot of noise and I was very relieved to be taken away from the drama to the hospital.

My left hand is pretty sore, and I have other smaller cuts and bruises on my arms and legs, but it could have been much worse. I’ve ended up with a few stitches in my hand and a small tear in a ligament and now need to wear a splint on my finger for the next two weeks, but otherwise I’m ok.

The next day there was an article in the local newspaper about the incident. They also made reference to how abusive the driver had been and he was subsequently arrested.

Anyway, looks like I’ll be spending plenty of time on the ergo the next few weeks, and will hopefully stay out of trouble…well at least where the bike is concerned!


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The A.I.S. Women's Team is proudly sponsored by: Cyclingnews has been pleased to publish a diary contributed by the members of the Australian Institute of Sport's Women's team as they conduct their European campaign. For 2005, the team had a new lineup, including Amy Gillett, Katie Brown, Jenny Macpherson, Kate Nichols and Alexis Rhodes, who joined existing members Lorian Graham and Louise Yaxley to form a tight crew to take on the world. On Monday, July 18, 2005, everything changed. In the light of the tragic event that took the life of Amy Gillett and put her five team-mates in hospital, the AIS women's road cycling program has been suspended. We believe the fighting spirit these athletes have displayed on the road will extend to their recovery from their injuries and we hope one day to once again bring you their stories in their own words.