The AIS / Australian National Team hit the road again, heading to the Plouay round of the World Cup. The team consisted of AIS riders Carlee Taylor, Peta Mullens, Tiffany Cromwell, Leonie Burford and myself. We were joined in Plouay by Rochelle Gilmore.
The weekend started off with an epic 13 hour road trip. Im not a huge fan of long trips. Apart from the fact that I never sit still if I can help it, I find that any niggles are exacerbated by being crammed in a car for so long. It wasnt all bad: I got to ride in the "Disney" van, our rainbow coloured, Mapei building block covered van with window screen block-outs depicting scenes from the Disney movies Finding Nemo, Sleeping Beauty and Winnie the Pooh. Classy.
We arrived only to wonder whether the GPS navigation system had lead us astray (again). The road into town went through paddock after paddock of campervans. Had we arrived at a motorhome show rather than a bike race? Turns out the combination of a World Cup and ProTour race in the one place had proven an irresistible draw for cycling fans. There was a carnival atmosphere - people camping out, a fairground (with Ferris wheel) next to the start line, VIP marquees, banquets, the works!
The attention we were getting was out of this world: cycling fans waving and cheering during our training ride, packed stands at the start line, even multiple requests for my bidon after the race. Not sure what the appeal was - it was dirty, sticky and used. Now a CSC bidon from Jens Voigt, that I could understand. But mine??
As for the race itself, Plouay is touted as the hardest of the World Cup races. Cant vouch for that myself, not having raced them all, but it was tough!! As my Polar data shows, there were six laps with three jagged, steep climbs each lap. There was nowhere on the course to rest... just finding time to refuel was a challenge.
It was raining when I woke on race day and I have to admit that I wasnt enthusiastic. I would have preferred to ride the Ferris wheel than ride my bike. Fortunately the weather cleared and my spirits rose accordingly. When the starters gun went I thought "yeah, lets go" but my legs responded "nah, lets not." I struggled right from the start.
It just seemed that everything was harder. At one point I was struggling along in the middle of the bunch only to look around and realise that - oops - I was actually struggling along in last wheel. Better move up then. Easier said than done.
I started to list the things that hurt: quads, calves, back... I stopped doing that and started listing the things that didnt hurt. A much shorter list. I was suffering so much I didnt notice that the bunch had thinned down to only thirty riders.
A break went and only the Aussies werent represented. Carlee and I took half a lap to chase it down. We caught them at the base of the third climb. The counter attacks started. I tried screaming "uncle" but they wouldnt let up. Pain.
There were speakers all around the course pumping out race commentary. Every now and then Id hear the French version of my surname. Made me giggle. Giggling and climbing dont mix. More pain.
There was now a helicopter keeping pace with our bunch. It felt so close that I wondered if the prop wash would carry me away. Hey, thats an idea! Maybe if I signal them they will air-lift me to the top of the climb. Not working. Maybe I need to signal in French? Even more pain.
In the end Carlee finished in 30th and Tiffany showed real grit to ride solo to the finish. Sadly she was deemed to be outside the time cut-off. I finished in 15th. Im really happy with that! But maybe I could get a top ten next time if I really make myself suffer...
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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.