Surviving Castilla y Leon Feminina

Castilla y Leon Feminina - Spain, May 2005

After a two day, 21 hour road trip from Italy through France and into Spain we finally arrived! All but Jenny Macpherson that is, who has had to return home with an injured shoulder to be fixed up and storming as soon as possible. We miss you already Jen! It is not often that we get an opportunity to race in Spain so we were very excited to experience the racing and lifestyle. The main difference is that everything is 2 hours late e.g. Dinner isn't until 9.00 and it consists of rice, tomato sauce and eggs but it sure tastes good! We had a day to flex the legs and get into the groove before embarking on the Tour. This spare time provided us with a rare opportunity to play tourist! Segovia is a very historical city with a Roman Aqueduct running straight through the centre and onto the ancient Castle of Alcazar.

Stage 1: Segovia - Sepulveda

Our starting five for the tour were; Katie Brown, Lorian Graham, Emma Rickards, Alex Rhodes and Louise Yaxley (Amy stayed home to recover from her cold). Day one consisted of 99.8km of rolling terrain including three climbs - Cat 3, Cat 2 and a final return up the Cat 3 before descending into the finish. The race began fairly aggressively with Team AIS joining in the fun along the goat tracks! Unfortunately nothing stayed away and the bunch scrambled over the first climb with everyone intact. Over the Cat 2 a group managed to get away, consisting of Judith Arndt (Nurnberger), Sara Carrigan,(Ton Van Bemmelen), Naomi Cantell (Team Bigla) and Theressa Stanff (Ton Van Bemmelen). Rumour has it Judith punctured whilst away with Cantell (Team Bigla) then joined the other two riders and bridged the gap back to Cantell, then broke away to take the win solo! Awesome! Our team had a hard day at the office; Emma and Katie were fighting colds. And with six kilometres to go Alex decided to launch herself into a pile of gravel - she took on the road and the road won. She even has the battle scars to prove it. Lorian finished in the main bunch and Louise-dog suffered like never before but managed to hang on to fight another day!

Stage 2: Sepulvida - El Burgo de Osma

Today's 96km stage started in the cobbled heart of Sepulveda (Stage 1's finish). The Spanish weather again did not fail to impress teasing us with a pleasant temperature of 25 degrees and then belting us with strong head and cross winds!

There was plenty of gutter action happening early with the Russians firing riders one after the other stringing the field for kilometres to try and set a breakaway before the Cat 3 climb at the 60km mark. Team Nobili and Fanini were also keen to join the frenzied attacks, but Team Nurnberger's plan was certainly clear by controlling the breaks and setting the pace before the climb.

Unfortunately, with Katie Brown and Emma Rickards pulling out due to sickness, we had the three amigos - Lorian Graham, Louise Yaxley and Alexis Rhodes to start! However, Alex, bandaged from elbow to toe (from a loose gravel crash in Stage 1) bravely started but only managed 10km into the stage, leaving Louise and Lorian to fend for themselves. Well two Aussies soon became one Aussie after the Cat 3, which chewed up the field quite quickly and spat us out in various groups. By the top of the climb Lorian found herself in a small chase group including Nicole Brandli (Team Bigla), Naomi Cantell (Team Bigla) and Sigrid Corneo (Team Nobili) who were in hot pursuit of the front 6 riders.

If yesterday's goat tracks were's had it all and more! At the top of the climb we were then greeted by 2km of road work (gravel of course!) followed by a series of gravel filled bunkers (perfect in rectangular shape...go figure!) along a very sketchy piece of bitumen which was suppose to somewhat resemble a road. Maybe if we had have been driving army tanks we would have been more in our element!

Allora (anyway)...Lorian tacked herself onto the back of a small chase group, but her free ride soon came to a halt though when she hit one too many gravel bunkers, instantly puncturing her front wheel. It's a little hairy descending on a front flatty whilst trying to hold your hand up to signal to the Commissaire's car and trying to radio Waz for a spare (a third hand would have been really handy...excuse the pun!). By the time Team Australia, 15th car in the convoy, came to her aid every man and his donkey had passed! She then joined the following bunch which included Louise and a few belted Russians, and comfortably rolled into the finish.

Stage 2 results

1. Regina Schleiker (Team Nurnberger)
2. Georgia Bronzini (Team FRW)
3. Katia Longhin (Team Fanini)

Stage 3

We proudly donned the Aussie colours for the final 112km of "Survivor in Castilla y Leon".. Well that's what the tour was starting to turn into for Louise and myself. Survival of the fittest! Pity there wasn't the "million" up for grabs because we would have gladly taken half each!

After digesting the race profile, the only thing that was on our minds was to get over the Cat 1 climb in the first 20km, then reassess our race tactics after that! As expected, most teams conserved their energy for the climb, but predictably it was Team Nurnberger who covered the moves to the KOM and to their advantage had Judith Arndt (tour leader) and Oenone Wood in the front five riders over the top. Lorian scrambled her way up in a smaller chasing group and soon rejoined the front runners on the long descent. Louise grovelled over the climb and hung onto the chasing Russians to rejoin the bunch. By the bottom the pace had lulled quite considerably, giving other straggling teams the perfect opportunity to regroup and reload their legs to attack. Team Fanini, Nobili and Russia did not hesitate to start the first set of crazed attacks. Various breaks formed (finding myself in some by following faster wheels) over the next 40km of undulations... But if any teams missed the break there would always be that "one" dragging the peleton with it!!

The move of the day (and what could have been "the move" of the day!) came when the circuit twisted it's way through a very small village around the 60km mark. Taking advantage of the tight technical turns and hilly rise out of the town Lorian gapped the peleton in pursuit of an Italian rider (Team Fanini) who had broken away only minutes earlier. To her disappointment once she reached the Italian rider, her efforts soon weakened to stay on Lorian's wheel and so her race had then transformed into a 30km ITT (Individual Time Trial). Despite the strong circling winds, to be honest, riding solo at the front was the best spot to be, especially down through the narrow windy roads in the mountains...avoiding the chaotic descend of the peloton!

Frequent time gaps pushing out to 57 seconds from Wazza on the race radio, the motorbike commissaire and encouragement from Louise back in the main bunch gave her the incentive to keep consistent tempo on the pedals. At 95km Lorian's solo effort was swallowed up by the hungry peloton. The closing 10km would have been by far the fastest average of the day, easily reaching up to 60kph and still at the control and mercy of Team Nurnberger! At one kilometre to go, riders were being shelled left, right and centre. And it was every man (or woman) for themselves diving into the final corner onto the finishing straight. Team Nurnberger confidently took the stage and overall Tour win. Phenomenal riding from such a phenomenal team!

Stage 3 results

1. Regina Schleiker (Team Nurnberger)
2. Anita Valen (Team Vaalanderen)
3. Monica Holler (Team Elk)

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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.