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Australian National Championships and potaroos

Echunga, South Australia, January 12-15, 2005

Yeah the ones three weeks ago. But better late than never...I still have a story to tell!

After the Bay Series Criteriums had finished, I sampled some seriously spicy Sri Lankan food before Adrian and I set off on the long drive to Adelaide. We stopped for the night in Ararat, and took the 'scenic route' for the last part of the trip up the coast towards Adelaide, seeing fields and fields of salt! It looked like the land was being rehabilitated with salt bush growing around the edges of the crusty 'salt lakes'. The joys of air conditioned car travel were much appreciated in the 35 plus temperatures.

We stayed at the Warrawong Earth Sanctuary in the Adelaide Hills near Mylor, and just ten kilometres from where the racing was in Echunga. Warrawong is a former dairy farm, now replanted with native vegetation and surrounded by a heavy duty 'feral-proof' fence. Inside the fence, the sanctuary is home to platypus, koalas, kangaroos, loads of birds and also little native critters that can't co-exist with cats and foxes, including Tammar wallabies, Southern Brown bandicoots, woylies, pademelons, Rufous bettongs, Eastern quolls, and Long-nosed potaroos. Adrian and I became close friends with the Long-nosed potaroo who lived just outside the cabin we were in. The potaroo was not shy at all, sucking on the sprinkler system like a water bottle, and not even bothering to knock if we left the door open! Despite the heat of the week I was quite at home, well relaxed and ready for the racing.

The National ITT did not go quite as well as I would like. The day before our race, the out and back course seemed cruel with fierce heat and strong winds (that fanned the deadly Eyre Peninsular fires). The following morning we were met with much milder conditions, and not much wind. I tried to peg back the gap to the rider who started three minutes before me, but I had no bunnies to chase with a couple riders not starting who should have been just ahead of me. It was a fairly flat circuit, but with some pinches on the way out, and long drags on the way back. Oenone did a great ride to win by a good margin ahead of Sara Carrigan. I finished 9th, minutes off the pace. I know I have a better ITT ride in me, but I will have to wait a little longer to do justice to my perfect Cervelo P3 time trial bike. This year, with me in OZ, will be a good time to focus on my time trials. Maybe give the Calga circuit a nudge!

The National Road Race was an interesting day out on the bike. The circuit at Echunga is tough! The fast downhill finishing straight is followed by a tight corner leading into the uphill feeding zone triangular loop, and then straight onto the big climb. The climb is about a kilometre long and 10% grade in parts, no corners, just the crest of the hill looming up, far ahead! From the top, the road descends gradually for a couple kilometres, and then onto an undulating road for a while before a fast, fairly open descent leading back to the end of the 12km loop.

There were some early breaks in about the third lap, and then the Nürnberger team took up the chase - But there were only two of them - quality but not quantity! Each time Olivia or Oenone took up the role of setting the pace, trying to pull back the 'mad early break', I confidently thought: 'Excellent, I will be right to get over the climb with them at the end of this lap if they wear themselves out a bit now'.

It seemed a lot of riders were happy to sit back and just let the characters play their parts. With a lap or two to go there were still 30 riders in the bunch (once they had struggled back on after the climb). There were one or two laps when I struggled on the climb, but most times the pressure was not really put on when the damage could be done.

Into the final lap, and up the climb with around five riders over the crest together, Lorian Graham attacked. The move was covered and riders scrambled together on the gradual descent. Sara Carrigan then launched her move - one for the day with solid force and good timing. Oenone led the chase, and called for the rest of us to contribute as we pulled her back on the descent. Onto the undulating back roads and Lorian attacked again. I tried to bridge across on one of the steeper pinches, with Kate Nichols the only other rider going with the break. We worked well for a few minutes, but there was a strong reaction from the bunch. Amy Safe bridged across to us, but the bunch was not far behind.

A little while later Lorian attacked again. Her third attack in the final lap. There was no response - from any rider. The gap grew quickly. I was keen not to be finishing with such a large group, and had hoped that the field would be whittled down to a nice little group by this stage. I had a dig up another steep pinch, Natalie Bates just getting to me at the top of the steepest bit. She struggled with her gears, changing into the big chain ring, the momentum was lost and the bunch was on us. From there Amy Safe kept the bunch moving at the front, and there were no serious attacks. The descent led us into the final kilometre. I was on the right hand side of the bunch, and luckily we seemed to get a good run at the line. Not known for my sprinting prowess, I was happy with 5th for the day.

Lorian deserved the win. She had the brains to save her strength for the business end of the race, the form to ride strongly on the climb and on the flats, the guts to ride aggressively and the self belief to see and take the opportunities that arose. The Queensland team rode as an impressive unit against a field of individuals. They had the numbers with at least five of the strongest ten riders on the climb most laps, and at the end of the day - three Queensland girls on the podium!

I had a painful fear of broken ribs that flared up that afternoon! From the crash in the Bay Series a week earlier, the muscles between my ribs were seriously bruised and painful. It didn't hurt on the bike, but lying on my side was impossible, and picking up my bike strains those muscles and I couldn't believe that there was not a dagger handle visible when I searched for some visible sign of the pain. I was told by good medical advice that you don't do anything for broken ribs anyway - so just keep training and toughen up. A few days later it was much better, so I guess I'm just getting soft.

The Tour Down Under Criteriums for the women had $10,000 on offer, so I thought I might be able to earn a bit of money to pay for the petrol for the trip home! We enjoyed a week of riding in the Adelaide hills, along the Torrens River bike path, and a bit of camping experience. I dipped my toes in at West Beach, but was a bit scared of sharks after the recent attack, and my tan lines were not looking great either (permanent knicks and jersey). I didn't race well enough to clean up in the cash stakes. I worked with a few riders, but the stronger mafia network of Bates, Bates and Rhodes cleaned up, winning all three crits in style. It was an enjoyable week, and a good chance to see a bit more of Adelaide. We headed off for the long drive home, chipping a windscreen thanks to an oncoming truck, just as I realized the petrol money wouldn't last all that long!

I had a tough week or two recovering from the racing, and from having not done enough recovery kilometres, as well as the heat, the driving, and maybe a bit of a bug as well. Now I am back on track, ready to fire up for the Geelong Tour and World Cup and the NZ tour and World Cup in Wellington (and a trip to see my grandmother!). More news soon, from the best of the Australian international racing.

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Emma James (Randwick Botany/FRF) is proudly sponsored by: Welcome to one of Cyclingnews' up-and-coming female talents, Australian Emma James. After two years with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) team based in Italy, and riding in 2004 as a professional with Team S.A.T.S. then Bik Gios, Emma is back in Australia, concentrating for the moment on the domestic scene before seeing where the wheeltracks take her later in the year. "I want to achieve as much as I can in this sport, tactically outwitting the opposition to win. I want to time trial as fast as I can physically go. I want to be a key member of a strong team that can ride aggressively and win and make other riders suffer in pursuit." — Emma James, April 2002