Thursday, 20 December 2007

THE SILLY SEASON

And so the Christmas season has begun… With presents wrapped and thoughtfully arranged, under a small and almost poorly decorated tree, the festive spirit is in the air. It seems that everything comes just in time for Christmas. My brother Matt, and his girlfriend Laura, have just moved into their new home. At the age of 18 I am unbelievably proud of him =) He has come a long way since 1992 when I brutally knocked him over the head with a baseball bat resulting in 6 stitches! Then a few years later he went to school and told his friends all about it...via rumour I became the school bully. Also in time for the holidays are the first steps of my little niece Leila (pictured). She is becoming a confident 'walker', with a side of attitude it seems. Despite her devilish curiosity, she is still the most gorgeous thing ever!! Wouldn’t you agree?

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the annual work break-up BBQ. For the past 4 years I have attended and this year, with my assistant in Shannon McCurley (pictured), I was upgraded to head chef. As the locals have nicknamed the two of us Nicky (Shan) and Paris (I) we were out to prove a point. For my first BBQ I was quite pleased. Yes, there were flames and yes, there were minute amounts of charcoal, but by the end of the night when the majority were sitting in the spa drinking the remainder of alcohol, the general consensus was pretty positive toward the earlier cuisine. An early morning to follow took its toll on the trek to Glenvale. I slept the whole way, felt heavy in the warm-up, committed to a very hard race, and managed to beat the boys home to finish second! I’m thinking it was a fluke, but secretly hoping it's a hint of form for the weeks to come. To see how far I've come in ways of sprinting watch the family footage via my Mum's blog!

I’m fairly certain that I have never been more unmotivated to race than I was on Wednesday night at Revolution 2, and even more certain that I have never seen such entertaining cycling! For those that were there, I know you loved it, for those that weren’t; you’re not special, because you missed the best night of track racing in over a decade. The controversy, the personalities, and of course the promoter’s dream crash, made the women’s racing seem even duller than usual. Although the women’s podium was dominated by internationals, there were no real stand out performers. The racing was fast, and I was certainly spinning on my chosen gear, but the win could have gone to anyone… myself not included as I was, how do you say… creeping. This morning I woke to rain, and rode in it for a mere 4hours by myself, and decided that even THAT was more enjoyable than the thought of racing my track bike anytime within the next 12months!

Results: Revolution Cycling Series, Race 2, Vodaphone Arena, Melbourne

Sunday, 9 December 2007

IN MEMORY OF BIG SEXY!

It wasn’t my most successful camp ever, in fact I didn’t even make it up the hills I used to ride at 17 years old, so to finish the week with a bit of a snuffle made some sense. I fear that I am getting sick! The week consisted of long kilometres, plentiful DVD’s and the daily brew stop. In variation to previous camps we had weigh in prior to and post each training session, urine testing every morning and calculated skinfolds. As you can imagine, this wasn’t good for the head, so as I’m climbing Tawonga saying to myself ‘You’re overweight and dehydrated’ there was no wonder I was getting dropped! Then when my skinfolds were measured at 68.9 there were comments like ‘Don’t crack the concrete’ and ‘Why are you eating? You have enough stores for 3 days!’... all in good fun of course! As the Anchorman quotes and pointless conversations drew to a close, so did the camp.

24 hours later... I was in Shepparton. I was never really sure how today would unfold for me. Whether I would have good legs after a week away on a VIS training camp, or whether my emotions would get the best of me and I would fail miserably in the race. Neither occurred while on my bike today, I was simply grateful to be a part of an event celebrating the memory of Scotty People’s, or as he referred to himself ‘Big Sexy.’ How the race unfolded is of no real concern to me, but from a mass start of 200 people, I made it safely to the finish as first women. Although not the World Championships or a prestigious tour in Europe, today meant a lot more to me than any other race I will ever be a part of, it was significant because it was a day for Scotty, and so for Scotty I rode.

I was a little teary I‘ll admit... when I woke up, on the start line, during the race, throughout speeches and there was the time I left a large wet patch on Shane People’s (pictured above) shoulder! It wasn’t because I miss him, as I miss him everyday, in fact photos of him are plastered on my bedroom wall in memory. It was more in realisation of the effect he had on his family, home town and the WHOLE of the cycling community! It was nice to see some winners donate their cheques to a significant Scott Peoples Foundation and to see Tim Decker (Scotty’s sponsor) tear up on the podium. On the other hand, to the disgust of other women in the bunch, some weren't very delighted at seeing a few men lighten their load early in the race! Something a mass start has now introduced me to =P. David Pell (pictured top) went home with the Men’s division and Jamie Crass the juniors. Thanks goes to Mal Sawford for looking after me during the race and best wishes to me on recovering from this sickness I can feel coming on!

Results: Scott Peoples Memorial Race, Shepparton, 120 kms
Full Results: Scott Peoples Memorial Race Shepparton, 120kms

Sunday, 2 December 2007

RIDING FOR A CAUSE

After dinner and a 2am finish I woke early to ride through to Glenvale. A little tired, sore and suffering ‘pursuiter’s cough’ I managed to dodge the two crashes in the final lap before packing up my bike to head to the airport. After a flight cancellation, security scare and 8hours of waiting I finally made it to Adelaide for my AIS induction =) I have secured a visiting scholarship that sees me riding for the National Team domestically in Feb-March and internationally June-Sept. There was no time for celebrations with less than 24hours in the state before flying home to partake in the Great Victorian Bike Ride with the Diabetes Foundation! I skipped on the camping, socialised as I do best, and took advantage of the fulsome meals. With an abundance of media commitments and 500kms in 4 days, I was feeling the heat, or was it sunburn??
Friday afternoon saw me say goodbye to the Diabetes team before the trek to northern Victoria for my first race of the season. The Tour of Bright was to be as punishing as always, and after the bike rack (bikes included) had been spotted on our rear windscreen I was afraid that my Bianchi would never make it there in one piece! We would soon discover that the racks were never secured... oops... Saturday morning had me tackling Tawonga with no real obvious form, lucky to have my other leg intact after the descent! I was pleased with the afternoon session considering the lack of disc wheel and time trial bike, but that power certainly didn’t transfer to Hotham. Sunday could only be described as hard. I was dropped at ‘The Meg’ 5kms in before chasing back to the group, and this was to happen all the way to the summit. A VERY busy week has left me exhausted and keen for a break... NOT a training camp!

Results: Tour of Bright, Stage 1, Ovens - Bright, 79.2 kms
Results: Tour of Bright, Stage 2, Individual Time Trial, 15.7 kms
Results: Tour of Bright, Stage 3, Bright - Mount Hotham, 58.0 kms
Results: Tour of Bright, General Classification

Saturday, 24 November 2007

DEFINITELY A ROADIE

December this year is significant for many reasons. It celebrates four years of riding, the anniversary of my brutal crash, ‘Big Sexy’s’ passing and now the Revolution series! Many think the thought of racing on a 250m track for hours on end is very unappealing, and they would be right. But watching others ride in a circle for an extended period of time... very exciting! Unfortunately I wasn’t in the crowd; instead I was proving that I am in fact NOT a trackie. After 15months without a single track session I was always going to struggle. I attacked in the scratch race with fellow Carnegie member Lisa Friend and was bought back at bell lap to finish last as originally promised. I was again off the front in the points score and despite silent wishes that the girls would catch me earlier; I was left solo for 13 laps, leading with one lap to go. Belinda Goss ended up taking out both races and I claimed second in the points.

Results: Revolution Cycling Series, Race 1, Vodaphone Arena, Melbourne

Sunday, 18 November 2007

TEAM LOVE REUNION

Two weeks since my last entry and in that time two Glenvale’s have been cancelled, two revolution promotions completed, three birthday’s celebrated and three massages’ received. Within 4 days my nieces Leila and Angel turned 1 and 4, and my youngest sibling Kerry aged to 17. Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy the important aspects of birthday festivities such as...party food =( With just one exam to go the motivation for study is running critically low. Combine this with the hot weather and my new blonde highlights then I’m bound to stumble on some unintelligent accomplishments. I found myself exfoliating my hair a few times last week and honest to god I was attacked by ducks while climbing Mount Tassie! And no I don’t have a photo to prove it...

Although every excursion to Melbourne is a cuisine experience for me at the Smyth’s household, I was treated to a slightly different diet of choice when catching up with “team love” (above). In my old track days I was joined at the hip with three girls in Livia Gluchowska, Apryl Eppinger and Tiffany Godfrey and this was to be our first reunion in over 12months! Planned dinner at a vegetarian restaurant...meaning NO MEAT...had me more than worried about what choice of fast food I would have to purchase on the way home to fill the spot. To my surprise I didn’t even get to lick my plate clean because I failed to fit in the medium sized meal, a very rare occurrence for me! By the time gelati had been consumed I was feeling slightly sick, about as sick as I’m feeling right now after deciding to test out my new running shoes on a full stomach...in the rain...with thunderstorms...

Saturday, 3 November 2007

TALKING ABOUT A REVOLUTION!

'Track is back' ... I found myself standing roadside in Mordialloc for 2.5hours this morning repeating this line, and despite the chilly temperatures, many congregated in interest of the Revolution Series promotional banner, or could it have been the free snakes?? Livia Gluchowska, Clint McDonell and Susan Stewart joined me in our quest to advertise the series that begins at Vodaphone Arena on Saturday November 24th. For more information go to www.cyclingrevolution.com.au. To warm up, as the numbers began to die, Liv and I met up with Apryl Eppinger and ventured the few kilometres into Beaumaris for a second breakfast. The French toast went down nicely and when I finally returned home, 7 hours after departure, I was slightly disappointed I’d only ticked over 55kms! A hard week was scheduled for my third and fourth weeks back in training. By the time Thursday hit, the legs were slightly tender but while sitting on the train at 6:30am on my way to motor pacing with Dave Sanders, the feeling was more apprehensive.

We left Edithvale at 9am and suffered our first puncture on our way to Sorrento. On the way home Dylan Boone experienced bike problems forcing Davo to tow him to the nearest station while a mere two continued with their turns behind the bike. By the time we got to Frankston it was raining and the ride home saw me sprayed with water, dirt and grime by passing trucks! As if having to clean my dirt ridden Bianchi wasn’t upsetting enough, I experienced something a lot more painful on the Sunday when I volunteered to marshal for the C grade bunch at Glenvale. The howling winds made my time in B grade quite difficult and I definately gave myself a good workout, but after the hour had passed it was time to do it all again...this time even harder! I was dropping wheels, chasing gaps and found myself taking 3 laps out of the C grade race when my role was to sit on the outer and inform of the approaching A grade bunch. If I wasn’t watching on the sidelines as the pass was made I was certainly in no state to be yelling out to the competitors!

Monday, 22 October 2007

A QUARTER OF A BAY…IN A DAY

My travelling was once again done on the Friday after TAFE. I was to spend the weekend with my parents in East Melbourne on a fold out couch and was pleased to have the Saturday morning free to do some early kilometres. It started poorly when I arrived at Black Rock at 6am to discover the bunch doesn’t leave until 7am! That afternoon, the second of two Portfolio Partner Women’s criterium’s was to be staged in Melbourne in conjunction with the Jayco Herald Sun Tour Time Trial. A massive field of 40 showed to race, with 6, including myself, chasing on the opening lap after missing the start! … From then on I struggled. Nevertheless I found myself on the attack and with a lap to go I buried myself to get away, and then I continued to bury myself just to finish in the main bunch! Rochelle Gilmore (NSWIS/Menikini) took the stage in a bunch kick, with Berry (VIS) in second and Jenny Macpherson (CCCC) third.

On Sunday a promotional ride to be run in conjunction with the Portfolio Partner’s Bay in a Day saw me treated to coffee with Rochelle Gilmore, Olivia Gollan and Belinda Goss in Sorrento. Liz had driven us from the city at 6am in a hope to join with a bunch of willing female cyclists, a general invitation had been sent out to join with us. To our dismay we rode away at 8am with just the four of us, it seems that not one of the 15,000 cyclists taking part were interested! It didn’t take long for the four of us to develop a large bunch of cyclists…on mountain bikes…with camelbacks…and standard shoes… Not all seemed lost, until Belinda got in the support vehicle after 40kms and then I blew a tyre after 70kms, catching the train home and consequently missing the final stage of the Herald Sun Tour! I was in bed by 8pm and awake again at 10pm to watch the tour highlights, but I couldn’t even keep my eyes open for that, feeling the effects of a big weekend.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

RIDE TO WORK DAY

A very misleading title as I didn’t even ride to work today! I woke early to meet my colleagues at the bike shop at 6am for a free egg and bacon breakfast at Vic Roads to fill the stomach for the day ahead. John Kitwood, manager of my bike shop Mallard Cycles, was riding for the first time. In fairly game style he decided to utilize the ease of cleats and as predicted decked it on the roundabout when forced to stop! As promised, the past week has been tiring with training and work taking place everyday. It didn’t take long for me to get used to waking early, dressing in lycra, eating out of a pocket, then showering for a mere 5 minutes before running to the bus stop as I‘ve failed to continue driving! With a week of training under the belt and some hopeful form Mum and I decided to make the trek to Bendigo on the weekend for the opening stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

A Saturday morning ride with the international male competitors had Berry and I complaining about the repetitiveness of their very sleazy and never original pick up lines! A women’s criterium was hosted on the Sunday thanks to Portfolio Partner’s and a small field of 19 fronted for the 20km race. I went out in the morning with Kate Bates and after trying to convince her to compete; I tested the course out myself, a small climb enough to make the race interesting. A few early attacks were unsuccessful until Jenny Machperson (Carnegie) broke clear with no reaction from the bunch. I tried my best to bridge the gap while taking caution on the tram tracks in an attempt to fulfil my two goals; be aggressive and stay upright! Pipa Read (St Kilda) escaped on the final lap to hold off Berry (VIS) who came home to win the bunch kick. I rolled in for 7th, very observant of the lack of power and speed in my legs!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

ON HOLIDAYS

It almost seems stupid to say that as every day seems a holiday to me at the moment. Tomorrow however, that shall all change as I believe I am finally over two weeks of sickness where a cold and stomach bug saw me confined to my bed. A busy week of school expo’s, meetings with my coach Liz Taylor (with her new baby girl Ruby!) and local soccer and football grand finals seemed to run me down. Celebrations with friends have given me more happy snaps but I fear that my next photo may have to be in lycra! To find some motivation I’ve started to scrapbook the Junior World Championships from last year and am reading, for probably the fourth time, the series of Lance Armstrong novels. I know it’s corny but I love him!

Today was a busy one in terms of sport, not for me but for the state. I was jealous of the 250 cyclists that helped to kick-off the CCCC criterium season! But then there were those enjoying the weather for the Melbourne Marathon, the country Criterium Championships, the local Morwell-Glenmaggie and the boys across the Bass concluding the Tour of Tasmania. With new sponsors on board at the VIS in ‘Santini’ clothing apparel and ‘Lazer’ helmets, Leigh Howard and Richard England certainly looked the part when, between them, they raced to victory in 5 of 10 stages! I found a compromise and spent the day counting down laps at Bathurst and with my scheduled week to come I think I was in need of the rest. It seems I’ll be approaching my first races of the season in poor form!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

BACK TO THE BICYCLE

These past few weeks have seen me back to work, sweating it out in the gym, my head buried in school books and a lack of sleep thanks to social commitments. Two weeks back I visited my second home in Melbourne, more specifically the Smyth household, and walked the pier in Mornington for 2.5hours in very tall heels! Kathy Watt, Olympic gold medallist/professional photographer, took some nice shots along the beach for her portfolio. I’m still alive after three driving lessons believe it or not. The weather was treacherous for my second lesson and I actually rang to get my appointment changed I was that nervous! That wasn’t allowed so I’ve found myself looking at the weekly forecast and picking out the fine days to take lessons, this is dangerous business me behind the wheel.

Seeing as the walking was putting me in pain and the owners of the gym think I'm stalking them, I'm now back on the bike. My first day of training arrived on Monday, and I woke to the howling of wind and the sound of rain, typical for my re-introduction to cycling. I’m destined to hate upon the windtrainer a fair bit this season... Last Saturday saw my ‘farewell party’ from the night scene, now I’ll be in bed with prime possum I assume or babysitting my little niece instead of babysitting her mother while she’s drunk. A mega night, a little messy, but a prompt to my return to training. This weeks embarrassing moment: Having to purchase 660 individual Cadbury chocolate share packs from Safeway supermarket with a total price of $1650 and collecting the 5metre long docket! Most of you wouldn't understand...

Sunday, 2 September 2007

CLUB 21...

It’s Sunday afternoon and I‘m surprised I haven’t spent the day sleeping. The last two weeks have been hectic but I’ve managed to catch up on life. My innocent pizza date last weekend began at 7pm and 8 hours later I finally got to bed. I’d been dragged, under-dressed, into town by my 'pizza date girlfriend' Kristy Timmer, insisting on catching up for a hot chocolate at 10pm… very suspicious. I later found that in her devilish ways she’d given my photo to the DJ! This week I went out to lunch with some teachers from high school, Ian and Jenny, and then found out that I have 2 weeks off work as my boss, Gavan Lack, is heading to Fiji! After assisting Mal at Carnegie racing yesterday for duty I rushed home to prepare to party.

Last night, once again under the influence of Kristy and not alcohol, I ventured out to dinner with some girlfriends to celebrate her 21st. After a few bottles it was suddenly 1am and we were boot scooting to country music at ‘Flannigan’s’ with about 15 of us bearing pink 21st Balloons on our wrists… almost embarrassing! I managed to catch up with my twin, Angie, and about 20 people I haven't seen since high school when we moved on to 'Saloon'... she's dyed her hair dark. This morning I tried to wake early for Father’s Day, fairly excited about giving my Dad his laptop that the family had put money towards. He was impressed, but more curious about how the coffee would taste in the new mug we had bought him... I bet it went down well with the pancakes that Mum whipped up.

Friday, 24 August 2007

DAMAGE UPDATE

By the time the plane had landed I was barely excited to be home, the flight draining me of what energy I actually had left after an 8-day tour and a day in Paris. I was pleased to have purchased an item from all 3 airports I had visited on the way home. A 'Paris' mug for me and a 'Paris' lighter for my Dad at... you guessed it, Paris Airport. Then an overly large Starbucks mug for my younger sister at KL, of which I couldn't purchase and was forced to take willingly. And finally a stop-over in Melbourne International saw me walk away with some Clinique foundation for both myself and Mum, although I'm not sure she appreciated the 1.5hour wait on the other side of customs! I didn't buy for everybody... apologies. Physical damage: Migraine. Pain in upper, lower and mid back. Sore feet and shins from walking and very very dry skin when testing foundations.

I had no choice other than McDonald's for dinner on the drive home as nothing else was open. So I went the Deli Choice and afterwards wished I had've gone starvios. After 3 loads of washing and watching Kerry (younger sister) consume a rather large Milo from the Starbucks mug I headed to bed and can't begin to explain the feeling of returning after 7weeks, but I'll try... pure heaven! I've started to imagine what training solo again will feel like and whether I'll long for some company when I'm home alone. Will I turn to Ath to ask for cooking advice and realise she's not there? Or when I'm in need of guidance will I look to Dazza for one of his inspirational Deli-Lama quotes? I've since made some home visits, done some shopping, cooked 2 family dinners and even built my bike with the intentions of riding tomorrow morning. I'm supposed to be in class right now but school was cancelled for the day so I'm preparing for dinner with Big Jim and family, I love Aussie pizza!

Sunday, 19 August 2007

PARIS IN SUMMER WITH A SIDE OF RAIN

Josie and I had been allocated a double bed, my second time while on tour so we quickly stole the opportunity to swap with Ath who had been given two singles. We were in bed early... the next morning kind of early... at 3am! I woke oblivious to the fact that Josie had left at 6:30 for a 9am flight and was starvios, very overdue for breakfast. While the hotel was charging 11euro for a meal and the supermarket opposite was closed we set our sights on McDonalds. Picturing the luscious pancakes you see featured on commercial television at home we made our order. Now picture small pikelets with disposable jam in a squeezie sachet for the same price... we were devastated. So Bel and I scored some milk from reception and filled the spot with left-over cereals and snacks.

After 3-hours alone, where Bel had managed a sleep and I spent my time packing bags, Dazza returned to take us to Paris. He had supposedly dropped the girls at the station at 10am and ventured to set Broso and Ath on their journey to Italy. Instead, all 3 joined in on our Paris adventures. The weather prediction was correct, blue skies and sunshine would NOT be seen during our time in Paris, instead we were greeted with rain and wind so Bel and I, kitted out in team tracksuit, were keen for minimal sight-seeing. We started out with lunch along the 'Champs-Elyse' in view of the 'Arc de Triomphe'. A relatively long walk past expensive shopping arcades and 2 McDonald's bought us to the 'Louvre'. Had we been up to it, the 'Notre Dame' was next on the list but energy was wearing thin and the 'Eiffel Tower' was yet to be seen.

Finally we had arrived at a hideous looking steel structure. By now Ath and Broso had gone home and Dazza was walking the girls to the first floor via the stairs. On the second of four entrances Bel and I were waiting in queue for the lift. An hour and a half later, after we had been to the top and Kate merely to the first level, we were situated at the base looking up at the beautiful light-flashing feature in all its grandeur and magnificence... something worth the wait. The elegance and opulence of the detailed monuments I witnessed throughout the day simply blew me away; the history and legend behind every sculpture had me in awe. So the fact that we inhaled non-traditional chicken wraps and frites later this evening was slightly disgraceful of us. I haven't packed my bike or prepared for tomorrow, nor have I packed Bel's bike yet. It may be a late night... GOODBYE PARIS!

Saturday, 18 August 2007

STAGE 7 FRANCE: THEY EAT FOR 30 PEOPLE!!

With the last Kiwi having retired from the tour yesterday we've had their mechanic wash our bikes, stolen their swanny (Tess), used their team car for race feed and will be hijacking the latter two to take us through to Paris. Therefore a room swap occurred last night to allow for Tess, and don't bother guessing who made the change. I'm hoping that Kate's climbing form has rubbed off on me overnight because my legs never came good as Broso had indicated. Breakfast was our final chance to stash food for our travels to Paris. Tiff innocently inquired about creamy cheese, the host's reply, in a small French accent, was not what she had expected "There is no more cheese! They eat for 30 people! It's not fair!". Upon returning to the kitchen she delivered the left-over cheese, almost apologetic about her outburst. I DEFINITELY eat for 30 people!

We were feeding from 'Hoffman' team car today as Broso was organising the future of our own vehicle. The sun greeted us as we rode neutral up a 6km burg. It felt like Baw Baw all over again, 50rpm in my 23. At the summit we stopped briefly before official race start, giving the American's a chance to go 'pisso', one of them suffering stage fright before the sheltering car drove off. A 'Chirio' girl was next to surprise when, after a small attack I'd made over a crest, we were forced to stop for a train. She unclipped her foot, widened her stance, pulled her knicks across and relieved her bladder! Eww... The tour take's it's toll on ones mental state. Today, while positioned mid-bunch, a French National rep simply threw her half-full bidon at full throttle through the bunch. It was clearly a mistake and she evidently wasn't thinking, the re-iteration of "crazy girl!" very much warranted.

It was tough and almost stupid to be attempting a break when the peloton was travelling at 40kms/hr, but the final day posed final opportunities. I put myself right up there with Barry and his box today and I'm pretty sure I shouldn't have covered that attack by Boyarskaya on the climb toward the feed! Eventually I gave up, participating in the sprint and running 7th, first young rider. That means I claimed top 10 in every bunch kick at the '2007 Route de France', sprinter style! With a final GC of 24th, 3rd young rider, I'm quite satisfied with how the tour finished... expect the use of communal showers after the final stage. We made our own bottles, raced on stolen brekkie snacks, recovered without protein, reverted to self-massage and have handwashed for 6weeks. Now that's an experience you wouldn't find in Australia!! :) This is the life I want to live...

As the day was coming to an end and we approached the outskirts of Paris, I realised that our journey was almost over. I'd been homesick for the past week since speaking to my Mum and it wasn't a secret that I would happily skip on Paris and catch an early flight home. On early arrival at our accomodation, after I had feasted on steak and OJ, we met with Ath and Bel. I hadn't seen Bel since the accident and she was recovering well. The swelling around her eye and forehead had subsided and stitches had already been removed, her arm supported by a complicated sling. It took me a good 5 minutes before I was able to get a word out and when I did they were joined by tears. Soon enough we were both crying and hugging despite her broken bones... I was glad to have her back :)

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 7, La Bresse - Vittel, 113.1 kms

Friday, 17 August 2007

STAGE 6 FRANCE: JUST 4KMS OF STEADY GRADIENT RIGHT?

It was when we arrived at the 30km mark that I found it odd we were stopping for 'pisso' so early. Can we not empty our bladders before the race? In saying that Australia was represented two fold today when both Josie and Lou participated in trying out new and improved 'pisso' techniques. The toughest day of the tour consisted of two Cat 1 climbs. Josie and I had studied the course profile pre-race and decided that she second climb was simply 4kms of steady gradient and that a long fast drag was all that would be in store. However, by the time we had lugged our arse up a non-categorised 6km climb 80k into the race, we began to dread what lay on the road ahead. Tiff was in more pain then most as she had already endured a 20km solo break before the feed, rejoining the peloton after drifting to car 6 in race convoy.

The 'Chirio' girls told us to be prepared for attacks at 107kms. I quietly laughed when I hit this counter as I was surrounded by three who were grovelling to hold the wheel. The first QOM had come and gone, as had 19 girls who were now up the road. Kate had made the cut while I was joined by the remaining 'Perform Group' girls in the second bunch. While starting out on the last 'steady gradient' climb I had comments such as "Bell wouldn't have liked this hill anyway!" and "Butter chick is gonna kick your arse!" to the Futuroscope girls, running through my head. Kate went on to claim 9th with an impressive performance, making her our highest placed rider on GC in 12th. Although retaining 3rd in YR, after losing over 6minutes, I've dropped to 24th GC and cannot help but think maybe I don't pull up well from deep-tissue massage? Or maybe I don't pull up well from 6days of hard racing?

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 6, Vittel - La Bresse, 131.3 kms

Thursday, 16 August 2007

STAGE 5 FRANCE: PISSO OR TAKING THE PISS?

Something usually goes wrong on tour but the 'something goes wrong' part is getting a little out of hand. Not only are we a rider and swanny short, we're also a team car and DS short after a small accident in race convoy today. A domino effect saw Broso run up the arse of the Chinese race vehicle, they drove away with a small scratch and we WALKED away with a bumper, leaving the rest roadside. The American's are back in yellow, keeping the pace tempo for the majority of the 150kms, an average of 38kms/hr sort of tells that story though. At 60kms Lou went domestique style back for bidons but chilly weather meant we stored them down our jerseys. This however didn't prevent others from staging a European 'pisso'... my very first! By far the most exciting part of the race was through feed when a Chinese rider ploughed headfirst, rather fast, into a solid tree roadside :(

The legs must have felt the distance and the longer climbs in the second half of the race, because I found myself looking down to assure I hadn't punctured in the closing kilometre. A tight-right hander preceded a seated sprint, the legs were very gone! So I was impressed when I came past Tiff in the home straight to finish 9th, Tiff 16th. Kate is back to 5th in QOM after running second on the harder climb of the day with no change to GC. A busy evening followed. I was selected for random drug testing before navigating the van with Josie to our next housing. Manny then carried out DS duties over dinner and soigneur massages before bed, knowing that for the first time I hadn't been screwed with rooming arrangements. Massage comments: I tried to be strong and handle the pain while Dazza thrashed my legs, I'm not sure it was such a good thing...

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 5, Saint Menehloude - Vittel, 150.4 kms

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

STAGE 4B FRANCE: CAN I PLEASE GROW SOME TT ABILITY?

With an average of 45kms/hr it was Amber Neben who slaughtered the 64 girls still remaining in the race to take back the yellow jersey for the American's. I believe it was at the 20km to go banner than I began to lactate, and at 15kms that I wished Broso had chosen to drive behind somebody else, and finally at 10k to ride when I hit an uphill incline that I thought I would come to a stand still. There was no out-of-saddle action that lasted longer than 3seconds because I collapsed before getting to that point. With 2minute gaps I was almost impressed when I caught somebody, before realising it was Hyland who had crashed twice that morning. The finish line was very much welcomed and in knowing that our double stage had come to an end, I was elated!

Stephanie Pohl (Hoffmann) extended her lead in the young rider classification after finishing 6th, with American Mara Abbott relegating me to 3rd. My placing of 21st was just one below my performance in the recent Kowalski Tour TT! Kate was half a second behind in 22nd, leaving us 2minutes from a podium finish, still holding top 20 on GC. Thanks must go to New Zealand for allowing me to borrow their trainer, swanny and race wheels for the afternoon :) After Josie had checked off for random drug-testing we made our way to another one-night housing where I was once again placed with Tiff. The flashing lights slightly resembled those you might witness when locating a brothel! But never judge a book by it's cover... aside from the dimly lit hallways, the inner and outer particulars had nothing in common.

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 4b, Amilly - Amilly, 22.4 kms

STAGE 4A FRANCE: I MUST HAVE GROWN AN ASS

It came as no surprise that this mornings 94km stage was quite sedated, aside from three crashes in neutral, the first involving newly crowned yellow jersey holder Rasmussen (Menikini) within the opening 200metres. The wet roads proved for entertainment when I found myself near the front for 5kms of single file gutter action through relatively small towns. One by one I watched girls attack and deck themselves through roundabouts and corners, 5 in total, Michelle Hyland (NZL) accounting for two. She was riding strong and I felt bad for her as they had already sent 3 NZL girls home that morning via train. I stayed upright and in the closing stages found position and prayed that the rain would hold off for the finish.

Another bunch kick saw me place 4th and I'm beginning to wonder if I am indeed growing some sort of arse that brings with it sprinting ability? Rochelle was given most aggressive on the day after starting in the rain and withdrawing after 2kms due to excruciating pain in her shoulder. A buffet lunch put on by Broso and Dazza almost went to waste when Kate and I informed them that meals were being provided on our split-stage. But when presented with a hairy chicken for lunch, which was quite tender if I do say so myself, the girls were still slightly peckish. A drive around the 22.4km time trial circuit seemed longer than expected in the car, and I had no doubt that it would feel even longer on the bike.

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 4a, Saintry - Amilly, 94.2 kms

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

STAGE 3 FRANCE: FACIAL AIR CURRENTS

After avoiding the Futuroscope DS at our magnificent buffet breakfast this morning I couldn't help but think back to yesterday when I had eaten with a smiling Bel, optimistic about racing and in high spirits after being in contact with Craig and family. I didn't say much in last night's report as I was quite distraught about the whole incident. I had gone back after finishing and seen her lying on the ground, head swollen, covered in blood. They had began to cut her clothes off and wouldn't allow Ath to travel with her in the ambulance. As I stood on the roadside crying I tried to predict the damage. Rochelle has bruised her hip and suffered multiple contusions in her shoulder. Bel has broken her clavicle and scapula, stitches now holding the left side of her face together. She is to fly home with us next week, no operations.

Many things ran through my mind as we raced. We no longer had our sprinter, or our swanny, or a full team of 'Perform Group' girls. Dazza has now been nicknamed our 'manny', a play on words with mechanic-swanny and man-nanny, after giving pre-race rubs. It seemed the local population of children under 12 had been placed on bikes to escort us for our 10km neutral section out of town, before we were faced with strong 'facial air currents' (cross winds) making any appearance near the front difficult. Persistence on Menkini's behalf saw Rasmussen (Menikini) and Ugolini (Chirio) obtain a gap late in the race. A 40second bonus dwindled to 7 when a steep QOM 4kms from the finish upset the field. Although moving to 13th after stealing 7th in the stage as first young rider, by no means does it indicate that my legs had a better day. Another transfer sees me now with Tiff, our sleeping quarters upstairs and bathroom downstairs within our room, that may hurt the legs!

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 3, Beauvais - Argenteuil, 101.1 kms

Monday, 13 August 2007

STAGE 2 FRANCE: A STOLEN VICTORY

We've now changed accommodation and roomies. I'm living with Lou in a 4x4 metre room, showering in a bath with use of a fresh towel, and constantly connected to our free wi-fi. This set-up, with Lou on Skype in the bathroom while my Mum and I hog the landline, is now known as luxury. Today was quite eventful with an average of 39kms/hr making any sort of unfortunate mishap a fair nightmare. A QOM at 11kms saw Bel suffer a puncture, while QOM 83kms featured Kate, placing her 3rd in the jersey classification. With 15kms to go I was towing Bel back to the main peloton, a 4km turn past 2 bunches, not an easy task when you consider the speed. At 10kms it was all back together before Josie broke a spoke and Lou mistook being with 'Barry in the box' as a puncture. Bel crashed within 50metres of stage victory after a collision with fellow Australian Rochelle Gilmore. She's been admitted to hospital.

With more teams than tables at dinner some people are forced to share. Last night we adopted a few Kiwi's, tonight Kate, Ath, Lou and I shared with the French team Futuroscope. Those not aware of my bread and butter addiction are obviously blind, and tonight I happened to be starvios. While waiting for our meals I consumed perhaps 2 baskets of bread with smothered butter... standard for me. After some giggling by the Frenchy's I went on to inhale my salad entree and request seconds at dinner. By the time the chef came around trying to barter his remaining six desserts, mine of which I had already eaten and then gone on to pick what remained off team-mates plates, the Futuroscope DS was pointing and laughing at me, signalling a fat stomach with his hands! I was totally offended but consumed the second dessert anyhow :)

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 2, Neufchatel - Gournay, 103.4 kms

Sunday, 12 August 2007

STAGE 1 FRANCE: DIRTY DOMESTIQUE

The first road race of 'La Route de France' and I'm not lying when telling you that I was extremely nervous. The race consisted of 130kms with two Cat 2 climbs, both of which Kate ran 4th in, giving her 5th in the QOM classification. My legs are not as they were in Limousin and although never in any real trouble today, my form is not what I would like it to be. Broso said it takes 3 days to find your legs in long tours, I'm counting. Kori Seehafer, US National Team, was in yellow after the short prologue so when I was involved in a short tumble after assisting Bel over the second QOM, I was fortunate to have the American train put me back in contact with 10kms remaining. Passing under the 1km banner I found myself 5th wheel on the shoulder of Rochelle Gilmore, unable to find Bel in the bunch, hoping that she would find me...

With 450mtrs to race I heard a familiar voice yell "Yep, Pete!" Without turning I hit out down the left hand side and began my lead-out. We experienced unexpected cobbles and a gradual uphill incline with 200 to go as I watched Rochelle come off my wheel and take her first win for the season ahead of Bel in second. Although disappointed that we had come this far to lose to a fellow Aussie, Bel was appreciative, apologetic that she had allowed Rochelle to steal her lead-out. I finished in 6th as the first young rider, excited about my domestique duties despite the loss and walking away with a mere scratch from the fall, on my new Bianchi lever! Still seated in 17th on GC and 2nd YR it was nice to add the Team's Classification stage win to the list with Tiff finishing 12th on the day. Time to eat and the question stands... what surprises will dinner present?

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Stage 1, Fécamp - Neuchatel, 129.2 kms

Saturday, 11 August 2007

PROLOGUE FRANCE: LA ROUTE DE FRANCE FEMININE

Was it some kind of sick practical joke that saw only Australia show for breakfast at 7:30am? Even the baker hadn't arrived so I was forced to wait for my baguette this morning, the first of six I totalled for the day. Ham and mash was replaced with chicken for lunch and pasta for dinner. They even provided us with pastry snacks that we've stolen and stashed in the team race food kitty as our budget is slowly dwindling. From race finish to the hotel I found myself dwelling on the return of our now 7 second shower button and am also dreading the newly introduced 'one-temp tap' that sees us brushing our teeth with warm water. Not to mention that pillows were never provided. Wish me luck =)

When I asked Bel how much time you can lose on a 2.2km time trial she replied 40 seconds. I was hoping that wasn't the case because a 25% cut-off time would see us out of the tour on conclusion of the prologue. Upon reflection by the team it was obvious that we found faults among ourselves over the 3 minutes of exercise. Some of us refuse to call it pain because the lactate never kicked in. We found ourselves arguing over who had the worst time trial, most of us claiming that we were the head of the Hubbard's (a poor bike handler) in the cornering class. From the 84 starters 83 managed to stay upright, with a lone Chinese girl taking a spill. From the 5 corners and 1 chicane I delivered well on... solely the chicane. I'm slightly disappointed with the effort but overly pleased with the result... of 17th... 8seconds down.

Results: La Route De France Feminine, Prologue, Fécamp, 2.2 kms

Friday, 10 August 2007

FINAL PREPARATIONS

It was disappointing to finally discover that the fights surfacing over the need to use the washing machine were in vain. You see the water on our farm is untreated... slightly filthy, so we're required to incorporate washing powder and a sterilised tablet to every load in order to prevent staining. It turns out that Dazza had in fact purchased sterilised tablets opposed to powder; therefore our clothes have undergone a heavy duty water wash in sterilised water, nothing more and nothing less. It's like hand washing your clothes all over again! So when we fronted on the podium for tonight's presentation evening of the Tour de Feminine, we were in fact wearing dirty kit :(

With such a healthy food and exercise routine I have started to lean up. When I flew to Canberra I was weighing in at 57.5kgs, now I'm down to 55, but judging by the dodgy scales in our current bathroom that may be wrong. Either way it's good for the morale! What wasn't good for the morale was witnessing the feast that Ath and her partner Graham cooked up after their return on Wednesday. All of a sudden my pasta, chicken and veggies were looking quite bland and I came to the conclusion that maybe I was wrong when I said I could manage without her? Back to good situations for the morale... Broso had taken us out for a motor pace session behind the car and aside from the loss of heartbeat when a deer jumped out in front of the wagon, I loved it :) Bad morale... the sprints I had done earlier in the session and the rain that dampened my ride home.

After consuming all of the remaining food in the fridge and stocking up on snack food for our 8-hour road trip, we cleaned the house and prepared for a 5am departure. After seating arguments had been resolved we started on our way and just 5-hours in (I think Broso was being cautious after the Michel incident) we met with 'Fecamp', our new home for the next few days. A few hours were wasted at the internet cafe in town while organisation of registration and accomodation went on. Fecamp, despite the queer name, turned out to be a beautiful beachside town. The shores, covered in stones, were lined further up the coast with white-walled Alabaster cliffs, so crepes and frites went down well that evening while seated on the Esplanade.

Our race style accomodation was exactly how it sounds. Three to a small room with semi-communal sink and showers, two of each between six athletes. After changing into dirty kit for a short ride, we then came home and showered to once again dress in dirty kit for team presentation. On discovering that preso's had been delayed for an hour, the thought of extra chamois time became unbearable and I was forced to change into appropriate underwear for an hour of relief. Despite wishes to remain on the water and watch the concert that had been organised on behalf of the athletes, we attended dinner. Ham, ham, ham, ham, ham!! With a side of potato and grated carrot we feasted on the provided pre-tour dinner. Can we not talk about it please? It upsets me.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

LIVING IT UP IN 'LA BEZARDE'

Ath is not up for sale, trade or discussion as our swanny... but we did allow her to spend 5 days with her partner Graham. She has since returned to find that we survived without her and were happy to gain some independence and take on some responsibility for the week. We're trying desperately to entertain ourselves. Kate plays UNO with Tiff until she wins, while Dazza has shaved his head. Well Broso shaved it against Dazza's will and then left a rat's tail that looks utterly idiotic! We left it for a day and then it too said good riddance. It is quickly growing back. He sought revenge and had us undergo lessons on how to clean our bikes. Splashing around in soapy water and gumboots was more fun than I remember! I'll get him back while he's sleeping on a matress on the loungeroom floor...

We've had some unbelievably hot days whereby I had no choice but to cake the whole body in sunscreen, jeopardising my tanning time but preventing the likelihood of skin cancer. These are usually followed by a few cold days whereby the washing is to dry in our room. It's that time of our stay, just as we are almost preparing to leave, that we have settled into a routine. Walk's and stretching sessions have been incorporated into our daily regimes and everybody seems to have their head either buried in the pillow for an afternoon nap, or into a good book. I wait every morning for Broso to get reception so that I can receive updates on the Junior World Championships and it's good to know the Aussie's are riding well. Travis gold IP & Scratch, O'shea gold omnium, Palmer gold Kilo, TP boys gold, Josie World Record!

Our training days have been filled with time trial, power or sprint efforts whereby we generally sight a deer along the picturesque roads, something Dazza says is rare in France despite the evident warning signs. Generally we do extra's, sometimes by mistake when Dazza takes roads that aren't actually on the map or sometimes because Broso decides that 4.5hours in the rain is considered fun. Afternoon excursions are planned by Dazza with Chateau's, art shows and shopping complexes on the menu, although I often stay back to converse with my Mum for hours on end. The final member of our team for Tour de Feminine has finally arrived in Josie Loane. At 27, the Queenslander has joined us from the women's AIS squad, a breath of fresh air to the team bringing with her new stories.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BIG JIM!! :)

Happy 49th Birthday to Big Jim (for yesterday) :) Although I wish I could be there to celebrate with chocolate and Pizza I know you will somehow manage all of that without me... take it easy on the Chomps! Having no commitments is different for me, giving me time to think about the important things such as my health and well-being. The worst thing I've eaten in the past two days is a dry biscuit spread with honey. I'm cooking some feasts that hold me in good stead for cooking duties when I return home. Mum... I think I actually like salad! I spend my days salivating over the meal to come; surely this is some kind of unhealthy disease?

We took the most direct roads to our hill of SE (strength endurance) effort selection, travelling via 'Harriet' the horse and journeying past Dazza's new woman whom he described as 'the filthy bikini-wearing female with good legs and a nice rack'. We're trying to set him up but may have to look a little farther. It felt good to incorporate some intensity back into the program but needless to say we were jealous when riding past Ath enjoying coffee and pastries in the sun. Today marks our 30th day as a team and although not a special milestone the coaches will find anything to celebrate. So off to dinner they went... without us! We've given Dazza an age range to work with, 18-80 years seemed pretty comfortable. He fancied the waitress at dinner I heard but she was only 12 so it was back to Mary, who turns out to be British.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

TRADING DS

'La Maison De Camille', located in 'Rue La Bezarde', has a population of 20, and at the moment that head count includes the eight of us, Dazza's new girlfriend, and our new team mascot up the road. It just so happens that our mascot 'Harriet' who seems to be a horse crossed donkey, belongs to 'There's something about Mary' on the corner. Mary, as we have named her, has a unique dress code, alternating between her orange and blue bikini top. A bra is definitely in order! Our driveway is surrounded on either side by fruit trees. Plums, blackberries and apples all free of charge, it seems the neighbours agree :) Blessings: Washing machine, a real shower, a landline yet no mobile reception, and the opportunity to attempt translation of French 'Passions'.

Staff downstairs, athletes upstairs in the attic. Bel and Tiff have the large room with a TV, Lou has her own room, a bed of which she rolled out of three times last night, and I've joined with Kate for some quality 'Dawson's Creek' time. The renovated farm house is the perfect location for 12-days of away time. Five girls living together for this long could either spell trouble or bonding. At dinner last night after a short ride I decided to trust Dazza's love of calzone... bad choice. Aside from being my worst meal ever, and not being given bread!... :( It left me feeling sick, rated 3.5, so I came home and feasted on the plums in our front yard to relieve the taste.

Today saw our final day with Michel. He was leaving early so we delayed our ride to discuss our time away with him. It was sad to see him go and I think he was sad to leave us, tears welling up in his eyes during our final meeting. He went to the trouble of purchasing baguette and a special lunch this morning, a pastry filled with sausage and egg, I'm told it was nicer than it sounds! We are literally in the middle of nowhere, a ploy to keep us out of trouble. Yet we have peace and quiet, a landline, and coincidently, as the tour finished yesterday, a television. Broso joined us today after a lengthy flight and travelled with us into town for some shopping. Unfortunately everything is closed on Monday's so I found myself taking a tour of 'Chateau Naillac'... the worst 3.50euro I've ever spent.

If you don't include our 24-hour day at the airport or our adventurous 'day we no longer speak of' drive with Michel, then today is officially our very first day off since we received our contracts. Lou and Tiff chose to wake early for a short spin while Kate and I decided to sleep until we could sleep no more; turns out we can sleep for a while! After a full body massage I got into the landline trend and spoke to my Mum for the first time in 18 days! We spoke of Big Brother, cycling and my little niece Leila Lee who is now crawling everywhere... you know... the important things. Dazza organised a scenic tour of the local Château's while Ath prepared dinner, a simple plate of steak and veggies that tasted a whole heap better than MY version of simple steak and veggies.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

STAGE 4 LIMOUSIN: COMING INTO FORM

We had been at race start for less than 10 minutes when Dazza came racing down the hill with a package in hand. He seemed excited, as were we when we discovered what the package contained... a range of desserts to feast on at the conclusion of the tour, mere hours away. For the first time we didn't have to use squatters and for the first time we didn't get lost. Michel's last day as DS was becoming perfection. The racing was diverse with 9 girls off the front early in the race. Only 7 were strong enough to stay away and while the chase was on down the descent the field split. A newly sealed gravel section among goat-track sized roads posed a set back for some and didn't help the already vigourous chasing. It wasn't until an obvious lull from 50-80kms arrived that Bel and Lou had an opportunity to regain contact.

Mayhem hit over the final QOM and with GC contenders up the road it was a race for the young rider. I bridged to a group going away on the final QOM but when it all came together I was forced to settle for the loss. I can safely say that I almost literally died while trying. Four Perform Group girls, despite not sprinting, had finished in the top 25, over 8 mins off Buba's stage winning time. Bel rolled in with her profanity friend from Bretagne Tour in a following group. I was pretty ecstatic with 15th on GC, 2nd young rider but most importantly my efforts throughout the tour. A Belgian bath and we were back on the road. We celebrated for dinner, not with alcohol as we were all too buckled and would have been pissed as beer seems to be 7.9% here... instead with steak, frites and tomato sauce. I'm excited about our new house, I'm also starving so we just cracked open dessert :)

Results: Tour Feminin en Limousin, Stage 4, Egletons, 113 kms

Saturday, 28 July 2007

STAGE 3 LIMOUSIN: JUICY JUCIY!

Let it be noted that Daryl seemed less inclined to spend his durable hours alone in the car park last night. At first I thought it may be heat or hunger, then it occurred to me that he's simply missing the company of both Roffus and Therme DS Yanika. Michel claims he saw her first, but Daryl has had the keen eye from the start, maybe it's love on tour?? We almost managed a direct drive to the race today, a feat in itslef. Not only did I wake up in the most favourite of my accomodations so far, but I voted that the small cobbled town where we started today was my favourite, so I was grateful to loop through the finish line numerous times. I was sitting third in the young rider classification at the start of the stage, 6 seconds down, so my job was to improve on that if the opportunity arose.

My legs felt 'juicy' so I was grateful today was the tour's flattest. Still 4 QOM's and 3 sprints with just the final climb seeing a split in the peloton. Tiff, Kate and I endured a brief chase to regain the leaders with 20kms to go while Lou made contact with the latter bunch. Bel recovered after some skilful work through the convoy before finding herself in some trouble with 5kms to race. It was here the field divided again as a group of 4 girls made their way off the front, another 2 followed and with 500 mtrs to race the 6 were still clear. A physical final corner approached quickly as did the rain. I found my way through wheels and launched for the uphill sprint to home, receiving 7th in the stage. Kate and Tiff were four seconds down in the peloton after a few attempts to get away with Lou also present, yet seeming mentally fatigued today. One more day to go! Does four days seem short to you?

Results: Tour Feminin en Limousin, Stage 3, Saint-Yrieix-La-Perche, 107 kms

Friday, 27 July 2007

STAGE 2 LIMOUSIN: TOUR FEMININ EN LIMOUSIN

For the next three nights we can be found on level 3 at the home of a local school. This time I'll be rooming with Ath and Kate, all of us having previously admitted to our poor sleeping tendencies. Daryl's suitcase has finally arrived thanks to Liv Gollan however his toolbox remains unseen. I used to wonder how he managed with three shirts all this time, seems that's all he had packed anyway. It came as no shock that the terrain for Limousin resembled the immediate landscape we had been neighbouring at our previous location. The one hour drive made it difficult to assume that we had escaped the climbs. Faced with a heated sun and 110kms of racing, I can say most were dreading the 4 QOM's and 3 sprints in the first 60kms! I on the other hand was eager :)

At 14kms the peloton split into three bunches... the leaders, the chase group and the hoop group. Tiff and I had positioned well and found ourselves up the front and it wasn't long before Kate and Lou had joined us. The pace eased mid race after we admitted defeat from Svetlana Bubnenkova and Sigrid Corneo, who simply rode away from us, 10 minutes away it seems. Four laps of a 12km circuit became monotonous and Daryl even found himself asleep in the follow car for 25kms of it! The sprint was sketchy but I participated none the less and ran 7th in the stage, the others safely in the bunch with Bel utilising some training time. Tired, hungry and a little sunburnt I'm ready to retire... to bed I mean.

Results: Tour Feminin en Limousin, Stage 2, Saint-Sulpice-Le-Gueretois, 110 kms

Thursday, 26 July 2007

STAGE 1 LIMOUSIN: PLAGUED BY THE CURSE!

We woke to the alarm, rode in the sunshine, scrutinized our king sized detailed maps, then jammed our large amounts of luggage into the limited space we have available. We prayed not to get lost... again. The time has come once more to say goodbye to our washing machine and hello to the world of hand washing. We were on the road to Limousin to begin our second tour :) Before breakfast Ath had headed down to the shops to purchase fresh bread, milk and bananas as she has every morning. A few toots cautioned her off the road, followed by a friendly wave from the bread delivery man. Turnes out he has a thing for her and later on was performing one arm push-ups in an attempt to impress! Michel was more impressive when he discovered a small teaspoon blocking our troubled drain.

I felt pretty average during my efforts this morning and required a kip after a short shopping expedition in Limoges. Checking into our accomodation saw neat rooms, Australia given the disabled apartment before preparing for a 7:30pm race start! The 4.6km time trial course was relatively flat and technical so I decided to take Kate around race line corners during warm up. Coming out of the final bend she locked up her back brakes, as did the car headed right for her! Once again the curse came to mind. A small bruise on the leg and some re-adjustments were all that resulted. I was happy with my efforts, thankful that on Kate's dreaded corner I simply scraped my pedal as an alternative to colliding with the oncoming runners. The curse returned in warm down. I lost my back wheel over a cable and fell onto Kate who then fell into the barrier, how professional! That aside, with lack of equipment we all finished first page.

Results: Tour Feminin en Limousin, Stage 1, Limoges-Landouge, 4.6 kms

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

RAIN & SHINE...

It rained, all day and all night for 24 hours. When the rain eased we rode our bikes and although the terrain and surroundings are gorgeous we spent most of our time perched at the window staring out at the lake, generally with Daryl's three items of clothing flapping in the wind as his suitcase is still yet to arrive. Memories of Ath's meal in Loire flooded back yesterday after the five of us cooked the most magnificent banquet consisting of quality steak cascaded with mushroom sauce and accompanied by potato, spinach and vegetables, with tomato on baguette for entree. The kind of meal that keep you hungry even when your stomach was satisfied. Mum... you would have been ever so proud :)

Today the sun came to greet us and the time spent at the coffee shop that was supposed to be utilized with some efforts, turned into some good baking time as the legs weren't feeling very capable. Bel and Lou finally drew on the bin ridden socks with no reaction from Kate... disappointing. Not by choice but by sheer coincidence, we came across the pictured town. You would think that continuing from here would lead to a climb considering the name. It lasted about the distance shown and was in fact the flattest part of our ride :( Instead, Tiff and I headed up the nearest burg to home, 4kms in length with some beaut views. A few of the girls journeyed into Limoges for shopping while I found some spice in my pile of homework. For dinner, what I thought was chicken didn't quite taste like it and I'm still not sure what it was that I ate!

Monday, 23 July 2007

MICHEL'S IDEA OF ADVENTUROUS

Welcome to flight PG08. Destination Saint Sulpice Lauriere. Temperature 16deg. Total travel time 4.5hrs. We started on our journey to Limousin, van and wagon, in that order, placing Michel at the head of the two car convoy. So let's rephrase that. Welcome to flight PG08. Destination Saint Sulpice Lauriere. Temperature 16deg. Total travel time 10hrs!!! Although disappointed at the inaccuracy of the schedule we were pleased to find a nice patisserie for lunch stopover. The aroma of fresh baguettes and appetizing sweets had us salivating at the entrance and I had no regrets about the choice of my double dessert. The sweets got me through to arrival where we discovered we were one bed short, leaving Bel and I to grow unusually close in the double.

The country house was set along the river in a small valley. With a neighbouring peaceful waterfall and a luscious green park area we were grateful that our few recovery days would be spent in luxury. Still no televison or landline meant that we would be entertaining ourselves once more. Dinner time hit, 9pm, our luck saw us feasting on a set three course meal at a truckie stop where Daryl tried to convince us that men were NOT staring at our breasts. With a delicious salad entree, tender chicken and a sample of everybody's dessert, we were hoping to return the night after, but on discovering the serving of tounge we were quick to come to a unanimous agreement that a home cooked meal sounded pleasant.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

STAGE 5B BRETAGNE: WRAPPING UP IN BRETAGNE

Instructions for the final stage were simple... protect our white jersey. I covered early attacks from threatening young riders and tried to shelter as much as possible on the 2km to the finish that we were to complete 8 times! Bel found herself being bullied in the bunch by the Chinese, in her stubborn manner she refused to me for them and found herself recieving screaming profanities. At one point we were in a bit of trouble after a difficult climb. Tiff was on the front with the Kiwi's while I was chasing hard to tow Bel back on and even further down the road was our jersey, trying desperately to regain contact. It could all have come undone but god was on our side and a bunch kick prevailed.

A quick sweeping bend followed into a long, straight, relatively steep uphill drag, it would not be Bel's day as we had initially hoped. A new sprinter emerged from our team on the most difficult finish of the tour after the grovel up the final climb. Kate managed 4th, just being edged out for the good money. A good result for the stage, the day and the tour. With two riders in the top 15, the young rider jersey and 4th in the team's classification Michel couldn't have been more impressed. So he organised a steak for dinner at our accomodation in Brest, which was conveniently located next to the town of Butt. We ventured into town for dessert in the form of crepes where it wasn't uncommon to eat at the table with your dog! The French do it differently...

Results: Tour de Bretagne Feminin, Stage 5b, Tremaouezan - Plouedern, 77.4 kms

STAGE 5A BRETAGNE: WHITE JERSEY FEVER

Daryl's suitcase is still yet to arrive so our team car is turning into a laundry in the car park and Ath is coping unbelievably well with her swanny duties, the last to bed and the first to rise. Today however we were all up early, and not to use the complimentary wi-fi we had been tapping into. At dinner last night we discussed an ETD for racing as 9am for an 11am start. But this morning we found ourselves waking at 6am and in the car by 7:30... it turns out the first rider hit the road at 8:45am, let's call that a slight misunderstanding shall we? Considering our recent map reading troubles we decided to follow the Kiwi's with the help of their GPS 'tom tom', no longer confident in Michel's navigating skills.

The fifth stage was to impact the team alot as we were now chasing the young rider jersey. Lou, although displeased with her 'gumby' performance in the 8.3km time trial finished in 6th, giving her the white jersey and 14th on GC. Kate impressed after a few hard days of racing and claimed 12th giving her the same position on GC. Tiff is slowly getting her racing legs back after a vigorous training camp in Stelvio to run 25th and improve on her GC. Bel and I used the time trial as a warm up for the afternoon's racing yet I couldn't help but take the opportunity to take her on in the last few hundred metres after catching her out on the road. A buffet lunch filled the spot but didn't do much in the way of calming Lou and her nerves.

Results: Tour de Bretagne Feminin, Stage 5a, Plouedern - Plouedern, 8.3 kms

Saturday, 21 July 2007

STAGE 4 BRETAGNE: NO MORE HOOP GROUP

Today was supposedly my turn and my day according to the coaches, so it was a shame that in the warm up I really didn't feel that good. Another early break almost spoilt my fame so I began trying desperately to get across when the 40km marker came. For the next half an hour I was yo-yoing off the front and it wasn't until we hit the 6km circuit that three girls got a gap. I missed it, but seeing that wasn't an option for me I jumped across anyway. The group totalled 5 with 20kms remaining and it didn't take long for us to swamp the few who had spent a few hours alone up the road. They had a hard day faced with strong winds along the coastline. I was dedicated to the win but to me it was just as important that the break survived because I needed a result. I didn't miss a turn and never rolled through softly but not for a second did I disregard a stage victory.

I was positioned well into the final corners 500mtrs from home and even anticipated that Marina of NZL would jump us from behind. Mere seconds later she did just that and I didn't have the legs to cover it. In the uphill drag I almost claimed second but it turns out I didn't even have the legs for that, forced to settle for third. A podium placing only counts here if you win. Better legs next time! We had only just managed to hold off the bunch on the technical circuit by a mere 8 seconds, with Tiff getting into the domestique work once again for Bel. After winning the sprint for home we're confident that she is coming into some good form and that tomorrow will be her day. I've now moved from 58th to 54th on GC, my lucky number =)

Results: Tour de Bretagne Feminin, Stage 4, Plougerneau - Plouedern, 94.3kms

Friday, 20 July 2007

STAGE 3 BRETAGNE: JUDY LOU GOES SOLO

Hotel changing time! This meant that we were to pack up our suitcases and be prepared to sit on eskys if we couldn't fit our luggage in. I decided to get my stuff down early before Bel's suitcase, nicknamed QE2, could run a riot in the back seat. On my way back up to the 5th floor I discovered Michel's suitcase in the corridor. He had gone to pay the bills and briefly left it unattended. I took control of the potential situation for a laugh and quickly steered his samsonite down to Daryl at the van. On return I couldn't believe how much funnier it was to see a tall, lanky Frenchman running out onto the street yelling for his suitcase than I had thought. A few harmless abusive words were shared as I leant out my window to inform him on the news. I'm sure he'll get me back.

We ate lunch with the competing teams today and were not all that pleased at the provided meal. I think I ate equivalent to a plate of potato and a whole baguette, not the best pre-race food going around. It was raining so we became worried that the usual 105psi that Daryl inflates our tyres to would become 95psi so we begged him not to deflate them. It was decided in team meeting that Lou and I were to get stuck into some EB (early break) action to gain some time for young rider jersey and even a stage win. It runs out that Lou was so overly motivated after her pre-race interview with a French reporter that she jumped up the road in the first 10kms of a 102km race... keen! She was soon joined by a team-mate of the yellow jersey, thankful to have some company on the road.

The glory ended after 60kms as they were bought back by the chasing bunch and destroyed by a counter attack from Karine Gautard of 'Vienne Futuroscope'. She took the stage by 10seconds with Tiff leading Kate out for 13th on the day. In the meantime at the top of the final QOM I had decided to puncture! It was a slow leak on my front from a noticeably large stone I had passed over a few kms prior. I had been waiting for it to occur. I made my way through the convoy to find a sizeable group of girls who had been shelled on the climb. Bel had been stuck behind wheels so we were able to tap it in with the hoop group for 6 laps of a 6.6km route. With 3 laps to go the familiar voice of Joel Pearson was yelling from the sideline. With brother and girlfriend on side they had journey from their residence 10kms down the road. I wish I could have put on a better show for them :(

Results: Tour de Bretagne Feminin, Stage 3, Yffiniac - Yffiniac, 102.1kms

Thursday, 19 July 2007

STAGE 2 BRETAGNE: BUCKLED - AKA KATE

We tried to remain positive throughout the day after a devastating occurrence this morning. During our team meeting Bel screamed ROOFUS! Initially I was confused before following her stare out the window to discover the spotted blur of our team mascot flying past our hotel and over our heads. We think Michel put the hard work on Daryl to rid Roofus of his Aussie ties. The wind and weather turned out beautiful once again so I slapped on the sunscreen to prevent the whole tan line profy cycling fixation. I was in a few moves in the first 20kms that went nowhere before Kate's aggressiveness eventually found her in a large break of 14. The break looked promising with only the yellow jersey chasing hard to bring the margin back enough to retain her lead, giving them 27 seconds.

The French love their loops, today being 122kms ending with 4 laps of a 7km circuit. With Kate up the road we were able to sit in, Lou unlucky to be caught behind a Lotto girl who broke her chain. She quickly recovered. Tiff covered all attacks before lining it up for a lead out in the final kms. I hit out with 600mtrs to go, lucky to stay out of trouble as simultaneously 6 girls came down REALLy hard behind us. I led into the final corner at 250mtrs and Bel came off my wheel to take 4th in the kick and 16th on the day. The rest of us cycling in safely and yes... I lost 30 places in 300mtrs. With an average of over 37k/hr it had been a hard day for Kate off the front. She admitted to being smashed and merely grovelling on the back, but we were all excited and impressed with her performance =)

Results: Tour de Bretagne Feminin, Stage 2, Pipriac - Pipriac, 122.6kms

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

STAGE 1 BRETAGNE: TOUR DE BRETAGNE FEMININ

Today in our team meeting I was nominated team captain, a role that I'm nervous about despite the fact I'm not sure what it even involves. The racing was aggresive so I tried to stay up the front without getting overly involved, conserving myself for the days to come. I was disappointed with my body today, I was powerless and suffering immensely in the heat but bring it on =) We completed a 60km loop followed by 7 laps of a 5km circuit which was both mentally and physically challenging. With a technical course it turned into sprint, brake, hill, sprint, brake, hill with an average speed of over 35k/hr.

When the pressure was on over the climbs I was there, even managing QOM points. Tiff worked hard to bring a break back over the final climb and a counter attack saw the making of the winning break. Tiff led Bel out for the bunch kick where she ran 4th. Kate began cramping in the closing stages while Lou looked comfortable in the bunch. Bel received the white jersey before we corrected the situation and amended her birth date. Ath is amazing and Michel was impressed, while Daryl is too preoccupied with the attractive Therme DS Yankia who nicknamed him 'Chocolate Steve'?? Don't ask... I have no idea what that means!

Results: Tour de Bretagne Feminin, Stage 1, Saint Vincent Sur Oust - Rieux, 95.8kms

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

LEAVING OUR MONASTERY IN LOIRE

Final attempts to dry a load of washing each meant that our suitcases looked smaller to Daryl while he was packing the car, but we’ll let him be impressed, it’s just our little secret. A few hours in the car took us to Redon where we tried to work lunch in around the daily French schedule. Majority of shops close from 12-2 everyday and again around 7, with nothing open Saturday through Monday. It seems that everyday is a hungry day for me, making every day a baguette devouring day. A picture tells a thousand words…although I opted for pizza at lunch. We spent a few more hours scouting town before checking into the first of our Bretagne race headquarters.

We got a workout before our ride in having to lug our bikes and luggage up 5 flights of stairs. On the first level is food, level two showers…where 80% of the time you can catch someone towelling themselves down in the hallway! I feel a bit prudish compared to the French. We’re staying in school dorms so our rooms lack toilets and contain just the one bed. A desk for our laptops and a basin for hand washing has proven them to be worthy of race requirements, despite the lack of a lift... I'm told they don't believe in them here in France! Should I have dodged our 50kg excess allowance??

When it came time to head back to the first floor for a shower Kate claimed she couldn’t go it alone and I understood why when I arrived. The cubicles are small with the door shutting tight leaving little available air. There are two hooks, no shelves and a timer button lasting 10 seconds without variation in water temperature. The positive, we are probably saving water, the negative, having to push the button every 10 seconds! Liz Taylor, my coach, wasn’t lying when she said that it was windy here. Our short ride this afternoon proved that very true. The meals here were better than expected with the choice of some bread, a starter, meal, dessert and fruit all available. Our major concern on arrival had been the lack of security but somehow Michel used his French persuasiveness to have us as the only team with keys to our rooms =)

Monday, 16 July 2007

STILL THE LIFE =)

Firstly I must apologise to everbody that I promised I would contact while I was here in France. If I could guarentee that the money spent on a phone card would be replaced by tour winnings, then I may have given it a thought. But I'm afraid that the only means of contacting you all will be via email, aside from some hopeful verbal conversation to my Mum sometime throughtout the 6 week period, sorry Pip!

After keeping Lou up for half an hour last night with my snoring we woke to grey skies, the thought of rain and what seemed to be a blow up dog on top our team car. We later discovered that our new team mascot, now named ‘Roofus’, had been adopted that morning from a bush after a party down the road had gone astray last night. Let it be noted that Michel is not a fan… During our training ride we performed some wheel changes, bidon changes, lead-outs and even allowed Ath to practise her road-side feeding. Our motivation stemmed not only from the beautiful rainforest surroundings with pleasant towns, narrow roads and a cool breeze, but also from the unearthing of news that Robbie McEwen, Stuart O‘Grady, Mick Rogers and Brett Lancaster were out of the ‘Tour De France’!

Despite riding our last half hour in the rain we decided to head into ‘Tours’ for a brief shopping period and some serious internet time. Negotiating with a Frenchman isn’t easy therefore not many items were purchased, the exception…if your name is Kate Mercer. The drive seemed epic so on return the girls had no choice but to devour an incomprehensible amount of bread. We were always dreading our final night in this gorgeous location and decided to celebrate with a large home cooked meal, thanks 95% to the doing of our soigneur Athalee. Despite the fact we weren’t overly hungry after another bread devouring session, we didn’t hold back on the food intake. And if you had sampled it, you wouldn’t have blamed us.