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 Ch√Ęteau'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.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

THIS IS THE LIFE!

Bonsoir! In the wake of our French trip Michel has been taking us for language classes. It’s quite probable that we will learn very little and very slowly but he says it’s the effort they appreciate. I woke at 8am for one of two reasons. I may still be adjusting to the time difference or I could blame the staff for locking themselves out the night before (as they are staying in the stables).

They had been up since 4am, completed two walks and even driven to town to see if anything was open. As a last resort they woke us up wanting breakfast. Kate on the other hand wanted her chocolate, but a sudden urge at 5am saw her throw it in the bin. I often thought about retrieving it, instead Lou salvaged out Kate’s cycling socks that we had been laughing at the day prior, obviously she had taken it to heart and parted with them. We were adventurous on our ride today, trying to find a few hills for some intensity. We ride in silence to appreciate the scenery; houses carved into cliff walls, chateaus and local town features. I could have ridden all day it was that pretty but I was due home for my second ever massage, my first last year leaving me covered in bruises. Ath said I was ‘out of whack’ with a ‘tight arse’…but not in a good way.

We are living in a monastery varying in age from the 14th to the 19th century. Daryl could tell you a lot about history but I will tell you the cool facts. Access from the road to our home is via a drawbridge. The housing is surrounded by a waterway and possess’ a huge yard. The staff are forced to stay in the stables while we live it up with the washing machine, and the attic upstairs looks like it held capture a child in previous years.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

GENDARME HARASSMENT

I slept through dinner and dessert, catching the muffin snack between meals and requesting another later in the flight. After 13hrs and a birds eye views of not only the gorgeous Swiss Alps but the hills we may be racing, we had solid ground under our feet again, this time in a dirty Paris airport. With customs barely even checking our passports we hurried through only to wait 1hr for our first bag on the carousel. We all looked like shit, no exceptions.

First I met Ath, a gorgeous and energetic woman, then before noticing Tiff I met with Daryl who had failed to receive his luggage a few days prior, noted to be an experienced at airport getaways. Much confusion surrounded our exiting of the airport grounds. With the AIS 5-seater station wagon already stocked full, somehow we’re supposed to fit 8 people, 5 bikes and 200kgs of luggage into a 9-seater van?? Funnily enough it was Daryl who got stuck in the car park for over an hour; three visa cards and an attempt at cash didn’t seem please the exit gates. In the meantime Michel was illegally parked at a taxi rank to organise Ath, Kate and I a driver, none keen on the idea of a 3km job. Michel was forced to leave when the Gendarme’s started harassing Bel and Lou in the van! French men with guns…pretty intimidating…

After pleading with Michel not to leave them at the petrol station he returned for the rest of us. Daryl arrived soon after and as luggage was being packed, it unexpectedly began to pour. Everything was wet. A 4hr car drive totalled 41hrs of travel and on arriving at ‘Le Grand Plessis’ in ‘Chouze Sur Loire’ the sun was still shining and smiles beaming as we hit the road for our very first ride in France =) Our first meal in France wasn’t so good. I purchased steak, 80% fat and way overpriced. It turns out that they eat at 9pm here and meals are actually cheaper if you eat inside. Because we’re going leanios (attempting to become lean) Kate tried snails and Lou ordered what she thought was a salad but looked like cheese covered tomatoes, because it WAS cheese covered tomatoes.

Friday, 13 July 2007

FLYING HIGH...LITERALLY

Wazza and Greg joined us at 7am to farewell us at the airport. The morning had started off in poor fashion with the toaster and coffee machine out of order in the kitchen. My day got better however after our flight from Canberra landed in Sydney. On transferring to the international terminal I discovered $85 in cash on the ground, not bad for Friday the 13th!

While waiting for our Malaysian Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur to take-off I made some final calls. One to my Dad and one to my Mum that saw both of us shed a few tears. On arrival in KL I made use of the wireless internet at Starbucks to send a few emails and then waited in line with some very foul smelling coloured people for 2hours due to a delayed flight. At 3am AU time it meant we had been awake for 21hrs.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

GOODBYE CANBERRA

After spending the last 9 days in Canberra I think I speak on behalf of the team when saying that I can’t wait to get out. The 2 degree weather is cracking me, the efforts yesterday cracked me, and the food at the AIS, although extremely enjoyable, is also starting to crack me. To ease the boredom Bel and I managed to squeeze in both a manicure and pedicure, payment thanks to our $50 Kowalski Tour winnings.

In our last two days of what we call ‘school’ we have gained knowledge on media exposure and presentation, how to ‘walk the grid’, the ‘pinch’ and of course…how to smuggle dessert into the office when you have officially been told it is not allowed, and then taught how to avoid the wrath after you’ve been caught…nice work Dave! Despite repeated attempts from Bel and I to whiten our teeth it seems that our take home kit is a slight failure. The only change is negative bringing on sensitive teeth that is making anything but ice-cream and my magnificent lunch time AIS pizza difficult to consume. Suitcases are crammed and snack food packed, prepared for the 40 hours of travel time to our next residence in Loire, France =)

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

RESULTS ARE IN

It has been decided that Ruth will not be joining us overseas this year. The doctor’s have stitched together the perforation under her patella and stated that muscle damage has occurred, giving her three weeks until she can even remove her leg brace. Poor Michel had to break the news to her and after many tears, they organised her departure flights back home to her family.

For the past two days we have spent our mornings training and our afternoons at the AIS in deep discussion with Dave Simpson. The people at ‘Perform Group’ have organised a weekly schedule whereby we’re undertaking a course that will enable us to exercise the exceptional team experience. It aims to improve and clarify conversation and promote healthy confrontation. So far so good…it’s actually quite intriguing!

Sunday, 8 July 2007

STAGE 3 CANB: AND SOME LOWS...

Although not a pretty picture, it’s what resulted from the 75km stage. I wish I could shed some light on the devastation but it’s even worse than the picture shows. Ruth, Lou and I worked well to make the lead bunch of 11 before a small fall on the penultimate climb saw Ruth drop her chain. We did our best to bring her back into contact with the four away, but in the closing kilometres it all came undone.

After leading down the violent descent I heard a scream and turned to see four girls sliding toward the rail and contacting hard. Our hearts sank. Lou and I finished top 10, failing to participate in the sprint, Bel arriving a few minutes later. While at lunch Ruth was at the hospital discovering the extent of her injuries. Tests proved inconclusive and I began to wonder if rooming with me was a curse? Jess in China and now this…

Results: Kowalski Tour, Stage 3, 75kms
Results: Kowalski Tour, General Classification
Results: Kowalski Tour, KOM Classification

Saturday, 7 July 2007

STAGE 2 CANB: SOME HIGHS...

Saturday’s 74km road race bought some change to team tactics. The racing was hard and it didn’t take long for the field to split on the challenging course. Ruth attacked on the third climb and put us into a bit of trouble. Bel lost touch due to a puncture, whereas I lost touch due to poor form, finishing 8 minutes down in the third group.

While Ruth drove the pace in the lead breakaway, claiming all 4 QOM’s, Lou had managed to get in with the chase bunch, doing her best to bring back the group of six. They stayed away and our previous GC position was now replaced with Ruth in 4th, Lou in 6th. After protesting some dirty sprint action Ruth finished second to Grace Sulzberger in the day’s stage…impressive.

Results: Kowalski Tour, Stage 2, 74kms

Friday, 6 July 2007

STAGE 1 CANB: KOWALSKI TOUR

Three stages in three days. We predicted pain and rain, and surprisingly we received none of the latter on our first day. It began with buffet breakfast and finished with buffet dinner… that all sounds rather pleasant until we mention the 15.5km Individual Time Trial. To put it simply, I had a shocker. With little equipment and little form I was caught by the winner in Vicki Whitelaw a mere 4kms in, I hardly managed 20th!!

Kate had been to see a doctor the week prior and acquired a prescription for antibiotics. She decided to do a hit out in the Time Trial and pulled up poorly; however, she still thrashed me in 16th, and decided to give the tour a miss catching up on some much needed sleep. In the meantime Bel was showing promise and almost ran a top 10. Ruth was placed second of the ‘Perform Group’ girls, decked out with a time trial bike and disc wheel she surprised even herself for GC contention, finishing 8th, 1:12mins off the podium. Our star of the day Lou, rooming with the sick one, put in a blinder of a ride to claim third. Outclassing Kathy Watt by half a second she’s proved that some serious training since China has put her in good stead for France.

Results: Kowalski Tour, Stage 1, Individual Time Trial, 15.5kms

Thursday, 5 July 2007

PERFORM GROUP TEAM LAUNCH

With the team assembling on Thursday out at Stromlo Park in Canberra the heavens did nothing in the way of greeting us. Some quick individual head shots and a few team photographs were all we managed in conditions that saw our smiles frozen to our faces, leg warmers removed for shooting purposes revealing non-shaven legs and just take a look at the five layers comforting our upper bodies!

Following the media shots we had a small press conference where Wazza, Ruth and I prepared short speeches for the reporters on hand. Some final footage capped off the day’s requirements before we returned home to complete a short session indoors. But first I had to change a tyre; I had punctured during takes, not a good start to the weekend.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

MEET THE 'PERFORM GROUP' GIRLS

Our first experience as the ‘Perform Group’ National team saw the five of us meet at the Canberra airport on Wednesday evening before venturing to the new AIS dining hall for dinner. It was here where we got our first chance to mingle and become enthusiastic about the weeks to come. Let me introduce you to our team members (from left to right).

Firstly...me. I‘m 19, an all rounder from country Victoria possessing some track experience. I also suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder…well inclinations. Kate Mercer, the first of three from the Sunshine Coast, possess’ vast strength on the bike and knows how to deliver on a climb. At 27 she is renown for her addiction to ’Sex and the City’ and chocolate. Ruth Corset, 33, is also from Queensland. With two beautiful girls, now 3 and 5, she has callous courage and speed up a climb. Although a new addition to cycling she is predicted to become the team’s mother figure. Belinda Goss, 23, is our most experienced member. The Tasmanian has the speed to steal victory and seems to draw inspiration from the most gorgeous of possessions, a young lion ‘Simba’.

Louise Kerr, the last of the Queenslanders, is less than a week from 20. Lou is relatively quirky, passionate about her Nintendo and has been labelled our time trial specialist. Tiffany Cromwell (not pictured), 19 on Friday, ventures from South Australia. What she lacks in size she makes up for in domestique ability and is notorious for unique fingernail designs and shopping dependence. With Michel Vermande and Paul Brosnan sharing coaching duties of the team while on tour, Warren McDonald will be our overseer. Also joining us will be the experienced and talkative mechanic Darryl McCulloch and newly on the scene Athalee Brown as our gorgeous soigneur.