I have to say that I am getting quite use to the glamorous lifestyle of an elite athlete, flitting around the world competing in European Cycling Tours and day races. It’s the second 10 hour car trip I have taken in three weeks and both times it’s been in the back of the team bus with no air conditioning in 38 degree heat, sweating bullets. I mean seriously how much more glamorous does it get!!!
For this bus trip, we departed Italy at 5am and drove north through Switzerland and into Germany. Switzerland was incredibly beautiful and from the van windows we could see magnificent mountaintops, green grass, clear blue skies and lakes, it was just amazing. Eventually, after another 8 hours we arrived in Germany and booked into our five star hotel (not kidding, some luxury at last!!) and then jumped straight on the bike for a 1.5 hour ride. It was great to get out for a ride and spin the legs after such a long trip. It was also a good chance to see the local area where we would race for the next 5 days. The home region to the tour and the hotel was Thuringen, Germany. There are plenty of villages and towns around, many of which are surrounded by fields of wheat and other grains. It’s a really beautiful area with rolling hills, golden fields and these butterflies, which seem to fly around everywhere.
Day one was a mixed bag. The morning started with an incredible buffet breakfast before we headed off to the Amy Gillet memorial which was to be held at the site of the accident (Amy was the Australian killed on a training ride the day before this tour in 2005). Because I really only got to know one of the girls involved in the accident, and only a year after it happened, it was a real privilege to go to the memorial as it turned out to be quite a small and personal service. The road was closed for the memorial service so I was amazed at the serenity as I walked up to the memorial site. Supposedly this road is normally quite busy and noisy.
Because the weather was so flawless on this day, the site of the accident looked really beautiful. It was at the start of a forest and it was incredibly green and leafy and again the butterflies were flying around. There was a large stone laid at the site of the accident, which was surrounded by freshly grown grass and flowers, which had been laid at the base of the stone. The service was beautiful. It was led by a German priest and Margaret Hemsley, an Australian cycling team manager. Amy Gillet’s friends, Natalie Bates and Olivia Gollen, made speeches and Amy’s mother also read an incredible letter she had written to Amy since her death. Many other people laid flowers and wreaths. The service also involved a few songs, some prayers and a few other short speeches. It was a really positive service and the strength shown by Amy’s friends and parents on such a tough day was nothing short of amazing. It was impossible not to get emotional, as the service was so personal and touching.
After an emotional morning the second half of the day was spent preparing for the afternoon prologue. The 3.8km prologue started on top of a high stage. Once I had warmed up and signed on I scaled the stage, jumped on my bike to be held up by a starter. I waited on my bike and watched the time count down and once `0’ appeared I rolled down a ridiculously steep ramp to start. I was so relieved to make it down safely in one piece and keep my dignity for another day. A fall would have been hugely embarrassing in front of a huge crowd. The remainder of the prologue was a flat, fast and technical with lots of corners. It was such a hot, dry day that I ended up doing some serious damage to my throat and leaving half my lung out on the course. After finishing the prologue I had this massive pain in my throat, which took a few minutes to go, and then I coughed the rest of my lungs up for another few minutes before it settled down. The good old pursuitor’s cough returned and persisted throughout the rest of the tour. The pursuitor’s cough is not a fun thing to have. Should you wish to experience it try doing a time trial going as hard as you can. If you’re not coughing your guts up at the end of it, then you didn’t go hard enough.. Try again! If successful you should have a deep, rough, painful cough, which lasts for few hours or more.
During the tour Germany was going through a massive heat wave and everyday we experienced temperatures around 38 degrees with dry, pressing air which made the racing even tougher. After the prologue, day two was a 130km road race during which we spent most of our time going back to the car for bidons (water bottles). Despite the heat I had a great ride. The finish was through a leafy, green valley and I positioned myself well into the finish and placed 9th. Our team sprinter, Jenny McPherson also took the sprinter’s jersey so all in all it was successful.
On day three we had a 122km road stage and it was another hot day. Obviously the German spectators also thought it was hot as there were a few getting around in DT’s cheering us on from the sides of the road. Yup, the male Germans love their meat hangers as well as their skimpy denim jean shorts (preferably worn with birkenstock sandals and socks) but I have to say it doesn’t do too much for me, particularly when I’m racing. Meat hangers and denim hot pants aside, the Aussie team had quite an eventful day. We rode well and did some good lead outs for our sprinter Jenny and gained some points towards the sprinters jersey. Later in the race Jenny was to pull out as she could not keep water down and was dropped from the front pack. The rest of the Aussie team continued to ride well until later in the race another team-mate, Candice, had a fall and had to be carted off to hospital with a broken collarbone. The rest of the team and I finished up quite well and were happy with our rides and lead-outs for Jenny.
Day four was another 130km road stage and it started out nicely before heavy rain settled in just 2 km from the start. The rain was so heavy it was hard to see due to water coming from above and the water flicking up off tyres. It was a little freaky to be in a tight pack and it wasn’t long before someone came down, the fall happened right next to me and luckily the rider fell away from me and I stayed up, a few others weren’t so lucky. The rain continued for around another 30 minutes and then it stopped, I couldn’t have been happier. The race resumed and people attempted break aways for the rest of the race. The aussie girls and I put in some good attacks but nothing stuck. When the main breakaway occurred we were not in the lead pack so the race was pretty much over for the day.
Day five was the double stager and I can tell you now that I hate double stage days! I have done a few of these in the past and they never improve. It’s not so much doing two races in one day, it’s the waiting around in the hot with nothing to do and no showers between the stages!! Very Glamorous!!… In the morning we had an 18km time trial and again we started on the stage and rolled down the steep ramp. This time the starter held me all wonky and again I was terrified of falling. I made it down alive and onto the time trial course which was really great. The course had a bit of everything in it, cobbles, hills, descents, flat, wind, corners. Unfortunately I didn’t make the most of the course and rode very ordinarily. I had these weird cramp pains in my stomach and my legs weren’t listening to my head, which was actually telling them to ‘go faster.’ I finally got to the end of the time trial and then spent the rest of the day hanging out in a town on camping stools in the heat before stage two started. Stage two was a 72km road race and it was 4 laps over the time trial course. It was a good race and aggressive attacks were going from the beginning. I rode better than in the morning, however on the last lap I positioned myself badly leading into the last steep climb and I could not work my way back to the lead pack. I rolled in to the finish with a few girls 30 seconds or so down from the lead pack and couldn’t help but laugh at the Belgian team who were trying as hard as they could to break our pack apart and beat each other. The only thing they nearly succeeded in was bringing our pack down.
Day six was a tough 115km. It went over one killer climb 3 times with the rest of the day undulating. I rode ok, but by this stage of the tour I was getting really tired and the pursuitor’s cough was still lingering which made things a little tough. Attacks went from the beginning but I was in none of these and stayed with the main group. The best thing about the race today was the number of spectators on the ‘killer hill.’ It was amazing. People were everywhere and as we climbed, we were cheered, screamed at and had noise makers rattled in our ears. It was amazingly inspirational and I actually understood how it must be for the male cyclists in the tour de france and other big races. As the race went on rider after rider slipped off the back and the pack was getting small indeed. I stayed with the main bunch though, did a reasonable sprint and finished top 20.
Overall it was a great tour. It was tough with hilly terrain and long stages in extreme heat and this definitely showed at the end of each day on the results sheet when sometimes 10 or more riders would pull out each day. By the end of day six only half the field had finished and a lot of good riders had been dropped. I finished the tour in around 20th position, which I was happy with even though I never got in any breakaways, which was extremely disappointing. It was great to finish another tour and I feel like a lot of things came together with teamwork and generally becoming a better and more confident rider.
Leading onto Killer Hill