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Hello from the Tour de L'Aude
Carcassonne, France, Thursday, May 6, 1999

By Giana Roberge

Ah France in May. The United Sates National Cycling Team arrived in Toulouse yesterday, to compete in the women's 15th annual Tour de L'Aude. This is one of the four biggest stage races in the world for women. Held throughout the region of L'Aude this race will cover 1009.4 kilometers in ten days. We will be treated to a good array of terrain, from the infamous Pic de Nore to the rolling country side of Castelnaudary. This year's race includes two double days, seven category one climbs, four hors category climbs, and two mountain top finish days.

"One of the most frequently asked questions about 'exotic' races is 'Do you get to see the country while you are there?'
No. Mostly no, anyway. Our current hotel, like most of them, is not in town. We are at an exit off the autoroute. We are surrounded by a couple of other hotels, a Giant supermarket, and a McDonalds. The only vehicles are team vehicles and off limits to riders. And finally, most significantly, once the racing starts, our days are filled with eating, preparing to race, racing, cooling down from racing, traveling to the next hotel, and resting. It's surprising how much time a 4-hour race can take.
Yesterday and today, we rode out in the countryside, off the autoroute. On the first ride after unpacking our bikes (ok, so our mechanic did it), Leah Toffolon, a young rider from the East Coast, from New York State even, said, 'This is so beautiful!' Yes, it was, and thank her for reminding me and getting me to look around and think less about how my legs felt bloated and gross from all the travel. The air was still a bit hazy from all the rain. And in the distance, for miles and miles, we could look out at the rolling green hills." -- EE

For those of you new to my race reports, the mountains we climb are categorized by their grade, length and placement in the stage. A category three climb being the "easiest" and the hors category being far too difficult to categorize...

We will begin the race with a 2.4 kilometer prologue in Gruissan. This is a lovely ocean side town; the citizens of Gruissan come out in droves to cheer us in our two minute effort around the short course.

Today, the 6th of May, all 27 teams, with 6 women each, are to be introduced to the town of Carcassonne. Not only does this mark the race with the dignified air of a men's professional race, but it is an indication of the promoter's respect for the women's peloton. There are 15 national teams and 12 trade teams slated to compete, which will make for one of the biggest pelotons I have yet to race with. (The term peloton refers to the group of racers as a whole.)

The US team is comprised of Julie Young, Pam Schuster, Gail Longenecker, Leah Toffolon, Elizabeth Emery, and myself (of course). Liz, Pam, Julie and myself have all done this race before. It will be a new adventure for Leah and Gail. Actually, it will be an adventure for all of us, as it is race which challenges a rider's ability to ride aggressively in the wind, as well as her skills as a climber, a tactician, and sometimes a sprinter.

Our team manager is Jarek Bek; Henny Top will be joining us after the Time Trial on the 12th of May. Our soigneur is Aaron Epperson, whose experience we will be dependent on, as he has done two seasons in Europe with the National Team. Our mechanic is a friend of Jarek's, who speaks no English but smiles and nods a lot.

Saturn, the US trade team, is also here so there will be familiar faces throughout the peloton, as well as people who speak English to commiserate with. I am looking forward to seeing many friends that I made last year, namely Ina Teutenburg and Petra Rossner. My Elita teammates Kim Langton and Cybil DiGuistinni will also be here; and together the three of us will find lots of humor in the challenges we face.

 © 2000
 Giana Roberge
 & Elizabeth Emery
 John Tomlinson
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