More Tour de L'Aude
Castelnaudary, France, Thursday, May 13, 1999
I dissed the riders yesterday, saying that there are so many who can't corner. True. At the same time I am impressed by how great all the riders are. So many are incredible descenders. Those who aren't work at it and I see improvement over the years. Linda Jackson, for example, is doing a great job cornering and descending this Tour. Petra, Ina, and Anne Samplonius are all amazing. Monica Valvik, a former World Champion, is completely insane and can go faster than anyone as long as she stays upright.
Yesterday, we started on a descent. At the line, I had my brakes on hard. Plus the start line was immediately! before a right hand corner. On the inside of this corner was a gutter, a drainage grate, a man with a flag whose tip was sticking into the road, and spectators. One of the Spanish riders decided she wanted to be up front and plunked herself on the sidewalk on the inside of the corner. I was right there thinking "oh boy, we're all going down". Not at all, there was no problem. She dropped herself off the sidewalk, avoided the gutter and grate. We all avoided her.The other thing is that:
1) the descents are crazy fast and the turns narrow, bumpy and filled with gravel (A little frightening at the very least); and
2) everyone not getting to the top of the climb (the start of the descent) with the lead group is trying to catch those in front of them and is going very fast.
On the descents it is sometimes possible to see what is ahead. Mostly not. This means having faith in the riders ahead and in yourself to ride whatever comes up. In towns, which we go through frequently, it is impossible to see what is ahead. It is impossible to see corners and to see changes in grade -- like descent-corner-steep incline. The only thing giving clues to possible danger are the gendarmes waving yellow flags and blowing whistles, indicating anything -- a sharp corner, a barricade, a median strip, a particularly narrow road, a bridge. For grade changes, the only hope is to look ahead at the lead cars and the other riders. Even then, since so many of the corners are completely blind, looking ahead is little help. Today, any question, I shifted to the little ring, not wanting to wrench my knee again.
With all of the above, there are few mishaps.
Today was hard racing. Only one mountain sprint but lots of climbing over the 126 kilometer course. The wind let up since yesterday and the sun came out. Julie, Pam and I stayed in the front group. I suffered on the climbs, coming off once -- barely -- and worked my way back through the caravan with Dede, a Russian with a strong jump, and Sybil.
On an earlier climb Jarek gave me a Coke and really shouted and yelled at me to stay with the group. I couldn't not do it with him yelling so loudly. It seems I have a better ability to make short efforts to keep myself from getting dropped. I'll do it once, get to the group, drift back, jump again, fall back, jump again. Oh brother. If the climbs not too long and I didn't start so far back that I need to do this from top to bottom I can make it up with the group.
Giana was up front lots helping Pam and Julie, covering attacks and helping them to position. She, Giana, really is the best team rider around.
At about 65km a French rider got away. This was before the climbs and before some descending. All of a sudden, she had a 4 minute lead. After the climbs, she had lost some time and still had more than 2 minutes. We weren't strung out single file yet we weren't going slowly. She stayed away for the win. I attacked at the 2km mark as we had planned. Saturn was doing sort of a leadout for Anna, I assume. Emily brought me back and then I don't know what happened.
Leah, still tough, finished another day.