By Dede Demet Barry, T-Mobile professional cycling team
Being in San Francisco this past weekend felt like a bit of homecoming, as it was my first visit to the United States since the Philadelphia Liberty Classic in June. I have been in Europe most of the summer, training and racing. It was neat to see everyone in American cycling gathered for this event. I have nice memories of the race in San Francisco. The last time I was here was to watch my husband, Michael, race through the streets and up the hills. I wasn’t racing much at the time and was attending school so I walked around the course, wandering through the hundreds of thousands of spectators and enjoyed the race from another angle. I sipped on coffees, cheered on the hills and felt the warmth and vibrance of the crowd-this is a truly awesome event and now one in which I am able to take part. I arrived three days before the race and it took me awhile to overcome the jetlag but I freshened up with a couple of good nights’ sleep. By Sunday morning, I was ready to race. The women’s race started early, at 7:30 am, which did not seem so bad coming from European time, but I think it was a little tough for my teammates to rise when the sun was not yet shining. We pounded lots of coffee at our 5:00 a.m. breakfast meeting and were all giddy and ready to go when we left the table.
The course in San Francisco is situated in the center of the city and is one of the most challenging on the American circuit and perhaps in the world. It includes two steep climbs per ten-mile lap, with pitches of 19 per cent. It seems like both climbs get steeper as you near the top, making them even tougher.
The remainder of the course rolls through the city streets, there are several turns and the rough road conditions which make it rather technical. With the density of population in downtown San Francisco, it did not take long for the course to fill with people in the morning. By the second lap of the race, there were people lined 10-12 deep up both the Fillmore and Taylor street climbs. The crowd was propelling us up the climbs as the cheers where so loud that we could not hear ourselves think about the pain in our legs.
The field in San Francisco was quite strong, with Nicole Cooke, fresh off her World Cup win, her super strong Acca Due teammates, Team Nürnberger and all the best North American teams.
Our team T-Mobile Team has been weakened over the past two weeks, as Kimberly Bruckner is laid up recovered from a cancerous tumor removal in her ankle and Amber Neben is fighting a positive drug test from a tainted nutritional supplement. We miss them both very much and are hoping for a speedy recovery for Kimberly and justice for Amber. Their absence made us more motivated than ever to race hard, and we had a strong group of girls at the start line, including Mari Holden, Kristin Armstrong, Kim Anderson, Dotsie Cowden, Lara Kroeptch and me.
It was no surprise that Acca Due tried to take control of the race from lap one. Ina Teutenberg of Team Saturn made the first attack of the day and Acca Due got right to the front to begin chasing. Ina was caught, but then went again and took a group with her, including my teammate Kristin Armstrong, Madeleine Linderg of Nürnberger and Zita Urbanaite of Acca Due. It was a strong contingent and they stayed away for a little over one lap before getting eaten up on Fillmore Street. From there, all the splits came on the hills.
The next lap, Acca Due drove the pace leading into the Fillmore hill and then launched Nicole Cooke and Diana Zilute. I followed them and we opened up a gap. Unfortunately, Diana nailed a manhole cover and crashed on the descent while looking back to check the gap.
Nicole and I hesitated, but then Nicole said, “We have to go together”. I was reluctant, but rolled through with her for a few kilometers before we were caught by the peloton. Later, I heard that Diana never saddled her bike again. She had no broken bones fortunately, but was beat up from the crash. The next lap saw a similar scenario, as a selection was created on Fillmore, but this time due only to natural attrition. There were several small groups over the top, but a smaller peloton regrouped throughout the lap. It was on the final lap, the sparks really flew. My teammate Stacey Peters lead out into the climb and I hit the front at the base of the climb. Nicole Cooke attacked off my wheel about halfway up and I could not respond immediately.
She opened up a gap of about five meters, which I pretty much maintained to the finish line chasing her; although, I was caught from behind by four others in the final mile of the race. They did not seem eager to catch Nicole, but I was. I kept chasing for a moment and then the sprint set up. Nicole stayed away to win with a five-second gap. Katie Mactier and Judith Arndt were second and third. Nicole has shown this season that she is perhaps the most consummate rider in the peloton, as she has been climbing like a mountain goat, winning field sprints, winning out of small breakaways and winning solo. We’re going to have to keep our eye on her in the World Championships next month. After the race, I boarded a plane to Italy with my teammates. We will start the Giro Toscona on Tuesday night – a six-day race. This will be our final race preparation for the 2003 World Championships in Hamilton. I am now sitting in an airport lounge in London with puffy travel legs hoping that I can recover in time for Toscona.