By Dede Demet Barry, T-Mobile professional cycling team
After Wednesday’s time trial, I found itself in the leader’s jersey in the Tour de L’Aude, with my teammates Kimberly Bruckner and Kristin Armstrong in second and fourth overall, just a few seconds behind. For T-Mobile it was a great place to be, as it gave us many options tactically.
Defending the jersey is a challenge that requires a lot of work, and for us, it has been a bigger challenge than normal because we are down to five riders here. Fortunately, our team has been extremely motivated and is getting stronger each day.
On Thursday, we did a circuit race. We let a breakaway full of non-GC contenders go away and Lara Kroeptch, Kim Anderson and Kristin Armstrong rode tempo on the front all day to control the gap and the race.
This is Lara’s first race in Europe, and I have been thoroughly impressed by her strength and all the positive energy she has brought to the team. We nicknamed Lara “the fighter” after Thursday’s stage – she pulled and pulled all day, would get gapped on the climb and then fight back to pull and pull again. She was covered with perspiration and crusted with salt, but just kept digging all day. She even managed to make us laugh up front with a funny comment here or there. She never complained and did a great job. Kim and Kristin were ever-present at the front too, setting a hard tempo up the climb each lap. T-Mobile managed to control the bunch and neutralize the peloton.
On Friday, we had a double stage day. The morning stage was flat, and the race played out nearly exactly like the day before — though, unfortunately, our team had been misinformed via radio about who was in the break. We thought that the highest placed rider was only two minutes back on GC, so Lara, Kristin and Kim worked very hard to keep the gap at one minute and then we found out with 5km to go, that the best-placed rider in the break was actually more like 15 minutes back. I guess it was a mix-up in race numbers. We were disappointed to have wasted the team’s energy on that effort, as we could have given that break a lot more leeway, but at least we were in a secure position leading into the afternoon stage, with its mountaintop finish, and Kimberly and I were kept fresh.
Lara crossed the line and came to the van looking a little frazzled, which is normal after working so hard for so many days in a row. She stepped into the van to grab a bottle and her legs buckled from fatigue. She is a tough cookie. She laughed it off, took a nap and was raring to go a few hours later for the afternoon stage.
The afternoon stage was short, only 45km, but it contained a category-one climb and a hors categorie finish. Nürnberger set a wicked tempo from the start until 3km to go, when Valentina Polkanova attacked, shattering the group of 10 to 15 that remained. Trixi Worrack and Judith Arndt followed her and then attacked her in the final kilometer. Trixi won the stage and took over the yellow jersey.
Kim Anderson kept Kimberly and me out of the wind as much as possible leading up the climb. We both gave it all we could in the final, but the others overpowered us today. But the race is still a matter of seconds as we head into the final stages.
Thus far, the yellow jersey has changed hands five times. Today could produce some more surprises, as we ride the most difficult course of this tour, with six climbs and technical descents on very narrow roads. It will be a day of attrition, and the weather could create an added challenge, as rain is expected throughout the day.