By Dede Demet Barry, T-Mobile professional cycling team
Tour de L’Aude is a 10-day stage race in the South of France. The Aude region contains a portion the Midi canal, which stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and is situated in the Pyrenees and along the Mediterranean coast. This region is famous for it’s Mistral winds along the Mediterranean that make the wind surfing spectacular and also make the cycling quite challenging at times.
The Mistrals greeted us on day one, as we started in the coastal town of Gruissan. Our bikes were tilted all day in the direction that the wind was blowing. My T-Mobile teammates traveled here from America one week ago and were looking fit and tanned from all the hot weather in California, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico. I looked like I hadn’t taken my leg warmers off since last year, as it has been a particularly rainy spring in Europe. The sun and heat had me flying high when I arrived L’Aude.
The peloton contains four past winners, Cathy Marsal, Lyne Bessette, Valentina Polkanova and Judith Arndt. These are riders we will have our eye on, but there are many others who could be a threat here, including the current World Champion, Suzanne Ljungskog, Edita Puckenskiate and Nicole Brandli.
The pace was quite mellow at the beginning of the first stage, but the racing heated up in the crosswinds as we neared the finish. The bunch was all together with one kilometer to go, but a couple of the sprinters decided to take some crazy risks, which caused two scary crashes. Fortunately, none of my teammates went down, and it is a rough start to the tour for all those who did.
T-Mobile has had a string of successes recently in America, with wins in Sea Otter and Tour of the Gila; so all my teammates were motivated to “Get More”. It showed in the time trial on the second day, as we had four riders in the top fifteen, including first and second. I was happy to finish the day as leader, with my teammate Kristin Armstrong just behind me in second. It put our team in a great position for the coming days with so many of us in the top 20. It has been a while since I have raced a long stage and also quite a while since I have worn a leader’s jersey. It’s a nice feeling.
Trixi Worrack (Team Nuremberg) made a super human effort today, attacking over the top of the first climb of the day and riding solo 80 kilometers to win the stage. After her gap had grown to over three minutes, T-Mobile and SATS placed three riders each on the front to chase and it was a struggle to bring the gap down. We added one more rider to the effort with 30 kilometers to go and the Canadian National Team added two riders a little later and Trixi still had two minutes on the bunch at the finish and took the leader’s jersey. It was an incredible effort by her.
Stage three was not such a stellar one for us though, as Stacey Peters and Kim Anderson crashed hard on the descent of the first climb of the day. Kim was able to remount her bike, but Stacey was airlifted away. She was taken to a hospital in Carcassonne and she now has a broken collarbone and several deep abrasions that required stitching. This sport is quite harsh at times. Stacey has to spend the night in the hospital this evening, which is a rough experience when in a foreign country. We will miss Stacey, as she is super teammate and is full of antics that make us laugh each day. Hopefully her recovery will be quick and we will have her back at the races soon.
Trixi is now leading the tour, with Kristin Armstrong and me just behind. We have one week of racing to go, the time trial on Wednesday and the mountain stages Friday and Saturday should be quite decisive, although the wind could through a curve ball our way and mix up G.C.