By Dede Demet Barry, T-Mobile professional cycling team
I have always liked Tour de L’Aude as it takes place in some beautiful countryside in the south of France. The race takes place mostly in the foothills of the Pyrenees. There are many small roads that run through the centers of ancient quaint towns or through vineyards or farmland. It is one of my favorite spots to ride a bike. The traffic is minimal, the people friendly, and the climate agreeable.
I left Girona for the Tour without much idea of how my fitness would be. I had trained with Michael and his teammates and was feeling healthy, but I hadn’t raced since the classics in Belgium. Aude was also going to be my first 10 day Tour in four years so I was a little unsure as to how my body would handle the duress of a longer, hilly and competitive race.
The second-to-last stage of the Tour was to be the hardest of the 10-day race with six categorized climbs. T-Mobile started the stage in a good position to go for the stage win and try and gain position in the overall classification. With three of us in the first five and without the jersey to defend we could send riders in the breakaways and force Trixi Worrack’s Nürnburger team to chase from behind.
Kristen Armstrong took advantage of our situation in the overall standings and jumped away forcing Nürnburger to ride a hard tempo from behind not allowing her to gain much time. Petra Rossner, of the Nürnburger team had retired the stage before so that she could direct her teammates from the car on the pivotal mountain stage on Saturday. Petra is a master tactician and it was to their advantage to have her in the car.
After cresting a tough climb, the group already whittled down to the GC contenders and ace climbers, Nürnburger opened a gap on the descent for Judith Arndt, their second leader to sneak away. I realized the gap had opened and began my pursuit with Lungskog hot on my wheel.
Lungskog then passed me like a bullet and I was unable to hold her wheel on the wet, winding mountain road. The group was following behind me while Judith and Susanne bridged up to Kristen. The situation was still a good one as we had Kristen in the front sitting on, and Kimberly, Kim Anderson and I in the second group. Kristen could sit on up front and we could sit on behind as the race leader was with us.
The Canadian team took up the chase and began closing the gap to the lead group. I ran into a little mishap on the second to last climb of the day. I dropped my chain and lost contact with the chasing group. For 20 km I chased them at 10-15 seconds and then finally blew up and lost several minutes. Kristen finished second on the stage to a flying Lungskog and was able to move up a few spots on the overall classification.
It was a pity we were unable to come away with the overall victory as we certainly had a strong enough team to do it. A few tactical errors cost us during the week-long race and Nürnburger rode tactically sharp and had strong motors. In the end we came away with some quality results- a collection of stage placing and two stage victories and a stack of yellow jerseys.
The champion of the week in my mind was Lara Kroepsch. She has never raced a long race in Europe before, or even a stage race with such an international field. She was a fantastic teammate giving everything she had each day for the others and never complaining at all. I was thoroughly impressed with her great attitude and work ethic. Kim Anderson did a fantastic job for the rest of us and kept us laughing through the 10 days of racing.
The team is heading to the World Cup in Montreal on Saturday with good fitness-fitness that will also benefit us when we go to the Tour of Grand Montreal next week, the Liberty Cup in Philadelphia and finally Nationals/Olympic trials in Redlands.