By Dede Demet Barry, T-Mobile professional cycling team
Saturday’s stage started at the gravesite of Michela Fanini, an Italian rider who I raced against a few times in the early 1990s before she died instantly in an automobile accident.
Cathy Marsal and I were reminiscing about the last race we both competed in with Michela. It was the 1994 World Championships in Sicily. Cathy was in a breakaway with her and they both crashed just a few kilometers from the finish. Michela was a super talented bike racer and from what it seems like; she came from a cycling family. Since her death, her father has been promoting the Tour of Tuscany in her memory and he also manages a women’s cycling team, called the Fanini Team. The leader of the race at the start yesterday, Edita Puckinskaite, is a member of this team.
Each year, there is a memorial service at the start of the stage in Capannori. This year it was on Saturday and the peloton rode in a procession from the start line to the gravesite and a short memorial service was conducted. Rather than a traditional tombstone, there is a life size sculpture of Michela winning a bike race and a small sanctuary that was filled with her picture and many flowers.
Seeing the sculpture was like seeing her again. It brought emotion and tears to the eyes of most of the peloton. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child. My thoughts were filled with the sense of loss her parents must feel. Her father is on the podium each day at the race handing out jerseys and prizes to her former competitors. It is inspiring to see him giving so much to the sport of cycling in her memory.
There were many tired eyes as we pedaled out of Campannori, as we had not finished the circuit race the night before until nearly 11:00 p.m. I heard that a few teams were then wakened by doping control at 6:00 a.m. as well. They came to do hematocrit testing, a process by which they take two small vials of blood from each rider. This procedure is a bit of a rude awakening and occurs often in international races. Fortunately, our team had already been tested on the first day of the race and we were able to sleep in a bit.
The race was fast from the start, as Zinaida Stagourska attacked at the start line and rode the first 25 kilometers of the race solo, with two teams chasing to bring her back. We were lined up single file the whole time. Finally, she was caught on a mountain sprint climb and Suzanne Ljungskog then attacked. Nicole Brandli and Svetlana Boubnekova followed her. The bunch slowed for a few minutes. I think a few teams were looking to each other to see if someone would take up the chase.
Finally, Farm Frites started to chase, but there efforts were not good enough and the gap was growing. Kristin attacked and when she was caught, I countered. I got a gap immediately and bridged to the lead. As I was going across, Nicole and Svetlana were dropped from Ljungskog, I caught and passed them and then I caught up to Ljungskog and we began taking turns together. We both had good legs and were eager to work hard. I think the peloton was tired from the high speeds early in the race and perhaps the circuit race the night before.
Our gap swelled to over three minutes by the finish, putting Ljungskog in the leader’s jersey and I got the stage win!
On Sunday we arrived at the start to see a much smaller peloton. Thirty riders had pulled out of Saturday’s stage and there were several more who did not start on Sunday. The peloton shrank to nearly half of its original size.
This is a sign of the difficulty of this race and the fact that we are nearing the end of the season. For many riders, this is the final tour before the world championships, but for those not attending the worlds, it is the last major international women’s race on the calendar.
The day was controlled from start to finish by Power Plate and T-Mobile. There were many attacks, but none lasting very long. Perhaps one of the strongest moves of the day came from the Zulfia Zabirova with five kilometers to go, but she was caught and we all sprinted to the line. The finish was on cobblestones and was quite technical. Bronzini won her third stage of this tour.
Our team was happy with what we achieved here- we won a stage, finished on the podium and gained some extra fitness for the upcoming world’s.
On Monday, I head back to Gerona, where I will do my final preparation for world’s. My teammates will board a plane back to America and we will reunite in Hamilton in two weeks. I’ll write then.