By Dede Demet-Barry, T-Mobile CyclingTeam
Editor’s note: T-Mobile’s Dede Demet-Barry is sending regular reports back from the Grande Boucle Feminin — once called the Women’s Tour de France. This is the first of her reports I am three days and four stages into La Grande Boucle Feminin.It’s been neat to be back at this race, as it presents the utmost challengesin women’s cycling. We will race for fifteen days – starting in S’Hertogendenbosch, The Netherlands traveling through Belgium and into France, hitting the Alps and the Massifs Centrales before finishing in Paris. All the best women in the world are here.I am here with T-Mobile. We started the race with seven riders – AmberNeben, Mari Holden, Kim Andersen, Stacey Peters, Kristen Armstrong, MissyThompson and me. Missy is a track specialist who decided to transitionto road racing this year. She is full of speed and just needs to builda little endurance and get some experience before becoming a super roadsprinter.Amber is climbing like a rock star this year and I can’t wait untilwe hit the Alps to see how she fairs. Stacey and Kristen are relativelynew to international racing and this race should be a great learning experiencefor both of them. They have loads of talent and it would be neat to seemthem have some breakthrough rides here. Mari and Kim are full of experienceand will be looking to finish well on some stages. All in all, it’s a groupwith a great sense of humor and I look forward to the next couple of weeksof racing together.Flat out
The first stage in Holland was flat with no wind and therefore somewhatof a mellow opening to the race. Petra Rossner obliterated the bunch inthe finish after a 5 km lead-out from her Saturn teammates. Her sprintwas impressive, as usual.
In the afternoon, we did a team time trial, starting in S’Hertogendenboschand traveling around the city on roads the width of a bike path, makingmany sharp turns in the process. This made for a challenging race, as wehave seven member teams, and it was difficult keeping it smooth with roadsso narrow and technical.Knowing the course well was key. Rumor has it that the Farm Frites teamrode the course 15 times together the week before the race. I guess thispaid off, as they won by twelve seconds over Team Saturn. They had to bepsyched with this win in their home country and especially because theybeat team Saturn, which had six current and former national time trialchampions in their line-up.Cobbles
Day two brought pave’ and rain over a 144 km course. We traveledfrom Brussels, Belgium to Valenciennes, France covering parts of the men’sParis-Roubaix course. It was a fun packed few hours…not.Actually it was tough negotiating the pave and most of the peloton crossedthe line with blisters on their hands after enduring the pounding of thecobbles. It gave me much sympathy for the men who race over 200 kilometerson the pave in the Paris-Roubaix. I had some bad luck, flatting at an inopportunemoment. It occurred in the middle of a pave section, where the pelotonwas shattered. I was near the front and waited for my teammate Stacey whowas nice enough to give her wheel, but as I was changing the wheels onthe side of the road, another rider rammed into me and this caused a dominoeffect.There were bikes and riders on the ground everywhere and I was not smiling,as I got nailed in the head with someone’s break lever. I have some nicebruises to show for it. It took a while to untangle the bikes and thenI was back on the road with forty kilometers to go. Kim Andersen and KristenArmstrong waited for me, but there was not a chance to make back all thetime I lost on the leaders, so we rolled it in and called it a day.In the meantime, the race was quite exciting up the road, as JudithArndt and Valentina Polkanova powered away over the cobbles and finishednearly two minutes up on the next group. Arndt won the stage and they bothhave a good head start before the mountain stages.Rollers and Petra’s handling skills
Today we passed through some rolling countryside just south of Luxembourgfor 155 kilometers. It was up and down all day and I think the hills beganto take a toll on the riders near the end, as the bunch was splitting onthe queen of the mountain sprints. A group of about 15 riders sprintedfor the win and Zabirova was victorious. I got gapped off on the finalclimb and lingered behind the group for the final ten kilometers.The most excitement of the day came early when Petra Rossner pulledon her brakes while traveling down a steep hill in the middle of the pelotonand her brakes failed due to oil on her rims. She weaved in and out ofriders, keeping her bike upright- just barely. She nailed me in the hipand I am sure made contact with many others as well. Thanks to her superbike handling skills, she held it up.She was a bit of wreck afterwards from the fear of the whole episode.Anyhow, she recovered nicely, got the oil cleaned off her rims and rodetempo with her teammates on the front to deter attacks so that Judith couldget to the line safely in yellow.I am looking forward to the next few days as we get closer and closerto the Alps. Amber has been riding great and is well positioned for themountain stages.