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By Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn Cycling team
“Allez les filles! Allez les filles!”The number of French cycling fans that come out to cheer us on continuouslyamazes me. They really love this sport over here. What race director PierreBoué has done for women’s racing is really incredible.When I think of all the planning and organization and effort he andhis staff have put into this race, I really admire the man….even if hedid give us those long neutrals in the beginning.Each day Pierre rides in the front caravan vehicle and when we cometo the end of our neutral section, he’s the one that stands up in the carwaving the big “DÉPART” flag. He’s at the start of each stagehours before the riders and I’m sure he’s the last one to bed every night.During the stage to Courcheval when I had completely come apart on theCol de la Madeleine and was struggling with myself simply to finish, Pierredrove up next to me about 3km to go. I’m sure I had the glassy-eyed stareat that point, but he smiled from his car and yelled, “Keem, Keem! Youmust come to podium after the stage. I have a prize for you!”In my frozen-minded state, I was thinking, “What possible prizecould I have won just now?? I’m a whole Col behind the leaders and canbarely see. But I know I’m not last so it can’t be the Lanterne Rouge.”Turns out Pierre had awarded me the L’Equipiere (best teammateaward) for the stage the day before when I finished third in a break withZabirova and Matusiak. I guess he felt I helped Judith out a lot that daysince she was in the leader’s jersey. I tend to believe my other teammatesdeserved it more, but thanks, Pierre. You’re a good guy.Today’s stage wasn’t exactly filled with a whole lot of interestingdetails to tell. I don’t know if that’s because all the riders are gettingreally tired, or it’s just my mind that is going numb. We didn’t startuntil 2:30 and that was bad news for my body. If I haven’t ridden by 2:30,my body thinks I’m not riding that day and begins to shut down. Which isexactly what it did.We arrived at the start 1.5 hours early and I just wanted to go backto bed. Instead, I walked into a pub and found a phone and called my boyfriend,completely ignoring the fact that it was 5 a.m. back in Colorado. I figuredif he really loved me, he’d talk to me no matter what time it was!And he did. But I’m sorry about waking you up, Chris. I won’t do that toyou again… at least not this trip.The stage was only 87 kilometers and the first 50km, I could not getmy butt out of the back of the pack. My bike and my mind seemed so contentto sit on wheels all day in the back that whenever I tried to move up,there seemed to be this odd force pulling me again to the back. So I gaveup fighting and just stayed there.From my vantage point, I could see Ina working hard at the front tryingto get in a break, but none of them would stick. She told me later shecould only manage those efforts for the first 10km of the race and thenwent to the back as well. It seemed longer than 10km to me!At 49km, Amber Neben from T-Mobile had a brilliant attack off the mountainsprint and immediately got a good gap on the field. She stayed solo forquite awhile but then the field started getting nervous and put in a chase.As we hit a twisty uphill section through the next village, her three teammatesand some other girls bridged up to Amber and it looked like a break thatwould stick. It was a great move.Unfortunately for them, Susanne Ljungskog from Vlanderen had other plans.She believes her only chance now to take over the yellow jersey is by earningbonus seconds at the finish. So she needs to finish top-three, preferably,for her, in first place. So a break that big up the road did not work intoher plans. She had her teammates chase hard but they weren’t really bringingit back. Judith saw the opportunity, jumped, and bridged up to the breakwith just one other rider on her wheel. She’s clever like that. Then Susannereally started to panic and put in the chase herself, bringing the breakback. Now I was finally awake!Chantal Beltman, Acca Duo, put in a great solo attack and Susanne startedchasing again. The four other GC leaders were right on her wheel and Ifollowed them.. When Susanne gave up the chase and there was a lull inthe front, I took the opportunity and attacked, bridging up to Chantal.We passed the 10km to go sign and it looked like the field perhaps wascontent to let us go. Chantal and I worked even turns until 2 others bridgedup…one of the girls being Chantal’s teammate. The two Acca Duo girlstook turns attacking the Iterra girl and me.Determined not to do all the chasing work like I usually get suckeredinto, I did what I could and let Iterra do the rest. It didn’t matter forme if the field caught us again, as Judith could sprint for finish pointstoward her green jersey. Our hesitation was enough to let the quickly approachingchase group of GC leaders catch us with 2 km to go. Susanne Ljungskog cameflying up behind me and yelled ‘MOVE!”in three different languages,figuring I’d understand at least one of them.I didn’t really know which way to move. Luckily I chose the right directionand she made it around me. This woman was on a mission today. She had theGC leaders and some of the sprinters in hot pursuit and didn’t quite holdit out till the end for first. Olga Slioussareva won the stage, takingback the green jersey from Judith. Sissy Van Alebeek from Farm Frites wassecond, and Susanne Ljungskog was third, earning three bonus seconds forthat. She did a lot of work today for those three seconds. I hope it wasworth it.GC as it stands now:
2. Ljungskog, at 0:30
3. Somarriba, at 1:04
4. Pucinskaite, at 1:47
5. Brandli, at 2:20Full results to come