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Letters from the Big Loop – Stage 12 Amber nearly gets one

I was definitely more awake for today’s stage. Of course it was mainlydue to the fact that we got lost on our way to the start.Directions from the hotels to the start are not clear at all. We shouldhave followed the three other teams that were staying at our same hotellast night, but they all snuck out before we could tag along. Thank goodnessfor the stickers on our car that say “La Grande Boucle.” Randompeople out on the street saw those stickers, could tell we were lost, andpointed us in the right direction. “A droite!” or “A gauche!”We finally found it with plenty of time to spare. But my

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By Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn Cycling team

I was definitely more awake for today’s stage. Of course it was mainlydue to the fact that we got lost on our way to the start.Directions from the hotels to the start are not clear at all. We shouldhave followed the three other teams that were staying at our same hotellast night, but they all snuck out before we could tag along. Thank goodnessfor the stickers on our car that say “La Grande Boucle.” Randompeople out on the street saw those stickers, could tell we were lost, andpointed us in the right direction. “A droite!” or “A gauche!”We finally found it with plenty of time to spare. But my adrenaline wasstill going by the time the start gun went off.We had 112km with a 6km neutral — not too bad, considering. It wasreally hot, a complete temperature switch from just a few days ago. Insteadof booties and gloves, now we needed sun tan lotion and lots of ice, whichis almost impossible to find in Europe.The terrain was rolling all day and breaks tried to go from the gun.But nothing was sticking. At one point, I went to the back and found Ina.She hasn’t been feeling great the past couple of days. Her stomach hasbeen bothering her. She’s tired of eating. I don’t blame her. The Frenchfood we’ve eaten is nothing to write home about. She told me to just watchmyself today and if I was too tired to attack, then don’t worry about it.Next thing I knew, Ina was off the front in a break of seven and wasflying up the road away from the peleton. She sure made me feel lazy! Inaand the other six worked the break hard and they got up to a minute gap.But finally, Vlanderen and Power Plate decided to bring it back, and oncethey made that decision, the break came back rather quickly. Judith trieda couple of counter-attacks but the girls never let her go up the road.It seemed silly today that they wouldn’t let a break go, but certain teamsare still looking for that unearned stage win or bonus seconds for thefinish. Any other time, a break like Ina’s would have gotten five minutesby the end. But not today.I kept finding myself around that same person today. It was drivingme up a wall. And if I hear one more Italian chick yell “Occhio!”Which means “watch out!”in Italian, I’m going to scream. The Italian riderslove yelling “occhio!”at you, as if you’re a menace on the road.And then they are determined to try and fit in a space between two ridersin front of them where there really is no space. And then they cause acomplete ruckus in the field. Then everyone starts yelling.After two weeks of this, it gets tiring. I can just imagine racing inItaly where the entire field is yelling “occhio!” I don’t thinkI will ever choose to race there. I prefer racing with the Dutch, the Belgians,the Spaniards, Germans, Lithuanians, pretty much everyone except the Italians,especially at this point in the Tour. Of course, I still love Italian food.Anyway, after Ina’s break was absorbed and some more attempts at gettingaway failed, Amber Neben from T-Mobile managed to sneak away. I did notsee her go, so I don’t quite know how she did it. I was stuck in the middleof the field and couldn’t even see the front at that point. But it wasa sweet move on her part. With 5km to go, Amber had a minute on the field.But the field was rushing. Everyone was still looking for the win. Thelast half-kilometer of the race was a steep uphill kick to the town ofChateaudun. By 2km, Amber was down to 30 seconds. And last I heard, a chargingStarhuskaia and Ljungskog caught her at 150 meters to go. An American almosthad the win! Amber hung on to finish a very respectable third, butshe deserves a first place medal for her effort. Slioussareva finishedfifth, behind Regina Schleicher of Michela Fanini. I’m sure with her finishthat she has the green jersey wrapped up now. Sergei should be proud ofhis mom!I’m now happy to report that we have just one more road stage in thisTour and then a short 8km time trial on Sunday. Granted, we have another20km neutral tomorrow before our 133km stage. But it’s the last one, soI’m still excited.At first I was going to take back all the nice things I said yesterdayabout race director, Pierre Boué. After the stage, we were lookingforward to a very short 40km transfer to Chartres for the start of tomorrow’sstage. But just before the race started, our director Dave received wordthat Pierre had changed our hotel reservation. Now, instead of driving40km to Chartres, we were driving 90km in the opposite direction to Orlèans,making for another long transfer in the morning.We heard our poor mechanic had already driven the truck to our originalhotel, unloaded all the luggage and was only then informed he was in thewrong place. At first we thought it was just our team that Pierre didn’tlike anymore. We were tempted to drive straight to Paris and just waitfor everyone on Sunday. But then, when we found ourselves completely lostlooking for this new hotel, we drove into a little village that had threestreets running into it. And from each of those three directions came eightother teams that were completely lost as well. Obviously, we weren’t theonly ones.Finally, this nice little old man from the village hopped into his carand told the whole race caravan to follow him. He led us to this beautifulcountry club where we were all staying. These are the best accommodationswe’ve had all tour! I take it all back, Pierre. You didn’t make us spendthe night on a farm like I was fearing. Thank you.Results – Stage 12 -Le Mans to Châteaudun
1. Zinaida Stahurskaia (Rus), 112 km in 2:44:37(40.822 kph)
2. Susanne Ljungkog (S), s.t.
3. Amber Neben (USA), at 0:05
4. Regina Schleicher (G), at 0:07
5. Olga Slioussareva (Rus), s.t.
6. Edita Pucinskaite (Lit), s.t.
7. Judith Arndt (G), s.t.
8. Joane Somarriba (Sp), s.t.
9. Yvonne Brunnen (Nl), s.t.
10. Priska Doppmann (Swi), s.t.Overall after 12 stages:
1. Zinaida Stahurskaia (Rus), at 2014.4 km in 39:11:49.
2. Susanne Ljungkog (S), at 0:35.
3. Joane Somarriba (Sp), at 1:23.
4. Edita Pucinskaite (Lit), at 2:06.
5. Nicole Brandli (Swi), at 2:45.
6. Valentina Polkhanova (Rus), at 12:25.
7. Judith Arndt (G), at 15:13.
8. Raza Polikeviciute (Lit), at 22:38.
9. Amber Neben (USA), at 27:49.
10. Kimberly Bruckner (USA), at 32:49.