Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lisa's Mum previews Le Tour de France

El Diablo gets a better view by sitting on Lisa's Mum's shoulders

Lisa's Mum has been hiding in my hand luggage since I got to Europe, and now is the time to dust her off and get her back in action. It's not that she was intentionally hiding; it's just that the summer wardrobe that she'd packed for Italy had consisted solely of bikinis and coconut oil and up until now it's been too cold to leave the apartment. But now that Summer is here (a bold statement, given that we are on day #4 of sunshine and have only just stopped building the Ark), so is Lisa's Mum.

It is less than a week until the Tour de France, and Mum is already getting her Le Tour fantasy tipping team in order and has pitched her tent on the Col du Tourmalet. She is also currently interviewing for the position of Lance Armstrong's new girlfriend. Applicants must be one or more of the following: (a) supermodel; (b) rock star; (c) blonde; (d) willing to wait on the side of roads for indefinite periods during race season. Ability to flash dazzling smile and withstand constant references to Texas an advantage. (Cyclists, career women and ladies over 5ft4 need not apply)

Mum has received lots of fan mail asking for her tips for Le Tour. This has come as no surprise to her; after all, she is practically a member of the SBS commentary team (tbc) and is internationally recognised as Alphington's (postcode: 3078) foremost authority on all things cycling. So here, it is, Mum's top tips for the 2010 TdF:
  • Brad Wiggins, Britain's Great White Hope, will issue a press release at the start of stage 17, warning the British public that despite hundreds of newspaper clippings to the contrary, he may in fact not win the Tour. Wiggins will explain that, whilst the ₤40m budget of Team Sky does buy a lot of skinsuits, no amount of money can ever teach an Englishman how to survive in 30deg weather for 23 days straight
  • Team Garmin will issue a press release immediately following Wiggins', in which the phrases 'sucked in Sky' and 'we didn't want you anyway, you pasty white Brit' feature prominently
  • The suspicion surrounding motorized doping will build after Fabian Cancellara is spotted filling up his bike at a petrol station before the prologue
  • A chink in Contador's armour is exposed when the Spaniard suffers a severe allergic reaction to the cobblestones in stage 3. At least, that's what he claims the epi-pen in his back pocket is for. Contador will be relying on Oscar Pereiro to be his faithful domestique on the pavĂ©, but will discover too late that Pereiro only agreed to be on his team because Contador is the only rider who calls him Oscar and not 'that guy who sort of won the Tour in 2006'
  • Mark Cavendish will win the sprint stages graciously, smile adoringly at the media and afterwards attribute all his successes to teammate AndrĂ© Griepel whom, Cav explains, insisted on giving Cav his place as HTC-Columbia's team sprinter, no matter how hard Cav tried to convince him otherwise*
  • Lance Armstrong will not win, but will use the Tour as a platform to launch his new fragrance, restaurant franchise and music video. The release of the music video will be delayed until after the Tour as edtors scramble to dub over the bit about him winning the Tour 8 times
  • The Tour organisers will introduce a new classification, the maillot vieux, awarded to the highest placed GC rider who is also a qualified pensioner. It will be a closely-fought battle between top contendors Armstrong (38), Robbie McEwen (38) and Jens Voigt (38), although Hincapie (37) will be in with a strong chance on the basis of his first name being George. Yaroslav Popovych may not look young on paper, but after 30 years of living in Ukraine his complexion more than qualifies him as an outside chance
*HAHAHAHA that one was just to keep you on your toes... Lisa's Mum promises that Cav will be just as obnoxious as ever

Stay tuned for more top tips from Lisa's Mum... right now she is off to find the SBS team hotel (left off the email list AGAIN, one would almost think it was deliberate)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Keitho to the rescue

When I got to Italy I thought I was pretty prepared, but there were a couple of things I ran out of time to get before I went. One of them was a pair of compression tights. (These are super tight-tights that help clear lactic from your legs so you can recover from racing and hard sessions faster.) Nah, she'll be right, I thought... those things will be EVERYWHERE. How hard can it be?

Quite hard, evidently. We started travelling almost as soon as I arrived and I learned that people in Belgium and rural north-east France don't seem to have a pressing need for hardcore recovery garments... or maybe that was just in the medieval French village we stayed at at the top of that mountain. Boiled sweets and baguettes, yes, but tights - absolument pas.

When we got back to Italy for some training before the Spanish world cup and Giro del Trentino, I was struck by the vaguely amusing irony of needing recovery tights so bad, but being too written off from training to summon the energy to take the train into Varese to find some. When I did go, I found nothing. (This was a very painful and disappointing day; I have tried to block it out but my therapist says it's good for me to talk about these things)

It's hard to smile when your legs have been ripped off by 50 of the peleton's finest

So then I went online to order some... but the spectacularly random operation that is Italian customs decrees that every fourth item that passes through its doors will be seized and detained pending completion of a four page dissertation in Italian ('customs declaration') and a bag of silver pennies ('import tax') - and even then, release of your package is not guaranteed. My relaxation soaps and pretty tissues that my Mum sent over 4 weeks ago are still in their hands. But I digress.

Enter Keith Falconer, my knight in shining lycra. Keitho works at 2XU in Melbourne and he and his girls FedExed over a pair of 2XU's finest, pronto. What a legend. And they are niiiiiice! Compression wear is part and parcel of recovery for athletes now, and trust me, I need all the help I can get. I owe a big thanks and an even bigger coffee back in Melbourne to Keitho. It's pretty awesome that 2XU are getting behind athletes like this. Not all of us are Olympic champions or celebrity football players but we're all working bloody hard and it's really nice to get a hand from time to time.

If you drop into the 2XU store on Burwood Rd in Melbourne, say hi to Keitho for me, and give him a high five for being such a star. And check out 2XU's range of compression and cycle wear - I would wear it all if I could afford to! And if you are in the market for some recovery pants, I highly recommend these ones, although I do have to warn that it'll mean you'll have one less excuse why you didn't win...

Ride happy

Monday, June 21, 2010

Giro del Torrential Downpours

We've just arrived back home to the AIS base in Varese after a very soggy Giro del Trentino. We got everything - hot weather for the first stage, lightning and rivers running across the road on the second stage, and cold+wet on the third. We are all feeling a bit cheated by the wet weather... I was promised mid-30s and heatstroke by now!! Having said that, Summer in Europe officially starts tomorrow, so I am anticipating waking up to sunny skies and mid-30deg temps from hereon in.

More sunny skies, fewer muddy training rides like these I say

The team put in a strong show for the tour but some bad luck on the first stage put paid to GC hopes. Our GC rider, Vicki Whitelaw, is in stomping form but was unlucky enough to have 2 crashes early on stage 1, the second needing a bike change and some emergency mechanicals. Emma Pooley (Cervelo) won the tour, leading from start to finish after a 3 min solo win on the first stage. This was the stage with the 50km climb... where Emma showed why she is considered the best climber in the world at the moment. She has some pretty good teammates too!!

TE's reps in the women's pro peleton

Stage 2 came down to a bunch finish and our sprinter Megan Dunn was in good position for the win before someone took out her front wheel in the final few hundred metres.

Carlee, Megan and I laughing about what we were planning to do to that chick who took out Megan's wheel in the sprint

The race course itself was very cool and would have been awesome in good weather - some big climbs through the Dolomites, switchback descents and winding through mountain-lined valleys. Locals came out to cheer us on (no matter how far down we were) and we had police escorts and an army of marshalls making sure no cars got on the race course.

On the start line for stage 2

Not much more to report - I haven't seen tour results, but eventually they will probably be posted on the race website.

I do, though, have some pics... enjoy!

Pre-race prep

Race car (with spare bikes on roof) is ready to go!

Stage 3's start was at a chateau

Summer in Italy (thunder + lightning not shown)

View from the chateau pre stage 3

The response Beth received when she offered around the last nutella roll

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Giro de Trentino

Memorial on the top of the Ghisallo pass, next to the church of the Madonna del Ghisallo

Our next race starts Friday - the Giro de Trentino, a 3 day tour in Italy. To say that it is a hill-climber's delight is understating the case. Would you believe stage 1 has a 50km climb in it? Or that stage 3 has a 25km climb? I can't even picture what a 50km climb looks like. Crazy town. We are driving down Friday morning in time for race start at 2pm. I'm excited and nervous. The Aussie team comprises:
  • Tiffany 'Most Elegant' Cromwell
  • Carlee 'Girl from Ipanema' Taylor
  • Shara 'I spent a week on the ergo, and it wasn't even broken' Gillow
  • Megan 'This bike has gears?' Dunn
  • Vicki 'We'll give her back, Lotto, we promise' Whitelaw
  • and myself.
The tour should be good prep for the Giro d'Italia Donne, our big kahuna which starts in 2 weeks. To celebrate, today we did a course reconnaissance of stage 7, which starts in Como (rumours that George Clooney is firing the starter's pistol from his Summer villa on the lake are unconfirmed), and winds around the lake before hitting 2 big climbs. It will be one of the decisive stages of the Giro, as it will be the first super-hilly stage and, just for laughs, it is followed by 2 more uber-mountain stages in stages 8 and 9, including the Stelvio on stage 9. Hopefully the snow will be gone from the top by then... Either way, it will be an epic few days.

One of the highlights of our car trip this arvo (apart from the imitations of French D.Ss on race radio and the near miss with the lorry) was our visit to the Madonna del Ghisallo, a church dedicated to cyclists on the very top of the Ghisallo pass (which is the second of the 2 mountain passes on stage 7).

The church of the Madonna del Ghisallo
The church is one of the most famous cycling landmarks in Italy and, going inside, you could see why. The walls are covered with Italian world champion jerseys, bikes, medals, photos and memorabilia from throughout the 20th century.

The wall above the entrance

Bikes lined the walls (we now know where to find a spare race bike if we find ourselves short during the Giro)

Pilgrims from Australia
Visiting the church reminded me again of how cool it is to be racing in a country where cycling is such a big part of the national identity. I guess this is how swimmers in Australia feel.

I'm looking forward to the Giro del Trentino. I had a pretty crap tour in Spain and it will be good to put that behind me. It is a massive learning curve being here and racing at this level, and learning can be hard sometimes! I am also suffering a bit from coffee deprivation...part of an ambitious (if poorly thought-out) plan to de-caf before race day. I haven't had a coffee in 3 days and I have almost cracked. In fact, I may yet crack, as I still need to get through tomorrow. I have also just learned that the race hotel is nextdoor to an Illy cafe. Well, when in Rome...

Here's hoping for some sunny and rain-free days! We sure could use some... the last couple of training rides here in Varese have been WET.

Ride Happy

Friday, June 11, 2010

Iurretta-Emakumeen Tour (Spain, UCI 2.1)

Yesterday was a tough day on the bike. It was stage 1 of Iurretta-Emakumeen, a 4-day, 5 stage tour in Spain’s Basque region. Although it’s a region which sees very little rain, we have managed to find 4 consecutive days of rubbish weather in which to race the tour. I’m not sure whether it’s the smoothness of the roads, or the build-up of oil and dirt on them, but I have never raced roads so slippery. It’s like riding on a road covered entirely with white line paint.
Stage 1 of the tour was 88km, which sounded easy until the weather + road conditions came to the party. You know that things are sketchy when even the Nicole Cookes and Marianne Voses in the peleton are going 12kph around corners. I think everyone had a hard time finding reasons why they were doing this sport yesterday. One of the Great Britain riders summed it up perfectly for me: ‘I quit cycling around 10 times during that race!’ To add to the mix, the first stage of a tour is always edgy, with people jostling for position and anxious to set up a good GC position for the rest of the tour.

Yesterday Rachel Neylan had some bad luck and came down hard. Luckily she hasn’t broken any bones but did have some internal bleeding which meant a night in hospital, some surgery and a few hours in intensive care. She is hopefully coming out of hospital today. Rachel had a great race in Durango-Duarango 2 days ago and finished 10th in a top class field. Our thoughts and best wishes are with Rach for a speedy recovery.

This kind of racing really makes me respect all the seasoned pro riders, who race in all conditions, all year, and train in the snow and ice when they are home in the winter. Bike races are rarely cancelled due to the weather. A favourite saying amongst cyclists is ‘Harden The F* Up’. Crikey, if some of these chicks were any harder I’d be mistaking them for day-old Italian bread.
This period in Spain is a big racing block – with the world cup, Durango-Durango (1 day race) and the tour, we will have been racing 7 times in 8 days. Between mouthfuls of pasta I’m trying to remind myself that it is all good prep for the women’s Giro d’Italia which runs for 10 days in early July.

Stage 2 begins at 3:30pm this arvo – 114km including some gnarly cols. And I am… you guessed it, rider #13. To follow tradition I’ve switched one of my numbers upside down. I’ve been waiting ages to do this, woohoo!

Ride happy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

GP Ciudad de Valladolid - World Cup #6

When I was little, I had a security blanket that I took everywhere with me. It was yellow with satin ribbon edging, and whenever I was feeling a little unsure about things I would stroke the satin against my cheek and everything would be alright. Over time, the satin ribboning wore away, and even after Mum sewed another layer on for me, that layer also wore through, as more and more uncertainty crept into my world.

Let me tell you, if I had had my blanket on the start line of the Vallidolid world cup yesterday, Mum could not have sewed on satin fast enough to keep up with demand. I was sh*tting myself.

The course was, to borrow a phrase from the race organisers' profile map, 'deceptively rolling'. What is 'deceptively rolling'? Is it that it looks flat, but is really rolling... or does it look rolling, but in fact is flat? Expect the unexpected, I guessed. Which funnily enough was what ran through my head as I picked myself out of a grassy ditch at the 96km mark. It all started innocently enough... the 50kph neutral start, the massive sea of helmets converging and separating, the squeak of carbon race pads and shouts of 'oooh, aye!' every few kilometres. I was a bit starstruck seeing all these famous riders up close, not only seeing them but racing against them. (Actually, to be completely honest all my starstruck-edness was retrospective; the only riders I recognised were those wearing rainbow stripes or the world cup leader's jersey... everyone looks the same in lycra.)
Race poster... enough to make me break out in a sweat
Our team comprised Tiffany Cromwell, Carlee Taylor, Rachel Neylan, Amanda Spratt and myself. The day beforehand we had flown into Valladolid and been greeted by a bleary-eyed Marv who had been driving for 2 days with Macca, Beth, Michael and Laura from Italy. We went to our hotel, had a slap-up meal and went to team presentations in the city square, which involved all the teams being called up and presented to the public.

Vallodolid central, where team prezzos were held

Team Australia

The race itself was an experience. Tiff and Spratty were our annointed breakaway bandits, with Carlee, Rachel and I charged with the responsiblity of covering moves in the first 85km. At the pointy end of the race, Carlee, Tiff and Spratty all finished in the front bunch after launching a nunber of attacks in the final few kilometres. Va Australia! You can get the full results here; I won't replicate the report. For me, lady luck was not smiling yesterday. I got my front spoke broken at 96km by an overzealous competitor and while waiting for a wheel change on the edge of the road (so...approx 5 secs) I inexplicably got rammed from behind by a group of 4-5 girls travelling at full tilt. No idea how but there you go, and it wasn't pretty. I was the only one who got up, which messed with my head a bit. After chasing through the convoy of team cars for a while, and knowing I wouldn't get back on, I caught the grupetto and finished the race.

Tomorrow is Durango-Durango, a 1-day race in the Basque region of north-east Spain. Hills, hills and more hills.We are here for the next week or so as we have a 4 day tour here beginning on Thurs.

The last pic I'll leave you with (on the left) was taken the night before we left for Spain. It's a beautiful sunset, as seen from the window of our apartment at the AIS base.
Enjoy the view!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Getting ready for the world cup

Tomorrow we are flying to Spain for what will be my first world cup. I feel excited just writing that! The Aussie team comprises myself, Amanda Spratt, Carlee Taylor, Rachel Neylan and Tiffany Cromwell. Shara unluckily will be chained to the ergo back in Varese as her wrist heals.
Yesterday's session was pretty epic and fair smashed me. I seem to be saying that a lot lately. We did a bit over 4hrs, incl some hill sprints followed by a race up a 6km climb, followed by some motorpacing. In Marv's words, 'If you thought the motorpacing on Tuesday was hard then this will be brutal.' I was happy with my climbing, but unfortunately when we crossed into Switzerland for the motorpacing, my legs got held up by border control and failed to make it. You know you've had a hard session when you find yourself taking your empty gel packets out of your pocket and sucking them again just in case you missed anything the first time.

My mental image for the last hour of our session

As soon as we got back from training, we had to wash our bikes ready for Spain. Us riders get the luxury of travelling by plane on Saturday; our coaches and staff set off yesterday (Thurs) arvo for the 2-day drive. We are looked after very well! Then it was lunch, some stretching, then time for our Italian lesson. Ariana, our Italian teacher, holds regular lessons at the AIS base which are, especially in my case, much needed to avoid sounding like an American tourist. We focus on vocab that we're likely to need out on the bike. My second lesson involved learning sentences like, 'I have broken my [insert name of bone]', 'How long must I stay in a cast?' and 'I need to go get a gelati'. Hopefully we will use the last one more than the first two.
Today is another recovery day, which meant an early ergo, skype chat with Donna the supercoach, then straight to our local cafe for a caffeine hit.
Me, Carlee and Spratty enduring another hectic morning at Bar Cavour
I feel I should mention at this point that, despite photographic evidence to the contrary, we do not spend every day sitting around at Bar Cavore. It's just that I don't take my camera on training days because it would get ruined in my sweaty back pocket. Having said that, we have ridden through such spectacular scenery in the last week that I think I will have to pack it next time, sweaty back pocket or not.
Our racing in Spain involves the world cup on Sunday, then a rest day, then a one day race, rest day then 3 day tour. We'll be there for 10 days in all, which is a lot of tapas time. The world cup looks pretty flat, which isn't great for us but I think Marv has a cunning plan.
I will try to keep you posted on the racing in Spain.
Ride Happy

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Recovery day

Today was another recovery day, earned only after 4hrs of hill work yesterday. We spent some time in Switzerland during the ride, but to be honest I was eating handlebar behind Marv's scooter at the time so my memories of the country are not rosy. We also did some cool hills work and tomorrow we're going back to one of them and racing up it.

The only riding I did today was to the local cafe for a cappuccino and brioche con miele on the strict advice of VIS coach Scott McGrory (I tried to get a brioche con crema Scott but they didn't have them!). It was awesome.

Some bad news is that Shara is now in plaster after a suspected scaphoid break during our ride yesterday. Hopefully she will be back riding in 10 days. In the meantime she gets to spend the next 10 days doing ergo in the basement in Italy while we go to Spain... without our best climber. Get well soon Shaz.

To cheer Shara up, I have posted some dachshund pictures below. Actually, I just found them then and thought they were funny, but hopefully they will help you get better too Shara. This is what the dachshunds of Milan are wearing this season. Pics taken from Annie's Sweat Shop... Yes, these are genuine hoodies you can buy online for your weiner friend. Have you ever seen a dachshund laugh? Not in these hoodies you haven't.

Velcro is a good substitute for buttons when you don't have opposable thumbs
Even though Harald and Jeremy were a modern couple, it was clear who was the more feminine of the two

Miss Daisy deemed it time for a drive