Category Archives: Helen Kelly 2003

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 14 – Versailles – Paris 52km

Stage 14 – Versailles – Paris  52km

I woke up to the sound of rain – unbelievable!! After endless days of incredible heat trust France to turn on the rain on the last day.  However, the dreary weather could not dampen the joy I was feeling about riding into Paris.  I had been thinking about today for 2 weeks and I was in awe of girls that have ridden this tour several times over.

We drove about 2 hours to Versailles and with a magnificent backdrop of the royal palace, we eat our lunch and posed for photos for our sponsors.  A number of tourists also wanted autographs and photos so it was fun to enjoy the feeling of being a celebrity.  I didn’t bother to warm up at all and laughed at someone who asked if I had wine in my bidon to drink for the final stage.

We cruised along for the first 30km and it was agreed amongst all riders not to officially start racing until we arrived at the Champs-Elyseés circuit.  I sat up the front to spin the legs over and felt surprisingly good.  We were to ride 4 laps of a 7km circuit so I wanted to feel ready to go hard for 28km.  The overall leader, Joane Somaribba proudly wore the yellow jersey and providing she safely finished the stage she would win the tour.  Many riders were still hungry to experience the glory of a stage win, and so when we arrived at the Champs-Elyseés, the attacks started.

Our team plan was to keep it together for Mette who was sprinting well, but she was sitting too far back in the peloton when the decisive break was made and couldn’t get across to it.  With consistently solid riding throughout the whole tour, Katrina Groves made it into the break of 9 riders and soon had over a 1 minute lead on the main field.

Meredith, Trine and I worked hard on the front, along with a few Nuernberg riders and stopped anyone getting across to the break.  The break included top sprinters Anita Valen (Bik Powerplate) and Petra Rosner (Nuernberg).  Margaret Hemsley (Nuernberg) did an awesome lead out for Rosner while Katrina sat glued to Rosner’s wheel.  In the final few metres 2 riders edged past Groves with SATS taking another 4th place result.

I helped position Mette in the closing 1km and she took the field sprint in convincing fashion for 10th place.  And finally it was all over.  Gone were the endless mountains we had to crawl over and the stifling 40C weather.  All that was left were deep suntan lines and memories of a ‘really tough tour’.

Bob and I spent the next 4 days sitting in cafés in the Latin Quarter of Paris, sampling bottles of Bordeaux wines and eating delicious French food.  This was certainly a more leisurely experience than grovelling up the Alps and a thoroughly enjoyable way of recovering.

And to anyone that is contemplating riding the ‘tour’ it is obviously one of the toughest tours in the world but the experience will make you a stronger and tougher person.  For many riders, just to finish the tour is an accomplishment in itself and this was certainly my goal.  I never thought I would race the tour in my second season of fulltime racing and so I was happy and relieved to ride into Paris.

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 13 – Pays de Flers Individual Time Trial 36km

Stage 13 – Pays de Flers Individual Time Trial        36km

Today’s time trial was the most technical and hilly course I have ever ridden.  Bob drove us around the course in the morning and we all took note of the off camber corners, steep climbs and twisty narrow descents.  Fortunately there were no cobble stone sections, but there were a number of roads which were barely 5ft wide and were little more than goat tracks.  These would be tricky on the aero bars and after seeing the rough descents I wanted my hands near the brakes for these sections.

As I wasn’t a GC contender (ie. not in the top 15) and am not a world class time trial specialist, I did not bring my time trial bike to France nor any disk wheels which help shave a few seconds off a reasonable time.

Each rider is allowed a follow car in case of mechanical problems and I was glad to have Bob sit in the car to encourage me through the pain barrier.  After 12 stages, and a long year of racing, my legs were feeling quite ordinary but with the vision of seeing the Eiffel Tour tomorrow I was spurred on to ride my hardest.

I rode my Salsa with clip on aero bars and finished 31st which was about 6 minutes behind Judith Arndt (Germany) who won the stage.  With time I believe I can become a strong time trial rider but it is a real skill to learn to push yourself to the point of blacking out and throwing up.

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 12 – Trelaze – Gorron 129km

Stage 12 – Trelaze – Gorron 129km

The commissaries took us down the wrong ride during our neutral section and so we had to do a U turn.  For some reason my radio wasn’t working today, so during the commotion of all the team cars doing U turns, Meredith had a quick look at my radio and tried to get it working.  I couldn’t hear or receive any information from our Director so it felt strange riding a stage without knowing what the other riders were being told.

Only 5km into the stage, my back wheel exploded.  The one day I didn’t have my radio working and really wanted to let our mechanic know I needed a wheel change.  I pulled over and took out my back wheel and waited.  Our car was one of the last cars to get to me.  Chad did a really fast wheel change and pushed me out.  I built up speed and then our team car pulled up beside me.  Chad lent out and told me to hang onto the car while he adjusted my brake callipers.  Our team car was driving so slowly and I was falling further and further behind the peloton.

My other team mates didn’t know I had flatted so no-one dropped back to me.  I knew I had to get back on.  I didn’t want to ride 75km alone and with the flat open stages it was possible to lose a lot of time and risk getting time cut.

I dug deep and rode as hard as I could.  I skidded through a roundabout but luckily kept it upright.  It only took me 10 minutes of chasing to get back to the caravan and then I used the cars to get back on.  After this effort, I sat in and rested for a while.  I wanted to conserve energy and have a dig at the end.

The Biskai team set such a strong tempo that most riders were content to sit in and wait for the sprint.  With 5km to go, a Road Runner rider attacked and as she was caught, her team mate tried a solo dash to the finish at the 3km mark.  This rider was the World time trial champion and to her credit she held off the chasing peloton to win the stage.  My team mate, Katrina, broke away with 2km to go, but we caught her in the final 50m.  Fellow team mate, Mette had found the right wheel and finished 4th behind Alison Wright (Aust) again.

And the best news of all – only 2 stages left – yippee!!!

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 11 – Saint Martin – Trelaze 146km

Stage 11 – Saint Martin – Trelaze     146km

I know I have mentioned that I have felt tired but today I felt really really tired.  I hoped many of the other riders felt as fried as I did today.  I went back to bed after breakfast and tried to get as much rest as possible.

Today’s stage was nearly 150km and I didn’t want to even think about how much it was going to hurt.  I looked at the profile and luckily there were only two climbs which I knew I could drag myself over.  We had a 15km neutral start and my legs warmed quite well.  As soon as the flag was dropped from the commissaries car, Petra Rossner (Nuernberg) attacked solo.  I thought about going with her, but I was struggling to just stay in the peleton so I would have been useless  out in a break.

After 25km she sat up and we rolled along as one group for a while.  Mette got into a break a little while later with two other riders but radioed back to say she couldn’t work.  The headwind was reducing the success of any break away attempts.

As Mette was caught, Meredith and Katrina were in the next move and they spent the next 20km trying to get their 11 rider break to work.  I patrolled the front of the peloton and did my best to shut any attacks down.  I used up so much energy doing this and was concerned about not making it in with the peloton if I didn’t ease up a bit.  When this break came back, an Aurora rider headed out alone and spent the next 80km riding solo into the headwind.  The peleton set a steady tempo of 45km/hr to keep the time gap down.  I couldn’t imagine how she could maintain over 45km/hr and stay away from the peloton.  I was feeling light headed and counting down the km’s until the finish.  At the final feedzone, Bob handed me an electrolyte drink which gave me the boost I was looking for.

With 20km to go, Nuernberg decided they wanted a stage win and had 4 of their riders on the front swapping turns.  The entire peloton was in a single line trying to get some protection from the headwind.  The Aurora rider was caught with 8km to go and Nuernberg continued to drive it hard to set up Rossner for the win.  And their plan worked to perfection with Rossner taking the stage, Wright (Australia) coming in 3rd while team mate Mette finished 4th.  I finished 23rd and had nothing left in me for a dig at the end.

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 10 – Niort – Bressure 84km

Stage 10 – Niort – Bressure   84km

I woke up with stomach cramps and decided on only a small breakfast.  I headed back to bed for another 2 hours to rest as we only had a 20 minute drive to our race start today and didn’t need to leave until 12.30pm.  Some little beast had bitten me all night and I was covered in bite marks and itchy spots.  But on a positive note, it was only 35C today so it was much more pleasant.

After a rest day, my legs felt heavy so I did a few hard 2 minute efforts to open up the system.  My legs didn’t appreciate these efforts and I could feel every km of these last 9 days of racing.

We had a 5km neutral roll out and then off we galloped at 30km/hr up the first climb – ouch.  I sat in for the first hour and then started to find my legs.  In fact, I felt pretty good and on a windy narrow section of road, attacked hard and Ali Wright came with me.  We were quickly chase down.  I was then given instructions to sit in and wait until the end while Christina, Meredith and Trine were to cover any moves.

The peloton were keen to keep it together until the end and it wasn’t until 6km to go, that Margaret Hemsley flew off the front and got a 200m gap.  Although the initial plan was for Katrina and I to wait for the final 2km to have a shot at the finish, we were subsequently told to close the gap to Hemsley, and as Katrina and I were at the front, Katrina a dig.  A Pratto rider countered Katrina’s move and I shot out with her.  A Powerplate rider and 4 others got a across to me and Katrina yelled in the radio for me to keep going.  No-one else pulled through and with 3km to go, I decided to ease up rather than drag everyone to the line.  In hindsight I should have kept going and let one or two go around me to sit back in 2nd or 3rd wheel.

The last 3km took us onto really narrow roads with sharp dangerous turns.  It was so fast and strung out that it was impossible to move up.  I was 10th wheel with 2km to go but on a steep 600m power climb I was passed by 4 riders and finished 15th.  I was disappointed that I hadn’t dug harder with 4km but tomorrow is another day so maybe things will turn out better.

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Tour de France – REST DAY

Tour de France – REST DAY

Most of the riders stayed outside Niort in what appeared to be one star facilities.  The bedrooms were so tiny that many riders dragged their mattresses outside and slept on the grass.  It was certainly much cooler this way as it was nearly 40C in the rooms and of course no rooms had any air conditioning.  There wasn’t enough room for our whole SATS contingent which had now grown to 16 people due to parents, friends and support staff who had joined us to watch the concluding stages, so several of us opted for an alternate hotel in downtown Niort.  I should emphasise downtown as this hotel was on the main drag and it was so noisey.  I don’t think I slept a wink.

The room Bob and I stayed in looked over 200 years old.  It had an ornate 4 poster beds, fancy carved bedside tables, French windows (ie I guess all windows in France could be called this!!), flowered wallpaper and a very old antique looking bathroom.  However, because it was so old, air conditioning was a wishful extra and I estimated it was about 43C inside.  I lay on top of the sheet, sweating and listening to the trucks roar by.

During the day, all the riders moved to an empty boarding school (as it was the holiday period in France) which was going to be our home for the next two days.  There was an above ground pool and shady trees so it was a step up from last night.  Interestingly, the French team chose not to stay at the school and received a fine from the UCI for seeking other accommodation.  I continue to be amazed at what cyclists get fined for doing.  Most teams decided to do massages outdoors under the shady trees and to anyone passing by they would have been amazed to see half naked women lying on these tables, flaunting flesh and funny suntan lines, but we didn’t care – we just wanted a rub to encourage the legs to ride 5 more stages.

Climbing stairs is always my indicator of how the legs are doing and today I had to climb them really slowly.  I felt so hammered today and was gratefully that we didn’t have to race today.

The school canteen food was tolerable and I only ate it because I was so hungry.  I soaked the stale bread in gravy and washed it down with plenty of chilled water.

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 9 – Chateauneuf – St George de Didonne 82km

Stage 9 – Chateauneuf – St George de Didonne        82km

Yippee – today was the last stage before our rest day.  I knew I could make it to Paris now.

We started our stage near the Cognac region where there were endless fields of sunflowers, grapevines, majestic castles and rolling hills.  It was really beautiful and I have put this area in my book as a place to come back and visit another time.

Our neutral start of 8km stretched out to 14km but what is a few km’s between friends.  Obviously the commissaire decided we needed to ride a little further today.  At the 15km mark, we climbed a category 4 climb which took us up to the highest point an old French village.  Amazingly, I was about 10th rider over the top and was pleased that my legs felt good today.

There was one attack after another today and I featured in many of these, as I really hoped to get into a break when I felt good.  It was just fate as to which break had the right combination and eventually a group with Mette in it was the one that was allowed to get up the road.

So now, my job was to shut down any chasing riders by jumping on their wheel and not pulling through.  The rider will usually give up and be absorbed by the peloton.  A team mate Meredith chased a group of 4 riders that attacked and the peloton decided to let these riders escape up the road.  So now we had two team mates up the road.

Several km’s later, Christine attacked alone and the peleton let her go too.  A French rider then chased her, so I jumped on her wheel and got dragged across to Christine.  We had a big gap and were given the go ahead to try and get across to Meredith.  The French chick then refused to work and no matter how much I yelled at her, she just shook her head.

One of the twins from the Aurora team, who is high up in the General Classification became discontent in the peloton and started repeatedly attacking.  This eventually livened up the peloton and soon we were back in sight.

A twin (not sure which one as I can’t tell them apart) suddenly appeared on my wheel.  She sat there for a minute and then attacked me instead of pulling through and taking her turn.  I caught her and sat on.  The peloton had too many other GC riders that were not going to let the twin get away so soon we were swallowed up by the bunch.

With 10km to go, the pace picked up and with the cross headwind coming in from the ocean the peloton strung out into a single line.  I was riding hard against the edge of the road and leaning off to one side of my bike to get as much protection as I could from the wind.  It is quite skill to remain on the ride when riding off centre.

The profile never showed any climbs but we had two little steep climbs in the final 2km.  In the front group, Mette sprinted superbly to take 2nd, Meredith won her bunch sprint in the next group to take 9th while I finished 23rd.  I was squeezed against the railing during the bunch kick and pulled on the brakes to avoid some crazy rider who cut me off.

Our stage finish was right on the coast, so after the stage presentation we headed for the sea in our cycling gear.  The water was cool but so nice and relaxing.  After a 2 hour drive to Niort I was happy that we had a rest day tomorrow.  Finally, a chance to sleep in!!

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 8 – Aubusson – St Leonard de Noblat 87km

Stage 8 – Aubusson – St Leonard de Noblat 87km

I am counting down the days until the Rest Day.  I only have to get through today and tomorrow and we have a day off.  It will be so blissful to not be racing and travelling.

Today it was really hot – 47 degrees.  Our neutral section of the race, 13km was done at such a slow pace that it took nearly an hour.  All the riders insisted that we stop after the neutral section to pee and fill up our water bottles.  The officials just turn there heads while we shamelessly drop our knicks.

Given everyone in our team was there to support Katrina, who was our GC rider sitting well up in the overall standings, our plan today was to set something up for her.  Our director told us to cover the early breaks and hopefully get Katrina into the winning move.

An Italian rider jumped behind the commissaries car as he blew the whistle and drafted behind the car for nearly 1km.  I watched in amazement as the commissaire did nothing about this blatant form of cheating.  The rest of us chased hard and eventually caught her.  The terrain was sloping steadily upwards and yet we were maintaining over 40km/hr.

I saw 5 girls attack and after a moments hesitation, burst out of the peloton in pursuit.  After a few minutes of hard riding, I caught them and sat on the back of them, gasping for air.  I was unable to take a turn.  I had used up everything to get across to them.  I was definitely feeling tired as I usually have more than one attack in me per stage.  The peloton caught us and with the following attack, I was popped out the back of the group.  Six of us started working turns but the others were reluctant to work.  They had already given up the chase.  Meredith was with me and I told her if we could get back to the cars then we would make it.  She was having a hard day and I told her to stay on my wheel until she felt ok.  A French chick joined us in our chase while the other 3 shouted out “piano piano” (“slower, slower”) to us.  It took us 20 minutes to make it to the cars and then we progressed from car to car until we made it back to the group.

I had used up a lot of fluid during my chase back on, so after I’d caught my breath I dropped back to our team car to get some water.  I took 3 bottles for myself and another 3 for a few team mates.  Usually the riders up on the General Classification don’t drop back for water.  They conserve energy and stay up near the front of the group.  It is the duty of the workers on the team to go back for fluid and bring it back.  It is quite a skill to stuff 4 or 5 waterbottles down your jersey and then get these back to your teammates.

Three riders had broken away which included aussie Margaret Hemsley, whilst I had been chasing back on.  Our director suggested that some of us bridge across to these riders but I had used up everything.  I was really tired today and the 47 degree heat was making me feel pretty lousey.  With 3km to go, Meredith attacked and as she got caught, Christine had a dig.  She was swallowed up with 200m to go which is always an unfortunate way of getting caught.  I rolled home safely in the peloton but with no top 10 result that I had set as my own goal for the tour.

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 7 – Royat – Commentry 107km

Stage 7 – Royat – Commentry                       107km

And guess what – yes, another day of 43 degrees but with a very strong wind to add to things.  I cannot believe this weather.  I am fortunate to be accustomed to hot weather but racing at 2pm such extreme heat is starting to make us all feel tired.

The stage commenced with a 4km climb, which I rode during my warm up so I knew what to expect.  This climb was categorised as a category 4 climb but it felt more difficult than that.  In fact, most of the riders found it difficult and by the top, there were only 7 riders in the front group.  You guessed correctly that I was not one of these 7.  I was back in the grupetto again with all my team mate, except one.  The climb had shattered many of us and after 6 days of racing we were starting to feel the fatigue.

No-one in the group wanted to work and our speed was ridiculously slow.   About 2 hours into the race, the commissaire (race judge) dropped back and told us to pick up the speed or we would be time cut.  With 20km to go, he dropped back again and told us we had 17 minutes to get to the finish or we would be eliminated.  I panicked and started driving it on the front.  I wanted more than anything to finish this race and was getting frustrated that no-one else would pull a turn.

As it turned out, we easily made time cut and it was a trick by the commissaire to get us to ride a little harder.  I was angry that I had used up valuable energy unnecessarily.

I was wearing new Carnac’s that Bob had brought over from Australia for me.  They are the new 4 strap Elipse model that are so comfortable but in 43 degrees I was starting to feel hot spots under the balls of my feet.  Several times during the stage, I had to squirt water over my feet to keep them cool.

We had a lot of spectators today, sitting on the edge of the road in the little villages, or on the tops of hills where they could see us weaving up the climbs.  This area of France had many castles as well as forests and open fields.

It was a requirement that the hotels provided all the riders with food as well as accomodation.  That night our dinner consisted of boiled (blanched) chicken and boiled green beans.  I couldn’t believe it.  Where was the carbohydrate in that?  After 100km and 7 days of racing we were given a tough piece of inedible chicken.  Our director rang the UCI to complain while the rest of us started pinching food from a buffet in an adjoining room.  We found a platter with couscous on it and devoured it before the waiter could take it from us.  I found some yoghurt, cereal and bread and ate this to fill up the empty spot.  I bet in the mens Tour de France they don’ t have to endure the burdens of horrible food.

La Grande Boucle Feminine 2003 Stage 6 – Vif – Davezieux 129km

Stage 6 – Vif – Davezieux      129km

Today was 43 degrees and really hot.  I actually felt good today when I woke up.  Maybe it was my coming of age!  We did a neutral 10km loop on some really narrow lanes that were barely wide enough for 5 bikes.  It was a tight squeeze and I was happy to get out onto the slightly wider roads when the race commenced.

The attacks started almost immediately.  As I felt good, I decided to have a dig and went hard after a sharp left hand corner.  I got a gap and was then quickly joined by Madelene of Nuernberg.  We worked well for a few km’s before we turned a corner and the road went up.  I hadn’t remembered any hills in the profile but this little beast was killing me.  I sat up and rode tempo as the peloton started passing me.  I had used up a lot of energy in that attack and was suffering up this climb.  I used the cars and stayed in touch with the peloton.  Alison Wright was very active and I joined her in a few moves.  Eventually the right combination happened that included a team mate Christine.

Today’s stage had some very different terrain to the alps we had just ridden.  We were now in amongst corn fields, lush forests and hills that didn’t hurt the same way as the mountains had.

Unfortunately, Christine was eventually dropped from the break and was soon caught by the main group.  After the energy she had expended in the break, combined with the heat, she struggled to stay with us, and was eventually back in the cars, where I have been on so many days of this tour.  Meredith dropped back to push her back to the peloton but got fined for physically assisting a team mate.  Personally, I don’t see much difference between letting a team mate sit behind to get a draft and pushing, but that’s the rule and we broke it.  I think it cost the team 100 Swiss Francs.

Given we only had 10km to the finish and we had a team mate high up in the overall general classification, it was more important that we stay near her to protect her and just let Christine ride to the finish.

The stage finished with a 5km climb.  I got dropped on this climb and came in a few minutes down but happy that I was feeling much stronger than earlier in the tour.

Funnily enough, we stayed at an airport hotel and although we listened to planes coming and going all night, we had air-conditioning and when it is 40 degrees that is more important than anything else.  This was the first time we had the pleasure of cool air and it was awesome to sleep without sweating.

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