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Just one day after the Giro Rosa came to a close over in Italy, another big tour on the UCI elite women’s calendar began over in Germany; Thüringen Rundfahrt de Frauen. Two-time Australian national road race champion Gracie Elvin was there racing for the Australian national team in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games and wrote the following piece for CyclingTips.
Thüringen Rundfhart de Frauen has always been seen by the major professional teams as an important week of racing to lead into the last part of the season. Unfortunately this year there were some major clashes in the calendar and most teams had to chose between the Giro Rosa and the German seven-day tour. Although the Giro was the preferred race for many, there was still a good showing at Thüringen.
Thüringen has a reputation for being a very tough tour through the rolling hills of Eastern Germany. It also holds a special significance to Australian riders and staff as it was here, just before the race in 2005, that Amy Gillett lost her life while training with her Australian teammates. This year was the ninth anniversary of the accident and we were going to give the peloton everything we had to shake up the race in true Aussie style.
I had my own ambitions for the week, but because I hadn’t raced for quite some time and had spent a few weeks training at altitude, I wasn’t sure how good my form really was. A general classification and stage results were my hopes, but a hard week of racing was what I really needed in my final preparation for the Games.
I was also to be team captain for the team, making decisions on the road and helping guide my less-experienced teammates. The Aussie team consisted of a nice mix of girls: Rachel Neylan, Sarah Roy, Jessica Mundy, Lizzie Williams, Jenelle Crooks and myself.
The tour started with a tough and technical 4.1km evening prologue. I felt great in my warm up and had a good look at the course. I was confident I could put in a good time. Coming from a MTB background, I am not usually scared of technical courses and felt comfortable enough with this one.
I started strong up the cobbled climb and took the first corner well. There were a few small gutters to hop over in the first kilometre and I hit the first with speed. Then bang! I’d totally messed it up and hit my rear wheel on the edge and given myself a flat tire. I wished it wasn’t my fault but it was.
Extremely disappointed to flat in the first 1km of the prologue. Still went hard after bike swap but it hurts after working so hard lately.
— Gracie Elvin (@gracieelvin) July 14, 2014
I quickly jumped off my TT bike and swapped to my road bike. It wasn’t a fast change either! I pushed it as hard as possible for the next 3.5km, aided by anger — the first day and I was already 47 seconds down on GC. The good news of the day was that my teammates Sarah Roy and Lizzie Williams earned fifth and sixth respectively.
Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (2.1) Gotha → Gotha
DE JONG Demi
Needless to say I didn’t sleep too well after the late prologue and disappointment the night before. I was very keen to take vengeance and put my legs to better use. Our game plan had changed slightly, and we were going to try and gain some bonus time for Roy who was only 10 seconds down on GC.
We split ourselves into two groups: the breakaway trio and the sprint trio. Lizzie and Jenelle were to help me in the front to cover and launch breakaways, and Jess and Rachel would look after Sarah for the intermediate and final sprints. I covered a few early moves and could feel my legs opening up well, but I knew I couldn’t do too much work either if I wanted a chance to be there at the end.
It was clear that the strongest teams Specialized-Lululemon and Boels-Dolmans wanted to keep things quiet until later in the race. Lizzie Armitstead claimed both intermediate sprints while Sarah was close but gained no extra time. The second sprint was immediately before the last and main climb of the day. I was positioned well but there was still a gap to Armitstead and tour leader Lisa Brennauer who had both contested the sprint.
I pushed as hard as possible but ultimately wasn’t able to catch them. I settled into the second group and wasn’t able to go with Evie Stevens who jumped across. Having that particular trio up the road was definitely not the ideal situation!
Well that was a hard day in the saddle! Fought hard but didn't quite keep up with the "big" girls on the last climb. Will keep persevering!
— Gracie Elvin (@gracieelvin) July 15, 2014
Once the peloton formed shortly after the climb was finished, I sent two of our girls to the front to work with Bigla to bring back the three leaders. It was not a well-organised chase and everyone lacked spark after such a nasty climb. The breakaway finished around one minute ahead of the bunch and Roy contested the sprint and earned another fifth place. I was disappointed to have not been able to climb with the winners but at least I gave it my all.
Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (2.1) Erfurt → Erfurt
DE JONG Demi
Our team director Marv Barras wanted us to be a little more aggressive just to shake the race up and give ourselves a chance at a breakaway. Being team captain on the road I kept communicating with the girls all day and they were much better positioned and put in some strong and well-timed moves after both intermediate sprints. I put in a couple of attacks too.
Happy with my race today after suffering a little too much yesterday! Race legs are coming back. Super proud of the Aussie girls! #Thuringen
— Gracie Elvin (@gracieelvin) July 16, 2014
With about 25km to go we put in a few more attacks after a sprint and the bunch got so strung out that it split with Lizzie and I in the front group. There had been an early break of two riders that stayed away and Specialized wasn’t organised enough to control it. Lizzie had struggled a little yesterday with positioning so I was really happy to have her there with me.
I got her to put in a late attack as she wasn’t feeling confident for the technical run into the finish. I positioned pretty well but it was a high-speed descent into a sharp corner at 200m to go. I was fourth wheel into the corner and I should have been first or second. Someone pipped me on the line so I was fifth in the small bunch sprint and seventh in the stage. I felt much better than the first stage and I was much happier and more confident again.
Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (2.1) Schleiz → Schleiz
The halfway point of the tour gave us a relief from the relentless hills and attacks, but gave us another kind of pain. It was a 21km out-and-back ITT and the first half was mostly uphill. You really had to just punish yourself until the turn-around and then tuck in and pedal as fast as possible on the way home.
— Sarah Roy (@Sar_Roy) July 17, 2014
My legs didn’t feel very good at all in our course recon and warm up, but I tried to stay positive and focus on the small details. I started strong and the hills weren’t as painful as I was expecting. I just tried to push the biggest gear that I could stay on top of and kept my breathing even and my position tight.
After hallway I could see I was catching both riders in front of me! It gave me extra motivation and I just didn’t let myself back off. After the finish I was happy with my effort, but was nervous of the result. I was very happy to hear the news that I had managed to get sixth. I still haven’t worked much on my time-trialing so this was very encouraging and a good show of my form.
Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (2.1) Gera → Gera
Again we didn’t sleep so well after such a late stage and we were facing the queen stage on the fifth day on tour. We had two big climbs to tackle and even though the GC was becoming more set, it was a big opportunity for the good climbers to stake their claim.
It was also the anniversary of Amy Gillett’s passing and we were going to show our respects by racing hard. We wanted one of us in the early breakaway to have a chance at stealing the stage win and letting our better climbers sit in until later.
After the first two intermediate sprints our team was throwing in some good moves. I made an attack just after 20km hoping to set up our next girl, but I looked back and saw I already had a good gap. I just rode at a fast but controlled pace to let them come back to me, but my gap kept growing!
Very tired but pretty happy after spending the majority of today's stage in the 2-woman break. Earned myself the most aggressive jersey!
— Gracie Elvin (@gracieelvin) July 18, 2014
Being in a solo breakaway is a mix of pride and dread. You want to keep pushing but you know you are getting hung out to dry. Thankfully another rider jumped across and we started working together. She was the Austrian national champion riding for Bigla, and she could definitely climb!
I let her set the pace on the uphills and I used my strengths on the downhills and flats. We pushed our gap out to over two minutes. I was happy to have gotten over the first major climb in front of the strong climbers and do it at my own pace.
We reached the start/finish town with 28km to go, still with a two-minute advantage. The road went uphill again and the gap shrank quicker than I thought possible. We were caught about halfway up the climb and I just had to lick my wounds and find a group I could ride to the finish with. I was really happy to see Lizzie and Jenelle both come past me in the front group. I yelled at them to keep pushing and suffer!
Lizzie rode a gusty last 20km and was ultimately distanced from the leaders, but still claimed her first top 10 finish and some extra confidence in her abilities. I was awarded most aggressive rider, which was a nice way to finish a very gruelling day and to honour Amy’s memory.
Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (2.1) Saalfeld → Saalfeld
I was keen to ride aggressively on stage 5 but my very sore legs needed a little bit of love after my 85km breakaway the day before. It was my job to marshal the girls and give them instructions out on the road, and maybe find a good opportunity for myself if I felt good later in the race.
Hot day in the German hills. The team rode well again and lived to fight another day… which is tomorrow in the last stage! #Thuringen
— Gracie Elvin (@gracieelvin) July 19, 2014
Rachel was on the ball early and rolled with the first two attacks, the second one gaining a gap quickly with three other riders. It was a perfect group of non-GC riders which the leaders’ teams were happy to let go. Through lack of race communication I didn’t realise the break had split up early on and Rachel was in the second group. Once we gained the information and she was caught shortly after, the two riders up the road had gained five minutes.
I sent our two young girls to the front to help Specialized bring the gap down so we could still play near the end of the stage. I made sure Lizzie was ready for the final attacks as there was a hill near the end that I knew my legs wouldn’t enjoy. She just missed the leaders attack but they were racing for third anyway. She fought valiantly and got herself another top 10 finish.
Australian rider Taryn Heather was one of the two in the breakaway and got second and most aggressive.
Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (2.1) Schmölln → Schmölln
It was a very emotional start to the last day on tour, and it wasn’t just because of the early start. We drove to just outside the start town of Zeulenroda where Amy Gillett’s memorial is, at the site of the tragic accident. We had arranged a small bunch of flowers for each of us, plus the podium flowers that Taryn and I had received.
Marv spoke a few nice words and we had a minute of silence to reflect on how lucky we are to do what we do. It hit everyone a lot harder than expected as it was quite confronting to be where she had lost her life while enjoying something she loved.
We all felt very appreciative of each other and our lives and it was a nice way to end a good week. We made sure to perk up again before the race because we weren’t going to just make up the numbers – we wanted a real race!
It was Roy’s turn to shake it up today and bring back the best looking jersey in the bunch – the “most aggressive” beer jersey. She attacked early but was shut down, and we countered a few times but nothing was working.
The first time up the famous “Hankaberg” was easier and more subdued than I was expecting. Lizzie covered a move not long after and I countered, but we were marked instantly. A lone rider got up the road a few kilometres later and stayed away for about 10km. I set up Jess for a dummy attack to launch Roy once again.
They timed it perfectly and Roy got across the gap. She not only made it there but overtook the poor girl and set a cracking pace ahead, gaining up to one minute on her own. She maintained her lead for about 30km before the bunch caught her on the third time up the Hankaberg.
Lizzie and I covered and countered again, but still we were too marked. I rallied the girls once again for another flurry of attacks after the last sprint. They all had a crack and Rachel spent some time dangling painfully off the front for over 5km. We decided that we needed to just keep attacking until the end and make the most of it.
I kept Lizzie in the bunch to be fresh for the sprint while the rest of us stayed in the front. Roy and I found ourselves in a small group with 10km to go, but were caught on the last real climb.
Bigla rider Elke Gebhardt took a fast attack over the top and managed to hold off the bunch in the last 5km to take the win. Kiwi rider Reta Trotman jumped with 3km to go and took second to Lizzie Armitstead who won the bunch sprint. Our own Lizzie took fourth and our best result of the week. We all finished totally spent but happy with our efforts not just today but the whole week.
Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (2.1) Zeulenroda → Zeulenroda
Personally I was disappointed to not come away with a stage or GC result, but overall I was still happy with how I progressed over the week and the way I raced. I felt stronger everyday and it really was a great way to do my final preparation for the Commonwealth Games.
I also really enjoyed racing with the national team and taking on the leadership role for the week. It’s an important skill to have in cycling and I felt lucky to be given that responsibility.
Now I am going to take a few days of recovery and get ready to ride in Paris next weekend at La Course. Then I head straight to Glasgow to spend a week in the athlete’s village before our road race on the last day of the Games, August 3rd.
Thanks for reading and I hope you show your support for Women’s Cycling Week this week!