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Kimberley Wells fielded her final daily diary check-in call en route to Italy. She and her teammates had just completed the last stage of the Route de France. Loren Rowney sprinted to second, securing the team’s third podium finish over seven stages, and Jenelle Crooks won the young rider jersey, repeating the feat she had accomplished at Thüringen Rundfhart last month. It was undoubtedly a success for the development squad, and the collective mood in the car was celebratory.
Wells raced Route de France as part of the six-rider Subaru High5 Australian National Team. The Amy Gillett Foundation scholarship holder, Wells secured her spot on the team with her scholarship. Shannon Malseed, Jessica Mundy, Ellen Skeritt and Crooks earned their spots on the team at the AIS selection camp in May. Rowney (Velcoio-SRAM) was brought into the squad for the Route de France to provide critical leadership to the eager but inexperienced squad.
We owe a massive thank you to the entire Australian National Team – especially Wells and DS Donna Rae-Szalinski- for fielding our calls, offering up their insight and sharing their stories throughout their week. It’s been a delight to watch this young team leave its mark in France.
The Route de France came to close in Guebwiller on Saturday with a reduced bunch sprint won by Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda). Loren Rowney and Amy Pieters (Liv-Plantur) sprinted into the minor podium places while Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda) finished safely in the bunch to solidify her general classification win. Rolling across the line with the front group, Jenelle Crooks slotted into 32nd place on to stage to secure the U23 jersey and seventh overall.
It was a satisfying conclusion to a successful week for the Australian National Team. In her own words, Kimberley Wells shares her stories from the final day of racing.
MY LAST NIGHT IN FRANCE
We stayed in a Kyriad last night, and we at the best meals we’ve had all week. The food was delicious. We have not had delicious food since leaving Italy, so that was a treat.
We used Rowney’s pro tip from a few days back and gave the hotel staff Jenelle’s podium flowers when we arrived. This helped our DS Donna sweet talk her way into some free washing at the hotel. We desperately needed to clean clothes.
The room situation last night was a choose your own adventure. We had the option of sleeping in a room that was so hot it might as well have been a sauna or a room that was full of mosquitos. I opted for the mosquito-sleeping option. It wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever had.
THE LAST FRENCH COFFEE
Breakfast this morning was the standard buffet brekky. A few us were eyeing the pain au chocolat as a last day treat. I think we decided that it was ok to have some French pastries in the final stretch. That was kind of fun.
— Kimberley Wells (@Kimbers_Wells) August 14, 2015
We did the usual brew crew upon arrival to the start town. Our numbers our growing. We had some new members this morning. Nearly the whole team was part of the search for coffee today. The coffee this morning wasn’t the best of the week, but there were a few people smoking nearby so I feel like I probably got the same high as I would have gotten from caffeine.
THE TEAM PLAN
Coming into the final stage, we had Jenelle Crooks in the U23 jersey by 3:39, and the main objective was to win that U23 classification. We also had the clearance to look for personal opportunities to get into breakaways and chase the stage win. We thought that Wiggle Honda might be happy to let one of us up the road, because we didn’t pose a general classification threat to Elisa Longo Borghini. A non-threatening breakaway would take the pressure of them.
THE ACTION AS IT UNFOLDED
Today’s race was a circuit race with four passages of the finish line before the final sprint. Each lap included a QOM – and we drove the course in advance to check out the climb. The sprint was slightly uphill and into a headwind.
We thought there was a good chance for the breakaway today, but that’s not how the race panned out. There was a lot of attacking. Every man and his dog wanted in on that break. There are few teams that have dominated the tour in terms of results, and I think the other teams were still hoping to go home with something to show for their efforts. At one point, there were eight riders away from eight different teams and still the bunch wouldn’t let it got more than 35 seconds. It was vicious.
I spent my day looking after Jenelle and using the least amount of energy as possible beyond that. Every lap, I had to make sure my position was good on the QOM so that if I lost spots as we climbed, I’d still make it over the top with the group.
I dabbled in a few breakaways in the first half of the race, but after two laps, Loren let us know she was confident that the race was going to come down to a bunch sprint because nothing was getting away. She told me it was my job to hide for the remainder of the race. That’s when I had to turn on my sprinter brain and work on being as efficient as possible in the bunch.
There were a lot of tired legs out there today. It was tough, and I have to admit that my hand was really sore. I scraped it up in the crash on stage four, and it’s still hurting. I wasn’t really enjoying that, and my bike handling skills were a bit off today. I guess it helps to have two hands to steer.
Coming into the town for the sprint, Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana) attacked and slipped away solo. Optum chased to pull her back, and by the time we hit the one kilometre mark, it was full gas. We overtook Bujak before the finish.
Rowney was on Bronzini’s wheel in the end. Bronzini won, and Rowney crossed the line in second. Rowney’s pro tip for the day – when in doubt, follow Bronzini’s wheel.
MY POST-RACE SENTIMENT
We’re walking away from the Route de France as a team with a first, second and third place finish on stages and the overall win in the U23 general classification. Jenelle actually came seventh overall, too. We have to be happy with that. And it wasn’t just the team that did well. Australia killed it this week.
I think we can say that our expectations have been exceeded. This is our second race in Europe. We’ve only had 14 days of racing together. We’re all still developing. To podium that many times and for Jenelle to pull out seventh overall is something special.
MY TAKEAWAY FROM ROUTE DE FRANCE
This week reinforces my belief in the idea that anything is possible if given the right opportunities. It also underscored the importance of teamwork in getting results. We all have each other’s backs, and that’s a huge part of our success.
— Kimberley Wells (@Kimbers_Wells) August 15, 2015
My less serious take away is that Aussies are really funny and fun to hang out with. If you want to go on a fun Euro trip, you need to bring a token Aussie or two to up the fun.
MY ROUTE DE FRANCE HIGHLIGHT
Coming third in Bourges was a huge highlight personally. Beyond the result, all the fun and laughter that we shared throughout the tour. Even when you’re doing something really hard, it’s important to maintain a sense of humour about it all, and this group definitely knows how to do that.
MY POST-RACE PLANS
I’m currently driving back to Italy with the team. We’re hoping to make it back in time for pizza for dinner. At this stage, we’re on track to make that happen, but there’s always the chance of running into issues in the tunnels in Switzerland, so we don’t know yet which way it’s going to.
I’m super looking forward to Italian food after French food all week. The food in Italy is just so fresh – salads, rock melon with prosciutto, pizza. Oh man. I can’t wait.
Thanks again to Kimberley Wells for fielding our phone calls daily so that we could bring you this Route de France rider diary.