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We spoke to Kimberley Wells two hours after she earned her first European podium. The Australian national criterium champion sprinted to third in Bourges on the second stage of the Route de France.
Wells fielded our phone call from a “giant castle” she’ll call home for the night. “We just hiked up the stairs with all our luggage,” she said. “This is a crazy big building. I think nearly all the teams are staying here.”
She is racing in Europe 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, Jenelle Crooks, Jessica Mundy and Ellen Skerrit earned their spots on the team at the AIS selection camp in May. The group is joined by veteran Loren Rowney (Velocio-SRAM) who provides critical leadership to the eager but inexperienced squad.
The second stage of the Route de France, the third day of the seven-day French tour, covered 118 kilometres between Villemandeur and Bourges. Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda) edged out race leader Amy Pieters (Liv-Plantur) for the stage win. Wells led home a trio of Aussies, besting Nettie Edmondson (Wiggle Honda) and Lauren Kitchen (Hitec Products) for the final spot on the podium.
Without bonus seconds during the stage or one the line, the general classifications remains relatively unchanged since Sunday’s prologue. Pieters will start her third straight stage in yellow on Wednesday.
In her own words, Wells reviews the stage that led to her first European podium.
THE SEARCH FOR COFFEE
We had a relatively easy morning. Before we set off for the start, we ventured into the town where we had stayed last night in the hopes of a nice coffee. I suppose it depends on your coffee gauge as to how you might rate our morning brew. For coffee in France, I guess it was fine, but that Aussie coffee chase we have going on – nah. Not even near the mark.
THE BACKSTAGE BARTER
Our swanny Margo managed to barter with a local shopkeeper to get some ice to put in our esky (that’s a cooler for our non-Aussie readers). It was a lot hotter today than it’s been the last two stages, and when it’s this warm, you want to put ice socks down your jersey and chill your drinks. Ice is a bit of a commodity here in Europe. You can’t exactly go to a servo (also known as a gas station to non-Australians) and get four kilos of ice.
We all went into this local café and bought coffee. The whole team came in wearing kit or team shirts. We were friendly, and we gave them some good business, and Margo managed to talk them into a few bags of ice from their kitchen. It was a good effort.
THE TEAM PLAN
It was another sprint stage – a point to point with no preview of the finish. Our plan was the same as yesterday. We were keen on a bunch sprint, and Loren and I were meant to jump on the back of lead-out trains in the finish.
We were familiar with the sprint because I had done a bit of a recon on all the Google maps. We knew it was a technical finish with quite a few turns. Loren and I would need to conserve. The rest of the team had to cover attacks and little breaks and all that stuff. There was a flurry of activity today, so they definitely stayed busy.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE ACTION
There were a lot more break attempts today, but there wasn’t a lot to show for those efforts. The team was great about chasing things down. It was definitely a good team vibe out there.
We were also much more involved in the last 15km than we were yesterday. Everyone made an effort to be near the front when it got hectic. It’s really satisfying to see improvements from race to race and from stage to stage.
The girls did a great job keeping Loren out of the wind, which in turn allowed her to be there as long as possible for me. We each carry the load for the other.
WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
Part way through the race, a bunch of teams called a nature break, so everyone went off to do a wee. This is a mutual agreement within the peloton that you’re not going to race at this moment, so everyone can go to the toilet without stress.
And some people attacked during the nature break and got in the only break of the day. The peloton was really angry about that. This is just not done. And so we’re in this situation where three or four riders were up the road having attacked during the wee break.
The situation got all the teams talking, and everyone banded together about this outrageous thing that happened. It really fired people up! Enough people were angry that the peloton decided to chase them down rather than let them dangle out there for a bit. I’m telling you, the cold stares when we caught up with those people again….
The sprint was really hectic. There were a lot of people and teams fighting for position in the last 15km. The roads twisted and turned and constantly went up or down. It was crucial to stay with my teammates, and it was a challenge to keep it upright. People are willing to risk a lot just to shoot a gap.
I focussed on staying smooth in all my movement. I imagine the bunch as a wave, and I’m trying to surf the wave and keep myself in good position.
Inside the last three kilometres there was this long, dragging hill. Wiggle was on the front, and they were going so hard that they gapped Nettie and Bronzini. I fought for a spot in the top 10 up the hill, and to stay there when we came screaming down, into a corner and through a round-about. From there it was just a few corners to the finish.
I occasionally lost my space at the front, but every time I made my way back. And then we were sprinting. There’s Nettie Edmondson, who is a fantastic sprinter in her own right, leading out Bronzini, who has won two world championships by virtue of her sprint, and that’s quite the double-punch. That’s a lot of watts to try to come around. I started my sprint late and came third in the end.
FIRST EUROPEAN PODIUM!
I’m really excited, and I mean REALLY EXCITED. It’s a quality field. It’s European racing. To be on the podium this early in the trip is really exciting. I’ve been clawing my way up here since Thüringen. I was 15th on one stage in Germany and ninth on another. Yesterday I was 10th despite almost crashing out, and now today – third!
I really got a rush being up there on the podium. Hearing them call my name out in French and all that stuff, it was really fun. It’s good for the confidence.
It also opens up the door of possibility. It backs up the belief that I can go on to achieve more. Everyone needs a little breakthrough. Today I got mine.
MY LOREN LESSON TODAY
There were a lot of Loren lessons today. I think her best piece of advice was not to get involved in chasing down the whole “pee breakaway” because it wasn’t our responsibility. We needed to leave it to the big teams to deal with the situation. When the chase was truly on, we did commit our riders to it, but we didn’t get involved until the end. It’s a good bit of tactical advice we all need to keep in mind – do not waste energy where you don’t have to spend it.
FRENCH PHRASE OF THE DAY.
Faux pas. That “pee breakaway” was a big faux pas.
We’ll be checking in with Wells on Wednesday following stage three. If you have any questions you’d like us to pass along, feel free to pipe up in the comments.