I'm sure many of you are aware of and perhaps following the men's Santos Tour Down Under, but did you know there was a Santos women's TDU running alongside? The Santos women's Tour Down Under consisted of 4 stages, making for 4 hard days of racing. I caught up with Naima Madlen Dieser, a mountain bike rider from German team Kenda-DMC, riding the Santos Women’s Tour with local team United Solutions Group (USG). She was nice enough to have a quick chat with me, and provide a race report for each stage. The race reports were first published by the peloton cafe, and are provided here with permission from Naima and Sam Young. For the original articles please see the Peloton Cafe: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4
Stage one was a 60km stage from Woodside to Murray Bridge, an undulating course with a few tough climbs. Valentina Scandolara from ORICA-AIS won the stage with a solo effort Here's what Naima had to say about the stage:
A nice race to start with, so I was told. The first kilometres are flat to slightly undulating. I move up and back down in the group, catching some of my team mates jerseys further up in the front. I better join them. There is a tight bend early on and the bunch loosens up, allowing me to reposition myself before we head down a hill. There is some harsh breaking going on in the descent. Once my back wheel seems to slide away for a second, but it’s alright.
The first climb is hard and I can see my teammates struggling, starting to fall behind. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to stay with the group. Eventually the course flattens up, but the group has been split and I can’t see any matching jerseys around. At kilometre 25 I find myself on the back wheel of Georgia Bronzini (two-time world champion). I was so thirsty, but I didn’t want to take my hands off the handlebars or lose any places!
Not long after, the surface of the road gets rougher and the ride is getting pretty bumpy. My eyes jump to both my wheels. No puncture. Just the road. The second climb must be near. I’m moving up, but it won’t help me. I’m missing the front group by a few metres. And the next bit is flat, no descent to come back easily!
I’m dropped from the group, and I’m waiting for two girls to catch up and we start chasing. I’m not coping too well, the ladies ride strong against the wind. We catch three more girls and we can see the peloton. Everyone’s working hard to get any closer, but I’m working hard to hang in and just not get dropped.
Coming into the final kilometres we are crossing the Murray River, and it’s only one more climb to the finish. We catch some more riders, while our little group falls apart. I decide to go, no one follows. More riders appear in front of me, but I can’t reach them. The finish line shows up and I’m happy to have made it, three minutes and eighteen seconds down on the winner.
Stage two was the People's Choice Classic, a criterium circuit around the streets of Adelaide. Many people came to watch this stage and it was a fast, exciting race won by ORICA-AIS rider Melissa Hoskings.
I am really anxious about this one, I know that the big teams would try to set a high pace and maybe try and split up the groups like they did yesterday. It’s going to be really important to stay up near the front and be there at the right time today. It’s a big field with lots of riders, on a narrow course, and I know it’s going to be hard.
We line up on the road, following the chief commissaries’ car to get on the course for a neutralised lap. It’s going to be a fast race: a winding part at the beginning, leading into a straight passage to pick up some speed until the headwind tries to slow you down. Around the next corner the pace is on and you’ve got to go hard and then it’s one more corner back onto the finishing straight.
The streets are packed with people on either side of the course and they make so much noise. I hear someone call my name, but I’m focussing on the wheel in front of me. It gets faster, the race is on. 14 laps. There’s nowhere to recover, even on the flatter and faster bits I need to work hard, keep the wheel and try to move further up. I can spot two teammates not far ahead of me – Good work girls, I’m on my way to you!
Its the long corner at the end of the lap where I manage to move up. Seven more laps to go. Or seven done? Right now I’m too busy to think about it. A rider on my left is not keeping her line, almost causing a crash. I have to slow down while passing her, and make sure I stay in front of her for the rest of the race.
It’s four more laps to go and I really want to finish this. My legs burn, so do my lungs. I hold on to my position, try to move up and catch up to my team mates. Three more laps to go. Two more. The speed goes up again, riders overtake me. Just one more lap and I try to focus on keeping the wheel in front of me while staying alert for some possibly silly finish sprint actions. I haven’t seen my teamie Michelle, I just wish she is on my wheel so I can help her doing a nice little final sprint. There are riders blocking my way, I can’t get past them. But it doesn’t matter too much, so I’m not pushing for it. I’m reaching the finish line in the bunch. I’m out of breath and my legs hurt, but I’m all happy.
Stage 3 was taken out by Wiggle Honda rider Giorgia Bronzi, from a select group of 11 riders. It was a tough hilly stage through the Adelaide hills, Naima recounts:
I line up in front row with my team mate Hannah, making sure to position well right from the start. We roll out of Tanunda quickly picking up speed. I feel good moving within the bunch during the first undulating kilometres. I move up to the front. Right now we are not going particularly fast. This is when I decide to accelerate and I really end up in the front – on my own. That wasn’t part of the plan!
A motorbike is somewhere on the right. I manage to stay here for a little while, then I’m back in the bunch. One of the reasons I’m in the race is to try new things and have some fun, and maybe that’s what you’d call it! It’s going slightly uphill for the next couple of kilometres. It gets faster just before Williamstown. I am unable to keep the wheel and fall behind.
I’m in a group of three and we are chasing on the descent, catching up with three more girls. The course flattens out, taking turns is getting harder. I’m struggling. At least I have two of my teammates with me on board. One falls behind. I’m still fighting to stay in the group. At some point the car convoy is passing us.
No good. It’s frustrating that we’re so far back, but we keep on chasing. I want to be a part of the race again! Girls catch back up to us, our group gets a little bigger. It even seems like we are about to get back onto the cars. We manage to pass them and the gap to the peloton gets smaller and smaller. We’re shouting to each other “come on, come on!” Some last efforts and we are back, back in the game.
Happy for now. I try to move up in the bunch, but there is hardly any time to recover and we are about to climb again. I look at my watch: the KOM climb up Checker Hill is about to start. The speed picks up, I try to hold onto the wheels in front of me. Not being very successful. The road gets steeper and steeper. In Germany when you’re pedalling slowly they say you’re like a windmill. One of those wooden ones from the middle ages. A few cars overtake me. There are people cheering, friends calling my name. The end must be near, but it is still so very steep.
Finally, it eases up. A short steep descent follows. It’s flat again and I am back in a group of about seven ladies, including my team mate Stacey. A spectator is calling “it’s just descending from now on”. I am pretty sure he is wrong. However, the descent is great fun, but picked with numerous little climbs in between. Our group collects a few more riders.
At some point I recognise the street. It’s not that much further. The kilometres pass quickly. I can feel everyone is getting a little tense. Last turn. I can see the finish and we are getting faster. Just a few more metres. I manage to move up to the front, leading our group into the finish. Good work girls!
The fourth and final stage of the Santos women's TDU consisted of a 70 minute criterium at Victoria Park race course, just outside the Adelaide CBD. ORICA-AIS were looking for a hard race, splitting the field early. They were rewarded for their efforts with their sprinter, Melissa Hoskings taking the win. Naima was one of the many riders who didn't make the split, she recalls:
Before the start it's hot and humid. I wouldn't be surprised if there was rain coming soon. The wind is nasty. Our team tent needs to be secured or it gets blown away. My teamies and I roll onto the course, getting used to the wind and its direction. Feels like there's headwinds everywhere. The fencing keeps falling onto the course several times. Some spectators volunteer to stabilise it, and make sure it doesn’t fall over during the race.
The start line fills up even earlier than the day before. Good positions are highly rated. To keep up the traditions, I'm there fifteen minutes before the start, standing next to Hannah in the first row. The race is set for 60 minutes plus 3 laps. The grand stand is packed with people, cheering and taking pictures. We are about to start.
I have to focus on the start. I'm standing on the very left and if I don't get moving I will get caught by parts of the narrowing fence. Countdown: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go!
No entanglement with the fence. The speed is high from the very first second and the headwind shows no mercy. I try to hide in the upper part of the bunch, but it's not getting any easier. It must be the third lap when everyone starts to line up in single file. No hiding. Speed still up. It's only a few minutes into the race but I'm already starting to struggle.
I fall behind. I try to catch one of the passing wheels, I manage but then I'm losing it again. I hang on for a few more laps. Riding in single file makes the riders spread out on half the course, and I'm pretty sure I'm about to reach the end of it.
There is a gap behind me. And then I can't prevent the gap in front of me and get dropped. I keep on going. After a while there are riders on my wheel. They must have been here for a while and I get a little angry for being all alone working on the front. Finally they take turns too but it doesn't make a difference. We will not catch up to the group. The race is over.
Overall, the Tour was taken out by Valentina Scandolara, after her impressive ride on stage one. The green sprinter's jersey was won by Annette Edmondson, and the climber's red and white polka-dot jersey was won taken out by Loren Rowney.
Thanks for reading!