7/23/2007

Sarah Tillotson's Giro Femminile Report

The rain is falling with a soaking determination up here in the Adirondacks today. I'm sitting in my friends' living room a block away from the Ironman Lake Placid registration tent watching through the front window as Sunday's competitors park and walk to pick up their race packets. I have also just finished watching today's Tour de France stage with all of the glorified Versus commercials for the station's ongoing Tour coverage. Between the Tour montages and parade of Ironmen, I am feeling by turns inspired and slothful on my couch. But wait, I think, did I not just fly in from Italy less than 48 hours ago after completing the longest women's stage race in the world? Oh, but how quickly I forget the racing induced pain and suffering that my body just endured for a record 9 straight days of racing. If anything I guess it can be said that I am in good company amongst these athletes-televised and otherwise. Through the jet-lag that is beginning to taper off perhaps I can convey some of the lasting impressions from the Giro Ciclistico Femminile Internazionale (the Giro for girls) that my Colavita/Sutter Home team has just competed in.

Was I excited for the Giro was a frequently asked question before the trip over. Truthfully, I was nervous-afraid really. This was new territory for me as a racer. Nine days of Euro racing with women who raced like pro men. These feelings weren't unfounded: we averaged 42-45 kph for 3-4.5 hours a day. This includes frequent braking caused by any type of bend or corner in the course. I never thought I would say this but I long for a a tight, technical crit course raced by North American girls who have been raised on a steady diet of criterium racing and know how to take a turn with a fair amount of speed. That is the ONLY arena I can claim superiority for my country's racing over Europeans, other than that, those girls are incredible. Aside from the personal challenges I would face, I knew that our team's staff was going into unchartered territory; though very competent people in their own country with their own language, I was truly apprehensive about the ability of my director to guide us through the rigmarole of two weeks of racing with no English cues. Races starts, accommodations, race radio information, manager's meetings, communiqu├ęs-there are so many critical facets of the race that were going to have an enormous bearing on the riders, that he was going to have to fudge his way through. I would have to have an extraordinary amount of faith in his ability to figure these things out because we were totally at his mercy. Our mechanic had never been to Europe where the race on bikes is only half the story. Racing to the hotel to get the hook-ups for the hose to wash the bikes and run the washing machines in the team trucks was a whole new form of competition. Our soigneur in her first year of doing the job, had a whole new set of challenges facing her in trying to feed and massage us in this foreign land. The chaos of trying to sheppard all these people through all of the day's logistic challenges while dealing with the constant barrage of glitches that are sure to crop up along the way was a gigantic undertaking. Kudos to our director Jim Williams who somehow pulled it off, his strength and competency, patience and flexibility were admirable and made for a successful and crisis free trip.

I would be hard pressed to recall the outcome of every day we spent racing. So much happened, a lifetime of activity, but at the same time so little occurred. It took a gigantic effort to compete but the result on paper amounted to nothing of any note. Because of this, I have a hard time defining the success of the race and tend to recall it now for it's remarkable moments; the snapshots in my memory that make it a significant experience. For that alone, I can personally appreciate it but is that enough for a sponsor? I crested the top of a climb into an ancient Italian village and happened, for a split second, to look up and see a 30-foot tall bronze statue of a saint with his arms outspread as if to welcome the charging field into the village and gasped in surprise and wonderment. That image will remain forever in my head but I don't think that that is what my director, or the national team coach, or the CEO of Colavita really care about. That is to say, Italy was beautiful, participating in the Giro was fun but from a competitive standpoint, even though I don't think it was realistic to just show up in Europe and expect stage wins and a top 10 GC placing, I should feel disappointed for letting our sponsors down and not living up to our team goals. It's a tough place to be. It doesn't seem quite right to detail out the highlights of the trip in a way that make it sound as if it was nothing but a cycling vacation, yet at the same time, what else can I really take away from it and share?

Perhaps I should have waited to write when the jet lag was truly gone and the rain had ceased. I would have been more disposed to discribe our villa in Tuscany outside the walled city of Lucca, the fields of sunflowers we rode past just like Graham Watson's Tour pictures, my TT up a 10km climb in Buti where a very young Italian boy rode with me to the top in silent encouragement, and the countless other characters and landscapes we encountered along the way.

It really was a great trip and I hope that the racing there will make me stronger and faster for our next big race in Altoona, Pennsylvania which starts next week. It's seven days and actually longer in mileage then the Giro. Most likely we will be going at a pace that is more condusive to sight seeing, but hopefully my race report from it will include podiums, stage wins and high GC placings.

Take care!
Sarah

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