Posted by Editoress on 05/24/03
Tour de L'Aude
Courtesy Team Saturn
What many called the deciding stage of the Tour de L'Aude waited in the distance all week, leering at the riders from the sidelines with its three major climbs - two hors category and a category one. As the competitors did battle all week in the wind, the distances and terrain began to take their toll. Faces showed the fatigue, smiles were slow to appear, and shoulders sagged. And ever present in the minds of everyone was stage eight, today's stage. The efforts of the eight previous days culminated into one day of reckoning for all the top riders at the Tour, a day filled with narrow roads, long and steep climbs and nasty descents.
Well known by the locals, stage eight's climbs were long and steep, and according to local lore the descent of the final climb was an ascent in the Tour de France last year. Taking the riders into the stern mountains of the Pyrenees, the 123 kilometers offered ample opportunities for the Yellow Jersey to be lost or gained. Stage eight was a true test of a team's courage, drive and determination. Today saw race leader Lyne Bessette's Saturn team sacrificing all, and with a true show of blood and guts, leaving everything they had on the mountainsides of the Pyrenees.
The morning's gray skies were laden with rain, and a chill hung in the air. Vastly different from yesterday's brilliant warmth, Saturday's weather reckoned back to the typical French weather - rain chilled winds wracking the countryside. With several long, twisty, technical descents on the agenda, many riders surely feared what was to come as they arrived at the start greeted by darkening skies and heavy showers.
The field remained together after the first climb, as the overall contenders waited patiently until the final two most difficult climbs to apply pressure. An early break of 13 riders set the stage for Bessette and her Saturn team to play the game of patience. Without any overall contenders in the front, Bessette's team was content to let the gap open wide, and thus the main group remained intact over the first climb.
In the first of the two hors category climbs, the field detonated, with a front group splintering off to form what would become the actors on the penultimate stage for the remainder of the race. Setting the pace and taking front and center stage was Nurnberger's Judith Arndt. Sitting comfortably on her wheel was the Maillot Jeune. With her were her two Saturn teammates, Katie Mactier and Manon Jutras. As the grades steepened, Jutras and Mactier lost contact and the group became very select with key riders Arndt, Bessette, Fabiana Luperini, Mirjam Melchers, Susanne Ljunskog riding tempo at the front. About half way up, Jolanta Polikeviciute and Maribel Moreno (Spain) escaped but as neither posed a threat to the Yellow Jersey there was no reaction from the group. On the descent the two stayed clear of a chasing group which reformed to a group of about 15 before the last and most brutal of the climbs.
Just at the bottom of the climb, Bessette
In a gallant show of power, Arndt put every ounce of effort into her pedal stroke and wedged herself off the front of the now very elite group. The only one able to match her pace was the Swede, Ljunskog. Bessette's reaction was valiant, but in the end, not quite enough. As she fought to come to terms with the Nurnberger rider, Mactier helped set pace at the front.
The 25 kilometer to go marker indicated the descent, and Bessette alone with Melchers. The two worked together, taking every possible risk on the slippery, rain coated descent, but Arndt's determination held her gap steady at the 1:32 mark.
Coming into the finish it was Polikeviciute for the win, but the winner of the day and most likely of the Tour was defending Champion Arndt. Bessette finished fourth in the stage and will slip into second in the overall.
The final stage is a circuit race around Limoux and offers a category three climb. With the end of the Tour bearing down on the remaining riders and more rain in the forecast, there is still a slight possibility of the Leader's Jersey once again exchanging shoulders. However, the Nurnberger team has all the tools at their disposal to defend Arndt's jersey until the final meters of the 19th annual Tour de L'Aude.
Stage 8: Axat to Axat, 123km
1. Jolanta Polikeviciute (Ltu) RSM
2. Judith Arndt (Ger) Nurnberger
3. Susanne Ljunskog (Swe) Team Catalunya
4. Lyne Bessette (Can) Saturn
5. Mirjam Melchers (Ned) Farm Frites
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