16 March 2006

Het Volk, the first race.

The drive this week was a small one for the team, only 150km, we were there before we knew it. But as usual, the information regarding the whereabouts of the hotel we were staying in was rather ambiguous, or I was not listening at the time. We got lost for an hour or so until we navigated a few different highways back to where we were supposed to be. The afternoon was crisp, a cool 1’c when we arrived, and as usual the truck had to park in the coldest part of the hotel car park. A few bikes needed attention, as I had not seen them for a week or so. As soon as the sun was down, the temperature just plummeted, my three layers of merino and on layer of micro-fleece, toped off with a pro-fleece was not looking so silly now.

Klass our other Mechanic/Assistant Director from Sweden had arrived with his partner Suzanne, it was nice to catch up with them, as it had been a while. The last time we worked together was in Madrid for the worlds, when I was wrenching for their country, Sweden. Both of them had been down under racing in the Geelong tour and World cup in Australia, and in Wellington for the Tour and World cup race. They were still struggling with a bit of jetlag as they had only arrived back in Europe on Tuesday, a couple of nights at home then a two day drive to Belgium. Australia’s racing was not so good for them, but they had nothing but good things to say about NZ as usual. The racing was not so good for Suzanne, but you can’t expect to win every race, but without her own team, she found things difficult. They had nothing but praise for the increase in the level of cycling from the Kiwi girls. A huge increase change from the same time last year, might just be the impending Games or it might be we are finally starting to get our shit together. They thought Sarah was looking very strong as usual, but a little bit more gas than normal for this time of year. Hey, might be good news for a good swag of medals in the next week or so, remember you heard it here first.

I worked for a while into the evening, until I couldn’t feel my hands anymore, I normally start dropping my tools (which is normal for those of us with no opposing thumbs) when it gets too cold. When you pick tools up and they stick to your hands like your tongue sticks to the freezer wall, you know that it’s time to retire for the evening. A quick thaw, and a good feed and I was ready for the bar, opps I mean bed.

The night was very clear and the morning turned out wicked, clear, no rain, but really cold. I couldn’t help myself with checking up on the temperature, but was disappointed with only -3.5’c. During the night the temperature gets really low here, the morning may feel warm, but all the metal items in the truck stay cold for ages. Gets me every time I pick up a new wheel or tool, it’s better than three or four strong coffees in a row, certainly keeps you moving. A quick pump of about 36 tyres, a quick check over and lubrication on the odd bike, (normally the last ones I worked on the night before). And we hit the road, only about a 20km drive to the race start, excellent.

The weather was still hanging in, with the sun warming things up a bit, we had 1’c at midday, but it felt like about 5’c. Most of the girls were looking nervous, with the ‘first race of the season’ thoughts and emotions to deal with. We were right on time with the bikes, somehow we just manage to scrape through, but we always look like we are the most organised of all the teams we race against. There was lots of local teams here racing, only a few of the professional teams, so not too much competition for the day. I packed the car with all the spare bikes, wheels, tools and all the necessary equipment we would need, and we were off. We parked up the course a little, which gave me the perfect photo opportunity of the start. I waited for them to come through, getting myself lined up for that prize winning shot, but managed to turn my camera off instead of taking a series of fantastic pics. First time I have done that for a while, but I put it down to the fact that I couldn’t feel my fingers for the last two days, two small buttons can feel the same.

Finally we were racing, and a quick lap of the start town and we were of into the country. All the hills were in the first 50km, but for this part of Belgium, we were not expecting them to be too tall, and they weren’t, in fact it was hard to spot the first hill. The racing was fast the first couple of hours, we reached speeds of 65km/hr on some of the flats with a little bit of a tail wind. The race was only about 90km so there were many attacks in the last 45km and we were on top of all of them so no one got away. Nothing much else really happened, and drawing car number 5 we could not see a hell of lot of the front of the bunch. Coming into the last corner we had five of the top ten positions and it was going to be a bunch sprint. We missed out on first place but picked up a second with Mirjam and third with Tanja, not bad for the first race, but a win would have been nice.

Some of the girls went for a bit more training after the race, as it was not quite long enough for them, so I had to hang around for a while longer. Then it was back to base to do some cleaning of the bikes and cars, for tomorrow we have a photo session for the whole team. The Team house is full, so hope I still got a bed there when I get home. Photos start at 9am so the bikes have got to look sharp, as we will be using these shots for all the magazines, websites, posters and riders cards that they use throughout the year. Righto, back to work.

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