21 April 2006

La Fleche Wallonne

Finally it's started to feel like spring here, with just a little drive of 150km, I had a temperature reading of 18'c. Passing masses of daffodils, and trees full of blossoms, it definitely feels like summer is here. It's been days without rain, and the wind has stopped blowing a little, so almost time for the shorts on the bike and to shed a few layers.

Linda's bike, ready to race with the high carbon wheels from Bontrager, very fast.

La Fleche Wallonne, the 9th time for the Women, and many times raced for the men. A big day, 4th round of the World Cup for the team, and a few good hills, and some awesome descents. We were all looking forward to it, most of all it was a good start to the morning, sun always puts a smile on most of the teams faces. Especially the mechanics. A small drive from the hotel in the base of Holland, to the race start about 50km into Belgium. The countryside changes almost directly leaving the border, it's just not the same. The Dutch hate coming here, it's their closest neighbour, but their worst enemies, must have been some fighting going on for centuries, I must look into it. One thing that changes is the height of the hills, finally the horizon is broken up, you can't see for miles anymore, only to the next hill, thank god. Maybe that's why they hate them, they have all the hills here.

Suzanne and Loes ready to race, smiling in the sunshine.

Getting to the race, I counted three Nuclear power stations, yep that's three, in 50km. Maybe another reason the Dutch don't like these guys, as they are all within a small meltdown of Holland. Anyway, coming through the town of Huy, traffic had started to pile up with all the spectators, lucky we had special passes to get us through to the top of the Murr (the 'wall', not the same one as the other day, but just another hua of a climb). I parked next to the cemetery, looks like no one else wanted to park here, lucky as we had the bus, two cars, and the truck to park. A new sign on the gate, told me there was some Commonwealth soldiers hanging out there, so when I was all set up, I went for a bit of a wander. I found a few Kiwi graves amongst the British, Canadian and Aussie headstones. I had a moments silence (and a good piss), as I thought of these brave soldiers coming here in the prime of their life to fight, die, and for what, someone else's country. No thanks, not the way I would like to go, but we had our own battle on today. Small in comparison, but there was just as many countries fighting today as there was back then. And no camo, unfortunately.

Mirjam and Jean-Paul hanging out just before the start.

All our team headed towards the start, and as like the last few races, there was a problem with one of the girls radios. This is always a problem when they are on the starting line, as it is very hard to get to them sometimes. Climbing over bikes, girls, and trying not to stand on anyone or anything. Hey, but spotted some of the Kiwi team lined up and looking a bit nervous for their first race for the season. Didn't get a chance to say hello as we needed to get back to the car before the start, it was going to be tight.

The gang ready to race.

Hey it's a Kiwi, good to see some real colour in the race.

Racing started with a bang, and a wicked downhill, with many bottles flying out on the bumpy road, it was going to be a tough day for some of the girls as they were dropping them even in the first 20km. After the bunch settled down a bit, the pace started to come up a little, though some very nice countryside, we were too busy with the weeks news to hear one of the girls had punctured, out I go, and Loes was on here way again, catching the bunch in a few minutes. It was the only prolemwe had.

40km into the race, I spotted the first Kiwi to pop out the back of the bunch, and a few km more and another. Two of the younger riders were dropped, but hanging on for all they are worth. Looks like they were not quite ready for such a hilly race, and such a fast speed of the bunch. Before long we saw most of the kiwi team, but then again we saw half of the field getting dropped. The climbs were servere, and unforgiving, but there was enough time to recover in between, if you can hang on.

Nice panorama of the Huy area, I love springtime.

There was a break of a single rider about this time, but she was being kept out the front at about a min, Univega Team was doing the chasing, they were top of the teams placing and did not want to loose their spot today. We did some work on the front with 20km to go and pulled the leaders back in. The final climb was looming, the famous Murr, a climb of 22%, steep for even the best climbers. We had all of our team still there heading into the climb, but we could not hold it together for the finish. We didn't hear a thing in the car as we get directed around the climb, to back past the finish. It was a sprint for the finish, think the best we did was with Amber at 5th, but it was still good. We didn't loose too many points to our opposition teams, all the girls finished well. No crashes, no other problems but the one flat, hey I'm happy. We packed the bikes, the girls and were out of their as fast as we could, and just made it through as they closed the roads for the men's race which was about to finish.

Right, back to base, I just love these short drives. Next one is 1000km to Switzerland on Sunday for round 5 of the WC, then to Chezch Republic for a 5 days stage race on tues, but more on this later.

The kiwi's finding it hard, Marina dropping off the bunch.

A picture says a thousand words.

Speaking of pictures, a few more posted in the pic gallery, linked over on the right. Don't forget the password : benny

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