10 May 2006

Tour of Gracia, part three.

By the end of the second stage, I had worked into the night, finishing around midnight, with my hand the size of a small melon, it was heavy going. The other mechanics in the car park, were helping where they could. It’s funny sometimes as we race hard against each other during the day, we hang out late into the night in the car park, working side by side, like life long friends. We all share the same problems with riders and other staff members, sharing problems and tools where needed, and just keeping each other sane till racing starts the next day.

Just before I dragged my sorry ass to bed for the night, it was feeling like rain, acid rain from what the pollution looked like that night. And what a prediction, on the worst day of the tour, an 80km race at 10am and a time trail later in the afternoon, rain all day, what more could you ask for. With all five riders still in the race, I had my work cut out for me. With a 6am start, my shoes were wet within the hour, I missed breakfast again, and the plans of the girls riding to the start were changed once again. When we finally begun the rain was coming down thick and fast, this was going to be a very dangerous race this morning, with the roads covered in diesel and oil, the girls would have to be on there best behaviour. Once we were under way, the first crash of the day was before us, luckily none of the gang was down, but it looked pretty messy, bikes and riders sliding down the road like they were on ice. But soon after we had another puncture, fixed and underway we were still racing hard for 36 secs for the top place. During the race we had crossed the border to Poland, and the Czech Republic looked like paradise compared to this. The roads got a little bit worse, the houses got a little bit more dilapidated, but funnily enough, the people seemed to be smiling more. But it was not to be today, we got everyone home safe, all the bikes were covered in shit, the car was covered in oily shit, the girls were covered on the same. So off to the next stage we go.

Don't ya just love starting in the rain.

Crossing the border into Poland during the stage, the fastest crossing of any border this week.

In a small town, which from the look of things was famous for it’s smog level. With two days in temperatures around 25’c, the temperature had dropped to 5’c, and it was about midday. Seems like everyone in the high-rise slums around the start, burnt coal to stay warm. It was hard to pick what the smell was to start with, kind of a mix between, burning old rubbish, cheap coal, bad body odour and wet washing, but I managed to pick all the ingredients up with in the hour. The girls got a room at a cheap nasty hotel, to get a little bit warm and clean before the TT started. I was a mass of warm-up bikes, trainers, TT bikes, disc wheels, trying to co-ordinate the gang, in heavy rain and freezing wind. We had one girl off first, Vera, then a small gap of 15mins, then Sandra, Tanja and Linda, all with only two mins between them. Normally the organisers would split the team a little bit more apart, so we can get organised between girls, making my life a little bit easier. But this is Poland, and for some reason, this country doesn’t like me. I have supported it for years with my Polish Vodka addiction, I have probably kept a small village alive for years for the amount I have spent on the stuff, give me a break (excuse the pun again).

Tanja getting ready to race, 1 min to go.

Well things got started on the TT, with no help from my fantastic new director, I got Vera underway, while getting the three others warming up, changing a few of the girls set-ups and preferences, getting bikes prepared, trying to keep the girls warm, dry and motivated. I was running around like an idiot, but in perfect control, making all the changes and managing to get everyone warmed up, and on their TT bikes down the ramp and away. All the while keeping the eyes on the back of my head, on the truck, bikes and all of the equipment scattered around the place from any of the locals. What a day, with a very sore and almost useless hand to boot, oh and the wet shoes, and now pants and shirt as well.

Amber out on the course, posting the 2nd fastest time of the day.

Amber was the last off, sitting third on GC, I followed her out in the car, with the last two riders following behind. All the girls had a fantastic result, all in the top 20, and Amber getting another 2nd place, putting here back up at number 2. What a day, and it wasn’t over yet. After getting lost again, and sitting at the Czech border again for an half an hour again, we got back to the hotel at dusk, just in time for me to start cleaning the mess up. A few hours organising the truck, cleaning the bikes, and getting ready for the next day, it’s days like these that a bottle of Polish Vodka would come in handy. But being on the pain killers, I thought that was not a good idea. It’s days like these when that fantastic concept of a professional mechanic on a pro team, does not quite make up for the fact that you have been working 18 hours straight, no real food, soaking wet, and earning about 1.20 euro an hour for your troubles, while looking at a swollen hand and another days racing in the morning. You just got to laugh in these situations, because people looking out their windows late at night think you are crazy anyway, you might as well give them more fodder for this thought they have.

Next day dawned with rain, again, a few hours making sure the bikes are all checked, tyres pumped and checked and everything ready to leave directly after the race. I was on time as usual, and the start was close by, thank god. A circuit around the town Orlova, six laps or something, with a nice little climb or two. We keep the race under control, tried a few attacks and reeled a few in. But nothing much happened, Tanja got a 2nd, Amber keep her 2nd place in the GC, and all the girls made it home safely.

Back to the hotel for a quick shower for the girls, a short drive across the border to Poland again (more waiting) and then I dropped the girls at the airport, and started on the drive home. Only 1279km to my own bed, what a week. Now I could see why half the team were not interested in this race, none of the other mechanics talked favourably of it, and our director was not keen on coming down either. After I left the airport, I did not see the team car again, as they were too much in a hurry to wait for me. Travelling the length of Poland that night, I sighed a breath or two of relief, I was buggered, sore and just plain worn out, stressed and upset. It’s times like these when good professional staff, just walk away their trade, never to return again, I knew better.

As the city of Warsaw passed me by, the highway got very empty. I was blessed with a most beautiful sunset, it seemed to be just ahead of me for about three hours. I took about 30 pics, trying to get that perfect shot, the smog seemed to be an advantage finally, giving the sun that perfect radiance. It was as if this part of the world was trying to show me that it had some beauty after all, It was certainly a nice send off. My hand was still big as, the pain had been quenched by some nice painkillers, which kept me awake most of the night, I was home by 9am, beating the team car by about 6 hours, that put a smile on my face as I slumped into bed for a well deserved sleep.

A few more photos on the link to your right.

No comments: