14 September 2006

Tour of Holland 2

The Holland Ladies Tour, started with a crash and a bang, and another crash, and another crash, and a bang. The morning broke with rain and the fine weather reports bandied around by the locals just didn’t hold water (pun intended). There can be nothing worse for both the mechanics and the riders, than waking to rain, especially on a long stage race. Both of us know that it’s going to be trouble for the day, and some of us know it means a whole lot of extra work.

The field was huge, 172 starters or something, a really big peloton for a change, nice to see for Women’s cycling. Racing started just as the biggest downpours of the day started (plus it rained all night and all morning non-stop, ye ha) and I was very nervous, and damp. Most often than not, the peloton is very dangerous on the first day of a big stage race, throw in a bunch of club riders, and some rain, and guess what, you are asking for trouble. Almost as soon as we started racing, the first crashes started. More often than not, the crashes happen at the back with some of the more inexperienced riders, our girls know this, and always try to stay near the front. Still it keeps me on the edge of my seat for the first stage, and in and out of the car for most of the day as well. The Dutch race radio is sweet for information, most of the time they give us some indication of the teams on the ground, saves me having to get out of the car, wheels in hand, sprinting to the crash scene. I’m always ready for that call ‘Buitenpoort’, then the stomach hits rock bottom, and with wheels I hit the road, ready for the worst, bikes and bodies sprawled across the road.

My view out the window of my office for the week.

Most of the time you can see the crashes from a few cars back, if our girls are in we hear it on the team radios, either from the rider down, or one of the girls that passed the scene. We were lucky for the first five or so spills, a few riders down, none of us, thanks. But then the shit started, crash, and a big one, almost twenty riders down, and yes we had a few in there. Tanja, the winner from last years race was down, I could hardly see her at the bottom of a pile of about 10 riders and bikes, what a mess. She was moving and struggling to get out of the mess, and I was struggling to find her bike and a way out for her. Her bike was broken, both the top tube and the down tube, hanging together with a few threads of carbon, time for the spare bike. Later we find out she managed to stop just before the crash and was safe, but for the bunch behind, they ploughed right into her, nice. A few more crashes for the day, and thank you the day was over, four girls involved in small skirmishes, and Tanja in a big one. A frame swap for the night, and some very dirty bikes, and a few buckled wheels, what a day.

The race continued for a couple of days, with the same shit, more rain, even heavier than the first day. A few more crashes, and lucky, none of us, but doesn’t make it any easier for me hanging in and out of the car constantly. Nothing much was happening with the race, as the bunch was staying together with the weather being so bad. We were sitting sweet in the classification, most of the team was not losing any time, thing were good. Next up my favourite day, the double stage, finishing with a team time-trail in the afternoon, and it was still raining. The morning stage, was one of just keeping the girls safe. We were the favourites, as usual for the team TT, and would take control of the race and the jersey from here on. Bit sad really for the other teams, as there is no reason for the TT to do so much damage to a race. For the professional men, things are a little bit different, with only 20 secs allowed between places, i.e. 2nd place may be as far back as a min, but the team gets awarded only 20 secs behind. For the Women, thing are as they are, if we get 3 mins on second place, our time stands and the race is done. Even though this is good for the team being in the lead again, it’s almost like cheating, and not really fair for the other teams (but maybe they could ride faster). This should not disadvantage the other teams so much, it has to change, but at this stage we love it.

The weather was looking good for the TT in the afternoon, the rain had passed as we were finishing the stage in the morning, so we all thought it was going to stay clear for the afternoon. But you got to believe it, just as the first team was starting of the line, the rain started, and heavy to boot. At least all the teams were going to have rain, unlike last year when we were the only team on the course when the rain started. Think about a team of six, disc wheels, skinny little tires, up to 140 psi, wet roads that look like glass, ohh and throw in some wet, shiny, hard stones. Well they call them stones, (they are not cobbles as they are almost round on the top, and even worse), but these are flat, and as smooth as glass, most of the time they put them on corners for the grip when there is snow on the road. These things are crazy when they are wet, but most of the team knows them well, and we were not out to take any risks today. We started well, and finished even better. A first place, and 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8 in the GC. Now all we had to do was defend those spots for the next few days. And the rain was still falling.

Tanja, about to start the Team Timetrial, looking a bit anxious.

The team on the road, and what a fantastic day.

We raced well for the next couple of days, keeping out first four spots. It was difficult to keep as all the teams were sending riders out, attacking us left, right and centre. But we kicked their asses as usual, and by halfway through most stages, the peloton was beaten into submission and stopped all their attacks. The last day was to decide everything, some good hills to split things up again and to stop the monotony of the flat roads Holland is famous for. Things got interesting when a break of two riders got away, then there was six, lucky we had Susanne in the break, our number one position was safe. The group stayed away, with two riders a minute or so back, Loes was in this group, chasing hard to maintain her second place. It was not to be, the group stayed away, Loes chased for an hour or so, the bunch stayed away as well. But we ended up winning the tour with Susanne, also she won the mountain jersey (mountains in Holland??) and Linda won the best young rider (and a washing machine), and we also won the Teams Classification which was nice. The boss was happy, the sponsors happy and the mechanic still had another race the next day so he did not know what to think.

Susanne after her fantastic win for the week.

And more pics in the link to the right.

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