6 March 2007

Tour of Geelong, Part 1

Nice view of the city from the Yarra river, notice the cycle lane on the right of the river, weaving it's way under the highway.

I arrived in Melbourne a day or so early to catch up with a few friends and a few bike shops. Melbourne is one of those cycling friendly cities which I just love riding around. With plenty of cycle friendly routes, and some very nice safe cycle lanes, it’s quite refreshing after Auckland City. There is a couple of cool bike shops run by a few of the friends we have met over here with the Singlespeed racing. It makes hanging out in bike shops seem all the more normal (I worry about my addiction sometimes, then a minute later I don’t). There are also a few vintage clothing shops that always have the odd cool wool shirts I so long for, makes for some good surprises sometimes. But alas my luck was not so good this time round, jersey that would suit a skinny, 7’ tall person. The coffee is always good, thank god for all the Italian immigrants, the food here is great, if there was one city in this country if I had to choose to live (please keep it quite), it would be this one. But I was here for the racing, not the sightseeing. So after a couple of very good purchases (more later) I made my way to hook up with the team in a small town just south west of Melbourne, for the Tour of Geelong.

Remnants of a time gone by.

This is a four stage, three day tour, around the surrounding Geelong area, then we have a day off and then right into the first World Cup of the year. I have not officially started work, but I am more here as an extra, to help out when needed. With two of the riders boys here as well, both of them very capable machanics, I was here for a weeks holiday and some bike racing, just to keep me out of trouble. It was nice to catch up with the team, some of old, and one new. I have been looking forward to getting back to work (sounds strange I know, but it’s true), and back to some European racing. The cool thing is, not having to travel halfway around to do it this time. Nice to see the team struggling with a little bit of jet-lag, but they were all happy to get some sunshine and some fine weather, so it was not too bad after all.

There was only a few of the teams that we race in Europe, racing this tour, with the great cost of getting down this far with team, bikes and all essential equipment. But still there was the best five trams on the UCI list, so it was not going to be easy. New Zealand was fielding two full teams, with the European selection (soon to be based in France for the season) on trail, and also the up and coming younger riders. It was nice to have a few Kiwi’s kicking around for a change. Some of our top riders based in Europe were racing in their respective teams as well, so it was a great feeling having them around for the week, at least I could speak their language. Australia had quite a few teams here as you can imagine, the AIS (Aussie institute of sport) has done a wonderful job here in finding new talent, and with the QAS (Queensland Academy of Sport) with a team or two, it was going to be a tough week.

Cruising on the way to the first stage.

The first day of the tour started with a small TT around a nice little beach front road. No TT bikes were allowed, giving an even playing field for the Euro teams. Meshy Holt hung on to the lead for quite some time before she was beaten by some of the bigger stars of the day. All our team had a great run, no problems, but no podium for us though. With the win coming from a USA rider, Tina Pic. The weather had picked up during the race to a nice brisk 35km head wind on the way out to the turn around. But once were heading home the speedo climbed back up to an average of about 70km/hr, giving the girls a much needed rest. With two stages on today, we settled into some lunch to wait for the afternoon criterium to begin.

The afternoon brought some more wind onto the course, within a small 2km circuit, the climb was about 1km directly into the headwind again, this was going to be interesting as it could split the field easily. There was some strange rule change going on into the start, but I suppose it was to make it easy for the timing with lapped riders being pulled from the race and being awarded the time of the slowest rider, left racing on the course. The race started with a hiss and a roar, the hiss being some of the girls lungs collapsing as they rounded the hill for the first couple of laps. Most of the locals were struggling with the speed, with a lot of the younger Aussie and Kiwi girls getting lapped out rather quickly. We had a good presence during the race, with all the girls looking sweet, keeping up with the best and not even slightly loosing the speed of the peloton. The Kiwi A team was looking sweet, with Tony Bradshaw, Meshy Holt and Sarah Ulmer driving the bunch hard on many occasions. It was a good showing so early on in the season. T-Mobile struck their first win for the year with a nice bunch sprint won by their sprinter Ina Tutenburg. Think we got a 6th and a 10th somewhere in the sprint.

My favourite colour.

We are using the first few races more for training, and it really is great to see the team nice and relaxed for a change. With Klass acting as our director for the trip, a sense of relaxation around the races was the order of the week. The next couple of days saw some pretty safe sort of racing from the girls, and some good racing starting to evolve from some of the other teams. The 3rd stage at a town called Lara , was 124km long, with a nice little climb up to 28% gradient placed right in the middle. I was relegated to feeding for the day, positioning ourselves on the top of the big climb, ready to replenish their fluids for the long trip down the mountain. It was nice to be in the open, checking out the extremely dry valley the gang would be racing through. It was nice to get some height, and see a bit of iconic Australia instead of paved cityscapes. Most of the teams decided to feed here, and I was watching the locals driving past in disbelief as they passed a massive feed station in the middle of nowhere. Just then we saw the lead motorcycles in the distance, like ants marching slowly over a dry sand pit. With no radios on the hill we had no idea what was happening in the race, but it looked like there was a little break in the bunch. Far away was the rest of the bunch, following in the distance. It seemed like forever for them to come close, but we were looking at them approaching from about 5km away. I timed the gap to about three minutes, not bad with about 40km to go after we feed them.

By the time the leaders were upon us, the first bunch had split on the way up the mountain, with one of our girls in, I was happy. The main bunch managed to close the gap to about one minute at the top of the climb, so it was going to be a close finish. The hill managed to claim a few casualties on the way up, with about 10 girls near the back, walking their bikes up the steepest parts. But the road was shit, with lots of corrugations and loose metal covering the edges, with nasty corners so steep you could almost reach out and touch them in front of you, I was surprised not to see more walkers.

The race continued, so we headed to the finish to see the gang home. We then heard of a big crash on the descent off the mountain involving two of the Kiwi team, one of them catching a ride in the ambulance it was so bad, I was hoping it wasn’t one of the girls who had been chosen for Europe, especially after they had worked really hard to get selected. The race had split up a bit in the last few kilometers, with some of the major players in the front bunch. It came to a sprint, but we were not so lucky.

Part Two Soon.

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