15 March 2007

Tour of Wellington.

With a single night in my bed, it has already started to feel like the racing season has already started, with few hours sleep before waking, it definitely has. It was nice to be getting organized for a tour in my own country for a change. This I was very used to after years of running around the country racing for myself and friends. I knew where I was going, how long it was going to take, and I didn’t even need to look at a map, man this was going to be great. A few bikes (for a couple of friends), food, bottles and tools etc for the team and I was on the road to Wellington in no time, the shops car was small compared to the truck. For those from afar, Wellington is the capital of NZ, and the southern most city, in the north island. The Women’s Tour of Wellington has been raced for a few years now as has the men’s, but there was a little change this time around. There was not the normal three day tour, followed by the second World Cup for the year. This time it was a five day, six stage race, with no World Cup race at the end of it. Not sure the reason why no World Cup, but as usual probably for the lack of sponsorship in a Rugby mad (or should I say stupid) country for the visiting teams. As per the UCI rules, the first ten teams on the World Cup standings get free travel and accommodation for the race. But been at the ass end of the World, this becomes a very expensive exercise, as you could imagine, and sponsors just don’t want to know about it. Hey if it was a third division rugby team, wanting to travel the world to check out grass on other playing fields, there would be large corporations falling over each other to sponsor it.

Out for a training ride in the wonderful wild Wellington hills.

Most of the European teams that normally race in the Geelong Tour and WC race generally come over here as well and race both countries. But this year the pro teams just didn’t want to come, which is a shame for the local girls really, as the level of racing would not be as high as hoped. Teams expected were the ever world famous and fantastic ‘Flexpoint’ team. This team was featuring the eclectic collection of Susanne, Annette, Madeline, Loes G and our newest rider Loes Makerink. Also traveling with them was the best three mechanics in the modern world, Klass, Christian and yours truly. Some of the lesser teams were also going to be racing with us as well, the German National Selection, two teams from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), two teams from the New Zealand National selection for Europe this season. A few other local teams, with girls placed in teams by the organiser, and T-Mobile from Germany. The later featuring the NZ famous, and ex Flexpoint team member Linda Villumsen. With a start list in the high 59’s this was going to be a very small starting lineup, lets hope they can make it through out the week, otherwise it’s going to be a small field starting for the final crit in Wellington central on the Sunday.

The pre-race briefing, now stay safe and kick some kiwi butt.

Arriving in Wellington I hooked up with the team that had arrived the day before from Melbourne. All the bikes were unpacked and ready to roll into the countryside of the Hutt Valley the next day, so once again I had nothing to do. Again, with enough mechanics to look after the five bikes, I was on light duties again, and pressured into being bottle bitch for the week. Feeding on the course, and transporter and translator for the week, another nice relaxing week for both the staff and riders was in order again. The next day we found a nice quite little climb to train on, not sure what it was called, but we ended up passing the start of the Karpoti MTB course, which the previous day all records were smashed. Nice to see a front page pic of the riders charging through the rivers at the start of the race in the cities newspapers.

The Kiwi A team, not to be confused with the other A Team (of TV fame).

The next day we started Stage one with a small criterium around the old Avalon Studios in Lower Hutt, just up the road from the hotel, which was convenient. The race was fast, with some of the slower riders (you know who you are) coming off the back in the first few laps. I was positioned around the back of the course with the spare bike and wheels just in case of any problems. After a few laps the wind had picked up pretty high, with some mean gusts coming over the course (high wind in Wellington, what a surprise). The wind was the cause of the first accident, blowing a couple of the girls into each other (at least that’s what they thought) not too far through the race. I sprang into action, raced across the road to the pileup of girls, what looked like one of us at the bottom of a pile was not, thank god. But there was some good carnage there all the same. Some pretty smacked up bikes, I managed to get most of them going in a matter of minutes, much to the astonishment of the bike support guy, who just stood there in disbelief. Some harsh words of encouragement to a couple of cry babies, and the crash was clear but for a couple of girls down. One of them had a nice big gash on her thigh, as some nice person just happen to smash a bottle here not too long ago. I think she managed to find the biggest piece of glass as she slid down the road on her stomach. But she was fine, but I couldn’t pull my camera out for that opportune shot of her gash, as her eyes were still full of tears, I do have a conscience sometimes.

The pace was fast around the small course.

The crit carried on for an hour, plus three laps, with the T-Mobile rider Ina Tutenburg taking out the sprint and the leaders Jersey. Day one was done, no problems, no girls sliding down the road, and a good showing of our shirts in the front, things were good. Again our team was here just for some riding, training and to test the legs with a little bit of early season racing. Nothing too stressful, but a nice relaxing tour, we would let all the other teams fight for the wins during the week.

I must say it was nice to see so many Kiwi’s racing for a change, they were looking good in their black kits, and white for the B team, very professional for a change. They had some of the better riders hooked into race for the week, so it would be interesting. Riders such as Sarah Ulmer, Joanne Kiesanowski (man I got to find out the right spelling for her), MTBer Rosaria Joseph and a few of my Auckland favorites, including Marina Duvnjak (same as above) and Tony Bradshaw to name a few. This was going to be a good test for the girls off to Europe this season, a chance to work in a team, and to race some pretty good talent for a change. It should be interesting towards the end of the week as most of them underrate their own abilities when pipped against some of the professionals. They have got to realize they also work jobs or go to school during the week. They also don’t have some of the same resources like equipment and coaches etc available to some of their competition. And many other points that they have to take that into consideration as well when they are measuring themselves up next to them.

The wonderful Joanne Kiesanowski from Univega, Kiwi A team this week, can't be that bad.

Stage two was from Martinbourgh, through the countryside and up a couple of climbs to Masterton. Nothing much happened here, but a break an hour or so into the race, with a small bunch away to about 5 mins to the bunch. But this was shut down by one of the girls training for the Track Worlds, riding an effort off the front for an hour or so. Bunch was group near the finish, with the sprinter Oenone Wood taking the win, with our new young rider Loes M getting second place not far behind. Our first podium finish for the tour, and not the last by any means. Now, a few days in Masterton, in a nice looking hotel, some great food, some fantastic local wine and more relaxing. The week was looking good weather-wise, from bad reports for the end of the week turning into some fantastically fine days, with sun from start to finish, I’m glad they got it wrong. The local surrounds were almost as dry as Melbourne’s dust fields, with the hills giving the view a great golden hue over all horizons.

Loes Makerink on the podium.

We went out later that evening to scout the next couple of stages, as there was some good climbing coming up and we wanted to be prepared for this. Stage three was a small 30km circuit around the town of Gladstone. Well we were looking for town, but all we came across was a pub in the middle of nothing, just one lone pub, but being a rural area, this is great as you can drink and drive and no one would even notice, cause we saw nothing.

Part 2, soon.

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