After a week of some serious work, the three of us had finished a few projects on the truck, bikes and equipment that we had been trying to do for a year or so. Only one more job on the truck, installation of a sound system for the ipod, and things would be as good as they get for life on the road. What self respecting bike wouldn’t like surround sound when it was hanging around in the truck. With a week of pretty bad weather and high winds in Holland, we seemed to hit the eye of the storm on the way to the race in Borsele. With rain and high winds hanging around, temperatures had dropped to almost a half of what they had been earlier. So it was a real eye opener for the team, having to find their warm and rain gear for the race. Borsele is another race in the Dutch ‘Top competition’ series, important for a team based in Holland. We were racing our B-team, as the rest of the team had made, or was making their way to Bern for the World Cup. We had to race with 5 girls or else there was no start for us, we managed to just scrape in, with any of the girls having to travel overnight. Lucky as we had lost (PC version) one of the team Annette Beutler, as she was concentrating on her Olympic preparation, and needed some specific training and racing, team work was not going to work. We were busy trying to get a new rider organised, and she was unlicensed, which means no race. With some serious favours called in, the Dutch Cycling Federation gave her a licence, then to UCI to get her on the team list, this was more difficult. As with any major organisation, UCI is like the rest of them, if your in a hurry, it’s not possible, so we used the old, no hurry trick and it was through in a matter of days.
It could only be Team New Zealand with the Jandels, very rare over here in Europe, but instantly recognised as a southern hemisphere icon.
We started, we raced, we chased, we attacked like hell, but nothing really happened. It was cold, wet and windy (just the way that most Dutch races should be), no problems, no mechanicals, a dropped rider or two, but no real surprises. The truck had left for Switzerland in the morning, so had a few of the team, so with two team cars, we headed back to base, unloaded all the bikes and wheels we didn’t need and hit the road. Heading south (closer to the equator) to Switzerland was a welcome change, as we heard the weather forecast was very favourable for racing. But a storm chased us all the way through Germany, lucky driving at around 200km/hr, we could outrun it easily. A small drive of 755km in a car for a change, a few hours later we arrived late in the night. Round five of the World cup series was being held near the city of Bern, around the area Jens, Lyss and Biel. A lightly populated farming area, some small villages and some fantastic lakes, and a very nice view of the mountains to the horizon. Think of green pastures, rolling hills and freshly planted wheat fields, intermingled with turn of the century, classic Swiss looking houses, most of them holding three generations of the same family (I hear you can get a mortgage for up to 100 years to pay it back). The race is organised and sponsored by the Bigla Team, whose home base is near the start finsh line funnily enough. Bigla (office equipment), one of the ‘top ten’ trade teams, currently with last years race winner, Zabirova, had a lot at stake. All the major teams were racing, with the overall win of the series of ten, still open, including the three out of four winner, Nicole Cooke (Raleigh Lifeforce, Joanne Kiesanowski’s team). A few of the top riders, still, had not shown their faces on the podium, so it was all out for this race as things were getting to close to call. A small change to the course from last year, with the same tough climbs, with a small change to the laps surrounding them. Still a demanding course for any rider, as no real recovery can be achieved between the climbs, also some tight racing through the villages, with some open roads just to stretch things out.
The gang getting thier last briefing before the start.
The Kiwi team was looking great dressed all in black, and were looking for a better result than last years, as I remember I saw the whole team getting dropped within the first two laps (with two out on the first). Hopefully they have done a little bit more training this time out, knowing what they have to deal with here. Racing for the New Zealand national team was, Toni Bradshaw, Gina Waibel, Carissa Wilks, Serina Sheriden, Marina Duvnjak and Michelle Hyland. Other favourites looking for a win were T-Mobiles, Judith Arnt, not yet showing any real form, Ina Tuttenberg was surprisingly missing from the list, as was our own Susanne Ljunskog and Amber (busy preparing for the l’Aude). Marianne Vos, the current World Champ was also hungry for a win, as she is unbelievable, and almost unbeatable at the moment. Vos was racing the day earlier in the Netherlands, in Borsele. Here she made a break with one other, 50km from the finish, in 30km winds, and did most of the work to win easily with 30 seconds or so. Most of the teams racing Borsele, had the B teams racing here, so they put lots of pressure on Vos, keeping her close, forcing her to work to stay away (hoping to tire her out for the next days racing). We would see, with a long transit to the airport, a late flight, and a long transit upon landing, it’s not the best recovery before such a big race. With this race a week before the biggest race on the Women’s calendar, the Tour de l’Aude, some of the top riders were not present, but still some serious contenders were out for a good stretching. Also racing here was a couple of Kiwi’s, Amy Mosen (just signed to Rapha-Condor) and Tamara Boyd (Lotto-Belisimo). Good to talk some sense (Kiwi English) for a minute or so.
The bunch about to disappear in to a small village.
The morning dawned clear and sunny, much to our surprise after having braved the storms throughout the night, en-route to Bern (the team had arrived a day earlier). An almost full peloton graced the start line, with about 162 starters, the race was going to be tough, with nowhere to hide for those that like to do nothing ion the bunch. Things got of to a very nice rolling speed within the first 5km, but it wasn’t long before most of the stronger teams were keeping the speed up high at the front of the bunch. With a blistering pace of 50-55km/hr before the first big climb of the day, things were getting serious already. By the time the first big climb of the day was upon us, a few attacks had come and gone, but none of them came to much. Almost every attack was reeled in before they even had 10 seconds on the bunch. The speed stayed high, even after the climbs, making sure that no one had any energy left for the big attacks that you needed to escape. With Bigla, Nurenburger and sometimes T-mobile controlling the front of the bunch, they were all good at protecting any attempts of escape. With three laps of the big course done, bunch was group, and the only action we saw was the race for the mountain and sprint classifications on every lap. Still with not much action on the front, the 80km mark was starting to split the bunch at the back of the race over the climbs, with three distinct groups now, the front still had a bunch of about 60. At the 100km mark, the bunch was back together, it looked like Toni Bradshaw had a mechanical, but a few moments later she was back in the bunch.
Almost like patchwork, a nice vista of the Swiss countryside.
Most of the Kiwi’s were hanging in easily, with a lot higher level of fitness coming from the team than last year. We saw Marina (the last to arrive in Europe, still jet lagged maybe) getting dropped on one of the climbs, she was chasing hard in the caravan but could not quite make it back into the bunch, by this time we had lost about 30 of the bunch. Out of the race were some pretty big names, finding the speed and climbing a little too much, we even lost our own Loes Makerink on the second lap. She was cooked, but tried to hang on for half a lap, to no avail. With about twenty km to go, the attacks came in thick and fast, but they were all reeled back in with no real effort. With ten to go, bunch was group, a few riders testing the front, but again nothing prevailed. Last years race was won at this stage, with Zabirova (Bigla) attacking at this point, and again she tried, with team-mate Tanja Hennes, and failed. With five to go, a small attack came with a single rider out the front, Edita Pucinskaite (Nurenburger) racing hard, the race was almost done. The bunch chased hard, but with the last km’s through the short, winding streets, it was easy to stay away, they were not successful in pulling her in. She managed to hold off the bunch and take the win. With second place going to Mirianne Vos (we didn’t push her hard enough the day before), and third place to Oneone Wood (T-Mobile). Coming in at fourth, was the current leader of the series, Nicole Cooke, her team including Kiwi, Joanne Kiesanowski) Raleigh-Lifeforce (also based in Switzerland, and looking to please their local sponsors) riding hard all day for her, but to no avail. We were not so lucky today, with no one in the top ten, and all the girls except Loes M, finishing safely in the bunch.
Next up for us is the Tour de l’Aude, the most demanding race of the season, held over ten days in the south west of France. Amber has won this the last two years, so looks like we will be defending our title, once again. The Kiwi base is close by, so the team should be very familiar with the area and know all the stages off by heart by now (which can also be a bad thing knowing what is to come). Directly after the race we left for sunny (I hope) France, a few days training for the team, in the l’Aude area. And a few days taking it easy on the mechanics, time to rest a little before the 10 days, 11 stages, plus a prologue starts, so time to recharge the batteries, cause there will be no rest when it start. Internet connections are few and far between, but I will endeavour to keep you up to date, (between work and sleep), there should be a few spare minutes in the day to catch up.