10 May 2007

Gracia Orlova Part 1

Leaving the beautiful weather we were having in the Netherlands, was a hard one, with a trip to a part of the Continent I was not looking forward to it. The sunny, warm days just seemed to be getting better, and leaving them for the polluted sky and constant rain, of the Czech Republic and Poland, didn’t sound like too much fun. With a small commute of about 1400km, I took a different route than last season, this time coming from the bottom of Germany, through Prague, then to the edge of the country, to Orlova. The area is semi rural, where the only industry seems to be power stations, both coal fired and Nuclear, and coal mines to provide the thick air, that covers most of this part of the world. Getting to see the rest of the Chezh countryside was a great idea, it certainly changed my tainted views of the country I had so far. The main highway was in great condition, and the surrounding scenery was fantastic, it looks like they have had a great spring here, as the fields were full of new growth, and looking pretty green. And when they weren’t green, they were bright yellow, the colour was so vivid, it almost looked like the fields were dripping in new paint, but the pollen count was huge, with all these yellow fowers everywhere (think it’s like a seed for bread growing everywhere). Passing close to Prague was not easy, as I have great memories of this city from years gone by, one of Europe’s classic old towns, and some wicked architecture to boot. Shame I couldn’t stop for a bit of a tour. But racing was looming, I had a spare half a day until the rest of the team arrived, that was kind of nice for a change. But this gave me a little bit of peace to work on a few bikes before the gang arrived, asking many requests and breaking my concentration (the minute or so I that I have it) , as usual. But hey, the sun was still shining strong, and a with a few more sunny days to come, it was easy going for now.

The beautiful painted countryside.

Gracia Orlova, four days and five stages, with a double stage on one day with a individual TT first thing in the morning, not the best line up for a mechanics week. Most of the stages were in the afternoon, so at least I would get a sleep in till at least seven, but it also meant late nights, let hope they are not too cold. We were running a nice little combo for the week, with Susanne L, Mirjam, Loes M, Loes G, Trine and Suzanne VV. Not our strongest team, but this was not such an important race for us, so a few of the younger riders were getting a chance to stretch their legs, and show us how they handled a stage race. Mirjam was just getting a little form back after her accident last year, so this was just a little tester for her. Susanne L and most of the top riders were using this race as preparation for the upcoming Tour de Aulde, the biggest, meanest stage race on the Women’s calendar for the year.

In the shadow of the Power Station, a gleaming car full with bikes waits.

Racing got underway on the first stage with a starting temperature of about 25’c, a bit different from last years starting day of 8’c. Back to the shadow of the local nuclear plant, (one of the sponsors of the race), and about 112 Girls were on the starting line. There was a conflicting stage race, San Marino in Italy, where most of the bigger teams were also racing, so the bunch was a bit smaller because of this. But still there was some serious teams here, Bigla, T-Mobile, DSB, plus a number of smaller local Czech teams, including some Russian and Polish teams, to many to name (nah, I forgot them already). With some of the biggest climbs of the tour on stage one, things would get off to a flying start for some, and end in tears for others. With a race of 102km, some good climbing, and some very good descending, a break of about 12 riders escaped the bunch not to far into the race, lucky for us we had four of the team in there. With some serious climbing to come, a few attacks were happening in the break group, these didn’t come to much, with four of us there, we chased down any major attempts, and after that things just settled as they were beaten into submission. A local dutchie got the win for the day when she escaped the small group with a Russian and one of us. We were looking good though, with 4 in the top ten, not bad for the first day.

Stage two got a bit more serious, with more climbing and some good breaks from the bunch, lucky we had most of them covered, with the final break of the day containing about 20 girls, we had a couple or three in. The climbs were a little bit more demanding than the day before, and the legs of some of them were already falling off, with the bunch getting split up into little groups, and the race was only 40km into it. The biggest climb last year, had snow all over road, this year it was hot as hell, with the sun shining, it was very strange, but the race went on. The escapees had a great lead on the bunch, almost up to five minutes at one stage, with Andrea Bossman (DSB) sitting in yellow, she was working hard to keep it. The break raced hard up to the last climb, this was a killer, 900m straight up, Susanne L was almost the winner, with a close second to Arnt (T-Mobile) moving her into the leaders Jersey, with Susanne sitting on 2nd in the GC. With a long night ahead of us, cleaning and preparing the race bikes, organising the TT bikes, sleep would have to wait. An early morning, and a quick run over the border to Poland for a 9am start for the last riders in the GC, another long day ahead of us, the wine later on, just didn’t taste as good as it looked.

And so does a bunch of hardy racers.

The organisers had a great idea to solve the problems at the Polish border this year, leave en-masse to the start. A few of the smarter (or are they) teams had left about an hour or so earlier, to get a good spot for their teams. We had handed our passports over a few days earlier (this make me very nervous, letting it out of sight for a few days), this was supposed to be all sorted with the border patrol, so that all the teams and vehicles could pass in the caravan, without any hassles. Great idea, but it failed badly, with 15 teams, with cars, riders and trucks following behind, we weaved our way through the Chezh countryside, the GPS showing me a trail that seemed to double the driving for the distance covered. Upon reaching the border, the plan of passing over freely was a joke. We all went through the usual bullshit, checking of passports, opening the truck for searches etc, I wonder why they think it’s worth stopping people coming in. South Poland has to be one of the last places anyone without good reason would want to come, the place is a mess. Full of pollution, streets full of run down and half finished shit houses, cars falling apart, and crime worse than the best of south Auckland. They should be happy that anyone would want to visit, and should open their borders for the good of the country, not treat us like criminals.

Stage one breakaway group, just after the last big climb of the day.

After the half an hour or so at the border, the speed of the caravan increased as the start time was looming, the tiki tour continued. My GPS was going wild with the choice of roads been taken, but it looked like local knowledge would prevail, I could see the shortcuts they were trying to take. It almost looked like we would make it to the start in time, when the unthinkable was staring at us. A bridge to cross, but the bridge was small, in the middle of nowhere, but the only problem was it had a height restriction of 2.5m. We were killing ourselves with laughter, as we watched the leaders faces as they realised there was a few trucks (mine is 3.25m high if you are were wondering, a race car with bikes is about 2.4m), race cars with bikes on roof and a few campervans in the caravan. A mass turnaround in a tiny road, and back about 10km on roads already travelled, some of the girls were getting nervous by now, but our first start was 39 mins after the 9am start, we had a bit of time up our sleeves. We finally arrived, just as we were supposed to be starting, a few word with the organisers, so they postponed the start a half hour. Much to the dissatisfaction of the teams that had arrived super early to get organised and warmed up, some leaving the hotel about 6am, damn it for them.

A great looking podium on TT day, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Sweet!

The TT was great, a bad road, full of many repairs, holes and stones, just the sort of thing a well tuned TT bike with disc does not need, and definitely not the sort of things a mechanic dreams of, (only in nightmares). We got underway, setting up tents, organising bikes on trainers for warm-up, sorting out riders, helmets, race bikes, cars and spares, I hate TT days, but double worse on double stage day. Maybe the organisers should spend a couple of days with the staff, just to see what we go through to get all riders off on time in the two stages, then they might have a change of ideas. We got few the first few girls off without too much troubles, but with 4 of them in the top ten, things were coming to a head, with all girls heading off within a ten minute period, it was going to be tight. But I got it right, all girls on bikes, on the start line on time, spare bikes off the trainers on the race cars, and spare wheels in, no problems on the road, no mechanicals, I even got to my ride in time for Susanne’s race. Things were looking good, with Trine getting the top time for the first half of the starting list, but it was to get better. The race radio was shite, with no reports coming out live, we were guessing with our times for the splits, lucky our own time keeping could give us some picture of what was happening. By the time we finished with Sus’s ride (2nd last off the line), which was fantastic, we got a bit of a surprise with the results of the rest team. The podium was full with our team, with Susanne L in 2nd, Trine 3rd, Loes G 4th and Mirjam 5th, we couldn’t have asked for a better result, the win didn’t seem that important now with four of us on the podium.

Part 2 coming up. And some pics here somewhere.

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