20 June 2007

Montreal World Cup

Things got off to a bad start even before we left the airport, if this was enough of a indication of the way the week was to turn out, I don’t know what was. But we were already on the way and it was way too late to pull out, sometimes responsibilities come in the way of intuition, god damn it. For the first time in my life, in many hundreds of flights with bike in hand, five bikes really, a massage table and assorted equipment (a compact but essential set of tools, wheels and equipment, a TT bike for Amber, and a few clothes), my luck with not paying for excess baggage or any bikes had run out. Not technically bad luck on my behalf, but a few girls, with their bikes and bags soon adds up to a tidy weight. With a little discussion, I was getting nowhere with my negotiations, so I bit the bullet, paid the 35 euro, for each bike, 2 out of four we had, and we were checked in ready to fly. The small but efficient team consisted of myself, acting as team manager, mechanic, director, phycologist, driver, Yvonne as songuier, camp mother and assorted domestic chores, Suzanne Van Veen, Loes Makerink. Iris had left a few hours earlier as we could not get her on the same flight as us, she was to fly to London, Toronto then to Montreal. And also Amber, who had a few days at home in California, then a short flight up country, to meet up with us later on the next day.

Things were looking pretty sweet, we found the gate, got settled in for a bit of a wait. Now this I have done many times, see the gate, get your bearings, then go and wander around reading free magazines and window shopping. This would normally be no problem, but this time they decided to change the gate we were leaving from, without telling anyone (I may not have heard it?). So of course, everyone at the gate knew except me, and knowing my good luck, the plane that entered our original gate was going to the same place, London. So getting close to the time to leave, I wandered back to the gate, which was empty, they were on last call. Checking the gate was right, yep, and the destination was right, so I entered the plane, everyone looking at me thinking I was late. I proceeded to my seat which was taken, a quick check of tickets, yep both the same seat. Lucky I checked as there was a few spare seats, normally I would have just taken one. But no I was on the wrong plane, they opened the door, to let me out, makes you wonder with all their multitude of security checks and supposed efficiency how I could just wander on the wrong plane. So I went to the new gate, where the team had watched me enter the wrong plane, from the changed gate, just in time to see the bikes making their way up the ramp and into the belly of the plane, and we were off.

Two hours in Heathrow Airport you would think, would be enough to swap flights, baggage was going straight through, so no worries. Well that’s without idiots in the loop. If you have been through Heathrow (London) lately, you know what a mess it is, four terminals, major constructions, and a real mess as you all have to go through one security check, waited on by thousands of angry people, served by two x-ray machines, run by idiots. First we exit the plane and enter a bus to take us to the main terminal, this was another classic, as we went around in circles for about half an hour until the dickhead found an entrance for us to enter the terminal. I think it was his first day as I am sure we went past the same door at least four times. So off the bus and up the stairs, but the door was locked at the top, great. Now because of a few towel heads, we were not allowed out of the stairwell as we would create a security risk, so we waited for another 20mins waiting for the idiots to get the door open, so we could leave the stiff ling stairwell. Now though the thousand people waiting for a x-ray of everything on themselves, to hear the security say the same thing over again and again, ‘only one bag please’, how hard can it be, same shit every year, someone has to be a problem, just to hold you up some more. Now things were getting tight, less than an hour, but we were close to end of the line, through, then the run starts. Down onto another bus, round and round the terminals again to the right one, then a quick sprint to the waiting plane, but a few more security checks first of course, then we were off, a bit of stress as usual, but all together, just hope the bikes made the hurried journey as well.

In the mean time Iris, who had left a few hours earlier, had arrived in Toronto, what was to be a simple change of planes. But it is almost America, and a young girl travelling by herself is a serious security risk for the country, so she was called out of the waiting line for a full check, all the usual stuff, where are you going etc, and a full body check as well. This was enough for her to miss her connecting flight, so back in the line to sort out another ticket, lucky there was one every hour, as she would need a few more changes before now. And again in the line to board, and again pulled from the line. Now you would think there might be some checking between customs officers, as this not only happened once, but twice and then one more time for a total of three. Three times checked, questioned, and missed flights, what a bunch of idiots. But they let her finally on the plane. She was to arrive only an hour earlier than us, but now it was to be two hours later.

We landed, got organised, and then the eternal wait for bags and bikes. Now I thought I would get stung for excess baggage, and packed all my clothes and everything in a bike bag, thus only two pieces again. A great idea at the time, but mow it was not looking too cool. We waited, and waited, but having bikes it normally can take a while, we had time as Iris was going to be a while. But there was no bikes, they did not make it to the plane in time (what a surprise), they had no idea where they were, and as far as they were concerned, they did not exist anymore. With the race a day away, I had to seriously get sorted if we had no bikes to ride. So off to the car hire for the super quick pickup, the car was all paid for so there was to be a few minutes of paperwork for insurance purposes, and I would be gone. Now what a great idea, nearly an hour later I was on the road, the only saving grace, was the Chevy Malibu was huge, enough to fit all the girls in one trip. One trip to the school, which was to be our home for the week, not the usual moderate accommodation we are accustomed to. Cold, dirty, lifeless dorms, thank god it’s only for a few days. Then right back on the road to pick up Iris, who was only three hours late, at least we had similar stories to share on the way back to the school, and she had her bike, no wheels but it was a start.

Benny's late night, sweatshop. Workmanship almost gaureenteed

A whole morning on the phone seemed to get me nowhere, the bikes had just disappeared in Heathrow somewhere, which is not uncommon according to many of the teams who had now arrived. That’s all we needed to know, but I had some scrounging to do and some begging and borrowing to keep myself busy with. I managed to find enough wheels and bikes to get everyone to the start in the morning, so there was some small glimmer of hope that our trip was not wasted. I held off until I heard the bad or good news the airline had to give. So a few more phone calls managed to give me the information that they had found three of the five bike bags they lost in London, they were on the plane and would be arriving 8pm, the night before the race. Now this was sounding good, all my spare bikes and alternative arrangements were in place, so we were ready to race if needed, now lets hope the right bags arrive. We had a lucky dip with the bikes they had found, I was dreading the worst possible outcome, out of five bike bags, two had bikes (with wheels), and one was a TT bike (for Amber, not needed now, but for her nationals coming up), one was a massage table, and the last one had a few wheels (Amber and Iris were flying wheelless), my tools, work stand and a few clothes scattered around all the bags. So I was hoping the right ones arrived. I had another trip to the airport for Amber, so picking up what they had was enough for the moment.

Amber was delayed, so I had two hours to kill at the airport, so I thought I would use my powers of discussions to get some real answers on our missing bags. Finally after waiting for 3 bags to clear customs (a lot easier when you are with your bags), I got to talk with a person face to face. After his insistence, that they have no idea where the other two bags are, would go and check one more time. I sat there in shock as I looked at the bags and knew exactly which ones they were. The massage table, Amber’s TT bike and the bag of wheels, but some tools and some clothes at least. Just another half an hour later, the idiot from the airline arrived back wheeling a trolley, with the other two bikes on it. Seems five bike bags had arrived, but they were not connected to us (even though they were in the same Stevens bike bags. ‘Yeah, there’s been some mistake, we checked and we think these are yours as well, but it’s strange, the tags don’t match’. We had them the whole time, he said. I pulled my ticket stubs out and they matched every bag present. He was astounded, what an idiot I thought. So I left two of them there, and waited another hour for Amber. After dropping off the bikes and Amber off at the school, I headed back to the airport for the last bikes, it was midnight, it was going to be a long night, the race started at 10am.

What a great looking team for the week, Suz, Iris, Loes, Amber

There was a large bike room set out for all the teams during the day, so I mad do with the dorm room. As I dragged my sorry ass out the elevator with the last two bike bags, the bells started ringing like hell. It was 12.45, people were sticking their heads out the doors as I was walking past, with the last two bags. I went and checked what was up for the girls, seemed some student resident, feel asleep while cooking food, and it burnt. Back to bed for the whole building, and back to work for me. I felt a lot better that everyone was awake as well, as I started to assemble the bikes. A few hours later I was done, a few hours sleep, then a few tires to pump, and I was ready. We raced the race, it was good, a few laps, eleven, and a great climb every lap. All bikes went well, I was a bit burnt out, but it felt good. On the last two laps there was a decisive break of two riders, it was not caught, and Fabiana Liperini ended up winning, Amber was 10th. Check out the official report here, and also at Cycling News.

Some friendly sprints for warm up, Iris and Loes. Iris won.

Through the mirror back to a small group, a shot I don't normally get too often.

Next up the Tour of Montreal, Middag Humsterland, Durango-Durango, Tour of Bira, and tour of Zealand. And then I might catch up.

Here is a couple of new photo albums for you, the beautiful Castle of Carrcosonne, and some of the Montreal stuff.

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