The Tour of Bira, or more likely should be called the Tour of Spain, but they like to feel special here. Just over the border of France, into the Basque region of the Pyrenees mountains, with some of the best looking climbs that I have seen for a while, and don’t forget the food, ummm. But we had a few races to contend with so the tourist part of me had to subside for a while and the mechanic had to surface for the week. At least the weather was looking good, and with temperatures due for the week in the 30-40’c range, with no rain, I think we were winning already. We had the same hotel as last years, so the hotel we knew, the food we knew well, and the coffee was fantastic as usual. It always makes for a good start to the weeks racing, when things are much like you remember from the season before, that’s assuming that things were good.
The last 300m of the TTT, prologue.
We had a strong but small team for the week, Susanne L, Loes G, Luise, Susanne VV, and Mirjam, looking and feeling fit. Fist of all we had the race a day before the tour starts, this I still think is rather a strange thing. First it starts and finishes in the same town as the rest of the tour starts around, it’s the same organisers, same staff, and uses some of the same roads and climbs as the tour. But we race it anyway, and the cool thing is we pass the little hotel we stay in at the top of the last climb of the day. The hotel (more like a huge house on a hill, with a wickedly nice and busy restaurant, and a bar and a few rooms, more like half of the house for the team, and the other half for the family who run it) staff all wait out on the road to see us pass, in all their Flexpoint caps and stuff, must really piss off some of our competition. But first up a one day race, directly preceding the tour, a race just called Durango Durango, Susanne won this last year, so we were defending champs. But it is so long ago, I can’t even begin to think about who won, but it was not us, I know that for sure. Still we have the tour of Bira starting the next day, so plenty of time to make up.
The nice lush countryside, gives a good contrast with the riders.
The cool thing was, (not for the mechanics) there was the prologue, which was an up hill Team TT, for 3.km, just enough to gain some good time on the race. The hill we climb up is also the last 5km on the final stage, so good time to look around at that as well. No TT bikes were being used this time around, and our job was to make the bikes as light as we could. All the small carbon wheels came out, cages off, computers and SRM cranks off. The bikes were looking sweet, now to the start, we were drawn about middle of the teams, so were not paying attention to the teams starting in front, just the climb ahead. The climb was pretty nasty for the first km, with almost 15% gradient in places, then a little bit flatter in the middle to about 10% average, the team looked like they were standing still at this point. We had spent Suzanne VV, and Luise by the halfway point, but the three left were flying, Luise was still hanging off the back. They raced like idiots, with Susanne L pulling the last km to the finish. It was a long time in the car, it seemed like ages to get to the halfway point. I sorted the bikes and the girls out with some fluids, and JP and Klas went for the finish line to take some times. At this stage it looked like we had the fastest time, but there was a few good teams to come behind us. We waited for a while, then the boys came back with big smiles on their faces, we had won, and were leading the race by about 18 seconds, sweet. Susanne was in yellow, and we held the first four places, and four jerseys, sweet.
Alright, who we waiting on this time?
The next few days were as you can expect, full of attacks and action like we had not seen before. But it was early on in the race, and the race was not sewn up yet, anyone could win. With two days to go, we started a pretty mean TT, this was one of those fantastic double stages days. With a TT in the morning, so early that you have to work through the night to get things ready for racing two races. No time in the morning except to throw a bit of food down and race to the start to find the campsite for the day. We would be staying for the day, and starting the evening stage about 8pm the same say. Some teams opt for a drive back to the hotel, but this take up about 2.5 hours, half of what you have. We normally camp out for the day. Plenty of shelter, liquid and tables full of food, almost makes up for the 20 hour day, with 5 riders all leaving in the last 15 mins of the TT. But we got all the team away, the course was pretty sweet, in back country streets, full of vineyards and orchards, some nice little demanding hills, and some pretty technical sections. I was on bike duty as usual all day, making sure each girl gets to the start on time, with a perfect bike, a car ready to escort her around, with spare wheels etc. I did get a ride for the last out for the day, Susanne, she rode well, not her best but still I think she got a third, loosing no time on her other GC contenders, sweet. Now for a few hours relaxing, some coffee and a few photos, what a great way to spend the day. But one more race to go, thank god it’s only 80km, but then another late night for the last start in Bilbao, an early one at that.
Theres a light at the end of that tunnel.
Everyone raced well, there was some great tactics, and some shit ones as usual being thrown at us during the race, but we fought well, reading every danger well. The last stage was going to be the decider. With three cat 2 climbs and a cat 1, this was going to be good for the climbers, and good for Susanne. We raced well, and chased down most of the attacks, the team was getting pretty tired by now, so were most of the attackers, things settled down for the most of the race. Near the end of the stage, the rain came down, turning the descents in to dangerous slides on every corner. There was a small break away, Susanne was in it, lucky, but a few still got away on the last 9km downhill. But a crash soon put a stop to a couple of the break riders, the rest relaxed. We came in about 4th, but still holding the Yellow Jersey, all week long. Winning the teams classification was nice as well, and if there was a prize for the cleanest bikes, we would have won that as well.
Hanging out before the start of the last stage, Bilbao center.
Now a nice home cooked meal at the hotel we are staying at, then a small 1400km drive home for the night. The girls were not too happy either, having to catch a taxi at 5am to make the airport in time for their flights home. But the meal was fantastic, the biggest and nicest tasting Paella I have even seen and tasted. But then they brought out some very nice roast lamb, so nice tender, I can still taste it now. But I felt a little guilty when they told me it was a lamb leg, as from what I could work out from the size of the delicious leg getting smaller on my plate. Also the bone was small, like I have never seen before, coming form the country that made roast lamb a national pastime. The bone (that had some of the nicest meat I have ever tasted around it) was no bigger than half a pencil. I would hate to think how small and cute that delicious lamb was, so what’s for desert.
The last days beautiful run down the coast.
All the photos are loaded for your viewing pleasure, you can find them in two places now. And still the best option if your internet is fast enough is the slideshows, almost like a moving story board. If you are interested in any of the photos for your own use, go ahead, borrow them. The Flicker photo pages gives you the option of a small or full size download, have a look around, most of my pics will be stored here in the future.
So here is the first gallery, and the second one.
Then we got the Flicker accounts here, for a one, two, three,go.
The final podium for the week. Plenty of Flexpoint riders here.