20 August 2007

Tour of Zeeland

I thought that I might use this week to get my blog up to date. Things have been busy enough not to sit down and spend time writing, sleep normally comes first, unfortunately. But, with a little bit of a break in the racing for a short while, I thought I might try and remember what has happened in the last month or so. So much to report that I can hardly remember some of the races, so small, precise and not too detailed reports, will be the order of the day, until I catch up.

The Tour of Zeeland (Ster Zeeuwsche Eilanden)was in a very beautiful part of Holland, nice and close to home for a change. We were running a small team of Dutch riders for this race, as most of the younger riders were using this race as preparation for the upcoming European Champs (Under 23yr for Women). So we had our small, but very serious team for the week, Mirjam, Iris, Loes G & M. There was a huge start list with quite a few of the trade teams present, as well as a hoard of local club teams, about 170 on the start list, I think I remember. Most of the teams had a full complement of 8 riders, we were doing it tough with 5.

Rudd working hard as usual.

The race was only three stages, with a prologue TT 7.5 km, and two long 140km road stages, short and sweet for the riders, and even better for the mechanic, that’s me. But of course we had to start with the prologue ITT, my favourite part (a bit of sarcasm there) of any stage race. The course was pretty standard for this part of town. A few corners, ten or so, plenty of bricked roads, cobbles and a couple of roundabouts, perfect, a shit course which should suit our girls fine. I get to arrive about three hours before the team to set up for the day, not really trying to think about the prep the night and morning before. I also get to deal with the carpark Nazi’s first hand, as they decide where to put me and how much space they are going to let us have for the day. I call them Nazi’s for the normal reasons, give them a little bit of officialdom and the power goes to their heads. Hey, we know what we are doing, we do it almost every day, and the teams we work with all over the world, so we tend to look after each other. All the mechanics turn up early, to get a good spot, find space for the cars and other vehicles we have with us, setup the bikes, trainers, tents etc, etc. We are pretty good at making space for other teams (the ones we like), helping them park and setting the bigger stuff up together. We have got to work well together, as we are often crammed into hotel car parks all over Europe, borrowing power and water off the trucks that are hooked up, and general emotional support (more like giving them shit) for each other. So there is no real problem with teams not finding space.

Finding the perfect spot is and art form, we have to read the weather, sun, wind etc, to protect the girls and setup for the day. Close to toilets, this is important for the girls for the long day. Places for the following team cars, to get in and out of a cramped start area. Not to close to the speakers, as there will be untold noise from them all day. We also try to keep away from the odd team, some of them are constantly bothering the staff and riders, they may have nothing to do, and take it not so seriously, we are there to race. So getting back to my little friend in the carpark, which was so big you could of fit another 10 teams that were not on the list, other than the twenty they were expecting for the day. So I picked my spot (and it was a good one), parked, then preceded to setup. Once my stairs are down, and a bit of stuff is out, we don’t move, otherwise they will shift you many times, because they can. So with in a few minutes, my little carpark Nazi decided that he wanted me somewhere else on the other side of the carpark, no reason, just that he thought we would take up to many spots where I was (Duh, same space wherever we go). Things continued to get worse, with not only me, as he would disappear every time more teams arrived. I found out later he was shifting and messing with teams all morning.

Just love the countryside here in Zeeland

It was quite comical for me, I would put a tent up, position it where I needed it, then he would come over and start shifting it himself, he would leave, I would put it back. The cool thing was, that his English was as bad as my Dutch, so we couldn’t really communicate well enough to get the compromise I was looking for. It seems he was spending all his time at my spot he liked it so much, maybe he thought he might win the battle. Every time he thought of getting some help, he brought over one of the race officials, (which I know pretty well from other races), they told him to leave me alone, but he wasn’t listening. An hour later, he was still on my case, trying to take my tents down, shifting things into one small park space, I thought he would have given up by now. Now I got serious, I found the race organiser (I knew him well) told him the story, he called the guy over, who by now was livid, and got him to show us both the space I could use. This is the funny bit, as the carpark was really empty, most of the teams were present, all he wanted was me to move the tents about half a meter backwards, I refused, but gave him the only option, I can move it 20cm only. He thought about it for a minute, said it was fine, and left, thanks, you dickhead.

The camp was finally safe to finish setting up, the team was due soon, so I got my shit together. In quick time, bikes were ready, tents were sweet, chairs, trainer etc were all ready when the team arrived, and they missed out on all the fun. Prologues are not so demanding as other TT’s, as the order of the riders is set out in such a way that the timing is even between the riders. With 20 teams, and one minute between riders, I am sure you can work that out, but just in case, it’s a 20 min gap, for a 7.5km race, sweet. I got some time in between to play with, but not too much. Just as the first rider was off the start line, the rain came down, and pretty hard for a while, long enough to wet the roads to the point of danger, damn it, it was going to be a long day. I got the first couple of riders out the way, no problems, but then there was a major, Iris was out for a pre-ride of the course in the rain, and managed to flip the bike and herself. Upon a quick assessment of her bike (her injuries were not so bad, a few scrapes and holes), I found the TT bar broken in a really important place. A quick start would probably break it right off, so panic stations, I had ten minutes to set our spare we had organised for Mirjam to fit Iris. I worked like hell, including getting another rider to the start, but just scraped in, seat and position was fine, a stem change, a bit of magic and she was under way. We got a second place with Mirjam, just 3 seconds to Vos(DSB Bank) (World, European and Cross champion), who was now the leader.

Love the shadows here late in the afternoon.

The next two stages were full of the usual dramas, plenty of attacks, plenty of chasing and plenty of fights, as Vos struggled to keep her lead. We tried everything we could, but nothing really happened until the last couple of hours of the race. We had a good break with two of us in it, plus a few others, the leader Vos was nowhere to be seen. We took off, and managed to get about a 6min lead, enough for Mirjam to become virtual leader, DSB chased like hell, with all their eight riders working hard. They couldn’t close the gap, and the end was getting closer by the minute. Then we see the classic move from the team car, cruising the caravan to see if he can buy a team to help with the chase. Believe it or not, it happens a lot, it’s the side of the sport that sucks for teams like us. We are strong, we made the move, escaped and held on to the lead, the race would be ours if DSB don’t get some help soon. They moved down the line to the last car in the caravan, it was the only team that wanted to help, here is where it gets real dirty, when cash is waved in front of the team and the riders, things change pretty quickly. Vrienden van het Platteland (VVP, or friends of the flat land) made the move to the front, DSB were paying them cash, so time for them to work chasing.

Mirjam still getting lots of attention from the press.

It took about an hour to chase the break down, even with the new help they were struggling to control the race. By now the whole race has seen what happened, and with the miracle of radios the whole peloton was aware of the buy (sometimes as much as a few thousand Euros, and as little as a few hundred) of VVP by DSB. We then sent in our two problem solvers Iris and Loes M, brought up in the Dutch crits that so many pros fear, the girls got to work trying to hinder the chase. Not much you can do here, except try and mess the front of the chasing group up a little. This is not really sporting, but neither is buying riders, so they kind of cancelled eachother out. They tried their best, and what we could see from the car, they were doing a great job, I wouldn’t mess with them at this stage. Then we saw a swipe from one of the girls at Iris, then another hit, she fended her off, but this was seen by the jury following close behind (they do work sometimes). Penalty for both girls, the chase continued, the break was caught, so we sent out Loes G for an attack, as we knew that DSB was finished. She got up to 2 mins away, when almost an hour later they caught up with her. Another attack from Mirjam, with 10km to go, this was looking good, but now Vos chased herself, piping Mir at the finish, to take the stage win and the stage race. Oh, one of those ‘what if’ moments as we settled on 2nd place, but we would keep the favour and return it as soon as we needed to our friends from the flatland.

The last break of the race, Loes G and Susanne DeGoode try to escape the bunch, the birds were startled, not the peloton.

My car park Nazi was quite friendly for the other stages, he managed to force a smile everyday when we arrived. I did my best to take as much space as I could both starts, spreading out everything as much as I could. He was busy with other teams, think I got the better of him in the end, next year I just run him over with the truck, problem solved.

Got a couple of photo albums for you to look at, both here and here on my Flicker.

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