2 February 2008

TDU Stage #4

Part of the celebrations happening this week included a peoples ride, that was happening today on the same course as today’s stage. The difference is that they were starting about 5.30am, we had the luxury of sleeping a little longer, with an 11am start. Stage #4, was from the riverside town of Mannum, 134km to the town of Strathalbyn. There was a few distances available for the public, a full length, half and quarter. With 3500 entries it was going to be a long day for some of the participants and those organising the race. We were told the last few years were pretty hot, think they got 44’c out on the road last year, with a few heart attacks, a death, and a few people lost and disorientated throughout the day. Everyone riding this years event was bar coded, and dressed in a bright orange jersey (so the spotter planes could see them if they went walkabout). Every quarter of the ride, they had to enter a rest stop, get scanned in, wait under shade, drink and replenish themselves for ten minutes (no early departures we allowed), before they were scanned out of the rest stop. Medical staff were on hand, to keep them back, just in case they thought they were not looking good. But hey, it’s just a safety issue, and we all know how bad a shape some of the public are on these rides. Kind of funny really, imagine if they did it to the big boys as well, what a mess when there’s a race to be won.

Some of the wicked old buildings in the start area.

The transfer to the start, was pretty long from the hotel, even with our escort it seemed to take hours, driving through the parched countryside. And with time ticking over fast, we would have about 40mins at the start before we were racing. But everything worked out sweet, everyone was ready on time, and the local crowd there to see the race off, was great. The local talent and schools, had plenty of action happening on the stage, to keep everyone entertained while waiting for the gun. I was in the team car, for the first time on this tour, I was excited, but also a little bit nervous (I am the new guy in the team remember). I am not sure why, as I have been in race cars, more than 500 races before this, including racing for the men at the Worlds a few times, so there was no reason to sweat it. But my intuition was telling me something was up, so I kept busy, right till the starters gun. The stage started with a nice little climb for a km or so out of the town, and I spied team CSC riders all warming up before the start, I told the boys to keep an eye out, and they started to warm up as well, just in case. After the start, we climbed slowly, with a side/head wind for another 20km to a small set of hills, it was going to be the start of the fireworks here for sure, so we were all ready with some good plans. My brother Steve (from the bike shop back in NZ) was over on business, so I managed to swindle him a ride in the car, for his fist time in a serious race, he was excited.

Berni posing for the girls.

We were under way, and as expected, CSC was trying everything they could to get away, but to no avail, teams reeled in every attack, including ourselves. As we started getting into the hills, the inevitable call on the race radio came up, ‘HighRoad, defect’, shit, that was us, and to make it worse the speed was on, and the race was about to bust wide open. Our first puncture for the race, and with our best climber for the week, Adam Hansen, I jumped out and sorted it, taking a little bit more time than usual (he was in the 25t at the back, and the Zipp’s were not liking going into his bike), he was off. The bunch had split by this time, and a group of about 50 riders were off the front. Andre was it there, as well as a couple of the other boys, kind of safe, but still, it was early on, and we needed a full team up there, if we wanted to win today. So the pressure was on, the front group had put the hammer down, and three of the lads were struggling to get organised in the back group. No one else was wanting to help, as you can imagine, so it was left up to us. They started chasing hard, and the boys were working great together, just when I thought they may have made it, the time check came through with the boys loosing another 25 sec’s. But somehow, Adam managed to get away from the group, and attack off the front, with Scotty and Rabon being left behind. It worked sweet, Adam managed to get away from the group and find his way back to the leading bunch, pulling a few others back with him as well.

The first good climb of the day, and the first (and only) puncture of the tour coming up.

I relaxed a little as we speed up to the leading bunch. But just as it was passing through a little town, ‘CRASH' (‘chute’ actually, the French word for the same thing) came over the radio. We rounded the corner, and I managed to count our four riders passing the corner safely, waiting to hear on the race radio who was down, I waited, nothing, so I jumped out, along with a few other mechanics, wheels in hand looking for the downed riders. Sweet, there was only one rider down, a French rider from the AG2 team, phew, the lads were safe. After this, things seemed to settle down a bit, time for some feeding from the car, the temperate was reading 37’c, but it didn’t seem that hot in the car, thank god for air-conditioning. Soon enough, the other bunches behind joined the leaders, bunch complete. Now to wait for the next attacks, and before you could say, ‘feed zone approaching’ the speed was on. A couple of the boys were spewing as one of the teams attacked through the feed zone. This is not good, a sign of no respect for the other riders, as most of them missed their feed bags, but they calmed down a bit when we gave them some food and drinks.

The scrum for position to talk with Andre, what a mess.

The road was littered by now with people in orange jersey’s, from the peoples ride still happening. I knew we would catch some of them, but there was heaps of them, hiding under every bit of shade they could find, (they could also have rode out for a look after they finished, but I doubt it, by the shape of some of them). We were nearing the finish, bunch was still together and was getting nervous. Many teams tried to escape, but were pulled back in by the three teams head of the GC, Rabobank, Team UNISA, and us. 1km to go and the speed was up super high, our boys were fighting hard to lead out Andre, and what a team. They rounded the corner, with two of us in a good place, 500m to go, CRASH comes over the radio, shit, I almost bit the ends of my fingers off in nervousness, but we were ok. Team HighRoad in the front, HighRoad, HighRoad takes the win, Andre take his second stage of the tour, we rejoiced in the car like a bunch of screaming school girls (not that I know what that sounds like, I just have a good imagination). We arrived at our van and the place was going wild, all the riders had arrived, and were ecstatic with the win, some fantastic tactics, and some fantastic teamwork had brought another stage win for the boys. The crash looked pretty mean on the playback screen, with one of the Italian riders, giving a mean head butt (it was an accident he was quoted saying later) to a Rabobank rider, Matt Hayman. He reached out over 1m to hit him with his head in the heat of the sprint, it looked mean, but only a broken collar bone, luckily.

'And of course, I would like to thank my mechanic Benny for a fantastic bike today'.

Andre was surrounded by press in a flash, leaving him no time to even get changed before they were shoving microphones and cameras in his face. But the bikes were on the roof, and the riders were in the van, we were outta here once again heading for home with a smile on our faces. The boys were animated the whole way hame, talking about the race and all the action of the day. I was watching the punters still grovelling their way to the finish on their own crusade to finish what they started, hours earlier in Mannum. With a bit of work to do, and a few bikes to wash and tune, time was of the essence, and the race village was full to the brim with the public, hoping to get their orange shirts signed by some of the riders. Waiting near our stand for more than a couple of hours, was two fans, when Andre finally turned up after the podium and doping control, I grabbed their shirts off them and got them signed before his disappeared into the hotel for the night. We celebrated a little with the team after the race, and everyone was still smiling. We were 2nd on GC, with only 18secs to first place getter, Alan Davis, nice.

And need more to look at, try here.

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