3 February 2008

TDU Stage #5

With Andre sitting close to first place in the GC, things were getting serious for all the main players. Stage 5 was piped as the deciding stage, Willunga to Willunga, a two different lap course, including the infamous (famous for locals, but small in comparison climbs in Europe)Willunga hill, for a total of 147km. It was a simple race really, with a nice flat loop out to Aldinga beach, then back into the little town of Willunga, this they did three times. Then a single lap of the hill, a short little climb, up to about 8% in places, but not what you would really call difficult. Then follow the ridge for a bit, then a nice winding decent, almost all downhill to the way to the finish. The next stage was a flat 88km Criterium around the city circuit, not any surprises expected there, so today was our only chance to get it in the bag. The team was excited, Andre was nervous as hell, as I think the reality of him winning the tour was becoming a reality. We had a couple of climbers ready for action, to chase any attacks that might threaten our positions, and to also do some attacking to hurt the opposition. We could not do any more. The crowd was stating to fill up at every vantage point around the course, pretty impressive really as the announcer was saying there were 75,000 spectators out already, and the race had not even started yet.

Hey it's Machello, with a baby Kangaroo, doesn't he look happy.

We had been out here twice in the week leading up to the start of the tour. Every one of the boys had had a good look at every corner and possible place to attack, and to be potentially be attacked on, so we were ready. Team UNISA was looking decidedly nervous, as can be expected when they have the leaders and the sprint jersey riding on the back of a young rider. The Spanish teams were hungry for some action, and I think, most of the other good riders, were all looking at this stage to make their moves, and salvage what they could of the tour. With only 20 seconds between the first three places, and 50 seconds between the first 50, it could go anyway today. I was mechanic in the team car today, at least for half the race, as Nick, the head guy wanted to see the hill section. Fine by me, as I was new to working with the director, I would leave the most stressful part of the race to them. Plus it would give me a good chance to check out the finish, hopefully to see the German Giant, weave his magic again in the sprint.

First lap about to finish, with Greg up the road about 4 mins, with a couple of others.

We were off, and right from the get go, the speed was high, on the leg out to the coast, we were moving at speeds of around 70km/hr, pretty fast for the first lap. As we hit the beach leg, the crowd was massive, everyone waving Aussie flags in the faces of the riders. It was Australia Day, a national holiday (which was to be celebrated on Monday instead), celebrating the day the British wrangled the country off the Aborigines, who had only been there for about 30,000 years. Mostly it was a day to do all things Aussie, drink, bbq, hang out at the beach, and watch a bike race. By the time we finished the first lap, the speed was still high, and there was a small break out the front with our own Kiwi, Greg Henderson and a couple of others in it (think about 5 of them). They were riding hard to keep away, and the good thing was that they would take the two sprint time bonuses for the day. Leaving them out of the hands of the Aussie in Ochre. The break stayed away for most of the three laps, but they reel them in by the time the hill lap started.

Nick had jumped in the car by now, and I feed the boys before the last climb, just before Willunga Hill. They started climbing, and as expected there was numerous attacks off the front. We controlled most of them, with Adam Hansen chasing down almost all of them himself. Some fantastic team work, as he also helped keep Andre in the lead bunch as well. The word came over the radio, we were excited at first, as there was a break of about 25 riders in the first group over the top. The bunch had splintered behind this bunch, with the leader, and most of his team caught back in it. Here the radio played it’s usual tricks, one moment Andre was in the lead bunch, then he wasn’t. We hear the leader was on the front of the second bunch, almost a minute behind, and was riding hard by him self. No one was going to give him any help, and by the sounds of things, his team was running on empty as well. Still I waited for the numbers in the lead bunch, and no joy, as he tried to tell a few more of the riders numbers, but no Andre. I was hoping, and had all my fingers I could possibly cross, crossed. He must be wrong, but he is a big boy, and it was a very fast ascent, not being the climbing type, and with multiple attacks, this could be the race.

Such a nice shot, bet it came out ok.

I helped the boys get organised for the returning riders, chairs, tents and bags organised. The parents of Greg Henderson came over for a seat in the shade, and still no radio confirmation. There was a small attack happening off the front of the small group now. A lone Spanish rider was off the front, almost a minute in front, and with only 10 km to go, it was getting to close to call. I ran to the finish chute as the first police came through the finish, I was hopeful, but still no information coming over the sound system. I could hear the announcer starting to get excited, so they must be close. I could barely see the road, let alone the sprint about to happen. I stuck my camera above the massive crowd, and snapped blindly as the sprint fanged past me. I caught only one glimpse of a black rider passing me, he was in front. The legs were bulging out of his shorts, and I recognised the upper body movements as I sighed a breath of relief. Andre did it again, took the stage, number three for the tour, and from my calculations, took the lead and the Ochre Jersey. Sweet, we were in front for the first time all week. By the time the team got back to the vehicles, they were jumping for joy, so happy for the work they had done bringing Andre to the lead, sounds like there was much more happening out on the road than we knew about. But the press were about to maul him again, so we made for the base, there was work to do. We would celebrate after tomorrow’s stage, that’s if we can hang on to the lead, only 88km to go.

Andre past me, about 30m to the finsh, and he's already in front.

And some more from the stage here.

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