3 February 2008

TDU Stage #6

The feeling around the team camp was pretty damn good, the boys were wearing smiles you couldn’t wipe off in a hurry. Andre was looking his worried self, nervous as hell, but you could still see his smile though. The staff were all happy as well, but we still had a bit of work to do, as second place, and yesterdays leader Alan Davis, was only 7 seconds behind, and could easily take the tour. In fact the top 10 riders, were only 29 second off the tour win, now you can understand Andre’s nervousness. Doing a few calculations, you realise how serious second place is, with 3,2,1 seconds available on both of the intermediate sprints, and 10,6,4 seconds for the stage, the 7 seconds is not a comfortable lead. But that didn’t change my work, just another day for the mechanics, yes I was thinking of the situation, but what more could I do. The bikes would be perfect at the start, and should make the distance, bar a few crashes, ready to win again. I spent a little bit more time, making sure and double checking things one more time. The stage was a flat street circuit of 5.5 km per lap, 16 laps in total for a distance of 88km. And the best thing was it was a late afternoon start, so a bit of time for relaxing before the race, and another chance to really make sure the bikes were more than perfect.

The leaders board, before the start. Things are looking pretty close.

The circuit was in the middle of town, so a short ride to the start for the boys, and man the town was busy. They were expecting a record crowd of 85,000, and by the looks of things, checking out the course, they had already reached that total. It was going to be a fun day, let the race begin. With a few laps warming up, all the teams were looking great. They were all posing for pictures for the crowd, and for themselves. It was the last race of many, and for some, the last time they will be in this fine country till next years race. It was nice for the public, as they got to hang real close to the riders all week, and today was no change. I saw at least 20 people, handing over there orange jersey’s (interesting fact in Australia, they call jerseys, ‘gernsey’s’, stems from the footy I hear, I thought they were a little bit affected by the sun when I heard it for the first time, crazy) they had from the others days race, for signing. The boys were right into it, anything for the public, makes them come back, time and time again. Great for the sport, and great for next years tour. Now on to the race.

Don't look so nervous Andre, you got Adam beside you, all the way, chill.

They called the top riders to the line, and as usual it took a few minutes to get them sorted. I was in the pits for the day, feeding and wheels if needed, and of course manning the camera for the day. My work was done, I waited for the start, wheels in hand just in case of any issues at the line. The gun exploded through the PA with such force, it brought the hair on my head to a standstill. I was very excited, but deep down inside, I was nervous, not my usual 10% nervousness, but it was a mighty 65%, doh. Not normal for me, but this was my first race with the men, things were a lot more serious with a UCI Pro race, the crowds were larger than I had seen before with the Women, things just felt a lot different today. But the boys were reaching the first corner, and with some super fast speed, it looked fantastic for the crowd. The course was great for spectatoring, as you saw them riding both directions on most of the lap, so great to get a good look at the competition twice per lap.

The speed was high, but it still didn’t stop multiple attacks, trying to leave the bunch. UNISA was controling the front of the race until the first sprint. They wanted it bad for Alan Davis, and rightly so, they had a good chance to win everything, that’s if we left them to it, but no chance. Right up to the first sprint, there was also CSC riding hard, looked a bit strange, as they had nothing to gain from it. The bell rang out, signaling the sprint was up next time around. I moved position so I could see the finish line, and just as I got there, the bunch came screaming around the corner. UNISA was in a good place, but to my left, I could see a couple of black jerseys of Greg and Andre coming through the field. They rode closer, but it was too hard to pick, Andre was getting boxed in big time, he’s not the best at positioning himself right, but this looked dodgey. They were on the line, Alan took the 3 secs, Greg took the 2 secs, as Andre was boxed in good, Alan moved closer, 4 seconds from GC. Right away you could see he was not happy, hand raised for the comissionares to see the replay. But it was not to be, hope the next one would be a good one. Andre would have to win the next sprint, and hope Alan was no where to be seen, if he was to hold on to the lead.

The boys are really looking good, controlling and patrolling well.

The race carried on, with again the race being controlled by CSC, Team UNISA had nothing left, it looked like they had cooked most of the riders with the first sprint. It’s always bad when you see the dirty tricks being played by some of the teams in the lead. Why were CSC racing I wonder, well make up your own mind, but money talks, and winners walk proud, even if it’s a dirty tactic. Who knows what favour they were paying back, or what price they had asked for to keep things under control, It’s one of those things you never hear about too much, but is bleedingly obvious if you look around the odd races. But more later, the mafia is everywhere in cycling. But we had a sprint to win, the bell lap was coming up fast. And ring it did, the speed was unbelievable with CSC on the front, but they had done nothing all week, so probably had some energy left. The bunch came around the corner fast, and in the front I saw a few more black shirts than last time. They sprint was on, and I could see Andre now, with his ochre jersey, shining in the sunlight. His placement was good this time, ready after the last blocking he got. And I could see Alan Davis sneaking around the middle, and bang, it was over, Andre takes the 3 seconds. Can’t remember who got the 2 and 1 seconds, (sure you can look it up) but we were back in it, and Andre was looking a bit happier this time round the corner.

And the winner is, Andre, check out the rest of the team in the background.

The team was working hard on the front, now was their time to shine, Andre was so close now, time to give everything for the cause. The boys were looking good, a lot better than UNISA team, as most of the team was hanging around the back of the peloton. With a couple of others dropping off the back, hey they have done well this week, but time for the big boys to show them what they got left. And what a show, adressing every attack with vigour, showing the competition not to mess with our boy today. I was trying not to watch the big screen, not 50m away, but was still sneaking a look every now and again. There was a crash a few days later, a Rabobank rider went down in the sprint, of course in an orange jersey. So the idiots running the live feed decided to replay the crash, right in the middle of the race, maybe if you were watching at home with sound, you might know what they were on about. But I was just glancing at the screen half heartedly, and wham, a huge orange (ochre) jersey going down, I freaked, thinking Andre had crashed with five laps to go. I leaped to attention, wheels at hand to find the crash. Only to realise that it was just the Rabo guy going down, replay number one. Just when my heart had a chance to get below 180 bpm, a couple of laps later, same shit, crash, my heart raced, until I realised it was the same replay, once again. I hope I meet the producer at the function tonight, I might just see how his reactions are going.

But the last bell was ringing, one lap to go. The boys were chasing down another attack, still looking strong, Andre was close by at 10th wheel. It was now getting exciting, with less then 1km to go I got into the finish straight ready for action. And action it was, they rounded the corner in full flight, I could see a single orange jersey, a few riders back, but no lead out from the boys in black. I waited, and the front was a mess, with 150m to go, the sprint was on, riders everywhere, what a mess, but I could still see Andre hanging around the front. And sprint he did, Alan Davis was stuck behind, and could not get a free run, and by the looks of things, he was done. Andre smashed the lot of them, taking the stage win, equalling the record of four stage wins. He had done it, we had done it as well, Andre wins the Tour Down Under. Not only taking the tour win, 4 stages, the Classic Race, and the sprint Jersey, but also the first white Jersey of the UCI Pro Tour. What a machine, he is going to great to look after this season, especially if he can do this again at a few races. The team was elated, the staff were excited, it was after all a fantastic start for the Men, and for the new Team HighRoad. A great end to the month of wins.

What an occasion, the team explodes with emotion upon winning the Tour, and the press is about to attack him now.

And here are the last pics of the tour, right here, unless I get the urge to show some more bikes.

Now for a couple of weeks off, time for some riding, and some pretty cool shops that I have found here in Melbourne. More later on the racing, when I start with the Geelong Women's Tour, the first World Cup of the season, again in Geelong. Then to the beautiful country of new Zealand for the Tour of Wellington.

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