26 June 2008

Iurreta-Emakumeen Bira

With the Giro out of the way, I have a couple of the more relaxing races to keep me busy over the next few weeks. So the few days at home base, were spent with a bit of sleeping and trying to do a bit of riding. And the sleep was good as well, long and very quiet, the riding was no so forthcoming. But the few days were not barely long enough, and soon I was back into preparing for some racing with the girls. I had a bike or two to build, the truck to pack with whatever wheels and equipment I could find for my races. We had half the girls away in Montreal for the World cup, which Judith won easily and retained her Leader Jersey (she even had a special bike and helmet to match the jersey, sure you can find a pic). And they were staying for the Philly race as well, so there was quite a bit of stuff missing. But the cool thing working for such a big team is the fact there is always some more wheels etc, kicking around from the men’s team. So build a couple of bikes, packed, then hit the road for sunny Spain.

A quick 1000km drive to Bordeaux in the south of France, and driving the final 450km the day after. heading into the Basque region of Bilbao for the Tour of Bira with the girls. But by the looks of things on the road, we might have trouble getting into Spain. The highway was starting to look crazy about 100km from the border, trucks everywhere you could think of. Spilling out of gas stations, spilling out of every rest stop, and the closer I got to the border, they just then took over one whole lane of the highway. I was starting to get worried, it looked they were there for a while, small groups of truckies camped out on the right lane of the highway like gypsies, they looked like they were going to be there for a while as well. The closer I got to the border, the more worried about getting through, was there a problem with the road, some sort of police problem, who knows. 50km form the border, things were really getting blocked, I was now worried I would get stuck on the side of the road with the truck for a few days with the rest of them. But my truck was a small one, you could probably drive it inside most of them that were stopped. I f the road was washed out or something, I am sure I could find a way though, the race most go on.

Luise out on the TT course.

Close to the border there seemed to be a whole lot more police kicking around, the traffic seemed to be moving but very slowly. Truckies were waving at me to stop driving. There was some hope anyway, and a delay of a day was fine, as I had one up my sleeve to spare. Getting right close to the border, things were looking grim, as if the world had run out of diesel or something. The Highway was down to one lane, and was crawling slowly, police were everywhere, but they just seemed to be standing around as every car was stopped by a bunch of men. There was a whole load of truckies waving me down, telling me not to go ahead, but I kept going. Right on the border I was stopped, there were a few onlookers giving me the dirty stare as my man started talking. First in German, cause of the plates, then I asked for the English translation, first he asked what I was carrying, Bikes I answered, race bikes. We got a race in a day and the Girls need the bikes, I explained, with the most innocent look on my face. He then explained they were striking, stopping any trucks crossing the border, as long as I was not carrying any goods I was free to go. He gave me a paper with the full story. Today was the first day, and it was already looking serious, can’t imagine what it’s going to look like in a few days. The roads in Spain looked just as bad, with trucks stopped, waiting to get into France for another 100km south, I was smiling to myself. It was a relief to get through, but I pity those poor bastards who don’t want to strike, and have a load of stuff they have to deliver to survive.

Iurreta-Emakumeen Bira, was a five stage, four day stage race for the Women, and I was looking forward to a few days in the sunshine, and some racing of course. Bira is a nice little race, small stages, some nice scenery, and a few climbs, and a little TT with a double stage thrown in, just to make it feel like work. We had a crack team for the week, Luise, Linda, Anke, Alex, Emilia and Madeleine, ready for some action for the week. The first stage was only 77km, a bit of a change from some of the stages of over 200km in the Giro, but it was nice not to be in the car that long anyway. And probably nowhere near as much stress during the race as well, nice. There were a few good teams here for the race, with plenty of good competition to keep the girls hot on their pedals. And the first stage started pretty fast, with such a short race, it was almost a sprint after the first half an hour warm up. Marianne Vos was pretty hungry in last years race, with a couple of stage wins, but she couldn’t beat Susanne last year, so was motivated to win it this year. And she didn’t disappoint either, and was attacking like hell the whole race. With about 20km to go, she left the bunch with Luise in tow, and they managed to stay away till the finish, Luise just losing contact on the last climb. Vos was in the lead, with Luise on 18 secs behind her, with the rest of the bunch coming in about a minute behind. Not a bad start to the tour, but we have a few days to go yet.

Emilia taking it a bit hard on one of the climbs.

With Marianne Vos being the talent she is, it’s pretty daunting for most of the girls to get inspired to attack her during the race. Her DSB team were keeping good control of things on the front, and she was patrolling the peloton as well. 84km is not long enough to hurt those who have not had enough training, but the speed was on right from the start. And as usual, a small bunch was away near the end. Unfortunately they stayed away and took a bit more of Luise’s second place, the time gap was decreasing, now down to about 10 secs, with Vos increasing her lead a little to almost a minute. But with a double stage in the morning, with a TT to start with, that should change things a lot. But with the late starts, that always means late finishes, and just when you are getting real tired, they throw the double stage at ya. A 10 am start for the individual Timetrail, which should last for about three hours, a few hours wait between stages, and then another late stage to top the day off. Ohh and don’t forget the early start for the last stage the next day. Race organisers sometimes should have a thought for the staff and riders sometimes, what makes a good race sometimes is not the best for the teams, especially for the staff, having to work late into the night.

The TT was a small, but very nasty little course, twisting through the countryside. The Girls were ready, the bikes were ready and I was early and organised as usual. The sun was shining for the first time all week, in fact it was the first day that it didn’t rain for the whole trip into Spain. The girls were having a good time out on the course, with some wicked times by Alex early in race, then by Linda, a little later on, things were looking good. World TT champ Hunka came in with the best time of the day, but there were still a few more good riders to come. I had managed to set off all the girls without any problems, all the bikes were sweet, no crashes or punctures, and now only one rider to go, Luise. She was looking a bit worried, TT not being her thing, so she could loose the 2nd place this morning, but she was feeling positive. I did a quick calculation and the strongest TT riders were not looking too close, unless she really blew it, she would remain in second, but she had to give it all on the road. And everything she did, it was looking pretty slow out on the small and dead roads, but her time was good. Only one rider left, Vos herself, and she was going to give it everything. Miriam Melcher’s-Van Popple was in second place, and Hunka was sitting in 1st, but she gave it everything she had, I was half expecting to see her on the road when I was following Luise. But not, she won, took more time out of Luise, 1.38 and now Luise had kept her 2nd place in the GC, and even gained more time from Guderzo, sitting in 3rd place. Now two stages left, hope someone can give Vos a bit of a run for her money, as most of the team seemed to be sitting happy with second place, fight I say, till the very end.

Hey that's Linda poking out from the back of the group, Cantelle right, Brandli left, and Miriam at the back.

I had a little time to spare in between stages for a bit of a wander (after we dropped the truck back at the hotel), the town had held the TT for the last few years, so I knew my way around. I took a bike and the camera to see what I could find, and it’s pretty small, so to find anything new was a surprise. But I found a nice old church, with some pretty impressive doors, one with a nice skull and a bit of a warning over the top of it, but it made for a good pic all the same. The afternoon stage was pretty hard, with some of the best climbs of the race. The bunch split up pretty quick, but they all managed to get back together again. I watched as one of the teams changed a wheel on Elodie Touffet’s bike, struggling to get the wheel in, the mechanic was really panicking, then they tried to tow her up to the bunch by using the ol ‘brakes are stuck on’ trick, so I had to reach out and look a them (while the car is accelerating). She almost crashed as they sped up, and to top it off, when she left the car, she was moving a bit too fast for the corner coming up. And off she went, tipped on her front wheel as she applied full brakes, she disappeared of the road, and the bushes just closed behind her. I was too stunned to grab my camera (would have been a great shot), as I watched in disbelief, luckily her team car was behind her, as I am sure no one else saw her disappear but me. Luise finished in the front bunch, in last place, and the GC stayed the same.

the chasing bunch on the last day, Linda and can you spot Luise?

The last stage was the longest, with a couple of nice nasty little climbs in. the action was on right from the start. The first attacks came on real early. By the time we hit the second climb with about 30km to go, there was a small group of about 12 girls up the road, and it was all the big hitters in the race. They stayed away for a while, and then the action came on again, with many more attacks coming out of the small group. We had Two of the team in there, with Linda and Luise fighting hard to hang on. Then it split, with four attacking near the top of the hill. Vos was there, so the race was done. Luise and Linda chased like hell in a small group with Brandli and Cantele from Bigla. But it was not enough, they stayed away, Guderzo was in there as well, so we were fighting for 2nd place now. We didn’t catch them, Vos wins the race, Guderzo in 2nd, and Luise in 3rd by 8 secs, close, but a good result in the end for the team. A quick pack, and a change of vehicle, a drive of 1680 km to my next race starting in Holland in two days with the boys. I just hope the border is open, as most of the shops in Spain were getting a bit empty of fresh food, please let it be open.

Here are a few pics of the trip.


scooter said...

hey benny,
love the fotos as usual. how tall was that inflatable man? he looks like bibbendium after some serious surgery/liposuction. scary

benny said...

yeah was pretty massive, maybe 30m at least. Think it was for a dance party later on that night.