17 August 2008

Tour de l'Ain

A couple of days at base, catching up on a bit of sleep, and I was on the road again, this time in the opposite direction of Denmark. The race we were off to was ‘The Tour de l’Ain’, in the bottom of France near Lyon, close to the Swiss border. A nice little race, in a very nice part of France, with five stages over four days, and yes, another double stage day. We had a lot of the team over in China (Olympics) about to start the road race and TT over there, so we had what was left at home racing with us. Some of the boys had decided not to race the Olympics, and some were just not selected, so it’s not as if they were feeling B grade, or anything, but you could feel it a bit from other teams around the Hotel. The l’Ain area is very nice, full of national parks, rolling countryside, farms and nice little villages. You could almost say it looked a bit like New Zealand in places (I can say that, but most others couldn’t), just add a lot more houses to the scenery and it’s almost the same. Maybe I am just getting a bit homesick, as Denmark last week, was looking a bit like NZ as well. Our crack team of riders for the week were arriving the next day, a couple had just raced in Denmark, so they had as little rest between races as me, nice. Riding for us this time round was Scott Davis, John Devine, Linus Gerdemann, Frantisek Rabon, Tony Martin and the little Italian, Morris Possoni. Directing us for the week was Valerio, back from the last two weeks of the Tour, a bit more relaxed now that it is over. Linus was back to a bit of form after crashing out and breaking his leg earlier in the season at the Terreno-Adriatica race, my first race back in Europe.

The weather was looking good for the week, but no sooner than I had been enjoying the idea of another week in the hot sunshine (just for those in NZ who are having some pretty nasty weather at the moment). The weather report came over the radio that we should be expecting storms for the rest of the week, nice timing. The team was feeling pretty good about the weeks racing ahead, there was not too many of the bigger teams here, and most of the good riders were over in the pollution capital of China. It was nice to be back in France for a bit of racing, and the public were on form after a month of cycling frenzy. The crazy thing was, this tour was starting on a Sunday, normally the day that we finish on. Oh well, every day feels the same when you are on the road. I have a special watch that tells me what day it is, otherwise I would have no idea (yeah I can hear you laughing from here, but it’s true). I drew the short straw this week, so had to race in the first car for the tour, not sure how that worked out, but all the same, makes for a bit more action for the week.

What a nice shot of the countryside, and the bunch is racing hard.

Stage one was uneventful, a group away for most of the day, they almost didn’t catch them, but got pretty close. Nice to see some of the smaller teams winning the odd race now and again. Franki finished in 6th for the day, at least we would have a decent view form the caravan the next stage. Stage 2 started off pretty wet, the rain that was forecast was starting to arrive, the peloton slowed a little to start with, then put the pace down as the first hour ticked by. Just when I was starting to relax in the car, the first crash of the race happened, I heard on the radio that one of the boys was down. I jumped out, and navigated through the mess to Scotty Davis who was down on the ground with three others. They had all been taken down by one other rider, all of them slid into the gutter, and all were sporting the same hole in their left knee. The doctors were there pretty smartly, but Scotty was done, a nice hole in his knee. Cleaned up you could see a small layer of fat under the skin, all the way through to the muscle, shame I never had my camera there, it was impressive, to say the least. The others down with him, had much the same injury, and the doctors were moving from one guy to the other, trying to work out who to sort out first. Scotty was in a bit of pain, so I made the call and grabbed his bike and proceeded to put it on the roof, he was going for a ride, but not on his bike. We continued onwards, and caught up with the race, which had slowed dramatically since the crash., funny that. We were down to five riders for the rest of the tour, but think we will be ok. Franki ended up second in the sprint for the line, and third in the GC, so it was a good day in the end. Scotty was fine, nothing broken, a bit sore, and sporting a full leg bandage for his effort.

Hey, where are they, John Devine getting lost in the grass.

During the night, the rain started, and it poured down with a vengeance, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the mechanics. Right ready for the days double stage, a small road race in the morning, and another, even smaller TT in the afternoon. Waiting to start the mornings stage, the rain was still falling, not too hard, but very wet all the same. The boys were not looking forward to the start, but I was, at least it was not raining inside the car. The stage was a short one, just over 100km, so it would be over soon for them, the roads were wet, and they looked very slippery as well, I hope no one went down today. But all was good, they raced like hell, it rained like hell, and we won with a sprint from Linus, to the line with three others. The leaders were dropped earlier on, so it put Linus into the leaders jersey, and the teams spirits were looking pretty good going into the afternoons soggy Timetrail. I was wet to the bone, while waiting for the rest of the boys to arrive at the bus, a podium to attend and doping control, saw to most of the spare time we had between the stages. Back to the Hotel, my dry co-mechanic Guido was done with the TT bikes, ready and waiting for the afternoon, we just had ten very dirty bikes to clean, then hop it to the start, and get set up. I was still wet, and cold by the way. The start was close, a few KM drive and I was back in the rain. Setting up the tent, the TT bikes and the base camp for the afternoon. We were a lot better sorted than most of the teams there, poor bastards, I thought as I looked out form our huge tent at some of the pathetic attempts to stay dry, but I was still wet, and now my last bit of dry, remaining my shoes was wet.

Linus out on the course, and the rain has eased off a little bit.

We raced hard, with Tony getting the fastest time of the day early on in the race. This was going to be hard to beat, he was an animal, and had no fear, even with the torrential rain to ride in. The course was only 7.3km long, but dangerous every turn you came around. I was following last with Linus, so was busy setting the others off on their merry way. By the time Linus was up (1st on GC, last to start), all the riders were gone, all my equipment was packed, tools stashed and the rest of the staff were happy and dry in the bus, I was still wet. I set Linus off, and we hit the road. The rain was crazy, but it didn’t stop Linus from giving it shit all the way, the best time of the day was still Tony. Linus raced well, and with about 10 large speed bumps on the course, my heart was racing hard every time he jumped up and off those suckers. He was second, sweet, Tony wins the stage, Linus second, a double stage, a double win, and Linus still wearing yellow. An hour or so more in the rain washing and sorting out the bikes, I was still wet, 13 hours so far I had counted. But the shower was close, the rain was at least warm, and it looked like it was going to stop by the morning. My toes thawed out by bedtime, and at least I was dry on the outside, but with a double win, it was raining alcohol on the inside now, and I felt warm, finally.

Hey it's Linus, getting ready to start the last stage, looking good in yellow. And he kept it as well.

The final stage was going to be a killer, many hills, many attacks and a few riders pretty close to our boy on GC. Right from the start they were attacking us like hell, huge groups and solo riders, but the boys were on to it. Chasing them all down, and eventually beating them into submission as soon as they tried it again. Most of the groups were far too big, and contained too many dangerous riders, but soon there was a good group away, we let it slide. By halfway through, we had kept it to about 2 mins, nice and easy for the team, just in case we needed them for the finish. Just as things were getting tough for the boys, Tony gets a puncture at a very bad moment, I fixed it, but there were attacks happening off the front, so the bunch driven by us, was chasing at full speed. Just when I had got back in the car, organised my wheels, Tony came over the radio that he had another puncture, what, I looked, and sure enough, second rear puncture in about a 1km, what are the chances. I fixed it quick, poor Tony, as the bunch was still at full speed, but the champ he is, and TT specialist to boot, he chased and was back on the front with the rest of the boys pretty damn quick. The last half of the race was in a loop circuit through the finish, this loop had a few good climbs, so was very dangerous for the team. But all worked out well, the group was caught by the last climb, the closest on GC attacked Linus at this stage, and he responded well. Tony did a fantastic job, keeping the speed high all the way to the 3km to go mark, and Linus finished it off with a second place. Keeping his biggest rivals at bay, and winning the tour overall. Great for the team, a great comeback for Linus, and a great result for the mechanics of course, cause without us, who knows what would happen.

And of course a few pics here and there. and if you haven't figured it out yet, the slideshow is a good way to see them all easily, depends on your internet speed of course.


Anonymous said...

Awesome photos Benny... Nice one bruva.


benny said...

Thanks Sammo, glad you like them. Benny