21 September 2008

Tour of Ireland #2

With three wins, from three stages, things could not get any better at this stage. The fact that the hills were starting on stage four, our lead was soon to be over for sure. Mark and the whole team knew he would be loosing the jersey going into the stage, but the team was pretty upbeat all the same. He was not going to try to defend it in the mountains, but we sure would like to try to pass it on to someone else in the team. As we started the stage, the team was feeling good about not having to defend the lead so hard, I think the last few days protecting the lead has started to take there toll. With not so many top teams here, besides I suppose Garmin, everyone was looking to us all week so far for controlling the race, and it cost a lot of energy from the boys. Today would be a bit easier on the road for the team, but they still had a job to do. There were numerous attacks off the front as was expected, but there was a few other teams fighting for a bit of the action for a change. A few small groups got off the front, but not for long, before they were pulled back in to the bunch. Garmin looked pretty active, and with Kiwi, Julian Dean sitting in second, 20’ back, and in some good climbing form, he was expected to take the jersey today. With 50km to go, we hit the Conor Pass, the deciding climb of the day. Garmin as expected, with Millar and Backstead put the hammer down, with Dean protected, they attempted to smash the bunch to bits. I was busy with the camera, as there were some wicked shots of the riders heading over the pass, it was not to be missed.

Heading over the Coner Pass, not so steep, but long and beautiful.

Smash it to bits they did, Millar did a fine job on the front, dropping almost all the bunch, including Cavendish, by about halfway up. There was a real mess trying to understand what had happened, and, as usual the race radio was not helping us figure out the damage. We could see three small groups of about 20 riders each, but as we were so far back we could not see who was in there. The boys were no help either, as they were scattered over the whole mess and radio contact was difficult. But soon enough at about 30km to go we finally figured out what was happening in the race. A small lead group, powered by Garmin, with the virtual leader, Julian Dean, and two of us in there, with Michael Barry, and Marco Pinotti. So all was good, both of the guys we needed in the front group were there, the others were taking it easy in the second and third bunches. The front bunch put the hammer down, as they tried to make as much damage to the GC as they could. What Garmin didn’t figure out was the fact that Dean was not in the lead, and Russell Downing, from the small local Pinarello team, had picked up a few bonuses en-route to the finish. And with a win for the stage, he moved into the top of the GC and the Yellow Jersey. Shame for their poor maths, as I was kind of hoping that Dean (0.02’ behind on the finish line) would get a bit of a boost to his season with a leaders jersey for a day or so. Our plan had worked well enough, we had a couple in the running with Barry and Pinotti, the team had had a bit of a breather for the day. Cav rolled in about 8” back with most of the bunch, and the bikes worked perfectly all day, with no crashes, nice.

The last stage was going to be interesting, we had a secret plan, and the right players to implement it. The stage was heading through some pretty nice parts of the country, Killarney through to Cork, so I was looking forward to it. Most of the week we had been having a bit of a long transfer before the stage started, which meant early starts for the mechanics and other staff. They gave us a bit of a break on the last day, only a 5km roll to the start for the boys. The truck had left for the last hotel, where I would be leaving for the mainland later on that day, so I had a bit of relax at the start for a change. Without the jersey, most of the press generally leave you alone, that’s as long as you don’t have a Cavendish on the team. They were still trying to get interviews from him, and without the bus (unfortunately it didn’t start today), he could not hide from them. The crowd at the start was the biggest I had seen all week, and the atmosphere was pretty exciting, I think I was more excited about finishing the race, not it starting, I always have to be different.

That was a pretty big hole in the road, looks like it's been there a while.

We hit the road, and as you could imagine, the attacks started about 1km into the race. Rabon, who was looking petty tired the last two days, had a miraculous recovery, and managed to make it into the first good break to be let go. He was with three others, and the best one was 10” on GC. Team Pinarello were pretty nervous as you could imagine, instead of letting the break go to about 8” mins or something, they started chasing at about 3”, a bad move. The riders at the front just put the speed on, and Pinarello kept on chasing, using up most of their riders for no reason. Leave the break out the front for a while, let them take the win and then at least they keep the jersey, kind of ‘Tactics 101’. But they couldn’t hear me from the back of the car, and things were getting interesting at the front. Franki’s group had dropped two of the riders out of the break, now he was with one other only. The bunch got close, and with 25km to go, we sent Michael Barry out on the attack. With Barry sitting only 18’ to the lead, Pinarello panicked, and chased hard for 15km, catching him just as we hit the 10km to go. The 4 laps of hills, that they had at the end of the stage were very nasty, very steep short climbs, some hairy descents with nasty corners on them. The roads were packed with fans, which only made them look steeper when you turned the corner. Things were starting to get interesting as we saw almost all of the Pinarello team getting dropped, and most of the chasing bunch. Franki was very relaxed at the front, with about 2” up his sleeve, he was concentrating on making his fellow escapee hurt, just as much as he was.

The boys lining up for the last stage, Cav in green, Berni looking at us, and Michael.

Just as the bunch closed in on Barry, they thought they had it all under control, we sent out Pinotti (also on 18’) on attack, directly. And it seemed to work, the leader Downing was chasing Marco down by himself, and even then you could see he had nothing much left. A few others were helping to chase down Pinotti as well, with Dean having great interest, he was working hard. But Marco was too strong for them, and before we knew it, he was up over a minute on the chasing bunch. Franki in the front was at 4km to go, and just attacked his buddy with a vengeance, stormed off into the distance, and before he was a km away, almost had 30’s on the guy. He cruised to the finish, a nice win for him, second one for the year, and fourth for the team this week. The chase was on for Pinotti, being the current Italian TT champ, and master of the TT, he powered away from the bunch and finished about 35’ in front of the leader, taking the GC win and the tour for the week. Nice work.

What a nasty little climb, looks not as bad as it was.

So the week was not so bad, 4 out of 5 stage wins and the GC for three days on Cavendish’s back and the final with Marco. No mechanicals except the odd puncture, a few crashes (could have been a lot more if the last stage was wet). Now for the mission home, with a quick drive up to Dublin where the truck was sitting, to pack a few bike for the few Olympic riders, and I was on the way to the ferry from Dublin to Wales. A quick drive to Dover, in the south of England, and I was waiting again for a ferry back to Europe. I had a three hour wait, or so I thought, as I sat down to a nice relaxing meal and strong coffee. I tried to get an earlier boat, but as usual, it was impossible. As I took my first bite of my meal, I saw the line of trucks I was parked in, starting to move forward. Shit, I left my meal, grabbing a handful of something I could carry, and ran to the truck, “yep your ready to sail, get moving” the guy was saying. I was happy to be sailing early, but they should get the information to the front desk, my meal was looking so good just before I was interrupted.

If you have not seen them, there a few pics here and over here.

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