5 March 2009

Het Nieuwsblad

After spending a week putting the new machines together, it was finally time to give them a bit of a spin, and what a great test, with the first race of the European season, Het Nieuwsblad (renamed Het Volk). I have a lot faith in my own mechanical work, and I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t a bit worried, with eight new bikes, being raced over some pretty shit roads. Also to top that, we had four or five sections of pretty bad cobblestones, some of them up to 3km long, and these are a real test for any machine, let alone a lightweight race bike. But I was feeling confident, I had checked the bikes over twice, and then a third time for good luck, I could relax in the car, knowing there was nothing more I could do. We had a bit of colour on the bike this season, so they were looking all new and pretty, lined up before the start. The new team clothing had arrived during the week as well, so the public would get their first look of our new colours for the season. We would be spending the day in the team car, trying to spot the girls in amongst the 150 riders or so in the peloton, at least the back of the uniform was simple, three bold colours, and dark shorts. It is always a bit of a challenge at the start of the season when most teams change their colours and riders, it can make for a bit of added confusion as to who is who, and which team are they riding for now, initially. But with in a couple of races, we have our eyes calibrated, and no one rider escapes our attention, unless of course they are getting dropped in the first half an hour, and we are trying not to look at the sorry faces, as they hurtle to the rear of the caravan.

The new bikes ready to race

The girls were happy with the new bikes and clothes, a few of the team had already given the bikes a test run earlier in the week, but more than half were riding a fresh bike. The eight girls (80% of the team) lined up before the race with the bikes and new uniforms for a few pics. They all looked pretty impressive, the bikes I mean, and the girls didn’t look too bad either, the race was about to start, so my work was about to slowdown for the day I hoped. I loaded the car, and attempted to turn the race radios on, but it was not happening. We had double-checked everything this week for our first Euro race, all except the radios, stupid I know, but they have never been a problem, until now. The two radios were just not working, so I checked all the fuses I could find (a modern car is unbelievable for the amount of electronics it has) in three different places in the car, but no luck. The radios were very important, first the race radio, so we can hear what is going on during the race, the action on the front, the rear, and everything in-between. Second, the rider’s radio, so we can talk to the girls and hear them when there are problems, and to direct them during the race. This was going to be difficult, with such bad road conditions, we would have to be very alert, and the girls would have to think a little bit more for themselves for the tactics if we were out of range. After a bit of messing around (my half hour of peace while the girls were warming up was lost, I am no auto electrician, that’s for sure), we could not get them going. Klas rushed to the organisation to borrow a race radio, and we would have to do with one of the small riders radio for our tactical directions.

What a fantastic lineup, new bikes, new riding kit.

The course was different than previous years, and this time we would be following the last 128 km of the men’s race, which would be raced in behind us, later on in the day. The race started, and before I could relax for the first time all morning, the first crash call came over the radio. Everyone from the team were safe, but it was a bad omen for the day, and before most of the girls were back in the bunch, crash number two for the day. One of our girls were down the radio said, a bit of stress, but Iris was down and up just as fast. But there was a real mess over the road with all the race cars scattered everywhere, too many club teams here today, they don’t have the experience like the UCI teams have. Iris had a bit of a nice gash on her calf, and some chainring punctures on her shin, but otherwise she and the bike were fine. Some really sharp corners, and a few more crashes later, Loes M got caught in another crash, she was not too good, a bit of a hit to the head and shoulder when she hit the road, so she battled on for a bit longer, then hitched a ride back to the finish with us. But just as she flipped the front seat back into position, and sat down, the borrowed race radios power lead got squashed underneath it, and severed our race info again. A bit of a cleanup and splicing on the wires and I was ready to plug it back in for some sound, but the shock must have shorted another fuse to the auxiliary power plug, so we were back to square one, I gave up, we would have to rely on the other cars for some race info now.

Loes M not looking too happy after her crash.

A few more crashes later, and the race was getting near to the end, there was a breakaway of about 26 riders, and we had four of our team in there. But we could do nothing, the speed was high, and our attacks were not successful at all. The race came into the finish chute for sprint, the girls went for it, but not being the sprinting type, we did not manage to beat the winner, Susanne DeGoede from Nurenburger. It was not a bad day after all that drama, (it was at least warm 13’c, and no rain) the girls performed pretty well so early in the season. Some nice riding from all the team, and some great efforts from the younger riders, a couple of crashes with the team in, and only one puncture (thanks to a nice big pothole), a few scratches on the new shifters, and no other damage for the day. The radios we won’t mention again for a while I hope. We were pretty lucky looking around at the damage and punctures that other teams suffered during the race. I kind of had to laugh when three members of one team crashed into each other at the back of the peloton. The three of them in the middle of the road, trying to get their bikes apart, crying and looking ahead to the disappearing bunch, oh well, maybe they should be concentrating a bit more next time.

And look HERE for a few more pics of the day.

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