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Archive for July, 2010

Time trials are always difficult days at races. Firstly, the riders line up knowing their final position in the race depends on their forthcoming hour of solo work, and secondly, the logistics for the staff are super complex.

We had a bus at both the start and finish, five different vehicles following riders, mechanics at start and finish, time check people stationed on the course, soigneurs at the start, press officer and doctor at the finish, and a several hour spread over which the riders competed. Seeing Whitey plan it all the night before was an impressive sight, akin to footage of Kasparov playing twenty concurrent games of chess and winning. Start list with times in one hand, pen in the other, rattling off who had to be where and when. It was pure genius at work!

My role on the day was to provide Whitey with splits for Ryder and his four closest competitors: the two behind, and the two in front of him on general classification. I had a list of the time that Ryder could lose to the guys behind him, and needed to gain on the guys in front, and then waited for the times to trickle in, pen & phone at the ready.

The way the race is organised is that last place on general classification rides first, all the way through to the race leader departing last. Thus the guys who Ryder was defending against were in front of him on the road, and those he was attacking were behind him.

It is a funny scene, I am sure, to see a grown man mumbling at a computer screen “Flash up now! Flash up now!” while awaiting Ryder’s time to come up, and then “Don’t flash yet! Don’t flash yet!” while awaiting the two guys Ryder was chasing.

As the numbers came in I started updating Whitey, who would be able to relay the key info to Ryder. It was a cool couple of calls.

The phone rings, then there’s the answer, and you here the noise in the car: race radio giving updates in French & English, and Whitey in a calm, yet animated voice encouraging Ryder.

My first calls were about the blokes Ryder was defending against:

Tobes: “yeah mate. HesJ has ’em both on toast. Taken over 50seconds out of them both. We’re apples for 8th”

Whitey: “good stuff. Now we’re after 7th.”

A few minutes later…
Tobes: “he’s taken a minute thirteen out of JQuan. Needs another minute and we’ve got him” (JQuan is Joaquim Rodriguez)

Whitey (on radio to Ryder): “alright mate, you’re getting close to Rodriguez. Good rhythm Ryder”

The next time check was even better.

Tobes: “Ryder is 10seconds in front of JQuan on general”

Whitey: “now we’re gonna take 6th”

Hilariously though, Ryder’s radio didn’t work, so he wasn’t getting any of our hard found, highly exciting time checks. So when he finished, he had no idea how he’d done, and actually thought he was out of the top ten.

When our finish line staff told him he’d actually moved up a place (literally on the finish line), he was super psyched: he had no clue! He learned he was 7th (not 11th as he’d feared) in front of the press.

With typical humility he said “that’s a good number. Wow. Anything in the top 10 is amazing. I don’t know what to say.”

Once again he rode brilliantly. We could not be happier with his performance.

That Zab also managed to finish in the top 5 for the stage maintained to Garmin-Transitions run of competing at the pointy end of the race, no matter what the stage was.

Now. Champs Elysee for a likely bunch sprint, then a well-earned celebration tonight!

Toby Watson, Team Physiotherapist, Garmin Transitions Pro Cycling Team.

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We’re on the downhill slope for this race now, and the fatigue is starting to show. It’s getting tougher and tougher to chisel our heads off the pillow each morning, and the coffees are having smaller and smaller effects. Sunglasses stay on when inside as they’re keeping our eyeballs from falling out. I guess the riders are tired too.

Today was another flat stage, the first in about a week, so I think every person involved in the race expected the sprinter teams to be to the fore once again. They delivered a bunch sprint as expected, and Garmin-Transitions were once again in the thick of things. Millar and Martijn delivered Jules to the front of the show at the right time, and Jules crossed the line in second place.

Yet another excellent result, among many for the team this month. These blokes rock! Next up is the time trial in Bordeaux, followed by the final stage in Paris.

As it’s about 600km between the two cities, the logistics of getting all of the staff, vehicles and equipment to where they need to be for the final stage has been complicated. The riders and directors catch a dedicated train in the morning, so are sweet as apples, but the rest of us are on marathon drives at a million o’clock after the stage finishes. Good times!

Speaking of times, I’ll be on the course today giving extra time checks for the TT. Always good to have as much info as possible! Here’s to the Garmin-Transitions train rolling on to yet more success!

Toby Watson, Team Physiotherapist, Garmin Transitions Pro Cycling Team.

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Today was the showdown.  As all who watch cycling know, any stage with a mountaintop finish is where many of the overall selections happen, and when the mountain is the Tourmalet, which is enormous both in terms of the difficulty of the climb, as well as its history, it’s all the more definitive.  Thus we all held the hope that Ryder would be able to continue his brilliant run of form, but knew that as it was such a hard climb, anything could happen.

It was rainy this morning as the boys ran to the bus for the start, and with mixed feelings I

Man of the hour running to the bus pre start

watched them head off.  I was once again on hotels.  The ambivalence was because I would actually be able to have a bonus rest day (no transfer again!  Woo!), as well as watch the race unfold, and would also be out of the crappy weather; but would be that little bit distanced from things as they went down, and would be unable to celebrate with high fives, hugs and roars of “BOOMbah!” as whatever happened happened.  (Boombah has become a significant portion of the staff’s fallback cry of celebration over the course of the season.  I’m not sure why, nor what the etymology is, but there you go.)

The morning for me (and Alyssa, who was also on hotels) was taken up with sorting out our stock of water and drink mix and food, making sure we were right for the remaining couple of days.  Then Chinese buffet for lunch.  We’ve been at this hotel for three days, and the hotel is right in front of the biggest Chinese restaurant I have ever seen.  It has been calling my name for days, and I finally talked some people in to coming across and taking it on.  An excellent decision.

Then it was back to watch our boys on the tv, yelling at the screen like any self respecting sport watcher does.  The majority of the time was placid, watching the break dangle off the front, while the peloton did it’s thing, with the distinctive fluoro orange of the Garmin-Transitions helmets popping up regularly enough for me to be happy with the way things were panning out.  There was a brief period of dismay when there were sheep across the road, but thankfully it wasn’t on a descent, so all was well.

Once the final climb came along, I was glued to the screen, looking for glimpses of Ryder in the midst of the hitters group.  The final couple of kilometres was a particularly frustrating period, as the race for 1st place was covered on the screen, whilst all I was interested in was the group immediately behind those two blokes.  Every time they did flash back, there was Ryder, banging along with a smaller and smaller group around him.  The only moment of worry, and it was small, was when they flashed back to the chase group Ryder had been in after the stage was won, and Ryder was nowhere to be seen.  All I was thinking then was “minimise the losses mate.  You’re right up there, the damage won’t be too bad.  Just tap along and keep it small.”

Second climb of Tourmalet

The absolute delight that was felt when they flashed to third place across the line and the lanky Canuck legend was just emerging from the mist for fourth was enormous.  And this delight was verbalised and echoed throughout the hotel as those of us who were watching in the hotel all yelled and cheered for our man.  It was a great performance, and a brilliant result, setting Ryder into 8th place on the general classification, with two flat stages and a time trial to come.

Now the rubs and treatments are finished, and it’s mealtime, and the roadshow continues up the road to Bordeaux tomorrow.  Congratulations to Ryder on today’s ride particularly, but also on his performances of the past 19 or so days.  A job well done by the Hesje, and the team as a whole so far.

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Stage 16 was the biggest climbing stage of the Tour, but the last climb was some 60km from the finish, which made for a weird looking profile for the day. The boys scaled four enormous mountains, the first beginning from km 0. Tough gig.

After fireworks from big name riders lit the early miles up the climb, a pseudo break settled down about 25sec ahead of the peloton, and it held some very big names.  Hearing these names get read out on the radio we in the car were sweating on “Hesjedal” being mentioned – it would have been a very nice move to be a part of, and we were stoked to finally hear the big Canadian get a mention!   It was a very good moment, and Robby and I (my car companion) both had goosebumps thinking about our very chilled out team mate stepping up to be at home with the big hitters.

Robby and I were scheduled to again help out the boys on one of the climbs up the road, and so we needed to get going to get in front of the race as the roads over the mountains are not paralleled anywhere, making it very difficult to pass the race.

Whitey rockin out with the air blackberry

Having done quite a few days of this by now, I had become quite cocky, and was content to wait a little longer so Whitey (our director) could listen to one more Noiseworks track to fire him up.  For those very few of you not in the know, Noiseworks were one of the great Australian pub rock bands in the 80s and early 90s. Of course, that final track of “Reach Out” meant that an overzealous race official blocked Robby and I from passing the start line (some twenty five minutes prior to the race was scheduled to start, mind) and we had to wait for the race to begin to get going and shift ourselves off the course.

We suddenly found ourselves needing to go nearly 50km out of our way to get in front of the race.  Furious resetting of the Garmin, coupled with hasty glances at the race book with the schedule for when the boys were due to get to the point that we’d decided we could get to in front of them, and we were off on our own mini-adventure prior to doing our jobs.  It was entirely my fault that we were in the bind, and entirely Robby’s that we got ourselves out of it. Great driving, great navigation and a cool head (all from Robby), and we were on the course in front of the race a grand total of 15 minutes in front of the riders.  I remind you that we were going to leave 25 minutes prior to the start.  Got to love logic free officialdom!

Up Tourmalet from Mongie

Anyhoo, after all of our driving, it was odd to see the 50km completed sign.  There was still THAT far to go?  We then drove up the Tourmalet, a magnificent drive at the best of times,

made even better by the thousands of fans all going wild in anticipation of seeing the show go down.  It looked like great fun out there! We parked on the top to take some photos and enjoy the atmosphere, then continued on our way.

We arrived at the bottom of the Aubisque, and I had to laugh upon seeing the sign “29.2km

HOW far to go??

to Summit” – HOW far???  I can’t imagine what passes through a person’s mind when they read a sign like that.  Incredible.  Robby and I stationed ourselves close to the top of the climb, and settled in to wait, making sure we had plans to get the drinks to Ryder in particular as the roads were so narrow it would be difficult for him to be able to get anything from Whitey in the car following.

Eventually the boys came by us, with the crowds again going mental, and we managed to get some drinks to Dave Zabriskie (who was doing a great job helping Ryder out).  A job completed for us, not quite as hassle-free as we could have hoped, but completed nonetheless!  The remainder of the boys came through all looking as good as you can after climbing so many metres in such a short distance (“HOW far to go??”) and we headed back to the hotel to continue with getting the boys ready for the next day of racing.

Rest day tomorrow!  You beauty.

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It is always a happy moment when you hear your team’s number get called out on the race radio to say they’d gotten into a break that has stuck.  The next job is to work out who it was that has been called out – it’s in the too hard basket to have each rider’s number memorised!  Usually the boys are just numbered alphabetically after our team leader, so it CAN be worked out, it just takes a while.  The tough races are when we have both the Meyer brothers, Christian Meier, Martijn Maaskant, Dan Martin and Dave Millar in the one team.  Today’s break member for us was number 58, Mr Reliable, Johan “Summie” Van Summeren.

It was (as per normal) another hot day, so once again we were on duty on the final climb of the day to give the boys a little cooling aid.  The problem with these mountainous regions is that there aren’t that many towns in the area, and so it becomes increasingly difficult to find places to supply ice to us closer to where we want to be handing it out.  It’s an added little adventure challenge that we face on these days!

We did eventually find ice, and positioned ourselves a few hundred metres up the hill from our precariously parked car, and were gratified to see Summie still with the break as he passed us. A quick glance at the watch as they rolled out of sight, and we settled in to wait for the peloton of the big hitters to come through.  We knew the break was a good chance to stay away when it was close to 9 minutes before that group (including Ryder of course) passed us.  We certainly had the hope that Summie would thus remain a chance for the win on the day.  He was eventually dropped near the very top of the climb, passing the top of the mountain in 4th position, and eventually being swept up by the big guns on their descent to the finish.  This was a super ride from Summie, and another great performance by the team.

This fine work was complemented by Ryder who ended up three positions higher on the general classification to end the day in 10th place. Wonderful work by both of our boys, and the whole team for supporting them in achieving these feats!  Great job lads.

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Sadly, Tyler abandoned yesterday as his body finally said “enough”. We were all disappointed for him. It was very saddening to see his face, which showed the acute disappointment he felt.

The race itself did go on, however, and typically, Garmin-Transitions were flying the flag despite the setbacks. Ryder repeatedly attacked the peloton and chased every other cyclists’s attack until he finally found himself in the break of the day. After his heroics of making the break (the race within the race) he worked with his companions for most of the race, until there was a selection of 4 from the 17-odd riders in the initial break. Again Ryder was there, swinging away. He has an enormous ability to push himself.

Eventually Ryder and his 3 companions were caught in the final couple of km of the stage on a ridiculously steep hill. Ryder still hovers just outside of the top 10 on the overall, and we hope to see him continue to fight on so well.

My job yesterday in addition to normal physio duties was to help with transport. The race went through very remote parts of France (yes such parts exist! Not outback Australia, but remote nonetheless), and the only way for the buses to get from the start to the finish was via a motorway which was a 480km drive. Thus the bus would have struggled to arrive on time, so we drove the boys to the start in cars with the bus headed straight to the finish.

Once we’d left the boys, we drove the course, which took us through some beautiful countryside and an amazing number of fans on the roadside. Considering how middle-of-nowhere-y it was, the crowds were incredible. But that’s the Tour isn’t it?

Onwards. Still swinging.
Toby Watson, Team Physiotherapist, Garmin Transitions Pro Cycling Team.

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After a single day of respite from the searing heat of the majority of this race, we were back into a bright sunny day with high temperatures. This meant the support crew were back up the road helping our boys as best we were able on the big climbs.

When standing and helping (and watching) on the mountains there are two groups we tend to pay closest attention to: the leaders and the grupetto. We watch the leaders to see how our man Ryder’s travelling, as well as what’s going down with the race in general, and we watch the grupetto to ensure our boys (if there) are not suffering too greatly, nor that they are in any danger of missing the time cut.

Yesterday was very nice from both of these perspectives. Ryder was looking great up with the leaders – so good he even blew a kiss to his lovely fiancee Ashley (who hung out with us yesterday). While the grupetto had equally good news, with Julian being our only man in the bunch, and he was looking very comfortable at the front.

Ryder had another fantastic day, and is right in contention for a top 10 finish overall. Keep it up Weight of a Nation!

Yesterday was an added bonus for some of the staff as we didn’t need to change hotels. This meant no need to send the truck off to the next hotel super early, no packing the bag before bed, a chance to catch up on laundry (that situation was dire for some) and perhaps even work on the tan. Nice for the hotel crew!

However we’re back into full swing tomorrow: another tough mountain stage for the boys, and a hotel transfer over some mountain passes in the truck for the staff. Game on.

Toby Watson, Team Physiotherapist, Garmin Transitions Pro Cycling Team.

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