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Archive for August, 2010

Final Defense: Eneco Stage 6

The final road stage of the Eneco race was again lumpy, this time including roads from the Amstel Gold spring classic.  In particular the Mur de Huy, a nasty climb that starts on an increasingly steep grade until a left turn kicks the road up to around 20%.

Svein was still sitting in 4th place on GC, a couple of seconds away from the podium, and we were all hoping that he could stay in touch on this stage as he is in very good time trialling form, and may be able to do some damage on the final day time trial.  The job for all of the boys was thus to help Svein out as much as possible, and get him over the Mur in touch with the leaders.  This job became a little more difficult seeming when we lost two more riders early in the race, through sickness and plain bad luck.  We were down to Svein and the three Australian kids: JackyBobby (who was pretty busted up from his heroics on Stage 5) and the Meyer brothers (Cam and Trav).

It was gratifying to see Svein get to the top of the Mur with all of the big hitters, but briefly worrisome as he appeared to be isolated.  Then the cameras panned back to a small group of 6riders chasing hard to get back in touch, with Cam and Trav taking turns to get bring their group up, grimaces of pain and strain on their faces, closing it down quick smart.  Brilliant stuff!  Everything was as good as we could hope.

The final 40km flew by, with flat tyres and a few moments of worry, but Svein had done the job well, lost no time, and has it all to ride for in the TT.  It has been a great performance for the whole week, and he has been ably supported throughout by the boys.  Triffic stuff!

The aftermath of the stage chatter (particularly from the Meyers) was about who flatted where, and how hard it was to get wheel changes when the race had been blown apart, meaning team cars couldn’t follow as closely as we would like.  Cam did laugh that he had a wheel change from the neutral service guys ahead of Robbie McEwen, who at the time had the points jersey and flatted at about the same point as Cam had).  Cam managed to get back to the front group, while McEwen didn’t: you need the luck some times!

Jack had a tough day for a different reason – paying for how hard he’d worked the day before.  He did have a chuckle about all of the congratulations and words of advice he received from the commissaires and other sports directors throughout the stage.  He survived the day in the gruppetto (which he was waiting to see form up from about kilometre thirty he said) and will see what he can drag out of his legs for the time trial in the finale.

We’re all looking forward to seeing how our boys do today.

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Stage 5 of the Eneco Tour had the race heading back into the bumpy territory that did so much damage on Stage 3, this time on similar roads to those used in the Amstel Gold spring classic.  Svein was still in contention for a podium position on the over all, and the main role for the boys was to make sure he didn’t lose time on any of his close rivals.  That job unfortunately became more difficult on the start line as Robbie Hunter was too unwell to ride his bike, despite signing on for the start.

I was lucky to again be riding in the second car with team physiologist Marc Quod (Quody) and Andrezj our mechanic.  We were hopeful of some breakaway action that would mean we’d be up the road supporting our man in the break, but obviously that is never guaranteed.  Before we started that though, we had to take Robbie back to the hotel so he could begin recuperating.

Thus there was a mad dash for those of us in the second car to drop Robbie off, work out approximately how long it would take us to get to various points on the course, and work out at what time the race would be heading through there, then decide if we could make it on time or not.  We had an option of going a long way ahead of the race on a motorway to guarantee things, but we’d be out of the action for over an hour.  And it would be a whole lot less fun than driving back roads and side streets hunting for the race at full gas.

The Break before the fireworks

We did get back to the race fairly quickly (the joy of having a top-end Garmin in the car), and literally pulled into line on the convoy when we heard that Jack Bobridge had made it into the break.  Perfect timing!  After some last minute instructions from director sportif Matt White (Whitey), and then some last last minute instructions phoned to us, we got in behind Jack and settled down for the day, keeping him updated on where people were in the race, how he was looking, and also keeping him fed and watered.

The break was never allowed to go away by more than 4minutes or so, so we all held only a faint hope that things would stay away for the whole day.  Jack was of the same mind, but figured that since he was there, he might as well stick around and have a crack.  It was funny watching some riders, knowing Jack is a Neopro (first year Pro) try and con him into doing more than his share of work so they could take it easier.  If there is one thing JackyBobby isn’t short of, it’s self-confidence.  He was having none of that, and they stopped trying to put it over him in short order.

As the day progressed and time gaps remained stable, the main job for us in the car (having since received Whitey’s last last

Wise words coming from Quody to Jack

LAST minute instructions, then I-swear-this-time-is-seriously-the-last-time last minute instructions) was to keep Jack from getting too excited too soon.  He would drop back to the car, grab some food and a drink, then ask if he should “hit ‘em” at 50km to go.  Quody and I would both yell out “NO…  WAIT” and Jack would just smile at us and roll back up to the bunch for another turn.  Cheeky bugger.

The 204km of rolling hills and steep kickers started to take their toll, and at one point Jack rolled back to say he was hurting.  All we could do was encourage him to stay with it as long as he could and help Svein out if he was dropped.  Secretly we knew that when he started to get a sniff of a win, JackyBobby would find a few extra gears.

Slowly things were whittled down: firstly the number in the break, and secondly the size of the gap to the peloton.  We in the car thus started to oscillate between hope that Jack could do something special, and acceptance that the peloton would catch the break and things would go back to bunch sprints.  With 15km to go there was 1min 41sec, at 10km it was 1min 7sec, at 8km it was 45sec…  it was going to be very close!

Here come the cavalry... Or peloton.

As the break hit the final climb is looked like they were going to stay away, and Jack was not going to keep up: he just started to drop off the back, but fortunately the top of the hill came before he lost touch.  The next thing we saw on the in-car TV (we had been told to pull aside for the oncoming peloton so were no longer close enough to watch things unfold live) was what looked like Jack on the front, but it kept dropping in and out with static.

Quody was too excited to drive, Andrezj and I were not watching the road either, so in the interests of safety, and also to get better TV reception, we pulled the car over to see that Jack was slowly pulling away from the rest of the break, and it looked as though none of them could do anything about it.  I will admit to a lot of noise coming from the inside of that car as the final metres ticked down, and as Jack turned the corner for the final 300m, we all knew he had won the stage, and so we started going on like porkchops, yelling and punching the air and hugging.  The only other sound that filtered through was Whitey on the race radio saying “You’ve bloody done it Jacko!  Well done.”

A post-mortem brains trust meeting

A 21yr old first year pro just won his first major race on the road as a senior, and those of us who saw it all were beside ourselves with happiness for him.  It was a great moment, and a great ride.  Congratulations to JackyBobby, and the team for getting him there.  Gold.

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Minor Details

Today was the first stage that the boys didn’t have any specific job to do in the race.  We had held the jersey for the first three days of the race, and will continue to fight out the general classification with Svein, but the stage today was quite flat, so it would not in any way effect the gc standings, meaning our boys finally had a low responsibility day.

Accordingly, those who have been feeling the pinch after some heavy days of hard work were able to take it easy in the bunch.   The only job was ensuring that Svein was doing the least work of everyone in the team whilst maintaining touch with the front of the race.

Despite the seemingly low intensity of the day, most of the lads got off their bikes today talking about how hard it had been.  The first hour of riding saw the peloton cover 51km, and the whole stage (which was 214km) was completed in only 4hr and 30min (ish).  And in this part of the world, the roads are always a source of irritation.  Apparently today a great swathe of roadway was made up of concrete slabs, which were at times not particularly well fitted.  The description was “It’s an annoying k-knk, k-knk, k-knk, k-knk and then all of a sudden WHAM, then back to k-knk, k-knk, k-knk…”

Atop the general complaints regarding roads and race pace, there was a funny little interlude where one of the boys was claiming that his nemesis was trying to prevent him from riding in the last position of the peloton.  His exact words were that “He kept chopping me for last place.”  The usual result of “chopping” is losing position, so when I asked how the reverse chop worked, where you’re actually bumped forward a place in the peloton, I was met with nothing but grumbles about not letting logic get in the way of a good story.

From a physio point of view, this week has been interesting to me seeing how tiny adjustments to the set-up of a rider on the bike can lead to surprisingly significant problems.  Working with pros in some ways is the same as working with the general public: bike position is the first port of call with any non crash-related injury.  The difference is that pros are sensitive to changes so small that Joe Average wouldn’t even be aware that they have happened.  I figure that their normal load of riding includes such a huge amount of time, and thus so many more pedal strokes than Joe Average, that minor changes at times become major issues.

I’m working with one of the boys on various different parts of his body that all seem to have been flared up by a change of less than a degree in his position.  It’s not that suddenly he’s in a bad spot, more that different muscles are being recruited slightly differently, and they are feeling the pinch as they’re not yet used to the load.

Ok.  Boring physio talk.  I’ll shush.  But it IS interesting!  I swear!

It’s back to the lumpiness tomorrow, so game faces shall once again be in place.

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Cameron Meyer on a cobbled sector

Stage 3 saw the profile go from pancake flat to very lumpy.  It was bound to be a day where things were shaken up somewhat on the over all standings, but Canadian hardman/topbloke Svein Tuft is a quality athlete, so we were quite excited about still being in the mix.

J-Quan working hard.

The day was also pretty hot, meaning we had a large number of bottles to be handed out, in a lot more places than is normal, so Joachim our swannie designated to making up the bottles this week had a bit of work to do.

The stage was different from the sprint stages in another way, in that it never really went more than about 40km from the start/finish town, despite being a 192km race.  The course zigzagged all over the place looking for any hill of note to throw the boys over.  Thus we were looking to get in front of the lads at various points to make sure they could get bottles without losing position on the ridiculously narrow roads.  It was similar to what we do for the Ardennes Week races (Amstel, Flech-Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege).

As Trav Meyer noted, he started one climb in about 50th place, and felt fine going up the hill, passing blokes whenever there was space, but half the time he was waiting for a gap to open up to move forward.  At the top he felt fine, but was dropped from the front group simply because he’d not been able to get himself into the right position.

200 riders on a road this wide???

Our day started with strapping for those in need, followed by obligatory Belgian radio 80s mix (Kate Bush “Wuthering Heights” was the highlight) for those in the car.  I ended up being lucky to find myself in car 2, with Marc Quod (Quody) our driver, and Andrezj Poznak our mechanic.

Each team has two race cars following the riders, with the order of the cars determined by the position of the highest rider on GC for each team.  We were car 1 (go Svein) and so were the first of the line of the second cars.  Why two cars?  We can at times have someone in the break, and the rest of the team in the peloton.  This is a several km spread on a road that you can only drive in one direction.  It’s impossible to cover a whole team with just one car, so whenever things split apart (either in front of or behind the peloton), car 2 gets called into action.

There was a hilarious moment today when I realised that instead of sticking the race signs to normal street signposts (which most every other race does) they had two skinny old blokes working it as sign holders, similar to the bikini models holding up the signs between rounds at a boxing ring.  Hare-brained left-fielded low tech can-do Belgie-ness at it’s absolute best!

Bikini girl Belgian bike race style

As the race rolled on we started looking after lads who had a bad patch at the wrong time and found themselves out of touch, or who were in the wrong position on a climb, or who had done their job for the day.  It can get very hectic, with a couple of near death experiences through the day being about par.  Our man Svein boxed on over all of the tough hills and particularly with the help of Trav Meyer (who rode out of his skin all day) he managed to stick with the big hitters group, keeping himself in third place overall (two blokes had skipped off the front in the final 20km and the bunch couldn’t drag them back in.

Jack & Quody having a chat

Stage 4 is another flat stage, so things should be a little less worrisome for us.

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Stage 2 of the Eneco Tour, and we shot southwards from northern Old Zeeland (I can’t help it) which is an amazing place – we were 6m below sea level and 100km inland on a bit of land that was ocean only 30yrs earlier!  Incredible.

The stage was another flat one, so the boys knew that once again they would be doing most of the grunt work making sure that the stage’s breakaway riders didn’t get so far up the road that they took the lead from Svein.  In a similar vein to yesterday, they then had the majority of the lead work taken from them by the sprinters’ teams and just protected our man in to the finish.

The big Canuck in the leader's jersey, ready to go.

The reports from the boys after the stage were pretty low-key – we’d controlled things well, with the main point of interest being the 7km tunnel that people were a little nervous leading in to, and so Trav Meyer (who was on the front at the time) had to keep dialling up the pace and hit slightly over 60km/hr in the middle of the race!  It was with a tailwind, but still.

The other thing that was spoken about was the amount of road furniture on the Dutch lanes.  Median strips, speed humps, little mini gutters so that the tramways were slightly higher than the roads, roundabouts, and parked cars.  Paradoxically, the Dutch roads are extremely cycle-friendly because they have nice smooth bike lanes usually on both sides of most roads.

Understandably, during the race the riders would become fed up with the stress of riding on the roads, and so would try and get across to the bike lanes for spells.  The problem with this was that the furniture, as well as parked cars, spectators and bollards was in much higher density there, and so even though they were pros, many misjudged their jumps and went down.  Jack Bobridge noted that one bloke hit a normal sized median strip, buckled his front wheel and went down hard.  His statement “ooh that’ll hurt” said it all.

Once again, we were blessed with no crashes – mainly thanks to our boys riding on the front out of the all of the trouble.  Svein rolled across the line and managed to maintain his hold on the leader’s jersey, so it was a good day all around.  I can only hope he holds on for longer so we can avoid the carnage behind for more days.

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Yesterday was an interesting day for the team: we had Svein in the leader’s jersey, and so were obliged to control the race.  It’s a different vibe controlling the race to get close to the finish and then letting the sprinter teams take over: normally we’re in the situation of wanting to control things late, especially when Tyler’s in the show.

Watching the race unfold, it was great seeing the whole team rolling along on the front, particularly from a physiotherapy perspective as that is the place where they are least likely to get into trouble with crashes and the like.  And as the race started to move to the pointy end of the day, the crashes did indeed begin to take place further back in the bunch.  It is always a heart in your mouth moment when you see a crash, with the two thoughts flashing up (yes I can think of two things simultaneously sometimes) being “I hope it’s not one of us” and “I hope they’re ok.”  Fortunately for us, it wasn’t ever any of our boys, with some of our lads saying that they didn’t even know there had been any crashes they were that far ahead of the dramas.

That is always the best part of the job for mine – the talk after the race to hear what happened within the bunch itself.  There is chatting and joking, commiseration from fellow competitors if you’re doing the work for the day, an inevitable “nemesis” character who apparently is always taking the gap that you were about to move through and cutting you off (nemesis stories can get quite hilarious in 3wk stage races with over 90hrs of potential cut-offs by said nemesis), talk about who was shooting for the break and how hard it was for one to get away, and just general war stories.

The finale to all of the stories of yesterday was that we managed to help Svein to the finish in the group that had the same time as the sprinters, thus ensuring he maintained his hold on the leader’s jersey for today’s stage at the least (and hopefully deeper into this race!)  It should be something similar today, and then the course gets a lot hillier, twist-and-turn-ier and difficulter (heh) tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to seeing how we figure through the tougher stuff.

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Yesterday was the start of the Eneco Tour, a race through the Netherlands, Belgium and (I think) Luxembourg.  It’s a week-long race on the Pro Tour circuit, meaning it is one of the handful of races through the year from which teams can accumulate Pro Tour points and enhance their ranking.  The rankings determine key factors such as automatic entry into the biggest races of the following year, and so there is a great deal at stake in races such as this for all of Pro teams riding next year.

As seems to be typical for this part of the world (we’ve started in Zeeland, Holland – I struggle to not call it Old Zeeland whenever I mention it – see?  I did it again) it is at least a little windy, and quite wet.  The Prologue yesterday was a very technical 5km zip around a little town called Steenwijk.  Seeing the uniform drabness of the forecast, our boys were sent off the line in an order where our men most likely to do some damage were in the last part of the race.  In this way they had an opportunity to follow some of our earlier boys in the team car to see how they coped with corners, and to get a better handle on the course itself.

As the day progressed, all of our boys were coming through unscathed, but without genuinely setting the world on fire – just getting the job done, and giving their opinions and feel to our final boys about the key parts of the course.  Our final three were Jack Bobridge, Cam Meyer and Svein Tuft: U/23 world TT champ, Aussie TT champ, Canadian TT champ.  Not a bad combo!  As an aside, Jack and Cam are also members of the World Champion Teams Pursuit team, and Leigh Howard, a rider for another team was also part of the pursuit group.  There was a little mini-rivalry between those three lads as to who would be the quickest over the technical 5km course which added some humour to the day.

Jack & Cam comparing notes on warmdown

Jack put out a good effort, taking himself deep into the hurt basket (the time that it took him to be able to speak in complete sentences without gasping for another breath was about double the time that it took him to ride the race itself) and crossed the line in about the same time as we’d seen Leigh cross the line a couple of riders before Jack (we don’t have ready access to complete results, so unless someone crosses the line in the lead, accurate times compared to everyone else are difficult to obtain in real time).  Cam rolled through next, and while not in quite the dramatically breathless state that Jack was in, had stated that he didn’t like how deep you have to take yourself, and then estimated he was in about the same time as Jack and Leigh.  It would all come down to the official results sheet for those three!

We then all popped in to the bus, glued to the screen to see how Svein would go.  He is a very unassuming bloke – he’s extremely talented, and very professional, but he just gets his job done quietly without interest in being in the limelight.  So whenever he says anything like “I’m going to give it a dip” or “I haven’t crashed in a while, so I reckon it might be time to take a couple of risks” we know he is going to be on a good one.  And it was very good!
He crossed the line 6s in front of the race leader for the whole day.  Svein came back, and after the hugs and backslaps from we at the bus, he headed across to warm down, while the rest of us watched (with trepidation) the remaining riders head for the line.  It was a sign that he’d taken himself quite deep when he was about to get on his bike, then had to stop as he looked to be on the brink of throwing up.  Always a good sign!

Slowly the remaining riders came through, and none seemed to be getting close to Svein – and the excitement ratcheted up with each finisher.  Eventually only the winner from last year remained on the course, and as the time flashed up with a couple of hundred metres to ride, Matt White, our director sportif led us in the start of the celebrations.  It was a great moment, and a great day for the team over all as Dan Martin had backed up his win in the Tour of Poland last week with a big win in an Italian one day race as well.  A double victory for Garmin-Transitions, and so today Svein rides in the leader’s jersey for the race, meaning the boys have some work to do to defend our top spot.

Bring it on.

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