Tour de Beauce, Canada, June 15, 2006
Well here we are after a nice drive from New Jersey up to Quebec, Canada, for the Tour de Beauce. Six days, seven stages and nothing but hills as far as the eyes can see! There's nothing but big rolling hills, so we are either going up or down! Makes for some tough hard racing indeed! One good thing, though; I can catch up with a couple of local Rocky lads from Aus - Cam Jennings and Miles Olman. The yarns will be flying, especially from Miles as he went to my brother's wedding just under a month ago.
Anyway, down to the racing!
Stage 1 - June 13: Lac Etchemin, 155 km
The tour has greeted us with much better weather than last year, warm and sunny. 163km of - you guessed it - rolling hills and some really weather-beaten roads. With temperatures easily dropping below -20 degrees Celsius in winter you can imagine what that kind of cold does to a road surface - if not, let me put it this way; Paris-Roubaix ain't so bad!
So off we departed and it wasn't long before a few lads got itchy feet and started on their way for a shot at fame and glory. Three lads formed the EB (early break) of the day which lasted till around the 70km mark. A group of seven chasers including myself and Dave rode across to them but the gap never stretched out over 40 seconds as the Symmetrics team had no-one in it and led the chase back to us. So once it was back together the pack never eased up, with riders constantly trying to escape. At about the 60km to go mark the winning move departed with four riders including two Navigators (Sergey and Valeriy), a Mexican and a German rider.
A lot of teams missed the move and tried in vain to bridge across. There was no real organised chase for a while which gave the break time to really distance themselves from the bunch. Carnage was also moving into the bunch as some riders fell victim to the numerous crevasses running along the roads. Luckily all of the Navs were riding up front keeping an eye on things. Steadily a chase began but never made much of an impact on the final result. Meanwhile up front zee German lad was content to sit on for a free ride and not help with the work, but said he was happy with fourth on the stage...fair enough!
So that just left our Amigo to deal with; 4km out from the finish there was a nasty little 400m wall to contend with which I think some of the stragglers needed a rope and belaying kit to get up. Valeriy just rode at his own pace which the Mexican guy couldn't deal with and gave him a very nice 25-second gap at the finish to savour the victory and take the first yellow jersey of the tour. Sergey came in for third and Dave finished at the front of the main bunch in sixth, over two and a half minutes behind Valeriy. Which gives him a pretty comfy lead with only Sergey, our Amigo and zee German within reach of the yellow; for a while, anyway! Sergey is also in the points jersey and Mark Walters is in the blue jersey for best-placed Canadian.
So we seem to have our work cut out for us but we are all keen to take this to the finish one way or another.
Stage 2 - June 14: Saint-Joseph, 180 km
Today was 180km, which was of course a very undulating day. From the gun the attacks were fast and furious. We ended up with the two 'Paddies' (Dave and Ciaran) in the move of 16 riders. Not ideal for the team as the fourth-placed GC rider and another dangerous lad were also in the move. But was still good to have two guys in the move which was our plan for the day - always have the numbers in the attacks.
The good thing when you have a teammate in yellow and you're in a move is that you don't have to work. You're there to just keep an eye on things and report back via radio on how things are going up front. At one point the break blew out over six minutes up the road which wasn't good for us at all, so to prevent the gap getting further out I started to ride a good tempo by myself which I felt comfy with. After 30km or so Mark came up and started to help pull them back as well.
Apparently the ride wasn't so comfy towards the back and guys started to get dropped very early on. With 40km to go we had caught all but six of the original breakaway. The two Paddies were still sitting good up in front and hoping they could bring home another win. We ended up chasing to try and limit the losses for our GC boys, and by the finish we had got it to just two minutes, which wasn't too bad considering the break had 16 guys to start with, then just six for the last 40km, when they rode really hard to put time into us.
Mark and I chased for about a total of 130km with Cesar coming up to help off and on. You can imagine I'm a bit tired so I'll shut this stage down about now. Valeriy is second on GC at the moment, but it's still a long way to go till we cross that finish line on Sunday. Stage 3 ends with a mountain top finish so you can expect a few fireworks coming into that bad boy!
A special hardman award goes out to Jeremy "Dag" Vennell from my old squad of last year; would you believe he had the luck of a steel shelving bracket lying on the road and flicking up into his front wheel breaking his forks and sending him chin first into the lovely Quebecezstan road. My hat goes off to anyone that does a face plant and a few hours later can have a good laugh with the lads about it! Champion effort!
So till tomorrow, time for some sleep