September 19 , 2008
Hi all. So the 2008 Failte Tour of Ireland has been run and won again. It also spelled the end of PEZULA Racing as this was the teams last team race. So how did things go? Did we go out with a bang?
Stage 1 Dublin – Waterford "Give me a C, give me an I, give me an A"
No taking it easy for the first stage of the 2008 Tour of Ireland with a 196km jaunt down to CiaranPowerville in Waterford. The big fella was up for a good day just the rest of us and to show everybody that despite all the troubles we have been through and continue to go through, that we are a good team once we are allowed to do what we do. So after signing on and saying a few hello's to a couple of people (apparently Jack Watson's a fan), "hey Jack, hope all is well mate", and we were off.
Was a gentle start until a flurry of attacks and Martin got away in a good group. They built up a good lead on the flatter first 100km before the hills came in in the last 90km or so. Martin is a big strong rider and loves it on the flat and the track but the hills were to be his undoing today. He got popped on Mt Leinster and caught him soon after. Certainly good to get one up the road. The race was being controlled by Team Columbia and they were gradually winding it up to bring it all back for Cavendish in the sprint.
Up and over the last classified KOM at Inistigoe and the profile said it was all flat but thanks to Ciaran for a bit of info as there were at least 5 more little rollers that really stretched the bunch out and almost brought Team Columbia's plan undone as Cavendish was dropped a number of times. But showing what a class rider he is he came back each time and trounced them all in a 60 rider sprint in Waterford. Ciaran unfortunately was feeling a bit rough as well and after taking him to the front in the last 2km he managed 19th with me rolling across the line in 21st. We were the only 2 in the front group but would have been 3 if Frederik hadn't punctured at a crucial time. Never mind, all the lads rolled in in time and we rolled out to Clonmel to spend the night.
Stage 2 Thurles – Louhgrea "When Dave met Dave"
Off to Thurles in the morning and the spiritual home of Hurling in Ireland. Once again we were all interested in getting away early and this time Frederik, who put his untimely puncture behind him from the day before got up the road and nobody went along for the ride. Probably best for them as Fred put in quite an effort out there. For those who don't know him he is Swedish TT champ this year and actually put Gustaf Eric Larsson away at the champs (2nd in the Olympics). So he has a bit of pedigree about him. Wasn't long before he built up a lead I think approaching 6min and made a few teams sweat.
For us back in the bunch we were pretty much untroubled and only had to worry about the state of the roads. They were terrible today. Small, narrow, bumpy, gravel, wet and the famous stretch of Irish grass down the middle of the road. Good for cricket but not for bike racing. Something to give us a smile though was the meeting of the Two Dave's (O'Loughlin and Millar) about 60km from home. Nothing like a couple of comments in a cyclingweekly article by Dave O'loughlin to incur Millars wrath and he came up and put it to him. I think Millar was a little taken a back by Dolly's bluntness and "matter of fact" style answer and he rode off mumbling something to himself. It gave Ciaran, Martin and Kieren all a bit of a laugh as we rode behind them watching it all unfold. We had your back Dolly.
Into the last 20km and the crazy roads got a little worse for the 15km local lap. Fred got caught some 10km from home after crossing the finish line and getting some more points and air time from that crazy American commentator. Dodge 2 crashes but with a kilometre to go after moving up to avoid a split and did not avoid the 3rd crash and came to rest in the dirt by a wall alongside the grey lake. If there is a crash, trust me to find it. Ciaran had a good day to get 10th in the sprint. The fight behind the toilets near the bike rack did not eventuate.
Stage 3 Ballinrobe – Galway "The Quiet Man"
Home stage in a way for me today. For most of the year I was living on the shores of Lough Cara some 15km away and with that all the roads that were ridden on today I had ventured out onto at least once during my stay. So once again I was motivated to get away and have a good day but even more motivated was Dave as today's stage was set to thunder through his home town of Cong after 10km or so. And for all those John Wayne fans out there, Cong, apart from being the home town of Dave was also the set for one of his films, "The Quiet Man".
Headed out of Cong and onto Clonbur and everyone from the team was having a sniff. I made it into a good move with Kristian House, a Rabo rider and a Top Sport Vlaanderen jonge that I thought was going to stick but was brought back before Kieren had a go with another jonge and off they went up and over the KOM at Finney and into a lead.
Headed along up to Westport, pass the mythical Kroagh Patrick through to Louisbourgh and onto one of the most scenic roads in Ireland to Leenaun. Kieren was still plugging away up front and had lost the TopSport rider who dropped back to the bunch. Kieren was finally caught going up the 2nd last KOM and racing at the head of the bunch was on once again.
A strong attack from Daniel Lloyd and Simon Clarke followed and they built a lead of 3min as the race headed back to Galway. Up the final KOM of the day and was positioned well along with Ciaran and got over the top in the front and to watch about a dozen guys slip and fall on this gentle, albeit wet left hander. Ciaran came down as well but was quickly back up and back into contention. Lloydy up front hit the deck as well leaving Simon Clarke up there alone and was brought back with about 15km remaining.
I had a dig alone and was away for 5km before being caught and there were a number of other moves but were all doomed by the strength of Team Columbia. Fred helped get Ciaran up into a good position and after another good sprint came in 7th while everybody else finished safely. So once again, PEZULA Racing riders were up the road and getting plenty of publicity for its buck.
Stage 4 Limerick – Dingle "A Downing in Dingle"
Was once again and very active start with everyone having a go. Got away a number of times like everybody else I guess and thought it stuck once when I was away with Ciaran and 3 others but alas no. A group of 3 did get away with before Tralee and built a good lead. The race today and possibly the tour was going to be decided on and over Connor's Pass on the way to Dingle.
Was initially feeling good and in good position on Connor's Pass but got shuffled back a little. It wasn't particularly fast due to the headwind but it did wind up in the last kilometre on the climb and found myself at the wrong end when riders began to drop the wheels. Made a big effort to get up but fell short by 10-20 secs at the top but with a group containing Cavendish, some Rabo riders and Ciaran I thought it was all going to be ok and that we would get back on after a good chase.
Alas we did not get back. In hindsight Ciaran and myself depended on the strength of the others in the group and initially did not contribute to the chase, just like many others. Maybe if we did get stuck in we would have returned...maybe not. Fred however was up the front and riding strong and placed well at the finish. Overcame a tricky front wheel puncture down the steep, last KOM and rejoined the group to come in some 8min down. Disappointed but had another go. Good win by Fonzy outsprinting a classy front group.
Drove then to Killarney to pull up for the night and met up with Morgan Fox who came down for a bit of craic. Morgan was one of the team's saviours in the middle of the year organising a lot of things but suffered serious injuries resulting from a crash in China. Still recovering from his 5 broken ribs and an IV/vascular problem caused by the incompetence of the Doctors in China, but was in fine spirits nonetheless.
Stage 5 Killarney – Cork "You say how many times up there?"
So the last stage dawned and we all enjoyed the later start and had a good lie in. Rode to the start and went to sign on only to be pulled aside by Chady to get introduced to some Australian tourists from, you guessed it Rockhampton; well Bouldercombe to be exact.
After another busy start Fred got away again but he had a bit of company this time. The bunch was getting propelled along by Pinarello and up front the group of 4 was reduced to 2 as some of the higher placed riders in the GC dropped back leaving Fred and Rabon from Columbia.
Arrived on the circuits and body took a shock. Went straight into the red and actually got dropped from the group but got back on with the help of Deano and Magnus Backstedt through the cars. Once back in the group I was feeling better and survived well enough over the last 3 'sadistic' circuits and subsequent 3 times up the hill they call St Patricks, plus the 3 other steep little pinches they decided to throw in.
Up front Fred was still plugging away but Rabon surged away from him up the final hill some 3km from home to win alone by 15secs. Back in the bunch Pinotti had attacked and up the final hill despite getting towards the front could not hold the pace. Came in 28th place on the day and 27th in the tour. Ciaran had an unlucky day puncturing early on the circuits and getting as neutral spare with only a 23 tooth on it. Still finished the day though a couple of more minutes down.
So that was it for the 2008 Tour of Ireland and felt that we all rode well. 4 out of the 5 stages we had riders up the road. Ciaran had 2 top 10's in the sprints and Fred was 2nd on the last stage and picked up the most aggressive riders prize for the tour along with high placings in both the KOM comp and Sprint comp. So we packed up, said a few "see you next time" and headed back up to Cong for a day of R&R and catching up with people before heading back to Belgium. Day was spent in Cong saying goodbyes to a few people, having lunch at the Lodge, packing and an evening spin on Lough Corrib in Daves boat. Did not enjoy the 1am bus trip from Galway to Dublin but had to be done.
Back in Belgium
So arrived back in Belgium with a bit of a cold I picked up on the trip and now facing somewhat of an uncertain future, but this is the same for many riders in many teams and in many different countries. PEZULA is/has folded as of the end of the Tour of Ireland and I am back in Belgium still racing the kermis races and keeping my form for a hopeful spot in the Sun Tour with the Jayco National Squad. It has been a tough year and to be honest have not enjoyed it as much I should be. After the team I had signed for folded in January then PEZULA folding now and suffering from financial problems since June it has been hard to keep the smile upon my face.
It is like what Rory Sutherland has stated many a times in his diary, "you ride well when you are happy". It is very simple stuff but often the one thing that gets overlooked. So that is the one thing I will be looking for in 2009. I have a couple of things going with positive responses, but nothing on paper.
So to all those in the team like David, Kieren, Martin, Willy, Derek, Morgan, Alex, Fred, the "Morale Police" Ciaran Power, staff members and in particular the financial backer who supported the team for the last couple of months, thanks again and thanks for the good times.
Has been one hell of a ride
Til next time we meet.