Zottegem, Monday April 4, 2005
It's the day after my first Pro-Tour Classic behind the wheel of the team car and I admit I feel like a possum up a gum tree; pretty happy with things. Before I had already done some races in France, Italy and in Belgium, Waregem, the E3Prijs Harelbeke, and the Brabantse Pijl on my own; and all went fine. Yesterday turned out to be a great day again, with the weather gods being kind to the riders and the huge crowds.
Amazing how different it all looks when you're not on the bike. As you can imagine, I didn't have as much opportunity to take it all in when I was racing. With the windows down and the sun shining brightly it was quite enjoyable to be following the race driving the car. And no, I didn't regret for one moment I wasn't bopping around in the peloton on those cobbles.
Our boys did well and even though I think the results don't really reflect their current form, the overall feeling after the "Queen of the Classics" is one of satisfaction but most of all one of confidence that this weekend's Paris-Roubaix is a race we can have a good crack at.
The team as a whole did a good job. There were a few little hiccups, but nothing major.
Lars Bak and Luke Roberts were involved in a - literally - 'shitty' crash early on in the race. It wasn't as painful to the body as what it was to the ego I think. Especially for Luke it was a rough trot to the finish; once he crawled out the ditch - and from underneath Rabobank's Gerben Löwik - we could actually smell him all the way to Ninove.
The gully on the side of the cobblestoned road they tumbled into was filled with the manure which had been sprayed excessively to fertilize the fields. Man the smell was putrid. Fair dinkum, Luke stunk worse than a dead roo yeasting in the sun on an outback road. When he finally took his gear off after the finish, a big lump of the black mud fell from underneath his jersey... instant appetite killer. I went to see him after he took his third shower and he reckoned he could still smell the stink.
Luke had never ridden the Tour of Flanders before and he left a good impression. This type of race agrees with the type of rider he is so I'm hopeful for his future in the Spring Classics.
Lars Michaelsen was in the thick of it too until he got some mechanical problems in-between the climb of the Patersberg and the Koppenberg. As we were being detoured around the Koppenberg, we couldn't get to him and couldn't fix things until after the second feed zone.
We had Gusev up there; but the poor bugger gave in to a youthful spur of the moment thought and dropped back to the back of the group to get a bottle before the start of the Valkenberg. His position wasn't favourable when the attack happened on the climb itself.
Vladimir, only 22, kicked himself yesterday evening thinking about what he defined as a mistake. He definitely had the legs to go with that attack. Well, these are the hardest lessons learned - and those one never forgets.
Fact is that we almost ran out of bidons in the car yesterday; we gave away a whole giant-esky full which is very unusual in Flanders. The excellent weather had its downside: the riders were thirsty and it's not easy to get drinks to them on the windy, narrow roads. Allan Johansen did what I thought he was capable of; he was stoked about finishing 15th. He'll be a strong pillar to the team for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. I think he can do a similar result there.
In the last three races we have had quite a young and unexperienced team - well, with exception of established pros Piil, Michaelsen and Johansen - showing us that they can get the job done.
Jacob Piil wasn't good yesterday. Journalists were enquiring about his apparent lack of form. It's true that Jacob hasn't been feeling shit-hot of late. Something's bugging him and the team's meds think an infected wisdom tooth might be the culprit. I've organised a dental check for him later today. It might take a few days to clear the infection but there should be immediate improvement once the problem's dealt with. This season has just gotten on the way. A few teething problems won't mess things up too much for Jacob I'm sure.
The coming races
Today, we have a strong line-up at the start of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, with Basso, Voigt and Julich.
Wednesday, eight other Team CSC boys will be riding Gent-Wevelgem. It should be an interesting race as well, if the predicted rain doesn't mess with the peloton too much that is.
After that, Paris-Roubaix is on the schedule. A big day for all teams. We're training over the changed parcours (without Arenberg Forest) on Thursday.
And now I'm going out for a spin on the bike myself. A mate of mine, Peter from Velo Classics Tours, invited me to join his group of die-hard cycling fans which is training over the Gent-Wevelgem parcours today; so I thought I'd better get out before the fantastic spring weather decides to leave Flanders again!