UK, September 14, 2006
It's been just over a week now since returning from a successful Tour of Britain, both personally and for the team. Settled back into house life well and back into discussing important topics like how many Steven Seagal movies are watchable (none, by the way). Apart from this, the week has flown by as I have been able to catch up with friends Anna Meares, Wayne Clifford and Jen who all had quick stopovers at Glen and Belle's place down the road in Tienen between their respective European trips. Good to catch up with you all. Back to the matters at hand, though, you must be wondering how the Tour of Britain went.
The trip over and preceding days
We had a good trip there and were met by our mechanic Wezzo at the airport. Fine young scouser. Got to the hotel and were greeted by the staff. They arrived earlier in the day after travelling over earlier, pickingup the team cars, camper etc. Our staff for the tour was Gil and Eric at the helm, Raoul and Patrick rubbing the legs and Wezzo and Andy keeping the bikes running.
The day before the tour we went for a little ride in the morning. Glasgow it seems is a place where every second person you see has a can of beer in their hand. The people who do not have a beer have an IRN BRU instead, which is a lovely Scottish drink by all accounts. After our ride we had to start a criterium in the centre of Glasgow. Having the tour starting the next day we weren't keen on risking our lives so we started the crit and sat in the bunch for a few minutes and got out of there. Hats off to Tom who beat us all back to the hotel, pulling out after 3 laps. I hung in a bit longer and pulled the pin after 20 minutes, happy that any cobwebs were blown away.
Stage 1 - Glasgow to Castle Douglas
First stage of the tour and it was going to be a little nervous. The course ran down the western side of Scotland and was expected to be exposed to the wind. After 30 kilometres of steady riding by the bunch, a group of three jumped away and was never really headed. They built up a lead of 10 minutes before the bigger teams started the chase. The last 50 kilometres was quick but the leading trio out front held off and won the stage by two and a half minutes. Russ had a good sprint and was sixth on the stage and everybody stayed upright through the thick layer of cow manure that covered the road some 3 kilometres out. After the stage, I jumped in the camper and had a long transfer over the wee border to Blackpool for the next day's start.
Stage 2 - Blackpool to Liverpool
Today was a longer, tougher day. Three climbs in the first 60 kilometres and then rolling and exposed terrain to the finish in Liverpool. Was in good position over all the hills and kept out of trouble. For the remaining 100 kilometres I kept Russell out of trouble and toward the front and also had a go in a group some 15 kilometres out. The group was ten strong and had a decent gap, but a couple of bigger teams missed it and piled on the pressure behind and brought it back. It was pretty hectic coming into the finish. I tried my best to help out Russell for the sprint but after my earlier work I handed over that duty to Deano and anyone else who wanted to switch their brains off. As it turned out I punctured with 500m to go, hitting a man-hole cover and finished the day behind but at the same time as the bunch. Russell had a great sprint to get third behind Roger Hammond (GBR) and Art Vierhouten (Skil-Shimano). Then it was off to Bradford with another transfer but not as long as the day before.
Stage 3 - Bradford to Sheffield
Today was the toughest stage of the tour at a little over 180 kilometres, including all the steepest climbs of the area. Making it a little tougher today was the presence of rain adding a little more nervousness in the bunch. Start of the stage was tough with the climb out of Bradford. The big teams were keen to shake the jersey from Matt Goss so they put the pressure on early. I followed a couple of moves over the top which I thought could have stayed but it wasn't until the second climb of the day that a group did go. We missed it, but fortunately for us Davitamon-Lotto missed it too, so they, Dean and I took up the chase. The group came back and the bunch sat up for a while after a flat-out first hour but it was not long before it was back on again.
With 100 kilometres to go, and after more attacks, the roads narrowed. Coupled with the cross wind and the pressure put on by CSC, the bunch split. Russell got there and that was the day. Everybody was represented so the peloton shut down and rode to the finish. Up front, Russell again showed what kind of form he has and got eighth on the stage winning a small group sprint behind the winner Filippo Pozzato. The main bunch rolled in through Sheffield rain soaked, dodging parked cars, moving cars, and people. Found the soigneur and camper and got rolling as soon as possible. Another three-hour transfer to our next hotel.
Stage 4 - Wolverhampton to Birmingham
A good day for the team and I. After trying in the previous stages to sniff out a break, I finally succeeded today. On a little rise out of Wolverhampton, a group of five got away and I managed to jump over to it. No one in the group was a threat to GC so the bunch stopped for a natural break and our lead quickly got to three minutes. In the break was Juan Manuel Garate (QuickStep-Innergetic), Frederik Wilhelms (Chocolade Jacques), Johan Van Summeren (Davitamon-Lotto), Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile), a Recycling.co.uk rider, Paul Manning (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago), a young GB rider and yours truly.
After a while it came over the radio that three teams were chasing behind, so Wilhelms and Van Summeren let us all know that for the next hour we really had to go hard to hold them off. Over the KOM and Sprint points we kept the bunch at three minutes, with everybody doing their share and with 30 kilometres to go, the bunch stopped again for another break and our lead bounced out to 5:30min. Time to relax a bit and recover.
I was feeling good towards the end and followed the moves and was away with Wilhelms, Manning and the GB rider with 4 kilometres to go, but Garate pulled the bunch back. I followed the wrong wheels towards the finish as Wilhelms and Manning rode away again and I was in pursuit with Garate. Come the finish, Wilhelms won the stage and I crossed the line in sixth place. Back in the bunch, Russell did a great ride to gain a few more points and hold onto the Points jersey. Cavendish was nipping on is heels now after getting second today.
Stage 5 - Rochester to Canterbury
It's all gone "Pete Tong" (wrong). The stage started as usual with a nice neutral section, but coming towards the end of the section the Police escorts sent us the wrong way and into oncoming traffic. An official complaint was lodged after the Sheffield stage with regards to traffic conditions, and with this in mind the heads of state in the bunch issued a go slow day in protest. I guess this left me feeling a little bittersweet, as I was feeling the effects slightly of the day before in the legs, but a few prizes were yet to be determined including the Points jersey and overall GC for the contenders, so we rolled along at 40 kilometres per hour for the day. A few attacks came and went but were quickly nullified and ridiculed by the bigger teams. One local GB rider got pushed off the road as he came back to the bunch after attempting to get away.
The bunch did race the last 20 kilometres and once again we did our bit to get Russ in position and he once again arrived in the top 10. However, young gun Mark Cavendish placed second and wrestled the jersey away from him by a point. I was called in for a doping control and five minutes later I was out of there and proceeded to get lost on the drive into London with Eric. We were misinformed by a member of staff (who shall remain nameless) and headed on the A13 East instead of West. East coast of Britain is lovely at this time of year. Anyway, we got there, and the day was done.
Stage 6 - London
It's the final stage and enjoyed a lay in this morning as the stage did not start until the afternoon. Drove to Greenwich Park had a few coffees and lined up for the stage. The first 40 kilometres was controlled through London as we weaved around the streets and monuments of the city. The only real problem was finding somewhere to pull over for a natural break. Bunch rode through a small tunnel/underpass and I took my opportunity like some others and pulled over. Beauty! Nobody around, I thought, until I looked up and over my shoulder at the spectators on the bridge.
Coming into the finish circuits Tom and Dean lit it up on the front and tried to get away. However they were quickly brought back and received a right bollocking from the same guy who pushed the GB rider of the road the day before. Nice one, mate. No harm done and the lads got their mugs and jerseys on BBC. The circuits were fast and flowing with only one corner where the brakes were required. We kept Russ up the front, out of the wind and away from the crashes on the last two laps. He once again put in a great sprint but could not out sprint Cavendish to regain the points jersey. Cavendish was second and Russell was seventh. The big champ, Tom Boonen won the stage much to the delight of the crowd and one podium girl in particular.
So, the end of a successful tour with a DFL rider placing in the top ten everyday. Russell made it onto the podium the final day receiving a jersey for best placed Great British rider. It was an enjoyable week, albeit with a few dramas, but overall a success. All the guys got through the test apart from Kane who had to withdraw due to illness on the second day. All the bosses and other people involved with the team were rapt with how things turned out for the local team in an important international event. A big thanks goes to all the staff.
I arrived home the following day minus the Poms in the team who went on a race/holiday in Bermuda. By all reports, Russell was going well again leading after two stages and eventually winning the tour. With the World Champs coming up in Salzburg, and with Russell selected for the GB team, I hope he was doing a few laps of the island in between time on the beach!
That is it for now. I'm racing the Koolscamp Championship of Vlaanderen tomorrow.
'til next time we meet,
Ian Weigh at Ian Weigh Toyota
Quentin Lawrence and Wizard Home Loans
CQ Crane Hire
Dr. Peter Reaburn and The School of Health and Human Performance
Central Queensland University
Gary and Bridgette Ireland and The Rock Pool Water Park
Dr. Andrew Russell
Tuckers Cycle Inn