Belgium, February 26, 2007
I doubt that many of you out there would know that during the off season at home I do a little work here and there at the local water park, 'Rock Pool Water Park' as a lifeguard. Why I here you ask? Because it is a fun little gig and this cycling thing isn't paying me enough just yet. It is there that I spend my day doing my job making sure the patrons are safe and having a good time. Keeping them swimming and not sinking. It is here now in Europe that I have been thrown into a deeper part of the pool of world cycling and doing my best to swim. First race of the year in Europe has come and gone, the Tour of Mediterranean.
No real day by day report here for this one but more of a general review of the week (cue collective sigh of relief). The week after arriving in Belgium traveled along nicely with a couple of good rides inside the house and outside through the snow and I felt I was ready enough for the Tour of Med. It was still going to be tough with only a couple of 1000m handicaps and a Madison at the Rockhampton Cup on Wheels thrown in between the Nationals and my European debut my heart was going to get quite a start.
UCI blood tests and ECG showed I was fit and healthy so we drove down to Charleroi for our flight and met up with Jens Mouris, Hamish Haynes, Matti Helminen, Gert Vanderaerden, Dave Harrigan and Eric [Vanderaerden, directeur sportif - ed] and boarded our flight to Carcasson. Arriving at our hotel and met up with the staff for the tour and the two other team mates who were already down in Robby Meule and the one and only Nico Mattan.
What a way to start the season with a 26km team time trial. Prior to leaving for the tour we were told by management that in the past TT bikes were not used here. Like a couple of little things, our TT bikes had not yet arrived. That's okay we thought, no other team will have them, so we were not going to stick out too much. 100 or so TT bikes and disc wheels later we found out that this was not the case as we rolled up to the start.
We did what we could in the TTT which was pretty tough with a solid little climb in the middle. We lost Harro along the way who had been suffering from a cold earlier in the week, but we finished strongly to record our time. Ended up finishing last in the TTT, but time wise I guess it was not too bad. Caisse d'Epargne won the stage and put Guiterrez in the yellow jersey.
After a nice little relax between stages we lined up for the 105km afternoon stage. It started off in fine conditions but as we got further down the road the whole bunch looked right and noticed the threatening storm clouds rolling in. To make things worse we were going to be turning right in a couple of kilometres.
So turn right we did and the rain came down on cue. A good tempo was being set on the front by a couple of teams but approaching the days final KOM the touch paper was lit. I got caught out a little and quickly got into trouble. Regained the bunch before the hill but over the top and into a roundabout there was a crash which halted my progress and I was never to regain contact.
It was flat out for the last 20km, and considering I was already in a bit of trouble I may not have hung in. Harro was in the same boat and Jens was unlucky with an untimely puncture. Rode to the finish with these three and a couple of others. Finished some nine minutes down but did not touch the deck like three quarters of the field.
The middle days
The next three days were all good for the team and offered some positive outcomes for me and importantly the team. The weather was great during these middle days and Gert was showing some fine sprinting form and the other guys in the team were all showing some respectable early season form too, setting Gert up for the sprints (7th Stage 5).
We could take some comfort from Stage 4 with the stage finish being a top of Mt Faron overlooking the town of Toulon. Felt comfortable on the early climb and apart from a bit of trouble on the descent I was back in the group and feeling good.
Nico helped me out and got me towards the front before the second last climb and come the top of that climb and the bottom of Mt Faron I was there in the front group. I felt I had a good day and even though I could not challenge any of the guys on Mt Faron I guess it was a good sign for the year and something to work on I guess. (Eric; the nicknames are coming).
After the next day, stage 5, I was again amazed at the prolonged pace set by the bunch kilometre after kilometre and once again re-enforced the importance of positioning. It was on for young and old for the last 40km and as mentioned a little earlier, Gert had a great sprint to finish 7th. Hamish had an untimely crash. He unfortunately had to pull out of the tour but luckily nothing was broken and he will be okay to ride and race again soon. After this stage a long transfer lay in front of us and a late night as we headed to San Remo.
The last day
The last stage was going to be pretty spectacular as the final was the same as that from Milan - San Remo with the Cipressa and Poggio thrown in. The stage started in a town called Dolceaqua but unfortunately today it was raining and cold. The race began and quickly headed up the first hill of the day which was a Cat 1 climb where we were greeted by snow at the top.
I was having an awful day. Descended the icy, wet descent with a small group the best I could but was never going to catch up the time needed. Got to the bottom of the descent, found Raoul and my back pack and headed to our hotel that was nearby and called it a day. Was wanting to race over those famous last couple of hills but I guess that is going to have a wait.
Meanwhile up front Gert, Robby, Matti and Jens were having a good day but again bad luck struck and Gert had a serious fall on the descent of the Cipressa. Early reports indicate a broken collarbone, ribs and severe soft tissue damage to his leg. Quick recovery to you Gert.
So, to end the tour the way we did with Gert in hospital with a serious injury was a bit of a downer. Everybody was in a bit of a sombre mood at the airport for that reason knowing we had lost a strong rider in some form early on, but I feel that is the only negative to take away from the week.
After only meeting each other the day before the race, and with no warm up events prior to the Tour of Med I feel we rode well. I now have a better idea of what it is like to race at this level and now know what I need to focus on and improve. Every race is going to be a learning experience, picking up little things here and there along the way. Our next race is Het Volk here in Belgium, one of the great races.
I'm heading West to Nico Mattan land tomorrow for training and reacquainting myself with the roads and conditions over there. Hopefully the little things that I have learnt here at the Tour of Med already this year will be put to good use during Het Volk and I hope I can ride a good race for Nico, Robby, myself and the team.
Sinking or swimming? A pretty good dog paddle at the moment I guess.
Til next time we meet.