FBD Insurance Ras wrap, June 5, 2006
So, picking up from where I left off, which if my memory serves correct was lying on the floor of the bathroom trying not to be sick from being poisoned by some mexican...food that is! I guess that means it's time for more tales from the British Isles.
Melton Mowbray was the next race on our British Isles trip and as I mentioned before it was full of dirt road sectors and a lot of mud! Once again the team performed really well; always mixing it in the front group, finishing with two riders in the top 10 and all the guys in the top 30. The race was essentially held over a number of sectors that we would ride more than once and in both directions. A couple of the sectors were quite hard with a combination of hills, mud and 23mm tyres providing most of us with little or no traction...super fun happy slides were had by all!
After about 70km of the race we had ridden through a few of the sectors and a selection of 17 had been made at the front. This group included Macca, Josh and myself, although I was already beginning to feel the race in my legs due to my previous sickness. Joe had punctured on the worst sector and was forced to wait an eternity for a wheel change, effectively ending his chances after riding strongly in the front all day. The Professor had been caught out in a a bad split and was chasing through group after group trying to regain the front. Josh was intent on making the race and set about repeatedly attacking the front group trying to pull a few away; unfortunately they were more intent to ride across to his move but not drive a group away, which in turn brought his attacking back to the group.
Coming through the hardest sector for the last time I was basically feeling pretty average. I got dropped, chased back through the cars, got back on, got dropped, chased back on...then finally got dropped towards the finish. I was knackered! The Professor caught me with 10k to go, but I couldn't even follow the wheel. I rolled across the line on my own, with a flat back tyre and an eye for the closest can of Coke. Macca and Josh finished eighth and ninth, and the Professor finished just in front of me in 19th. Joe made it back to a group after his slow wheel change and finished in the top 30. As we headed to the showers there were still guys coming in in ones and twos, and I think only 50 guys finished with the biggest group being one of about eight riders! It was truly a battle!
After a week of good training and the odd coffee stop, we were boarding the ferry, destination Dublin, for the Ras - Ireland's national tour. The team consisted of the usual suspects, and our support staff included Ian Portess, Andy Hayton, Eric Kofler, and our fearless director Andy Portess...I say fearless because who really wants to take five Aussies to an eight-day race! Quite honestly I thought the guys could do a good ride over the ensuing 1200km, but what we achieved as a new team in one of our first international tours together exceeded my initial thoughts and left me wanting more!
Day 1 - Rain, 140 guys, a bit of wind...oh and did I mention rain?
It chucked it down the whole day, I don't actually think it stopped raining until 10km to go, and by this stage a group of 15 had spearheaded off the front including Joe. The day had been full of attacks as is usual the first day of a tour, but it took until about 90km into the stage before anything significant got away. The finish was up a hill that had a dodgy corner at the bottom. There were 15 in the front and Josh and I thought we should have a hit out in the bunch kick, as we rounded the bottom turn the front group was in sight. We figured we wouldn't catch the front so we just followed the wheels and then Josh hit out with 250 to go I was on his wheel and we began to catch a few remnants of the front group. At the finish Joe had taken third on the stage and Josh and I had run eighth and ninth. Not a bad first day! Joe also got a jersey, so he was up on the podium!
Day 2 - Not much to say today
I really can't say a lot about this stage as I missed the front group and finished safely in the peloton.The boys rode super again with Joe taking 11th on the hilly finish and Professor, Macca and Josh all finishing well up in the results. From all accounts Professor and Macca drove the break the whole day, putting some boys into difficulty. Nice work boys... Especially with only 90 psi in your tyres.
Day 3 - Did I mention the rain before?
Apparently there is a reason for every blade of grass being more green than a rookie! After going with a load of early moves I got caught out again and Joe and I were stuck in a group that was not the front of the race...for the second day in a row! The upside to this was that Josh 'the bull' Marden took the teams first international victory! Great ride mate! After the Professor attacked with 4km to go it was touch and go that he would stay away, Macca dropped 'the bull' off towards the front of the chasing bunch and coming into the last corner Josh sensed that Professor was going to be caught so he launched himself into second wheel as the rounded the final turn with 300m to go. 'The Bull' charged down the left hand side of the road menacing up the inclined finish straight to roar home with a two armed victory salute, with Professor punching the air in delight 50m before the line! Woo hoo! The team has a win, and importantly our young bull had taken the champagne, fuelling the whole team for ongoing success! We celebrated with a sip of Guinness, and yes, it does taste different in Ireland.
Day 4 - Today it didn't just rain. It was freezing rain!
By now we had covered the southern part of Ireland and were heading into the heavy terrain of the west coast. Today was billed as the hardest of the tour and it included seven categorised climbs including a cat 1 towards the finish of the stage. Professor had ridden his way into contention for the climber's jersey so it would be a good opportunity to go on the attack and take some points. I attacked from the gun and got into a lead group of four riders. I had to be aggressive today to try to help Professor as much as possible and I was also sick of riding in the unmotivated peloton.
I also needed to get some results, plain and simple, and I had missed the bunch sprint yesterday. There was fuel for the fire! We stayed away over the first kom, and were brought back just before the second where Professor hit out to take maximum points, putting the jersey on his back by one point! There was constant attacking for the next 30k when finally a group got away. The Professor, being the sort of lad that he is, decided to then ride across the gap on his own. The peloton slowed slightly as we rode along the coast and Professor was putting all the guys "in the box", building a lead for the front group. By this stage it was FREEZING, the rain was coming down....I needed more clothes! I went back to the team car and got the boys some bottles and my rain jacket and a pair of dry warm gloves.
The pace was beginning to lift again in the peloton as I was trying to make my back up the front, and with bottles and jackets stuffed up my jersey I looked like the Michelin man! Once I made it to the front I had discarded the bottles to my team mates, but I still had not put on my jacket or my gloves...they were still stuffed under the front of my jersey...and the attacks were flying as the lead had blown out. I covered a few moves then found myself in a group with all the GC riders - Pate, O'Laughlin, Hegreberg and Evans - oh yeah! They rode flat stick and crossed the three minute gap to the front...I never got to put my jacket on and I rode for 10km with one glove still stuffed up my jersey. It wasn't until we were really closing in on the leaders was I able to get the other glove on, my hand was almost blue! At this stage of the race, Professor had the yellow jersey on the road! We reached the front at the bottom of the Cat 1 climb...great, just what I needed!
Professor hit out to get the points on the climb, and I rode flat stick just trying to hold Pate's wheel! I got dropped just before the top and Mark Lovatt was just in front. He waited for me and another guy, and we proceeded to ride flat out to catch the front. I was on my limit. We caught two groups including Professor, who had done enough to secure the KOM jersey, and kept riding flat out. In the last 5km we were told that the front seven had about a minute, and unfortunately we would not be riding for the win. I took our group sprint for eighth. I was pretty pleased with my ride because basically a day with seven categorised climbs would not normally be the terrain for a rider better known for his sprint than climbing ability! I was smiling even though I was freezing! The team had the KOM jersey, and maybe I am becoming more than just a silly sprinter!
Day 5 - A little bit of bad luck
Today was the first day that there was some control in the bunch.A group got away with Josh in it. The peloton let it blow out to a few minutes, then they chased to make sure they didn't have too much time at the finish. Some of the other teams wanted our help to bring back some time, but with Josh up front we weren't "doin' a tap for no..." It was fast, but smooth. Josh flatted on the downhill run to the finish after having been in the lead for 120km. He got a wheel change and got back onto the group but other riders had taken advantage of his misfortune and had jumped away. Josh did another great ride and took fifth place. I won the bunch kick, and nothing changed in the overall. Professor still had the KOM jersey, and was slowly getting used to having team mates getting him food, taking him to the front, and relaxing a bit!
Day 6 - A day I'd rather forget
Today was a split stage. A team time trial in the morning followed by an 83km road stage in the arvo. It is actually a day I would rather forget. I was bad in the time trial. I tried to help as much as possible, but I just simply had nothing in the legs. The boys did a great job, but due to there being two teams classifications our results do not clearly reflect this. The teams were split into International and County, that's fine, but they then penalised the teams according to this classification. This meant first teams in each classification would be given the same time and then each following team would be penalised in team ranking and not on their time. The first County team was given the same time as the first International team even though they were three minutes slower, handing the lead to Tommy Evans even though his team finished minutes behind the Recycling team....bizarre, but that's bike racing!
The arvo stage was then a 'lets rip it up in the crosswinds fest', commented by Mark Lovatt mid stage in broad Liverpool accent "...that's not f***ing normal that was, the pro world's weren't this f***ing hard!" I made second split but Professor our GC man was in the third group. Macca and I then went back to help him - when we got back to Professor he was in a bit of a "panic", (I guess that's what you would call it) after telling a few guys to please remove themselves from the echelon if they were not going to contribute...in no uncertain terms, Macca was able to help him get back to the front whilst I went out the back and only saw them again at the finish. Joe had made the front split and was trying to take KOM points away from Power. Once again the team was riding well, and looking after each other.
As I said...I would rather forget today!
Day 7 - At last, not quite so much wind
We are now heading across the country, the rain has stopped and the wind is at our backs.Professor unfortunately lost the KOM jersey yesterday, but as there are no climbs today he can switch off a little and recharge the brain for our assault on the last climbs on the final stage. Macca had a great ride and would have probably won the stage, but Recycling chose not let the gap get too big and it was not meant to be; a strange tactic for the seventh day of a Tour! Macca attacked from the gun, and formed a strong breakaway group. The lead grew to more than one minute, but then "oddly" the Polish team and the Recycling team began to ride tempo and not let a gap grow. Normally a group would build a lead, especially with nobody a GC threat, and then make the sprinter's teams chase in the last 50k. Not today!
Macca was caught 4km from the finish after doing away with his other breakaway companions some time before. Four kilometres - that's 164km of a 168km stage off the front. Nice work Macca, it's just purely unlucky! With Macca now back in the fold, FRF Couriers/Caravello set out to lead out the sprint. Josh was looking after me really well and we had planned for Josh to hit out early and for me to make my sprint in the last 100m, which suits me better. Professor was on the front with 1km to go, we rounded the last corner and there was a rush to the line. I screamed at Bull to go, but by then it was too late. The 1km to go banner, was a little closer then 1km and someone had not erected the 700, 500, 300m banners, just a lonely 150m to go sign, which effectively signalled "too late" for our lead out. The guys all did a great job once again, but lady luck was certainly not on our side today. Macca was caught, our sprint was thwarted and Joe had run off the road and got two punctures...one in the last 3km!
Day 8 - One last chance...
Professor was equal on points in the KOM with Ciaron Power leading into the final stage.We had to just get one point ahead. There were four KOM's along the road. Ciaron is better known for his sprint, and with the climbs only being cat 3 it was going to be a hard job. On the first KOM there were two away, Power took the third and Professor took fourth. Power now had a 1 point advantage. I tried to take the points from Power but to no avail. On the next climb it was the same scenario. I hit out early to try and keep the pace high, hoping that we might be able to get a gap, Macca and Joe were also in the fold trying to disrupt things in the charge for points....not a chance. Power was basically too fast. On the third climb, Power had a small lead heading to the climb. We gambled that the lead would make him tired, and that the GC teams would pick the pace up as it was in the last 30k. We gambled and we lost. I hit out at the bottom of the climb absolutely flat out trying to bridge the gap with Professor on my wheel. I put myself "in the box" and Professor jumped the gap, but couldn't secure any points. KOM jersey OVER! We tried all week, and we certainly threw everything we had into the last day, but Power was just better on those final climbs.
We now turned our attention to the finish. I had only just regained contact with the front group after the climb and I had the nose of my saddle crammed somewhere uncomfortable. We hit the climb with 10 km to go and I was at the front but just didn't have the legs. Macca made the move, but although I didn't know it, that was my last chance of taking a stage victory. As we crested the top of the climb the lead group had 15 seconds. Professor, Joe and Bull and got on the front and drove it. I thought we were going to get them back, but with 2k to go the gap had not closed. The boys kept driving, as we were also trying to protect Professors GC place of 6th. I took 2nd in the gallop, but no win. 8 days and no win. I could only shrug it off....with clenched teeth! To add salt to the wound, Professor had lost his 6th place dropping down one place to 7th. He finished on the same time as 6th, but 6th place finished higher than him on the final stage. I think each rider in the team ended up with about 3 top 10 placings each, not bad for a bunch of Aussie mugs!
All in all the team performed really well, we mixed it up everyday, took a stage, and very nearly the KOM jersey, seventh on GC, third overall in the teams classification. We became a team that week. Under our director Andy Portess we made the best of every situation that was available to us. His input every day gave us all the information and motivation that a rider needs. Thanks for believing in us, mate. To all the staff - Ian, Eric and the other Andy thanks a million. Oh and our Audi A3 team car was the best by far, thanks Andy Hayton!
So now we are back in England for a few days before heading over to Canada where everything might seem a little easier, and we might be able to understand the Canadians....even if they are speaking French!
May the form follow,