Well I am back home in Rockhampton enjoying a break from everything cycling after the team's successful trip to Victoria for the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
I arrived back in Australia on Friday October 5 and settled back into life with the family and the girlfriend. After recovering from the flight home and getting in some good training rides, albeit very early training rides with the guys up home (ie 4:45am), I travelled down to Melbourne the following Friday to meet the Bernie, Munge, Lloydy, Dag, Eric and Mark to drive to Bendigo. Rhys and Harro would join us the next day.
Everyone was in good spirits, but poor old Munge was a bit tired after arriving in Australia the day before just a couple of days after completing Circuito Franco-Belg and the equally challenging Nico Mattan's 'end of career' party. I met the soigneur for the tour, Chris, who volunteered his own time to look after us for the week and gain some invaluable experience. After a quick, cold ride in Bendigo that afternoon and a couple of drinks and stories that night, we were all in a good mood and ready for the Sun Tour.
Saturday we got up early and participated in a fun ride with hundreds of other cyclist as a part of the cycling weekend promoted in Bendigo. I say fun ride but it was anything but. A few of the guys and other teams were keen to set a pretty quick/uncomfortable pace for the 90 kilometre loop and we got back home in no time with a pretty healthy average.
The opening stage in the 2007 Jayco Herald Sun Tour was the Bendigo Clasic race. An hour-long crit around a tough circuit in the heart of Bendigo. It was great to catch up with my parents as they came down from Rockhampton to watch and follow the tour in its entirety. Also down for the tour was Munge's old boy Jeff and best mate Glen - it was good to see you again 'Knackers'.
This wasn't an official stage in the race, but the winner would get the chance to race the first stage of the tour in the coveted yellow jersey. It was also a chance for the riders to fire the opening salvos in the race and blow the cobwebs out. I considered myself to be pretty active early in the race and got away in a break and then Bernie got away soon after in a strong break with all the big teams represented.
The bunch was pulled out with 10 minutes remaining while Bernie and the break were left to fight it out. He was looking good but was brought down in a fall with three laps remaining. Luckily he was unhurt as he was on form after a third overall in the Tour of Tassie the week before. The stage was taken out by Astana ride Aaron Kemps.
Stage 1 Bendigo - Nagambie
The tour's first stage was on pretty early, as to be expected, along with the strong hot north westerly wind. Bernie showed no after effects of the previous day's crash and was away in a strong group early. After 30 kilometres we headed towards the second climb of the day up Mt Alexander and the group was still away. Bernie scored points on the two climbs and was second in the competition.
I got gapped a little over the climb but was able to get back on with a strong group, unfortunately the break of the race was already up the road. Rhys and Munge also came back and immediately we set about a chase along with a couple of Drapac riders. The time gap came down, but then began to go out again and we shut things down and turned our attention to the coming days. We rolled in 12 minutes down, but still in reasonable spirits and determined to turn things around.
Stage 2 Mitchelton Winery - Mansfield
The strong northerly winds were replaced with an even stronger southerly. The race and thoughts of the present weather conditions were put on hold though as prior to the start the bunch paused for a minutes silence in memory of Scott Peoples, the young talented Victorian cyclist who was killed on the road last year. It certainly put things in perspective and we all realised that we are the lucky ones, despite the strong wind and hills that we were about to face.
Straight away from the flag drop it was on and into groups. Munge got caught behind a crash after 20 metres of the race and spent the rest of the day chasing with a small group. A dangerous group formed early with no Jayco Australian National Team riders represented. After 60 kilometres of hard racing/chasing it was all back together at the bottom of the first climb of the day up Strathbogie. We were present at the front to help Bernie get into the King of the Mountains jersey. Close to the top Jorg Ludewig attacked and as I jumped across taking a few with me, Bernie included, we were away.
Bernie picked up points on Strathbogie and the second KOM, getting the competition's lead. Bonnie Doon came and went and our lead was about 3.30 minutes, so we were assured of staying away but I was feeling a little dusty. Ludewig attacked with seven kilometres to go and Bernie and brother Wes joined him. I was in the chasing group of four, but sitting back with watching proceedings with Bernie up the road. Wes won the day, Bernie third with the KOM jersey and I came across the line sixth. I don't think Ludewig realised that the two guys he was away with were brothers, but I am sure he knows now as the boys from Flowery Gully stitched him up pretty good in the last kilometre. It was a good day for the team and making amends for the previous day's debacle. Unibet.com's Matt Wilson was still in yellow.
Stage 3 Mansfield - Beechworth
Today our main goal was to retain the KOM jersey for Bernie. With the KOM coming early in the day Munge, Dag and Rhys did a great job setting a good pace up the climb with Lloyd and myself coming up in the last kilometre to lead Bernie out. Bernie got the first place points and Lloyd placed second at the top. It was pretty hectic over the top and down the descent before things settled down a little before the uphill run into Beechworth.
A decent size bunch was away, but along with Unibet.com Munge, Rhys and Dag again did a heap of work on the front to bring things back for Bernie who was feeling good and the tough finish suited him. It was all back together with one kilometre to go and Bernie sprinted away to sixth on the day.
There was still one attack left in the bunch after the finish line, as one of the Dutch National riders got swooped by a Magpie. Worth a good chuckle as the Dutchy didn't know what was going on. Cry's of "Godverdomme stomme Vogels" ran loud and clear through the streets of Beechworth.
Stage 4 Beechworth - Falls Creek
Stage 4 is the Queen stage of the tour, with the 116 kilometre effort finishing on top of the 30 kilometre climb to Falls Creek. Apart from the climb to Falls Creek there was another nasty climb after 60 kilometres which split the bunch, but after a quick descent I caught back up to the peloton and it was a pretty large group at the foot of Falls Creek.
I guess the true climb up Falls began 10 kilometres from the line as the preceding 20 kilometres included a lot of flat and downhill sections. As 10 kilometres to go ticked over I rode at my limit and did what I could up there, I was determined to keep my top 20 classification, but at the line I had slipped just out of the top 20 as I lost eight minutes to the winner Steve Morabito. Dan Lloyd and Bernie were again climbing well and although Bernie and our team did their best Bernie lost his lead in the KOM comp as the winner Morabito snatched it from him for winning up the highest classified climb.
Matt Wilson had a great ride up the hill to limit his loses and lost the jersey (for now) by eight seconds to Dutch rider Joost van Lijen. Hats off to Munge, who had a rough day working on the front early and toughed it out to finish and fight another day.
Stage 5 Mt Beauty - Wangaratta
With Bernie now second in the KOM competition on equal points with the Astana rider, we were determined to get it back. The first and only climb of the day was after 35 kilometres so Rhys, Munge and myself set off on front of the bunch along with a couple of Dutchies to set a good pace before the climb. It was all together at the bottom and Dag came to the front as Rhys and Munge cruised back.
I did a long turn on the climb and then Dag took over 1.5 kilometres from the top and set a strong tempo. I got out of there and left it up to Dag, Lloydy and Bernie. I wasn't there to see the sprint but it was close with Bernie taking the inside line and pipping Morabito by a tyre on the line.
After the second intermediate sprint a break of 10 or so formed and I followed a wheel and got across to it. Dag was there and pulled a hard turn and along with Pete Herzig and myself we were away. We were working well and with three kilometres to go we had a gap of 25 seconds. Dag said he was not struggling a bit, but Herzig was still going strong. I was feeling good and felt confident against Pete in the sprint if it came down to it.
Dag lead into the final kilometre and Pete attacked from the back with 500 metres to go and I quickly got to his back wheel. Dag was gapped a little but kept the pressure on which in turn kept the pressure on Pete to keep up his pace. Through the final turn I took the inside line and kicked on in the final 150 metres to take my first professional win ahead of Pete Herzig. It certainly felt good to throw the paws in the air over the line and finally register a win, in Australia no less and in front of parents who have supported me through thick and thin and against their better judgments at times.
It capped of a great day for the team with Bernie regaining the jersey and Dag (Jeremy) getting third on the day. The only sour point for the team today was the DNF of Munge. He had been feeling a bit dusty over the past couple of days, but worked hard at the front for the first 40 kilometres today to help Bernie before the climb, but was subsequently dropped on the hill and decided to call it a day.
Stage 6 Melbourne ITT
We drove from Wangaratta to Melbourne on the previous night for the final two days of the Sun Tour. Stage 6 was a tough little TT around the Botanical Gardens in Melbounrne. Sharp corners, a couple of speed bumps and a couple of hills were on order today and with it all pretty tight up the top of general classification it was going to be an important day for the overall contenders.
My ride went okay, but I suffered due to constraints with getting on the course and having a look at it. I went out in the morning to have a look but was told to get off the course as there were races going on and then was unable to have another look just prior to the TT start as there was another race going on. It may not have made much of a difference to my ride, although I nearly went the wrong way as a marshall was having a chat to a policeman and did not see me coming.
12.14 minutes for me around the course would have to do and I kept my spot in the classification. Matt Wilson rode well to once again regain the jersey going into the last day. Of our guys, Lloyd had a good day to finish in the top 10 and Dag had a shocker and missed the start much to our amusement and Eric's despair. "Dikke Stomme Ezel" as Eric would say.
Stage 7 Melbourne Criterium
The last day of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour began with the customary Sun Tour market where all teams set up and sell some clothes, bikes, wheels to lighten the load for the trip home and help pay for the off season. I sold a couple of things for myself and the team then went and got ready for the crit.
The criterium was on and Unibet.com was keen to let a group go, providing no dangers were present. I had a couple of dips early, but knew pretty early that I was not feeling the best. Rhys got away in the break as it built a good lead and was never going to be caught. For the next 60 minutes we lapped around St Kilda road behind the Unibet.com team, content to leave the break out front. Aaron Kemps won again, making it three wins for him and Matt Wilson weathered the last-minute attacks from Morabito to take out the 2007 Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
For the team we had a good, enjoyable week, minus the first road stage. Bernie won the KOM jersey and scored a third and finished in the top 20. Lloyd was in the top 20 overall, I picked up a stage, a sixth place and fifth in the points, Dag a third and we were fourth in the teams competition. Rhys and Munge rode their hearts out all week on the front at different times for the team so that can never be forgotten or unappreciated. Bikes were spotless at the start of each day thanks for Mark, legs were attended to by Chris every afternoon, suitcases and laundry were done by Rik and the team car driven by perfection once again by Eric (I don't go to race meetings during the tour) Vanderaerden. Can't fault yas, it was a good way to end the year. All that was left was to sell some more kit, chase up a bit of coin and have a few drinks with team-mates, family, friends and our girlfriends later that night.
So I'm now back home and having some time off. Time off will come to an end briefly come November 9 as I line up for the Rocky Cup on Wheels. The event has been pushed forward a couple of months due to a State titles clash, so will be good to throw the leg over a track bike again and race in front of a good home crowd for a bit of coin. Shall let you know how it all goes.
Until next time we meet,