Belgium, March 30, 2007
A bit has happened I guess since I last wrote. Have had a couple of races, some forgettable and some encouraging and have moved house, settled in and subsequently got sick. As I write this I am still trying to recover from it after it knocked me flat on a Friday afternoon many moons ago.
I believe last time I wrote I had just finished Tour of Mediterranean, and although I did not finish the last stage I walked away from it happy enough knowing that I was not out of my depth. Two weeks passed before our next race, and that was Oomlop Het Volk - and even though it is one of the great races on the calendar I do not really want to talk about it too much. Cold, wet, windy and cobbles. Throw in a puncture 2km from the foot of the first climb, the Kluisberg, a chase in and out of the cars over the Cote de Trieu and the Kwaremont. I called it a day as I was not making any significant inroads on the bunch at this critical point of the race. Thanks to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews for letting everyone know that I "called it a day."
It was a week or so between Het Volk and our next race, and it was here that I moved out of the Booischot house. I found a place in Leuven that suited me, and with the help of Bernie made the move and settled in. It's good to have my own place to come back to at night, but I will miss the comic stylings of Munge, Bernie and other guys.
The week passed quickly and before long found myself starting the 3 Days of West Vlaanderen. W arrived in good weather at our great hotel in Mensen (great food, rooms and people) but awoke the next morning for the first stage from Kortrijk to more bad weather. I realised then that my last two races were in the cold and wet and that this first stage was going to be number three. Rugged up the best way anybody could, I greeted Scott Davis of T-Mobile who, like me, was enjoying the day and lined up.
Stage 1 Kortrijk - Bellegem 170km
The first stage ended in a large group sprint finish up the hill into Bellegem. Jens had a good day and wound up 11th. Nico was also in the first group with Bernie, Robby, Rhys and Daniel a little bit back. On the last finish circuit, my cold legs called it a day and I rode in with a group, along with Harro a couple of minutes down. The team as a whole had a good day chasing down a break and splitting the bunch in the process and being present at the front.
Stage 2 Handzame - Torhout 185km
Second day, and I was glad to see that the rain had gone. The wind was still around, which was going to make it nervous. The start was flat out but it was ok. Daniel Lloyd made a little detour into one of the stink ditches here in Belgium by the side of the road. He came back to the bunch and you just had to follow your nose through the bunch if you wanted to find him. Apart from a bang on his wrist he was ok. About 50km from home, the pace was on to catch a group and set up the day. We came into the finish laps all together, and a bunch sprint loomed. Lloydy got up there in the top 20 for the day and Jens preferred not to risk his skin and bones and cruised in the bunch. He was still well positioned in the overall. The overall lead was still held by Jimmy Casper.
Stage 3 Ichtegem - Ichtegem 185km
The last day and was going to be tough as usual, starting and finishing in Ichtegem with a loop that headed south and over a couple of climbs including the Kemmelberg. The team again rode well together. Rhys was away in an early break. Daniel and Robby made a split that joined with the front. Dave was doing a good job looking after Jens, and Bernie and myself were doing work to bring breaks back etc. Nico was directing the traffic. There was one dodgy moment before the day's set of cobbles when Jens punctured just before they started. I sat at the back waiting for him, but then there was a crash on the cobbles which blocked the road. We got around that to see Robby on the ground and waited for him.
Once we got going on the cobbles, Jens caught up along with other riders that had dropped off on the cobbles, and it was a long hard chase to get back. Thanks to everyone working and a couple of big long pulls from Jens, we got back before the finish laps. It was a bunch sprint again. The run-in was dangerous to say the least, and I was not going to get mixed up in it. Jens had a good hard day and moved from 13th up to 9th in classification.
So all in all, a pretty good tour for the team. Everybody seems to be gelling together and getting along - no apparent egos in the team that in the past has ruffled the feathers of team-mates and staff. You could almost excuse Nico of having an ego after everything he has done in the sport, but it has not shown itself. He directs us and asks us to do things in the race without a hint of arrogance and congratulates us when we do a good job. And because of this we oblige.
The other guys in the team are racing Nokere Koerse today. It is a race I enjoy, but I am enjoying a virus at the moment so had to miss out. It is on the mend though. Coming up for the team are two races on the weekend with Ronde van Groene Hart in Holland and Cholet in France...
Jump forward a couple of days and I am back from Cholet. Still suffering from my illness, myself and my fellow sick-bed room-mate Matti Helminen struggled all day and called it a day at the feedzone. We got to the feedzone and rode into Cholet only to get mixed up in the woman's race that was in progress. Oops, sorry about that girls. 120Km for the day. So along with that day in Cholet, and a few other things going on here and at home in Australia beyond my control, I am having a tough time of it at the moment. It does not look to be getting any better soon. Harelbeke is coming up on Saturday and I'm not sure if my sick body will be up to it. Shall wait and see and do my best.
Til next time we meet