Getting a taste of the Belgian classics
Langkawi is a race that I won't be forgetting for a long time for a variety of reasons. In my eyes it wasn't the success I'd hoped for. I went into it with what I think is the best form I have ever had. I had hoped to come home with a stage win or two to get the season off to a good start. Unfortunately the situation we were put in was a tricky one and we never really worked it out.
GC was pretty straight forward, it came down to two hilltop finish days with Cameron and Genting Highlands. My job was simple: ride as far up the climb looking after our two climbers who were in a shot for the stage as well as GC. I managed to get a lot more out of myself on these days, with the encouraging comments Haas was yelling in my ear as we climbed. The best bit was when he said "dude there is only 25 guys left, keep it up", it made me pretty excited and I dropped another gear! So job done when I peeled, GC was between Peter Stetina and Nathan Haas. They did really well getting 4th and 6th GC respectively in the tour.
The sprint stages were a different matter, it was game on. My turn. The guys did a great job taking me up the front to pay back the work I had done for them. Im still disappointed with the outcome as I knew we had a race-winning team. It was hard however to get the lead-out right as we kept changing the order, which in my opinion, meant that we had trouble perfecting our train.
I think the risk of losing a few races to perfect our train will ultimately mean winning more. On the days I got to sprint I made a few small mistakes which I have learnt from. But as we all know, we all need luck on our side, which at this race seemed nonexistent!
It's a tough sport but it's a lot easier to stay positive knowing I'm chasing the next win with very good friends and direction around me.
With the craziness of Asian racing there was a lot of close calls, a lot of attacks and a lot of food poisoning. With Caleb and myself becoming victims of a bug that was picked up off the road during the day where the peloton rode through torrential rain and the roads were flooded. People were dropping like flies, pulling over every few kilometres to either throw up or abandon the tour.
On Stage 9 I had been told that the team was going to back me for the last two stages. We had finally worked out our lead-out with Haas bringing Koldo and myself to the front for the sprints and we were going to put it in to action.
With the absence of Theo Bos the sprints were becoming more than achievable. But after a night on the toilet Stage 9 was looking grim. I tried to hang in hoping the Clif Bloks would give me some energy back but the break just seemed like it was never going to go. With the pace of the peloton seemingly travelling above 50 for the first 20k, I started to drift back in the convoy in hope that the peloton would snap and slow down letting the break get some time. But it just didn't happen.
My instructions were if the second team car passes me in the convoy, I had to jump in. I battled for only a moment longer and next thing I knew was I was waking up in the car with only a few km to go. This is the first tour I have ever pulled out of. I was absolutely devastated.
Fortunately I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to fly back to Australia for one week to celebrate my brother and his wife's wedding. It was great to be able to have one more week with my family, friends and girlfriend in +30 degree weather knowing that soon I will be trying to avoid black ice on the roads. Although the weather was nice, training was not going so well. The bug that I got in Langkawi kept me off the bike for all but a few hours in the week.
Although I love life on the road, it definitely has its down sides. I would never call it a sacrifice been a professional athlete, as I know how tough working a full time job in a factory is, and being an athlete is a blessing that every kid dreams of but I do miss certain things that if I could live a double life I would defiantly want to see. My cousin Kyle trying to follow in my foot steps as a cyclist and getting second in the Austral track champs a little while back is just one of those moments I have missed.
After the long flight over to Europe, I found my new home in Girona. After only a week I realised why so many cyclists choose Girona as their home. The roads are incredible for cycling, and there are so many teammates and other riders who speak English living there too.
I can tell it’s going to be a fantastic place to settle into. Within a week I had found my new apartment. Once it’s all finalised I'm sure Haas will be happy to have a break from me - even though I am now living a few hundred metres down the road.
I just raced my first European race for the season which was Dwars door Vlaanderen in Belgium. I wore every bit of wet weather gear I owned as it was barely three degrees! After watching Milan-San Remo I wasn't taking any risks.
My fingers were already numb after the neutral so I pulled out a packet of Cliff Bloks as I knew it was probably the last time I would be able to feel my fingers to find my pocket. The race was tough but I tried to hang in to do my job as best as possible, getting in one of the early breaks which didn't last long.
However, I just had no power on the hills, I couldn't breathe without coughing and it seemed this could have been a mixture of the cold and some left-over virus I picked up after Langkawi. It got the best of me and so I ended up in the car at the 140k mark of the 200k race.
Next on the cards is Scheldeprijs on 3 April. I am hoping I have enough time to get better so my morale doesn't get beaten any lower!
Wish me luck,
- Steele Von Hoff
Steele Von Hoff is a first-year professional riding for the Garmin-Sharp ProTeam. Von Hoff spent the 2012 season with Jonathan Vaughters Chipotle Development squad before graduating to the WorldTour ranks as a stagiare late last year. The Australian sprinter has shown he's capable of rivalling some of the best in the bunch sprints and will be working closely with the team's top sprinter Tyler Farrar throughout his neo-pro season while also looking to capitalise on his own opportunities.
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Getting a taste of the Belgian classics
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Looking back at a successful Australian summer of cycling