Tales from the Peloton, August 22, 2005
Riding the Giant Tour, 2005
Every year, bike manufacturer Giant runs a 'semi-competitive' tour in tandem with a major race occurring at the time, where non-professional riders take in the race route. Last year Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins found himself in the enviable position of riding one of these tours and some of the world's best bikes. He's at again in 2005, at the Tour of Germany, and relishing the prospect of some more (at times painful) saddle time on desirable bikes.
I guess I must have done something right last year, because here I am again in Germany awaiting my first stage of this year's Giant Tour...
I say my first stage, but it's not the first stage. The Giant Tour has actually been going on since last Wednesday, but Giant have invited me and the rest of the Giant Media Team on a scaled down version of the race, a kind of Criterium International if you will.
As a team we'll be tackling the last three stages of the Giant Tour - run this year in parallel to the Deutschland Tour - consisting of a hilly (mountainous) stage, a time trial, and a flat stage into Bonn for us sprinters. Just as last year, our every need will be catered for by Giant; they're giving us clothing to race in, beds to sleep in, transport between the stages and most importantly bikes to ride on (I'll come to those later). All we have to do is ride, eat and sleep - but why do I get the feeling that it's not going to be that simple? Because for me it never is, that's why!
I'm alternately nervous and excited about the next few days (mostly nervous), especially about Sunday. It's the Queen stage of the whole Giant Tour, taking in 90-odd kilometres from St Margen in the Black Forest to a mountaintop finish at Feldberg. If you've ever read anything I've written before you'll know why I'm a bit concerned about this one. Last year's big mountain stage saw mw swept up by the broom wagon just as I got to the base of the final climb, my 'sprinter's build' (as I was charitably described by last year's super-domestique Jo Burt) slowed me enough on the tough first climb to prevent me getting to the last one on time. I don't want that to happen again!
I like to think I'm in slightly better shape than I was last year. The weight is as usual an issue, but like Jan Ullrich I like to arrive a couple of kilos over my race weight and ride myself in, becoming stronger as the race goes on. Trouble is, it's more like ten kilos and the race is only three days long! I have a few more miles in my legs this year though, although I did spend too much of July watching the Tour instead of riding it, and the temptation to watch the demise of Australian cricket these last few weeks has been too great! Still, I've done a few fondos and randonees this year so I should be as good as I ever am...
Giant have really pushed the boat out with the bikes again this year. For Sunday and Tuesday's road stages we're riding the latest TCR Advanced in the 'rather more tasteful than last year' T-Mobile colours, exactly what Ullrich et al were packing at the Tour de France. These are so hot off the press (or out of the mould) that the T-Mobile riders who weren't at the Tour don't even have them yet! These things are seriously sexy pieces of kit, equipped - like last year - with the full Dura Ace groupset, including the wheels.
What I'm really excited about though, is what we'll be riding on Monday in the 32km time trial! This year they've brought along some of their TCR time trial bikes, and they're trusting us to use them! Personally I'm no stranger to tri-bars, I've done my fair share of TTs back home, but never on a bike that's won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana!
Yes, that's right, on Monday I'll be riding the actual bike ridden by Isidro Nozal in the 2003 Vuelta for ONCE-Eroski, the year when he came so unexpectedly close to winning! It's on of their really special bikes, with gold graphics, a seriously limited edition gold (yes GOLD) Campag Ghibili disc wheel, and gold plated brake levers and bar-end shifters.
What's even more exciting than that is that Abraham Olano is here to advise us on our TT positions and techniques, and when I finish Monday's stage they're going to whizz the bike back to the start for him to ride! Oh yes, dear reader, Abraham Olano, the Abraham Olano, will be using my pedals. How cool is that?
I guess I should stop getting so excited about Monday, and concern myself more with tomorrow. We went for a nice leisurely (NOT!) three hour ride this afternoon to test the bikes a bit, and it was perfectly clear where my climbing stands next to my fellow Media teammates, so it's going to be a bit of a challenge. The good news is that the first 34km of the stage is a circuit which passes through the start line again and there's an option to miss this out and 'just' ride the last 57km fresh. This last 57km features two pretty nasty 1st Cat climbs, so, discretion being the better part of valour, I'm going to take that option. I really don't want to get in the broom wagon again!