Tales from the Peloton, August 27, 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. In Part IV it's time to say goodbye with the final stage into Bonn - check out Part I for an introduction to this event, Part II for a report on stage 1, and Part III for his encounters with an ex-ONCE TT bike.
Stage 3 - St Goar to Bonn, 115km
Another very mixed day today. The last stage always has something special about it, even when you've only done three, and this was a very special stage. We were to race from the Rhineland picture postcard town of St Goar to the former West German Capital and T-Mobile headquarters city of Bonn, finishing in front of the magenta empire's main offices.
We followed the traditional last day script by relaxing in the sunshine before the stage start and persuading the motorcycle escort Polizei to let us pose for some pictures on their bikes. As the rollout came we made our way to the front, then past the commissaire's car to take the start at the head of the neutral procession before the flag went down. This was a first for me at the Giant Tour; all stages last year were started from the back where even at a neutral pace you end up sprinting and braking as the bunch expands and contracts.
We cruised along the Rhine at really civilised pace - I have no idea what, as I have been riding this week in the strangely liberating position of having no bike computer - feeling that I could ride like this all day. The wide river rolled along beside us and green hills the other side rolled away into the distance, finally I was able to see the countryside that southern Germany is so proud of.
Sadly, this was not a civilised randonee, and after about 10 km the flag was dropped and the pace began to rise. I was resolved to try and stay near the front for as long as possible, but I let a few stream by me until a reasonable sized bunch was there to pull me along as easily as possible. I managed to cruise along at a pretty good speed, without spending too much energy until suddenly disaster struck.
A rail crossed the road diagonally, and caused enough consternation ahead to slow the pace and bring about a flurry of panic braking rippled back through the peloton. I grabbed my brakes and skidded slightly, managing to keep upright and rejoined the pack, but the guy two metres to my right wasn't so lucky. He touched a wheel in front of him and was soon somersaulting forwards on the road, his bike sliding behind him. The riders behind him could do nothing to avoid him and several came down with him, luckily none of the Giant Media team was involved.
As the pace continued to rise, I slipped further back down the bunch until we rounded a corner and were presented with a nice long sector of cobbles. Despite one rider coming down, I managed to make some real progress up the peloton, making up some of the places I'd lost to speed. It wasn't to last long though, as we negotiated a roundabout and the road rose - probably just a railway bridge or something - and I began to lose places quite rapidly as the people beside me didn't seem to notice the fact that we were going uphill.
As I drifted back I was caught by Tom and Taufig, who joined us for the time trial yesterday. He has really trained hard this year and has come along amazingly well. He rode yesterday's time trial, starting twenty seconds ahead of me - last year I reckon I would have caught him after about 5km - this year he beat me by nearly a minute. Tom spent the next few kilometres looking after the two of us until we reached the only categorised climb of the day.
Taufig and I both benefited from the odd subtle push from Tom as we made our way up the fairly steep gradient. My legs were still feeling the effects of yesterday's TT, so were even worse than usual and by the time we reached the top we were almost at the back. The descent was pretty steep and I was confident that I could get some time back, the roads were dry and now pretty clear so I threw a bit of caution to the wind and attacked the corners with confidence.
Unfortunately for my descending confidence, there was an official race car parked on the outside of the corner; this, combined with my unfamiliarity with the brakes - the only proper descending I'd done on this bike was in the pouring rain on Sunday - made me start fishtailing and skidding on both wheels as I fought to regain control of the bike. Taufig, meanwhile was following behind me and as I began swerving around he desperately tried to find a line around me. Unfortunately he chose the wrong side, and as I wrenched my foot free of the pedal and skidded to a halt he was forced to throw himself off or crash into the barriers. Luckily he chose the former was pretty much unhurt - he's a big strong guy!
This action cost us even more time and meant that the bunch that we had already lost contact with was a long way up the road. There now followed a three-up time trial, with Tom pulling us along, and me doing all I could to stay on the back! After a few kilometres of what must have been nearly 50 km/h we caught up with a small group - Tom promptly went to the front and proceeded to pull them along too!
As today's stage was such a special one for T-Mobile, several of their employees were riding as 'Eintagesrennen' (one day riders), most of them dressed in T-Mobile jerseys! They started some time after we did, and now, with around 50km to go they caught us up. Suddenly, despite the fact that we kept the same speed, the size of the bunch meant that it became so much easier. Once again I could sit in and enjoy myself.
Unfortunately at this point we had the worst news of the day. Engerrand Lebec (of Le Cycle) was our man for the stage today (we're defending champions of the final stage after Roderick's win last year) but a rider came down in front of him at around 60km/h. Enguerrand had nowhere to go and crashed quite badly, grazing his right side as well as both hands - and his nice new white Sidis! He was dealt with by the ambulance staff and thankfully had no serious injuries, but couldn't ride any further, so finished the stage in the team car.
As we entered the streets of Bonn the bunch once again began to expand and contract and my tired legs were burning unbelievably, so once it became clear that we were nearly there I decided to let the elastic snap and let them go. There's only one way to finish events like this - I never was an anonymous 'finish in the bunch' rider - so I really began to enjoy myself. The streets were filling up in the expectation of the pros later and the all cheered me on - when you ride in the bunch they cheer the bunch, when you're alone they cheer you! I always make the effort to entertain in these situations - especially the kids who hopefully will grow up thinking that bike racing is fun - so I hammed it up on some of the drags through the streets, and smiled/grimaced at everyone who cheered me.
Finally the last kilometre arrived and a small drag led me to the finishing straight outside the T-Mobile headquarters. A good crowd was there to witness my patented showboating for at least 500 metres before crossing the line as if I'd won. I'm incorrigible and I love doing that, and I do love to entertain. Also, as the others had stayed in that big group, Tom had won the bunch sprint for umpteenth place so everyone was buzzing, only tempered slightly by Enguerrand's injuries. Still, once we were all showered and changed we wheeled him up to the VIP area on my bike and numbed all our pain with German beer!
Sadly, once again, I didn't get the chance to bring the bike home, some lucky winner of some competition or other was presented it by Jan Ullrich. I hope he doesn't mind the flat spotted tyres!
Although I only took part in three stages instead of seven, this year's Giant Tour was no less a challenge than last. I'm hoping that after the second year being part of the Media team, Giant invite me back again for a third time - who knows, I may even train for it next year!
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