Saturday, March 14, 2009

2009 Womens Tour of New Zealand - Part 1

Sorry for the delay in relating my Tales of the Tour - I've been very, very busy with pre and post Karapoti action so I simply haven't had the time! As usual I will waffle on way too much, so I expect this to take a couple of blogs. I hope it's enjoyable to read, as the Tour certainly was fun to work on and the Jazz Apples Team were great to work with.

After the training camp I had a busy day off at home where I was able to catch up with Jacq and the boys, as well as some shop stuff, then it was straight back into it on Tuesday morning. Jacq and I drove both our cars to the airport, where I left mine (The Sexwagon!) at the budget carpark and jumped in hers. She ferried me out to Avanti Plus in Lower Hutt, where our swannie Mark Forder had arranged to borrow a van to ferry our kit over to the Wairarapa for the '09 Tour of NZ. Great to catch up with the owners of the shop, my old mates Murray and Brendon, who were generous enough to help us out with an extra vehicle.

Then it was straight back to the airport to park the van and run in to meet the Jazz Apples Cycling Team off the plane from Auckland. After loading the van and my wagon with bikes and bodies we had some missions to do, including call in to BikeNZ in Seaview. To stave off the upcoming boredom of the drive over the Hill I decided a few warm-up laps of the roundabout outside BikeNZ were a go, much to the amusement of the girls and the bemusement of Susy and Chris following in the van, before scooting up to a supermarket in Lower Hutt to supply up. After filling several trolleys with vital supplies (wine and beer) we then undertook the winding and scenic drive across the Rimutaka Range and on to our digs near Gladstone in the Wairarapa.

Originally, and somewhat bizarrely in my view, the organiser of the Tour had decided that billeting was a better way to house the Teams than the usual hotels. This might have worked for some teams, but as we were being spread over 5 houses we had some logistical concerns - servicing the bikes and massaging the athletes would be quite difficult, pre and post-race meetings would be crazy to arrange, not to mention that our Team quite enjoyed each others company and didn't really want to be separated! I gather our Team wasn't the only one that decided to make their own accommodation arrangements. Luckily for us, and after much consultation about hotels and so on while still in Auckland, Heather and Malcolm decided to step in and help once more. They offered us and arranged for a very cool option - Malcolm's brother's recent aquisition, an ex-digger training school.

It was the perfect Service Course! Bedrooms for Africa, a laundry (converted from an old slaughter room!?) that was ideal as a workshop, two kitchens, showers, and every facility imaginable. With it's long corridors, slightly eerie decor, and air of recent abandonment, Susy and I immediately dubbed it the Overlook, after Stephen King's "The Shining."


My room!

My office.

My friends. My CLOSE friends...

This is alright, innit?

After unpacking Chris and I had to take the van back to Lower Hutt. The AvantiPlus guys needed it back for another event, so Chris drove it and I drove the Sexwagon back the way we'd come, dropped the van with Murray (thanks again, AvantiPlus!) and headed back to the Overlook in time for a delicious dinner that Susy and the Team had whipped up. Then it was time to get the bikes ready for the following afternoon's opening stage. After a quick check over to ensure the girls had assembled their bikes correctly - they had, of course - race wheels need fitting, tyres checked for cuts, and gears and brakes need a quick tune-up...With only four riders (Ruth, Dotsie, Steph and Lauren) in the Tour it wasn't an arduous night at all, despite being a bit of a late one.

Dotsie's Fuji SL-1 weapon.

Laurens' bike before race wheels fitted.

Ruth's machine ready to rock!

All race ready.

By the time I was satisfied everything was perfect it was late, so I had a shower and turned in for the's Race Day tomorrow - woohoo!

The start was in the afternoon, so we were able to have a bit of a sleep-in and a leisurely start to the day - everyone was fizzing to get into it though. Before long it was time to load up the BioVapor van, as well as the car we had been loaned for the duration of our stay in the Wairarapa.

We then drove the 25 minutes to Masterton, and the stage depart outside the Copthorne Solway. We all had jobs to do - the girls to get ready, Chris and Susy to get final briefings and collect race numbers etc., Mark to organise bidons and radios, and I had to fit the frame numbers to the seatposts (thanks to my mate and star Garmin Slipstream wrench Grom for the tip of using old reflector brackets as tidy number mounts!), fit the timing chips to each of the bikes, pump all the tyres and get my spare wheels to Service 1 and 2.

The bikes all ready, with Service 2 mechanic Lee Poston working a last minute tweak in the background.

As I mentioned earlier, the Team had the use of a cool Ford Focus from Fagan Motors - our redoubtable soigneur Mark had worked for the Aussie Savings and Loans Team on the men's Tour of NZ and had made a great contact in top NZ roadie Scott Lyttle's dad Steve, the CEO of Fagan, who very kindly let us use one of his demo vehicles.

I absolutely LOVE race day. It's a mixture of excitement, anticipation and a few nerves - I guess a bit like I'm racing myself! I know what I'm expected to do pre-stage, so once I've done my work and made sure no one else on the Team needs anything I had time for a quick sift around the Depart Etape. It was great to slip back into the race scene - I've been doing the Women's Tour for a few years now, so have got to know a lot of the personnel, as well as many of the athletes. Some I know better than others - great to catch up with my Rotorua based mate Paul Larkin, who had been recruited from across the Tasman to be mechanic for Marcel Bengston's Aussie-based MB Cycles Team.

Due to some sponsorship wrangling, we weren't racing as the Jazz Apples for either the Tour of the UCI 1.1 International Cup one day race that followed - we were racing under the aegis of one of the Team's main sponsors, Champion Systems. The Team's contact in Hong Kong had come down to NZ to check out the race, and it was great to see Louis again...

The Team in their fresh Champion Systems kit.

This nice Colnago caught my eye - there were a LOT of lovely bikes, but as I didn't want to stray far from the Team I didn't take pics of many others.

I did take a snap of NZ Team manager John Dean's impressive vehicle - I'd love to have his custom bike trailer!

I took this as I dashed to the car after a last minute toilet stop - the women about to start.

Then it was time to go. The women saddled up, and Susy, Chris and I jumped in the car. Chris behind the wheel, Susy on the radios in the jumpseat, and me in the back with my tools and spare wheels.

The race was neutralised as we set off through the streets of Masterton, for a start on the city limits. The parcours today was essentially for an out and back course, with 3 laps of the 30km Gladstone circuit to pad out the middle of the day.

As we made our way out of town it became apparent that our new radios hadn't been charged fully, so one by one we lost contact with the girls. The downside is that Susy couldn't communicate with them, but the upside was that the banter in the car wasn't going to be interrupted often at all!

Now for a series of shots from our position in Car 5. The scenery is always lovely in the Wairarapa.

We soon entered the Gladstone loop and as we hit the circuit the pace went up in anticipation of the first sprint. We had a plan for the first prime which was thwarted by the finish being moved from last year - Dotsie led out and definitely won the sprint to where we thought the prime was, but sadly we missed out on the actual points.

As soon as the pace went on riders began to be dropped, despite the lengthy warm-up the slow pace had allowed the field.

It rapidly became apparent that everyone was waiting either for the bunch finish back in Masterton, or perhaps for the final stage finishing on Admiral's Hill, as there was not a single attack to speak of all day. The women rolled along at a pedestrian pace for the most part, except for the three sprint primes and three Queen of the Mountains primes.

After the first prime feeding began - here is Dotsie casually drifting back through the peloton to perform domestique duties...

...and collecting bidons for all while giving us a concise rundown of the botched sprint. An example of her selfless attitude towards the Team - no star treatment expected by this Super Domestique!

The Overlook was smack in the middle of the race circuit...

As was this lovely historic church perched on a rise.

More scenery passed slowly as we readied ourselves for the first QOM.

There were two crashes in the stage - both on slight uphills, and both through a touch of wheels. The woman with the Colnago I snapped earlier was one casualty, and we thought she was knocked out as we drove past, but before long she had made a gutsy chase to reintegrate with the bunch. No photos of the carnage as I'm a stalker not a ghoul.

We headed into the first climb confident that the Team would be able to enact a decent lead-out for Ruth. The idea was to capture the QOM jersey to get us on the podium, as realistically the stage would go to one of the pure sprinters in the field.

As we crested the hill, Louis and his companion managed to yell to us that Ruth had taken maximum points - great stuff!

The peloton is a moving circus - as well as the lead cars, the racers, the convoy, the ambulances and the police outriders, there are also media seated on the backs of more motorbikes. The paparazzi just wouldn't leave me alone!

It's not surprising really - I'm an attractive man...

One more shot of the race - this is as they blasted down the hill after the QOM.

Then it was time to head back to Masterton. The road back into town saw a few minor attacks, as the bunch tried to soften up the competition for the final sprint - which was taken by storied Aussie sprinter Rochelle Gilmore who smoked everyone. Ruth was our top finisher in 8th place, but her clean sweep of the QOMs had given her the polka-dotted jersey. Steph finished 13th, with Dotsie 29th and Lauren 58th after all performing superbly as a Team.

We pulled up in the grounds of the local Church Hall and set up a post-race base. I then set off to help Mark greet the riders with fresh water, etc. Steph rolls in after a good day's work.

Paul and the MB Cycles Team after the stage.

Then it was time to get Ruth up onto the podium to collect her well earned climbers jersey. Awesome!

From left: 2nd on stage and U23 leader Chloe Hosking (Mercedes Benz), stage winner and yellow jersey Rochelle Gilmore (Australia) and (w00t!) QOM Ruth Corset (Champion Systems).

Ruth catches up with Dotsie and thanks her for three superb leadouts.

Then catches up on her post-race refuelling as Steph and Lauren perform a post-mortem on the day's events.

We then headed back to the Overlook for dinner and massages for the athletes. I got straight to work washing the bikes while I still had some light.

Then it was into my workshop to give all the bikes a quick going over for the next day. No mechanicals or issues, but a couple of cuts in tyres easily sorted with a drop or two of superglue. Then it was time for shower and bed, ready for Stage 2 which I'll write up soon.

Cheers, Oli

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