Wednesday, March 18, 2009

2009 Womens Tour of New Zealand - Part 2

It was up bright and early for Stage 2 of the Tour - the stage began at ten in the morning and we were up and eating at seven to be at the stage start by 9am at the latest.

About to depart the Overlook.

Team Director Susy Pryde and rider Lauren Ellis go over the GC sheet.

Team Director Chris Drake and soigneur Mark Forder preparing for the day ahead.

The morning was chilly and here's our tame Canuck Steph Roorda showing a bit of leg as she puts some warm-up cream on.

Here's our star Aussie Ruth Corset modelling the Maillot Pois she won yesterday in a dominating performance, taking a clean sweep of every QOM.

The bikes with tyres pumped, all ready to race, leaning up on our BioVapor Team van.

The obligatory shot of the peloton ready to roll out, with Ruth on the far side.

Just as we were about to leave I was asked by NZ Team rider Jo Keisanowski if I could sort out her front shifting which had been problematic on the first stage. I did my best, diagnosing a cracked front derailleur cage, but with only minutes to work I couldn't get it perfect - as it was I missed my pre-stage toilet stop! It took Paul Larkin some time that evening to get it right.

Cool bike...

We jumped into the car and inserted ourselves into our convoy position for the day - we were car 3 so I hoped to see plenty of action from that close to the front!

Here the bunch rolls by in the neutralised section.

While I was busy prior to the start with the bikes, Chris was sticking the GC sheets to the dash to provide easy reference - fingers crossed the radios would be all good today...

Rolling along at the start. Again, the field seemed quite content to meander along despite the Team Managers getting a bit of a hurry up from Race Director Jorge Sandoval before the depart.

The view from Car 3.

The peloton in chat mode.

Arty shot of Susy musing the day's maneuverings.

Here is a particularly memorable part of the course from years gone by - this is where the 2006 Wholly Bagels Tour campaign came unravelled when our riders Pernille Fletcher and our US import and GC hope Robin Farina collided with a stalled Japanese rider, breaking poor Pernille's wrist and leaving Robin far off the back with a spare wheel with only a 21t cog to get her over some big climbs...

Talking of climbs, the course profile was for a mainly flat course which was actually far from the case - some reasonable sized hills were linked by a series of short but sharp rollers. The pace was still slow and I struggled to stay awake!

One of the cool things about the Tour is seeing the locals come out to watch - here's Dotsie doing her Super Domestique thing as we pass by one of the many schools whose pupils were out cheering us on.

There were QOM points on offer, as well as some sprints, and Ruth added to her points tally with another clean sweep of the mountains points. One of the more gentle rollers on offer.

Before long the stage was over with another sprint victory to Rochelle Gilmore (Australia) over Chloe Hosking (Mercedes Benz) and MB Cycles Kirsty Broun. Another podium appearance beckoned for Ruth, so here's Mark and Chris cleaning her up and making sure she is showing off her sponsors as well as possible.

Ruth collecting her new jersey off Race Director/Organiser Jorge Sandoval.

Dealing with the post-stage media scrum are (from left) Ruth, Rochelle and Kirsty.

Once the ceremonies were complete it was time to trek back to HQ so I could get to work. Another day with zero crashes or mechanicals, but I thoroughly washed the bikes, re-lubed the chains and swapped cassettes for the ones they'd need for the final day's big climbs.

A beautiful day for bike washing.

Steph's bike on the stand with training wheels on.

Chris and Susy wanted to go for a ride to scope out Admirals Hill, which was only a 20 minute ride away from the Overlook. I gave Susy's bike a quick going over before they left. Note the Saturn bidon left over from Susy's days on arguably the most powerful women's team ever seen.

They invited me along on what should have been my first chance to ride all week, but I still felt I had too much to do and didn't want to be stuck still working into the night so I declined the kind offer. Chris hit the front early and dominated the driveway sprint - I gather the rest of the ride wasn't quite as kind to him!

After finishing the bikes I went and showered and was able to potter about a bit. Before the stage Chris had been given a parcel for me from one of the Victoria-NTID riders, which turned out to be a cool present and card from my friend Sharon Laws. Sharon rode for Chris and I in last years Tour (finishing 10th) as she made a tilt for international road honours for Great Britain. She ended up having an amazing season of ups and downs, injuries and great results, culminating in helping Nicole Cooke to the Olympic Road Title. In 2004 she had won the gruelling and prestigious Cape Epic MTB Race and after working together last year she had said she'd send me her winners jersey for my Wall of Fame. I had completely forgotten this promise so was delighted to be surprised like this - her kind words made it even more precious...

Once Susy and Chris had returned from their recce of the big climb (and a surreptitious visit to the Gladstone Pub that could well have persuaded me onto the bike, had I known...) it was time for a Team Briefing for the big day ahead. Susy led the meeting with valuable input from Chris and Dotsie, to come up with a sound gameplan.

Lauren and Mark listen avidly to Susy's plans and schemes.

After dinner it was time to have one more quick squizz at my bikes to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything and to ensure my tyre cut repairs had taken, before carefully lining them up in readiness for the morning.

That's when the night took a surreal and disturbing direction. I went to settle into bed to find an unusual companion had decided to join me - I might have squealed with fright when I saw the rabbit, but I'll never tell.

My jittery jabbering as I described this unusual event to the rest of the Team - who seemed for some reason were stifling laughter - must have been mistaken by another rabbit as a come on, for when I returned to my chambers I found the rabbit population had spontaneously doubled!

Even more disconcerting was the nest on my bedside table - I always thought rabbits were mammals, but perhaps what I had assumed were nuts were actually rabbit eggs and I was going to be overrun overnight!

After booting the two perverted pests out of my bed, and cleaning out the twigs and straw, I went to sleep to the sounds of muffled giggling from all over the Overlook...

The next morning dawned fine and wind-free almost. We made it to the Copthorne in plenty of time to perform the usual pre-stage routines.

Here Chris helps Ruth mark the crucial waypoints of the stage on some masking tape which she sticks on her stem. Using her computer and these jotted notes helps prepare for upcoming sprints/climbs etc.

The race wouldn't be possible without the awesome help of the NZ Police and the St John's Ambulance Service. I took this just after they had been assembled for a group shot.

As the QOM and main favourite to win the stage up Admirals, Ruth had a lot on her shoulders. She knew she would be heavily marked and attacked, as Teams would be silly to get to the bottom of the final climb with her in tow, and she was understandably a bit pensive and nervous prior to the start, yet impressed with her focus and determination.

Steph and knew her day at the office would be hard too, running interference for the Team.

Unlike the two previous stages, this one seemed to pass in minutes. The hills loomed high over everyone's thoughts, and at first it looked like it would be another procession through the Wairarapa countryside...

There had been several half-hearted breaks but no selections made, so Susy decided to see if we couldn't get things properly started by putting one of the girls in a break to force other Teams to chase, and allowing Ruth to sit in. After several attempts Lauren did the job well, only to unfortunately drop back just as the break became established. This break would become the defining move of the race, as we would eventually find out...

The race was hotting up, and the break had been whittled down to just 1992 Olympic Gold medalist Kathy Watt being pursued and eventually joined by Peta Mullens (Aus). They were fair steaming along and the peloton was chasing hard, and our two Team workhorses eventually paid the price for their hard labours on the Team's behalf. First Lauren pulled out - we chucked her bike rapidly into the back of the car and she jumped in beside me for a well earned rest. Loz had been struggling with illness all Tour, yet did a superb job burying herself every day...

Then before very long it was Steph's turn. We knew Mark was up ahead on the side of the road, so we directed her to jump in the BioVapor van with him when she got to him, as her job was done and simply suffering through to the finish would do her no good at all.

By this stage we were starting to worry about the break - the race radio was telling us the gap wasn't coming down from about 2 1/2 minutes as we approached the first major difficulty of the stage, the Te Wharau climb. The other Teams seemed content to just ride negatively and follow our wheels, so Susy decided the plan would have to be adapted.

She directed Dotsie to launch Ruth up Te Wharau, and we watched in awe as Dotsie detonated a bomb in the peloton! Her lead out changed the whole face of the race, putting the majority of the field into difficulty they'd never recover from. We cheered as we watched Ruth soar free, with no one able to hold her wheel.

The action was too far away for my poor camera to deal with, but here's a shot as we approached the summit of this nasty climb.

By this time we weren't getting any race updates, and our position as Car 7 for the day had us a long way back, so we had no real idea if Ruth was crossing the two minute gap or what was happening. I enjoyed the invigorating drive down the other side of Te Wharau though, as we raced past the shattered field with our tyres screeching and Chris expertly handling the juxtaposition of sharp corners and exhausted riders.

We hit the flat section of road between Te Wharau and the final ascent up Admirals still not knowing what the race situation was ahead, but hoping that Ruth had bridged to the break to put herself in a position to take the yellow jersey of race winner.

We passed the yellow jersey of the past two days, Rochelle Gilmore (Aus), dropped as she would have expected to be.

Then Dotsie, still working hard but also behind.

Then our worst fears were realised - just as we hit the first slopes of the dreaded Admirals Hill race radio sputtered back into life to inform us that Peta was ahead, being closed in on by a break and that Ruth had actually been five minutes behind. At that point we knew the race was done - even a motorbike would have had trouble closing five minutes!

The drama was unfolding well ahead of us, but the dropped riders kept on coming as the convoy wended it's way up the hill...

The car was quiet as we all absorbed the news that the race had gotten away from us. The lack of timely communications compounded our feelings of frustration - all we could do now was wait and see who actually took the race out, as the news that Peta had lost her frontrunners position came through.

The view from halfway up is stunning, with the clouds looming ominously.

As we approached the false summit we were treated to the sight of teammates (won't say which team, sorry!) attacking and chasing each other down, as team tactics were chucked out in place of selfish posturing for the minor places. Incredible.

We arrived at the finish knowing only that Ruth had made up over two minutes on the climb and was in the fight for third on the stage - an incredible fightback, as she had caught and passed almost everyone from the leading break. Unfortunately, a tired mis-shift cost her 3rd place, but what a valiant 4th it was.

Poor Ruth was in despair, and the rest of us were pretty gutted too. Our disappointment was tempered with admiration for the brave and deserving winner of the stage and final overall Tour GC - Amber Halliday from MB Cycles had been in the chasing break or in the lead for 70 kilometres, holding her lead to win by 1.27 and nearly three minutes over Ruth in 4th place. As Susy said, a victory earned through daring is easy to admire.

The final jerseys were awarded swiftly, to allow Teams to get off the hill at the first opportunity. Here's a still stunned QOM Ruth next to Yellow Jersey Amber Halliday.

As the presentations were winding up Dotsie crossed the line, wondering what had happened as she fought her way up the hill for a fine 22nd on the stage.

A jubilant Paul Larkin rushed up to me and pressed a programme into my hands - one of the first things he did when his Team were celebrating their stunning victory was to ask Amber to sign it for my Archives. Note also Ambers waymarkers, like the ones I was discussing earlier. Chur, bro!

After a bit of a post-stage post-mortem, and some congratulations and banter with other finishers and Team personnel, it was time to head back to HQ, so I jumped in the BioVapor van with Mark to drive back down the hill. As we drove we passed Dotsie and Ruth, who were having a warm-down combined with a Dotsie Special Pep Talk that seemed to do Ruth a world of good...

Once we had all returned safely to the Overlook Susy gathered us all up for a debrief, where she basically told us that we had all done everything expected of us but that that was bike racing. Despite our reasonable hope (expectation?) that we would win the race overall, a daring venture had taken it away from us. Poor communications and other Team tactics were out of our hands, and the myriad vagaries of cycle sport are such that no win can ever be guaranteed until the final line is crossed.

The meeting ended with everyone in great spirits again. As Susy had pointed out, our Team was harmonious and happy, we hadn't had any disasters, we had definitely done all we could, and had made very few mistakes over the Tour - not bad for a new unit still getting to grips with each other! We might have quaffed a wine or two that evening, and we sure had a lot of laughs.

At the end of the evening, I was proud and honoured to be presented Ruth's final overall QOM jersey - the Team all wrote a wee note for me, and Ruth handed it over with some lovely words of her own.

I'll be back in a day or two to wrap up this Epic Saga with the UCU 1.1 International Cup. As ever, thanks for reading. Cheers, Oli


Amber said...

After finally working out who it was in the break, some kind words were said about the win. Cheers bro.
Amber Halliday

Oli said...

I was sort of trying to write as it seemed to us at the time - we never actually heard your name until your great victory! Thanks for the comment Amber, all the best.