Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Castle

And I did mention in the earlier post that we stayed in a castle, even with a moat too! All the other teams were there as well, inside it was much like a dorm room. One big room with 8 bunk beds and a sink. Public showers and bathrooms but no dungeon, least not one I saw.I didn't get any of the inside, looking back I wish I did cause there is a nice courtyard in there with a fountain too. Next year!

Triptique de Ardenae

Last weekend I got the chance to be a team mechanic instead of a racer since I am on the injured list from a little tendinitis in my right knee, :(
Being a mechanic in a shop and a mechanic on the road for a team is a little different. For the most part its a pretty laid back job but its a lot of work.......a LOT of work. Here was my daily routine-depending upon what time the stage started of course. Wake up at 5:45 to be in the dining hall at 6am, we stayed in a castle btw.....more on that in a bit. Go out to the team car and unload all the bikes from the team van. At this point all teh bikes are cleaned by me already from the evening before. Since we ride tubular tires that have latex tubes, the tires need to be pumped up every morning. And that goes for all the spare bikes and spare wheels too. Thats a lot of pumping! I think Arnold S. said it best.....
After that the spare bikes go on top of the team car in a specified order which is then memorized by me so that I know exactly which bike to run to and rip off the car roof when a rider needs a bike. Three to four sets of wheels go into the team car along with my selection of tools that may or may not be needed during the race while I ride in the caravan.
At this time the riders are getting ready and loading up into the vans. Once we get to the stage, we roll out the awnings on the side of the team van for shade or to get out of the rain. Most times its to get out of the rain, it is Belgium. All the race bikes are set up and put in their upright stands. Race numbers are secured underneath the saddle, and then the chains are lubed. I find it better to lube the chain after it has dried from the cleaning of the night. By now all the bikes are ready to go and everything at this point are double and triple checks and the occasional cassette change due to the indecisiveness of a rider or two, don't worry Paavo I wont mention your name.
Now I climb into the team car and wait for the start. Depending on how well our team is doing during the stage race we move up or back in the race caravan. Ideally you want your team car to have first position so when you need something like a tire or even just some bottles the team car is right there with you. Now with Dieter driving there will be no delay, even if he is 25th car (which we were the first day) he will force his way through the caravan to get to the riders. It can be quite terrifying at times. Most of these road are quite narrow with steep descents along with crazy euro drivers.
I actually only did one bike change and one wheel change. None of our guys had any flats but we did have a broken spoke which the neutral Mavic car helped us out with when our rider was in a break.
After the stage all the bikes are washed and any mechanic problem is fixed. It's like giving each bike a basic tune every night with no grease left on any part of the chain, cassette, or crank. The bikes must be spotless.
If your good and everything goes smooth, we can be done by dinner time. If not then I stay until its done. The mechanics don't sleep until everything is working correctly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Tour in France

Well, we just got back from the Tour de la Manche in France. From here in Oostkamp it's a 6 hour drive but we did it in sections. On the way we raced in the town of Beauchamps as a tune up. Stayed for a couple days then continued on to Normandy.
My directions for Beauchamps were to race for two hours then stop since I raced a couple days before at Hoboken, a 180k uci race which was the first race I finished since being here so that felt pretty good. The course at Beauchamps had a long drag of a hill, big ring, with a very exposed backside section that led into a fast downhill to complete the loop. The first lap around I heard a tire pop around me just as we were starting the climb for the first time. I thought to myself, "man that sucks to get a flat here," I then looked down and realized it was me! I made a quick decision and to get it changed at the bottom of the hill for a better chance to catch on before all hell broke loose at the top with the cross winds. I fought my way through the caravan and made sure to stay as close as possible to the cars and wait for the tailwind section to catch on. The course made a slight right out of the cross wind and into a slight tail. The buildings provided some protection from the wind so I took the opportunity to catch back on to the pack. By this time the field had already shattered and I was stuck in the back group. I continued on for a couple more laps, finishing with a huge effort to bring our group back together with a group just up the road. Peter and Paavo made one the front groups to finish somewhere around the top 20 I think.
After the race we stayed in the town for two days to do some riding before we continued on to the area of Normandy for the tour de la Manche.
Our hotel was part of a beach resort where lots of little houses were grouped together for families, tourists, and the occasional stage race. The first stage was long but fairly uneventful. A break went but was brought back in the local laps. We stayed close to teh front and raced as a team, trying for get a guy into a move of some sort. The second day was a two stager. The time trial in the morning then a 100k stage in the afternoon. I had a pretty good tt, rolled a 19:04 and I think the winner was around 17:30 something putting my in around 45th in gc which I kept until the last day. The third day was the biggest day. Early on I made the break for about 80k and then we were reeled back in before the local laps. It was on the second to last lap when Paavo took first in the points sprint and nabbed the sprint jersey. The stink of it was he didn't get to wear it for the fourth day. It seems the french made a "mistake" in tallying the points and had a different agenda for a french rider rather than a Finnish rider.
The fourth day was the most difficult. Attack after attack and some fast descents. The finishing laps were super difficult. There was a fast hairpin downhill that brought us to the center of a town on the coast (the town of Pontorson). The course then led us through narrow streets that brought us to an uphill finish. I held on until the third to last lap and was then on my own with nothing left in the tank. I wanted to keep a spot in the gc so I continued on by myself to come in around 75th. Even when I was riding by myself, the french fans still cheered me on as I climbed the hill again and again. The announcer even called out my name! I could at least translate that through all the suffering lol.
All in all I was very happy with how the race went. As a team, we didn't have our top riders in good form due to sickness so we could have done better but with what we brought to the table on the start line in the first stage, I feel we rode very well as a team and built a lot of confidence with each other.
Next weekend is a stage race in the Ardennes, I am going with the team but will be on the reserve list. My skills as a mechanic keep my in high demand around here ;)
They want me to recover fully from a 5 stage race instead of racing me into the least not to soon.