Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Tour of Doonhame.

I set off from Bristol in bright sunshine around 9.00am driving the Rapha Condor Sharp van with Dan  and masseur Maria on board whilst Tom drove the team car with Zak  to pick up Ben on the way. Our rendezvous point was a ‘servo’(to us Brits a motorway service station) in Cumbria. The plan was to make Dumfries by 3.30pm so the riders could go for a spin. Well, the British love of spending their Bank holidays parked up on motorways made the journey a long one but we arrived with enough time for them to have a very quick ride before massages, supper and team meeting. Here we put together a plan, a loose one; if there’s a break at least one rider must be in it or if it comes to a bunch sprint it would be Zak or Dean, the others leading them out.
I’m up at 6am and opened the curtains, what the heck??? Everything was soaking wet, where the hell has the sunshine gone? Gone east, it’s certainly not here.  It rained all day making Stage 1 of the Tour of Doonhame a memorable one.
At the start 142 riders rolled out in blotchy rain and 15 degrees, by twenty miles it was teeming down and 10 degrees, at the top of the main climb it was pouring rain through thick grey mist and only 8 degrees. Water carrying little sharp pieces of grit was pouring onto the narrow, winding, potholed, rural lanes. This was a recipe for punctures, mechanicals and crashes. It was carnage, every few hundred meters riders dropped away from the peleton with an arm in the air. The team cars were constantly in action, charging up and down the convoy replacing wheels or pacing riders back to the main bunch. Our final total was seven plus a bike change. Tom did sterling work dropping back to pace his team mates back on or getting back himself back having giving them his wheel. After thirteen punctures, Motorpoint ran out of spare wheels, their rider with the fourteenth plugging on uphill on a flat back wheel as the team car desperately tried to borrow one. I don’t see individual riders in a race, I’m too busy concentrating on my own team, but I spied two local Cornish riders, Chris Opie standing by the road with a wheel in the air and Steve Lampier, looking very strong, as he charged past the car on his way back to the front.
After the final climb we still had four riders in the front twenty eight man group from which the final eight man break formed on the long downhill run back to Moffat. We, mechanic Spike and I, could see the break way down the long sweeping roads but couldn’t make out the riders in it. We waited for the radio to start giving out the numbers, hoping a Rapha Condor Sharp rider was amongst them. When the radio began to crackle my heart started to sink as they are all high numbers (ours are 1 to 7) but then last of all they announced number 6, that’s Zak. Great, his good form could get him the win but he was beaten into second in the sprint by ex Rapha Condor Sharp rider Matt Cronshaw, who with time bonuses took the first yellow jersey, leading Zak by nine seconds.
Even with all the chaos caused by the conditions it was a good day’s racing and second wasn’t too bad.
 The sun came out and it was another good day’s racing, although Rapha Condor Sharp appeared to like the number two. On the second stage, Zak was second again, so was still in second place but now only by two seconds. We had had a plan to take yellow and it so nearly came off.
At the team meeting the previous night it was decided to work for Zak. There were the two hotspots sprints where time bonuses of 3,2, 1 seconds were available and another 10, 6 and 4 seconds at the finish line, the plan was to get Zak into a position to nab the required time to secure yellow. That meant we didn’t want any soft breaks going off up the road to take the precious seconds.
It started well, the team car was second in the convoy and I could see Rapha Condor Sharp riders closing down any attempted attacks. Unfortunately, a single Endura rider clipped off and took the first sprint but we heard over the race radio that Zak had got third place and therefore one second. The deficit was now eight seconds.
 Soon after the sprint another attack was covered by  Dean, it’s just two of them and with sixty miles to the finish; I didn’t think it would be a problem. Then a group of five got across and the lead started to steadily increase. The other Rapha Condor Sharp riders had stayed with Zak. I sat in the convoy, dealing with our punctures, four today and one nasty crash for Dan who needed a bike change(he kept riding but came in well down) wondering and fretting about this break. This is just what we didn’t want, the leading Raleigh team aren’t particularly concerned, if these guys stayed away they would soak up the next sprint and possibly the finish, removing Zak’s threat for the day, so won’t work at the front. The hot spot sprint is reached, the break goes through, we don’t win any time bonuses, flipping heck.
The break continued and I can see the black Rapha Condor Sharp jerseys have taken up the chase. It’s a hard work and they only closed the gap with about five miles to go, after which Ben and Tom, who had been doing the bulk of the chasing, slipped past us, work over. Now the sprint team kicked into action keeping the bunch together and setting Zak up for the final sprint where he collected second place and six precious seconds, still two short.
At the end I was only frustrated with the result but the team roll in very tired. They had to worked really hard to reel the break back with all the other teams having a relative easy day. I wondered how this would affect them but by the team meeting, held after supper, they were back to normal and the plan is simple; Zak needed just three seconds to go into the lead. Three hot spot sprints plus time bonuses at the finish means there were nineteen seconds up for grabs. We planned to take the three we need as soon as possible and then defend the lead.

The stage started brilliantly with every attack nullified by Rapha Condor Sharp until the first sprint where Zack took first place and three seconds, putting him in yellow ‘on the road’. We now had to defend his position and with 80 odd miles to go it wouldn’t be easy. Raleigh, Motorpoint, Sigma and Endura all have riders within a few seconds of Zak. Their attacks came in thick and fast but the men in black maintained a steady pace at the front and brought them back. Eventually an attack established itself and started to make time on the Rapha Condor Sharp led bunch; with no other team helping it was all down to us.
As the break’s lead passed 1.10mins we technically lost the yellow jersey but with 40 miles left I felt it would be OK, they will tire, but at nearly two and a half minutes with twenty five miles to go I was getting concerned. Especially when turning a corner I suddenly spied two black Rapha Condor Sharp jerseys by the side of the road, worse still one is Zak who had punctured. The other  is Briggsey who is giving him his wheel. In the car we flew into action, as I braked to let Spike out, I spotted another black jersey waiting down the road, it’s Dean. We changed the wheel and I accelerated away pulling over just in front of Zak and started to pace him back to the convoy. We are approaching a hill and I suddenly saw two Endura riders attacking up it, shit, shit. I had Zak plus Dean and Briggsey on my bumper and then come across Tom who has also dropped back to help the chase. I was soon back in the convoy and with no commisaires about paced the riders as far as I could before they clipped off and linked up with the rear of the bunch. We had got them back very quickly but they had still got to get back up to the front of the bunch. The radio soon informed us that only one Endura was still off the front but I was concerned about the break as the chase would have been disrupted.
After their one rider is reeled in, Endura and then Raleigh started coming to the front to help pull the break back partly in the hope that our team were tired and so leave Zak exposed to counter attacks. After working all day some of them were, and first Dan, then Tom and Ben, having done their jobs dropped away and trail off behind us. We now had four riders left to take Zak towards Castle Douglas. The break was all but caught, they were just ten or fifteen seconds in front of the bunch, tantalisingly close but the Rapha Condor Sharp riders, still in charge at the front, cleverly left them dangling there as long as possible knowing that as soon as they were caught, counter attacks will come. The final junction was only made with six miles to go and I felt confident that was too close for any other rider to gain time on Zak. He had been in 4th or 5th place at the head of the bunch showing his good form and confidence, whereas the yellow jersey has been sitting in the middle, to me a sign that he lacked it. I felt sure Zak could manage to win now; all he had to do was beat Croshaw in the sprint and we had the race.
Into the final straight we were well behind the leading riders and as I drove up the final uphill straight I was desperately listening or looking for evidence of what had happened. Had we won? Over the line, I spy the boys all grouped around Zak, embracing and laughing. The answer is, yes we had.
So how do you celebrate a race win? You shake all the riders hands, then get to work, drinks and food for the riders, collect race numbers and transponders, fend off an irate Endura manager who Tom had sworn at for his riders attacking when Zak had a puncture, drive to the hotel, pack the cars and van, sort the bikes and start driving south, six hours back to Bristol, arriving back at 11.00pm feeling knackered. Welcome to the world of cycling, job done what’s the next race. I love it.

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