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2010 Vatternrundan

By Guest, in Articles,

Teaser Paragraph:

The road went up steadily just before Jonkoping and I soon felt the effects of not drinking enough in the build up and then working quite hard early on. I had absolutely no power in my legs, earlier I had said that I may push on if I was feeling good so didnt think it right to give them a shout as I dropped out of the back of the group.

The 300 km VÄTTERNRUNDAN in Sweden, is the one of the longest sportives in the world.

Last Sunday I had an awesome ride in Norway - I has felt invincible. 300km should be a walk in the park = but had I recovered?

Above: Time to unpack

On the start line I was feeling relaxed, a bit of excitement but no real stress. I had done 430k in the past so 300k was going to be a breeze, especially after the last 2 weekends rides.

we started at 5:06am it was light, dry but windy. we set off steady for the first k or so and then I went to the front and started to drag us back up to the back of a pack that looked to be moving well. Our start group consisted of around 80 riders with 12 of those from our company, QlikTech, and ranged from an Iron Man and veteran of 8 marathons (our CEO) through to people who had bought a bike in March and trained when they could fit it in. I was expected to be the strongest rider and the one that would finish first and on present form I had to agree.

On the back of the group we were at least out of the cold string headwind. The pace was quite high and I was keen on keeping it that way so regularly hit the front and put in some strong pulls, we were averaging over 30kph and i was wondering about the possibilities of a sub 10 hour finish until a few hours in at around 75k when the wheels fell off my ride

Above: 06:56 -Nutricious and delicious! First food stop, meatballs, gherkins and mashed spuds.

There were 3 left from our group and we were in a fast moving pack. The road went up steadily just before Jonkoping and I soon felt the effects of not drinking enough in the build up and then working quite hard early on. I had absolutely no power in my legs, earlier I had said that I may push on if I was feeling good so didnt think it right to give them a shout as I dropped out of the back of the group. I was gutted, if I had not been so complacent and had thought about drinking more then I think this could have been avoided

Above: Going Well

Climbing out of Jonkoping at about 100k I had a text from a friend of mine, I had been blogging from the phone as I rode and the message that I saw really helped raise my spirits again. Between the messages and the amount I had started to eat and drink I managed to start to feel a bit better and pulled back 2 of the 7 minutes I had dropped to meet up again with Jimmie and Lars at the Fagernes feed station

By this point we were riding up the west side of the lake turning the headwind into a mainly tailwind. We decided to stick together as a 3 which worked really well. we were all in the same kit, evenly balanced and we were on a mission all doing good strong pulls. The average was rising and went to over 32kph, we were hardly being passed and it was great to be riding with such strong guys. Each time we looked back there would be a group of 10 or so others hanging off our wheels but we were happy to be doing the work.

Just before we reach Hjo the road turned really wet but luckily we missed the shower that had caused it however we did end up getting soaked but it didnt matter it was great to be working at 90% with water flying up into your face, eyes protected by sunglasses

From here on it gets a bit hazy, we all worked as hard as we could which in turn resulted in needing to stop at the remaining feed stop s to recover which unfortunately did cost us our sub 10 hour time. Lars faded with about 60k to go but could still hold a wheel so Jimmie and I worked together until about 20k to go, from then Jimmie, the 55 year young animal, dragged us both to the line

We crossed the line in 10 hours and 11 minutes for 300km which was outside the sub 10 hours target that was our informal target but the real goal had been to get around in 10 hours something

Amazingly the other 9 riders all finished the ride successfully with the longest time for our group being around 14 hours. The fastest person on the course came in at just over 7 hours (part of a team who wore TT helmets and had a service car) with the slowest being around 25 hours

Stats from the ride can be found here http://connect.garmi...tivity/37597832
Time: 10:12:37
Moving Time: 09:25:30
Elapsed Time: 10:12:37
Avg Speed: 28.9 km/h
Avg Moving Speed: 31.3 km/h
Max Speed: 64.4 km/h

This brought us in at 3323 out of 16000

My takeaway from this ride is to take the prep a bit more seriously, Im glad it happened on this ride rather than Norway! That could have made for a long day!

Teaser Paragraph:

At the top we were at 1300m and faced 6k of descending, interspersed with some short kick-ups. The descent was horrible, the coldest and wettest I have ever been on a bike. Normally you are worried about the climbs, on this ride it was the descents! My arms started shaking uncontrollably, making it very hard to control the bike and therefore having to slow right down to avoid losing it in the corners. I tried to keep the pedals turning but it's not enough to counter the fierce cooling effect of a 60kph descent.

The 2010 Gran Fondo Sportful - Wet Wet Wet!

Woke up this morning at 5am to a loud pattering of rain. It was a sound that I was to get used to during the day. Outside temp was about 9C and we knew it would be a lot colder up in the mountains, so as Jon said a lot of people made the wise move to pull out of the event. I decided to give it a go on the basis that I could always turn back after 25k if it was bad.

This was basically going to be like a wet winter ride. Taking into account the height, the temperature would be below 5C at the top of the climbs and about 7C at the average height that we would be riding at. With the windchill and the rain it was going to feel an awful lot colder. I had my long-sleeve jersey but no bib-longs so had to make do with 3/4s and the 1 base layer that I had brought. I had planned to try to make do with just a gilet on top for the descents this year, but it was definitely a case for the full Goretex rain jacket in today's conditions.

I had a fairly early start number of 757 out of around 3000, probably as a result of having done the event last year and/or registering early. All the other foreigners has been given numbers at around 2000. However the field had thinned out a lot and the normally crammed pens were less than 1/4 full, so the groups all started fairly close together.

Saw Fraser, Howard and Mark zoom past me about 10k into the ride and said hello. They must have started a few minutes later but were clearly going for a good time and were going well.

The first 38k are rolling and the rain, which had been constant since leaving the Villa, now got heavier. It quickly penetrated everything apart from my torso that was wrapped up in the rain jacket. Even though Goretex is "fully waterproof" the rain somehow seeps down your neck, up your sleeves and even gradually soaks up from the waste. By the end of the ride I was left with a dry patch mid-chest but wet everywhere else. I was rolling along in a big group for a lot of the time and not working too hard, but this meant I was getting very cold. A lot of riders were seen heading the other way back into Feltre and I very nearly turned round and followed them after about 30k. However I thought I would just see what the first climb felt like.

The first climb of the Forcella Franche is a 400m 5 kilometer climb that tops out at 992m. It is not too steep and was mostly seen off in 34-24 without much sweat. The effort warmed me up and I felt a lot more comfortable. However the worrying thing was that I didn't even need to crack open the zip of my rain jacket to let out some heat on the climb - not a good sign!

There is short descent off the climb. As soon as I picked up speed my hands and face immediately went numb and it felt very cold, giving a taster of what was to come.

I had already decided to do the 122km Medio course before we reached the split point at Voltago, 51k into the ride. When we got there the organisers had closed the Gran Fondo course; even in its shortened format it was deemed that the conditions were too bad for anyone to do it. So everyone would do the Medio.

Straight away we started the long and gentle 450m climb of the Forcella Aurine. The rain eased off considerably and I started to enjoy the ride as the climb warmed me again. Soon though everyone's breath turned to clouds of steam as the temperature dropped and it was another bad sign.

At the top we were at 1300m and faced 6k of descending, interspersed with some short kick-ups. The descent was horrible, the coldest and wettest I have ever been on a bike. Normally you are worried about the climbs, on this ride it was the descents! My arms started shaking uncontrollably, making it very hard to control the bike and therefore having to slow right down to avoid losing it in the corners. I tried to keep the pedals turning but it's not enough to counter the fierce cooling effect of a 60kph descent.

The beginning of the Passo Cereda climb was a welcome relief as you could work again to generate heat. The height gain is about 400m in 3k so quite a stiff climb but I loved it. All too soon we were at the top, it was the coldest point of the ride, now raining hard again and the next 30k is downhill. The descent off the Cereda is a beautiful wide smooth sweeping descent that you could really get some pace on with a warm dry day. But again I was shaking uncontrollably and had to slow things down to stay upright. Thoughts like why the hell am I doing this went through my mind. It easily beat the Aurine descent for the coldest and wettest I have ever been on a bike! It is the first time I have seen people WALKING on a descent, they were so cold. By the time we reached the feed staion at Imer, 84k into the ride, I was seriously hypothermic. I stayed there for a while and downed two hot drinks which gradually began to make me feel better. Everyone arriving there was in the same state or worse, many packing in the ride.

A very hard-working paramedic lady was fitting people with silver survival blankets underneath their rain jackets, so I got one of those. It made an amazing difference and I soon started thinking that the easiest way to get warm would be to go bike riding, so off I went again. There is a nice flat road back into Feltre, smooth like only Italian roads are, and with my new silver layer I was feeling ok again. A group formed and I had plenty of energy left as I hadn't really done much actual work so far, having taken it pretty easy on the climbs and been in some good groups for much of the way. I therefore towed the group most of the way through to the bottom of the climb of the Passo de Croce D'Aune. Felt pretty good on the climb too, and even though it was very wet I was able to take the descent pretty fast as it's the fourth time now that I've done it.

Not sure what my overall time was as the battery on my bike computer died on the Cereda descent (cold causing voltage drop I guess), but I was just happy to have completed the ride due to the conditions. It just shows how much you can push yourself when the conditions are really tough and you think you've come to the end of your endurance. I even managed to ride up the gravel drive to the Villa at the end of ride which if you've seen it is quite an achievement.

Mark Sterling, Botley Writes:

We were staying in Treviso which was an hour from the event so drove into Feltre in the rain looking forward to a pretty wet day on the bike. Once in the start pen we heard the announcement that everyone had to do the medio route, which I have to admit was very welcome news.

Within minutes of the start we were all soaked through and with thunder and lightening as a soundtrack we headed into the hills with the climbs providing a chance to generate a bit of welcome body heat.

Howard punctured pretty soon into the ride but said not to wait so Fraser and me continued on. At the first feed stop they were giving out warm drinks which were very nice but it took ages to get warmed up again once back on the bike so I decided not to stop at any of the other feed stations.

Fraser then had to pull over for a call of nature, possibly because of the continual sound of running water, so I carried on solo.

The descent after the 2nd feed station was the coldest point of the ride with my bike vibrating as I shivered uncontrollably. Then at the bottom things got even worse when I punctured. I stood by the side of the road shivering voliently unable to open my saddle bag. Luckily 2 of the marshals came over and swapped my tube for me, which meant I could get going again, but lost a load of time. It was worth it though just to see the look of amazement on their faces when, after asking me for my pump, I proceeded to almost blow the tyre off the rim with a CO2 cannister.

Once back on the bike I guessed Fraser and Howard had passed me, which they had, so I spent the rest of the ride just trying to make up as much time as possible. Turns out Howard and done a fantastic ride in 5:02 and Fraser had done an extremely respectable 5:16. I dragged myself in at 5:27.

Once finished I got completly lost in Feltre trying to find where we had parked the cars and by the time I bumped into the others I'd totally lost the plot. Things were OK though after I'd warmed up in the car, changed and had had a plateful of pasta etc at the HQ.

As for the rest of the weekend it was a really great trip with excellent company. Certainly the stuff that memories are made of.

John Skidmore, Bristol Writes:

Excellent write up chaps and major respect (again). My decision to pull out was right for me as I'm not near the standard of you guys and if I hadn't done major damage to myself on the descents I'd have probably caused damage to other people.

Anyway, looking back on it I had a great weekend away although I would have preferred a bit more time on the bike. I've put together a few pics Chris and myself took on the trip that should start a slidehow here,


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There weren't any major climbs, but every hill combined with the strong headwind felt like riding up Butser hill ! Everyone was feeling it and towards the end, there were even riders dismounting. I eventually got back in 04h15m (riding time) at an average speed of 17mph/27.3kph.

One of my new year's resolutions was to only sign up for Sportives I had never ridden before. The Squires & Spires was the first of four I had chosen.

It takes place in Naseby Northamptonshire. The weather I experienced driving up the night before didn't look too promising with gale force winds and 'horizontal' rain !

The next day was pretty much the same though fortunately, without the rain. On arriving at the start, I decided to warm myself up with a hot cup of tea. By the time I had walked 200m from the burger van to my parked car, my piping hot tea had turned lukewarm . Using this as a barometer, I decided to put on an extra base layer, my rain jacket and two pairs of socks ! I am so glad that I brought a pair of winter gloves. I am also glad that I didn't get round to getting my hair cut as I didn't bring a skull cap! Looking at the other riders, it seemed more like a November reliability ride rather than a Spring Sportive. Some had obviously been keeping tabs on the forecast as many riders turned up in full winter gear and with winter bikes !

A few people obviously hadn't and turned up wearing short sleeved shirts and shorts !! How they got round without getting hyperthermia, I don't know. The organisation was pretty good with ample parking space and an organised queue to the start. I was a little surprised to see that the timing was done manually and that we weren't given timing chips. I did look out for i-team jerseys as I know a couple of you rode this one last year, but I didn't see anyone else. We were told that the route had been cut short by 5 miles to avoid a clash with the VW Camper Van enthusiasts who attend a nearby rally on the same day.

Total distance was reduced to 73 miles / 117km. The first 20 miles went smoothly. In fact, I couldn't believe that I was riding a Sportive. It was so flat and the wind was behind us meaning I was coasting along quite nicely. The number of riders thinned out after the turning off point for the shorter 50 mile route. I wasn't aiming for any particular time, but I started thinking that I would finish this one in a fairly fast time. An hour into the ride and a turn in a different direction onto the first hill and into a headwind made me think otherwise. It was pretty much like this for the rest of the ride, hill, headwind, hill, side-wind, hill, headwind, hill side-wind etc .

There weren't any major climbs, but every hill combined with the strong headwind felt like riding up Butser hill ! Everyone was feeling it and towards the end, there were even riders dismounting. I eventually got back in 04h15m (riding time) at an average speed of 17mph/27.3kph. Total elapsed time was 04h24:17 taking into account feed stations and toilet stops.

Before setting off back home, I thought I would treat myself to a bacon and egg baguette from the burger van and another lukewarm cup of tea. As I sat in the car tucking into my baguette with the heating on and listening to the football, some riders (not being content with freezing their b***s off on a bike) were having a 'warm-down' run in the car park ! By this time it felt even colder outside and it started to rain ! Overall, I am glad I did the ride and I imagine it is a good route to get a sub-4hour time on a sunny day with no wind. I saw on the website that 700 people had signed up for the event and only 570 managed to make the start line. Taking into account the fact that I rode 95% of the ride solo and 70% in a headwind, I think I did all right .

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The course itself is quite tough as each lap (3 laps) on the bike has a nice climb midway as well as a technical undulating section through a park and around the beachfront. The run is quite undulating and is one of those courses where down is steep but up is generally a long set of inclines giving you the feeling of having to run uphill for a lot longer than you would have preferred – is this incline ever going to end – ring any bells?

G'day all...

I am sure many of you have been in race situations where you have high expectations, then Wack!! (kick in the proverbials! You pull yourself together and get on with it! Well this is one of those...

This event in Geelong is the only Half Ironman in Australia which is part of the world 70.3 series so it attracts some big names and they don't come any bigger than the current World Ironman Champion, Craig Alexander, he and super Brit Chrissie Wellington have dominated Kona the last few years!

The course itself is quite tough as each lap (3 laps) on the bike has a nice climb midway as well as a technical undulating section through a park and around the beachfront. The run is quite undulating and is one of those courses where down is steep but up is generally a long set of inclines giving you the feeling of having to run uphill for a lot longer than you would have preferred – is this incline ever going to end – ring any bells?

Going into this event I had trained pretty well and most of all consistently since the Gold Coast race back in October last year. I did a 'B' race as training in December at Bribie Island, a distance of 1km/30km/8km (1hour 32mins) and a 'C' race two weeks out at Noosa over Olympic Distance 1.5km/40km/10km (2hours 16mins ) so all looked pretty good to beat my target of sub 5 hours for Half Ironman distance 1.9km/90km/21.1km.

I arrived in Geelong (1 hour drive south of Melbourne) on the Friday afternoon and as soon as I was checked into the accommodation and assembled my bike I took in a nice little leg stretching run of around 5km along the sea front, very nice.

Saturday was registration day and also an opportunity to take in a gentle ride around 1 lap of the bike course before having to leave the steed in transition. I also stopped by the local aquatic centre for a quick 1km swim just to complete all the preparation for Sunday!

On the Sunday morning after awaking at 0400 I duly arrived at the transition zone in the dark to register again for the swim, go through the towel laying ritual and generally setting up my 'pog' for the race. The atmosphere was a buzz, lots of handshakes and backslapping as part of the good luck, race well discussions.

After climbing into my wetsuit with the aid of plenty of BodyGlide I walked into the bay to carry out my warm-up routine for 15mins or so. All good so far then!

By this time the sun had peaked over the horizon and the bay was bathed in sunshine. A quick look around for the buoys and markers etc, all looked in order except that the two catamarans parked quite close to the course had not been moved as was indicated in the briefing the day before. Still they were about 30m away from the line of buoys so what was all the fuss about! Little did I know what the impact of this was going to be

This event was a mass start of 1200+ individuals plus team members starting the swim. We had different coloured swim caps based upon a speed seeding Blue (fastest), white, Orange and Green. We were all supposed to assemble by designated marker buoys based upon our seeding, but these were none existent so the Blues lined up in front followed by the whites etc. Only problem was that all 1200+ were crammed within a 30m starting line, so very bunched up.

The hooter sounded and the washing machine was switched on. I really do mean a washing machine it was mayhem! I managed to get myself into some kind of rhythm after 200m or so but I was still going too fast (for my capability). At about the 300m point the bumping and bashing started to get worse (the funnel effect brought about by the catamarans!!), and I got my goggles knocked Wearing contact lenses this was a bit of an issue and I tried to fix but to no avail since I was being swum over etc. So ploughed on but very soon goggles got hit again. This time both eyes were exposed to the water so I had to try and adjust. I think I must have swallowed about a litre of sea water during this process. Once partially adjusted I set off again still in the thick of it and suddenly felt a big drag on my back along with a sudden rush of cooler water. My wetsuit zip had been pulled open.

By this time I was in a right state mentally, with not being able to see properly, the adrenalin flowing by the bucket load, I was singing expletives by the dozen and to add insult to injury all of a sudden some big jelly fish were around me – I mean big ones mate!

I was on the verge of a panic and in a split second my head said get out of the wash and find stable water. So I fought my way to the side got into some clear water and just laid on my back to calm down and compose myself. After a couple of mins I had finished giving myself a severe 'finger pointing' and focussed on fixing my goggles, my wetsuit and thought about how can I salvage the day given that my race had been totally compromised within 500m of the start! I had to think positively and convinced myself that a sub 5 hour was still within reach – but it would be tight.

I got out of the bay and ran towards my bike noting a time of around 36mins – way down on my target of 30mins or less! The transition to the bike was ok, swilled down some fresh water to help dilute the salty water I had swallowed and I set off like a 'Bat out of Hell' to chase the clock I was steaming the first section at 40kph+ until I got to the hill when despite slowing I still pushed around 30kph up the hill. I was actually passing too many people.

At around the 20km mark I realised that I was being a complete buffoon and dropped the pace to around 37kph with at this stage, a view that my average would end up at around 36kph thereby clawing back a bit of time. I know I could go faster but given the run was not flat I had to leave more than a sniff of fuel in the tank.
The second lap went without incident, and the nutrition plan was being applied with absolute precision so things were looking brighter.

The final lap was when the earlier buffoonery started to bite me. Although I was still able to hold 37-38kph it was beginning to hurt and the final climb up the hill saw me slow down dramatically to around 22-23kph. I knew that if I did not ease off then I would end up a personal worse on the run. So I eased back to 34-35kph for the last 12km or so to give the legs a bit of a recovery.

After transiting to the run I looked at my watch and saw that I needed to complete the 21.1km run in about 1hour 45mins. The legs were feeling stiff and I had the odd bit of cramp but I had to keep stretching out and hoped that this would be the cure. After about 5km this did the trick and I continued at a steady pace of 5min/km. First lap completed and got overtaken by Craig (World Champ) as he was going to the finishing line!

The second lap was a continuation of nutrition and focus but relax. By the time the third and final lap came around I knew it was going to be tight I was averaging about 5:05min/km which I knew I had to improve upon if only slightly.

Although I was feeling far more comfortable for this event than at the Gold Coast I was still mentally smarting from the swim and I was desperately looking for the 18km mark knowing that once I saw that then it was 1km up an incline down the hill and a long flat section to the finish.

The 18km mark eventually arrived and I continued up the final incline then down a steep section before I saw the 20km mark. 1.1km to go then...

By now I knew this was going to be really touch and go so gave all I could. I could now see the finish but agonisingly I had to run past it then turn back upon myself to get to it. My legs were going as fast as they could, the heart had it all, the head was willing me on but the legs just didn't want to turn quick enough. I didn't know whether to be angry, cry or what! And as I turned the final corner I had 30seconds to run about 300m in order to do a sub 5 hour. I knew I was not going to make it! I was feeling empty but gave it all as I crossed the line. I stopped my watch on 5:00:37, official time given as 5:00:35 so yet again I had missed my goal by seconds

After occupying a recovery chair for 5 mins or so and once I had spoken to others whilst munching my recovery meal of fruit salad and ice-cream – yum yum I had a chance to really reflect back on the race. I am not disappointed, as this was a tougher course than the Gold Coast and I did have a major upset at the start. Without that I am certain I would have blasted the 5 hour mark. So I take away the positives in the form of the nutrition plan working well, I coped with a disaster in the water which can be very challenging but carried on – a good mental test!

Moving forward I have a couple of Olympic Distance events then off to Busselton (two hours drive south of Perth) for another Half Ironman race (May 1st) where I WILL kill the 5 hour mark Once this nemesis is killed off then I am sure I'll do it again! The speed work on the run required for the two OD events will help massively and I am sure that is where I will make up most of the time. Of course the swim will go to plan this time also!

One bit of not so good news is that the big jelly fish I ran into actually stung me on the back of my head/neck area, one of the few parts of the body exposed during the swim and after four days now the rash is very sore and irritating so a trip to the doc is now required as according to the information on the website the jelly fish in Port Phillip Bay only slightly sting and all effects should disappear within 24 hours unless you have an allergic reaction – oops

Oh yes Roger, I remember that one well I can't recall how long it took me to get home but if my memory serves me correctly that was on an i-team outing that took us up near Billingshurst and back?

I was shot to pieces somewhere near Pertersfield (I think) on the return - which is where your bannanas, company and guidance got me home

I have had a few more bonks since then but not quite as bad as that one.

That one still sticks in my memory too, as it scared the pants off me - locking up going downhill at about 50kph

The chain was stuck really hard and Guy and Nick Bonner between them managed to pull it out and put the bike back together to allow me to finish the club ride.

Got back to Tony's shop and a detailed inspection saw that 3 or 4 teeth were missing on the chain ring, the chain was a complete mess and the frame had a great battle scar

Still got that bike - but not for much longer as it will have to be moved on. the numbers game, 5 bikes is difficult to justify to the wife, she can't understand the need for any more than 1

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In 2008, i-Team member and my good friend Richard Gorman was the sponsorship director for the CSC professional team.

Imagine how excited I was when I got a call from him, asking if would I like to do a bit of driving for him and spend a bit bit of time hanging out with CSC at Paris Roubaix?

Er, let me think about it Rich... (0.1 secs later) - OK, thought about it...YEP!

Richard picked me up on Saturday afternoon in a rather sporty Honda Accord 2.2 deisel hire car and we headed off to France, via Eurostar, to the ASO hotel at Compiegne for the night before the start of 'Roubaix.

After we checked in, we immediately headed out with a big Dane from CSC H.Q. called Jon and went to meet some VIP's that Richard was looking after for the weekend - they had won prizes to ride in team cars for the race.

The venue was a beautiful Dolce Chantilly hotel, golf and sports resort near Chantilly - famous for the icecream liquor-sauce, as well as horses and polo. Dinner was a top-drawer smorgesboard / buffet, with everthing from oysters to Morrocan lamb - fantastic.

Race day started early for us, Big Jon brought Richard's VIP guests over to our hotel for 8.00 and we walked the 200m (according to Richard - more like 1km,) to the square where the race was to depart.

Richard dished out some VIP passes and we were immediately mingling with cycling royalty like Hinault, Gimondi, Jalebert etc. I went for a wander about the main square and already crowds were assembling and pushing up against the barriers - I strutted about on the opposite side, trying to look official - and loving it!

My job for the day was originally to help ferry bags and equipment from the start to the finish and I was really looking forward to that. Team buses start to arrive and the atmosphere clicked up a gear - I was now fully wide awake and keenly observing all of the different team's preperations and last-minute equipment choices before the depart.

CSC Director Sportive, Scott Sunderland looked stressed but very much the man with the plan and in control. He remembered me from navigating for him in the team car for a couple of days in 2007, when the team were based in Surrey for the London Tour de France depart. I went from feeling flattered to feeling gob-smacked, when he asked if I could help with race service, taking wheels and bottles to some crucial sections of pave where the team cars get held up behind crashes etc. Wow! - he wanted me to potentially be there for Cancellara and O'Grady etc. at a crucial part of the race - talk about a vote of confidence! I could feel my head expanding inside my CSC baseball cap!

Richard and I quickly got the Honda badged-up with offical accreditation so that we could drive on the race route. We would not be part of the convoy but we would be driving between the front of the race and publicity caravan, parking up at our designated points and standing by with wheels and drinks - then cutting accross country to get back in front of the race. My excitement levels went through the roof! Richard looked concerned - apparently, some of the team had asked him if he had fitted the obligatory sump guard - oops!

We took a shortcut accross Compiegne's busy traffic - having the car badged up with race stickers had a dramatic effect - all traffic in town gave way to us and we could basically do whatever we wanted, including driving through red lights and bumping over pavements. All done with the blessing of the Gendarmarie and a knowing smile and nod from the public - the other traffic - at least until they noticed the GB plates!

It wasn't long before we were on the race route - the only car on the race with UK plates (and no sump guard!) I thought I was driving along at a fair lick - 70-80kph on narrow lanes - until we were caught by some press bikes! I don't know where I got the impression that P-R was flat but there were plenty of long drags that would definitely have had me out of the saddle.

After being directed through what looked like a farm gate we were on our first section of pave, it was downhill and twisting and I could imagine how fast the bunch would take this section in the dry. Driving the car on the pave was not easy. The camber was so pronounced that you could not straddle it in the Accord and so I had to place one set of wheels on the top of the camber and the other in the gutter to avoid grounding and ripping bits off the bottom of the car!

We pulled in for a pit stop at a little village on the course and one of the VIP's went to buy some frites and was handed the biggest portions that I have ever seen - there must have been 2kg of chips in there!

Section 23 was our first rendezvous for team duties. We didn't have long to wait. GB's Ian Stannard (Lamboukredit) was away with 2 others and had about 10 minutes on the bunch - an impressive debut by the World Class Performance Plan rider - catching the race within the race - to be at the front of the race when the live TV transmission started. Speaking of TV, this is definitely a classic where watching the last hour doesn't give you the flavour of the race - you need to get the DVD (or live in Euroupe) and watch the race evolve in front of your eyes like a sporting soap opera.

Next came the bunch driven by CSC at the front - surely too fast to hand bottles up to? - O'Grady snatched the bottle out of my hand - nice one Stuey - Cheers!

Even at this stage there were plenty of stragglers and casualties chasing behind and we had to wait 10 minutes or so before we got back into the car. I gave quick beep to the crowd and as if we had pre-arranged it, they lifted the crowd barriers for us and we were off again accross country to get back in front of the race. We took a quick hop up the autoroute and were able to leave at a blocked off slip road when the workers moved the cones for us. Of course they did! - as soon as they clocked the Race stickers on the car!

Rendezvous 2 was Section 10. Getting nervous now, what if I fluffed a wheel change? - on live TV! - I'd never live it down. Thankfully it wasn't going to happen. The dry conditions meant that the mechanics had an easy day. Stannard's break was still away but only by a few minutes now and the bunch were on the rivet now with O'Grady looking good in 3rd place.

Back in the car we had to use our best navigational skills to get back in front of the race before the closing stages. After a couple of dead ends, we just about managed to get back onto the course and squeeze in between the race and the publicity caravan. Richard was at the wheel now and he was loving it - in his element! We were soon up behind a publicity float blaring out the macadona and throwing goodies to the crowd.

What followed was one of the best experiences! The crowds were massive and we gave up trying to weave to miss their feet - we just drove straight at them and relied on them to jump out of the way at the last minute! Up to this point we had been beeping to the crowds and kids were waving back at us. Near the end of the race there were plenty of beer tents on the course, surrounded by plenty of hammered Belgians!

I gave a friendly wave to a group of 200 Belgians outside a beer tent and we immediately got beer thrown at us and our mirrors got punched - as unbeknown to us, a break of 3 were away, the Italian Ballan, CSC's Cancellara and their beloved Boonen - they interperated our smiles as us thinking that Cancellara was going to walk it! Note to self - Flandrians can be touchy if it's not going their way!

The final sections of pave were so familar from all those years of watching the race on TV. I especially remember the bend where Hennie Kuiper punctured when he was away on his own and had to wait for what seemed ages - he completely lost it and when the poor mechanic was eventually able to get too hem, he was rewarded with a thick ear!

All too quickly we were on the last section of cobbles outside the velodrome. We were directed to a car park and ran towards the track centre. Despite all the badges, it was too late in the day for the stewards to let us cross the course to where we needed to get too.

I came into my element here and my years of 'bunking-in' experience paid dividends as I demonstrated to Richard the 'Watson Vault' and we ran accross the road between the motor bikes to get to the finish. We heard some murmors behind us - the hi-viz brigade were not happy! Back into VIP land it we just had time for some champers and then were in the track centre watching the last km of the race on the big screen. Boonen did what was expected and it was all over for another year - except it wasn't.

What you don't see on TV is the arrival of the final stagglers - what really impressed me is that they all sprinted it out for the line. Also what was impressive out of camera shot was Bjarne Riis - we didn't see him until the end of the race and then he was there to see everyone of his riders home and he treated them all with the same degree of respect and praise, no matter how long it had taken them to finish. Watched a few of the riders being interviewed and then we went to chat to the mechanics. As soon as Cancellara had finished his interviews and visited the dope testers, he went straight to the mechanics to thank them all - that's the sort of ambience team CSC has.

O'Grady crosses the line and before he gets his breath back, he thanks all the team helpers - including us! - Proud!


At that point I thought that it had been quite a day - but this was only half time! It had been a long campaign for O'Grady, Cancellara & the rest of the Northern Classics Team. They had started with the build up in the Tour of California and this was their last race before they took a break and the Stage Race Team took over for the summer.


I am honor-bound to not repeat all of what I was prive to that night. Buy me a drink sometime in private and I may elaborate in private - but for now, I'll just say that what followed was a night of serious eating and drinking, with all of the riders and their wives and partners. It was such a privilege to see such great riders, away from the lime-light, relaxed and letting of steam.

O.K., I will tell you one little thing. Their was a little team presentation and last prize was presented to Stuart O'Grady, who was awarded the title of 'The Hardest M****r-F****r on the Planet!' - it was a cobble-stone dug up from the course!

The evening blurred into a long night of drinking and dancing, everyone was fueled-up on champagne and 9.5% Westmoor beer. I last saw O'Grady on the dance floor at 3am! He was no longer dancing, just moving around slowly, refusing to go to bed long after the rest of the riders had departed - I could see how much deserved his title!

These pros have some stamina!

Thank Richard!

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