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The Scott Sunderland Diary 2000
Coffee and a Danish (weekend)
After a two week break the Palmans-Ideal team gathered in Puivelde for a Kermesse race. Nico Eeckhout proved to have kept his good shape during the 14 days rest and won the sprint easily, Jo Planckaert crossed the line in second position.
A quick shower and off we went, on the road to Denmark where we had three races on the agenda. We drove our team car a good 200 kms into Holland before stopping for the night. No massage but some welcome dinner before crashing out. We had another 800 kms to chew the next day. Going the full length of Holland and via Germany we got to Herning, the home town of Bjarne Riis, at 3 o'clock that afternoon. All teams lodged in the same hotel and after a training ride of one hour and a half we were happy just to hang around. I had a beer with Jason 'Bobster' Phillips; always good to catch up with a fellow Australian.
The GP Midtbank is Denmark's equivalent to Paris-Roubaix. Instead of cobbles you get served 200kms over fast patches in between 17 sections of sandy gravel roads - 26 kms in total. I was kinda optimistic when I heard about this race. As a young guy, I used to test my bike handling skills on the back roads flowing out of Inverell. I used to like it a lot, the change of road surface was nice now and again. This was different though, and I did not really enjoy it as much as I though I would.
The team mechanics provided our Fondriest bikes with heavier and bigger diameter tyres, very cautious and highly effective. We only suffered one puncture while an unfortunate German team counted no less then 11 flats for the day.
The race went really well for us, we were keeping out off trouble on the muddy cyclo cross parcours. During one of the hard sections Hans De Clercq came riding next to me, cursing like a mad Italian : "Bloody hell, Planckaert (our director) tells me not to do cyclo cross races during the winter, to avoid any injuries. And then he sends us one thousand kilometers up here to do this stuff. I could have broken my neck about 12 times today !!"
The "local" boys from Memorycard Jack&Jones were on a roll, still running on jet fuel after winning Tour de l'Oise and Four days of Dunkerque. The guys are definitely in shape and hoping to obtain that precious wild card for the Tour de France. Knowing the race course well gave them a big advantage and Michael SanstÝd took a 10 second lead, increased that and won nicely. Nico Eeckhout (Palmans-Ideal) won the sprint for second place. Hans De Clercq rolled in 8th and Van Dijck and Feys came across the line in the second group. We had 4 guys in the top 15, not bad at all.
The second race, Lemvig, consisting of a big lap of 110 kms and some local laps was run over a hilly circuit. Our team didn't have such a good day: we finished this 'training-ride' with only Feys taking the 8th spot. Nicki SŲrensen (Fakta) won in front of Allan Johansen and Sandstod from, once again the Memorycard team.
A different hotel in a bigger city, Arhus, that evening. We enjoyed an early dinner. The weather was fine and we decided to go out for a walk alongside the water, into the city center. Our team co-director Roger De Vlaeminck, yep, mister Paris-Roubaix himself, joined us and on the way down we picked up a fantastic tripple scoop cone of Danish ice cream. Roger, a very relaxed man and good company, lead us into a cafť where we found some other riders having a taste of the great Danish Carlsberg beer, fresh off tap. We happily joined them.
The third and last day started and finished in Arhus. A quick start with an average speed of over 50km/h during the first half hour of racing. Out on the small roads, a break of 9 went away. Attacks, chasing, the usual stuff. Eventually the Swiss Post team and the German NŁrnberger formation decided to do all the legwork in the front. We (Palmans-Ideal) were happy just to sit back and look at this stage of the race.
Coming onto the finishing circuit of 5 laps the break, from which Piziks had escaped, got caught back. He stayed in front and won with a comfortable lead. Nico Eeckhout finished third. Back to the hotel, a quick shower, grabbed some sandwiches and a bottle of water from our soigneurs and back into the team car for the one thousand kilometre trip home.
It was a good weekend of training races and as a bonus we put some extra prize money in our pockets. Denmark is a great country with, what we saw of it, beautiful rolling hills and open green spaces. I do understand now why alternative wind energy is a big thing there, dotted throughout the countryside, on the hill tops stood groups of electricity generating windmills. It was that windy I saw a Danish chicken lay the same egg twice. .
I took a seat in the car with Hans De Clercq and Roger De Vlaemick, who would have left the other team car eating our dust if we didn't have to wait up for them now and again. The atmopshere was relaxed and we talked, cycling, what else? On our way back to friendly, cycling mad Flanders, Roger got a phone call from our "big boss" Mr. De Meulenaere, announcing that Axel Merckx took a magnificent victory in the Giro (stage 8). Later that evening Roger called his close friend, Mr. Merckx senior, to congratulate him and hear all about the win. Eddy Merckx was enjoying a celebrative drink with the Belgian TV crew.
That night, I caught the recap of the late news at 2.30 am. I saw how an ecstatic Axel went up to the commentating booth of the VRT, the Flemish Radio and Television and hugged his dad who was glowing with pride. The newspapers later that morning reported on how Merckx senior had given his son Axel advice from the commentator's chair, live on TV. How he "told" him not to go to the front that much, not to work too hard, etc. and how he went all quiet seeing Axel attacking after he caught back the group he had to let go off before as he was ridden into a ditch. What a great ride it was...As the dutch say "the apple never falls far away from the tree" (meaning it runs in the blood).
This evening, as I was writing this, I had a visitor. A doctor, "an International Sampling Officer" representing IDTM (International Drug Testing) authorised by ASDA came to collect, random testing outside of competition. He asked me to urinate in this little plastic jar. My four year old son SaŽn was wondering out loud why this man was watching his dad peeing. The doctor said 17 ml would be enough as I tried not to overfill. It all must have looked quite weird to SaŽn who had these big question marks in his eyes as the doctor filled out the necessary forms and left with a handshake. Well, it is great to see that the Australian Sports Drug Agency is following up on their campaign against doping.