The Brad McGee Diary 2001
Criterium du Dauphine Libere
France, June 10-17, 2001
Prologue - June 10: Morzine-Avoriaz ITT, 4 km
Like a new roller-coaster ride at your favorite theme park, the prologue course had a mix of suspense-building unknown (first kilo straight up a hill), speed and plenty of fear due to the tight corners and unrelenting rain.
Only four kilometers but the pain lingered in the thighs for a good half an hour after. The best word to describe this opener is 'nasty'. Even more nasty was to be beaten for first place by just over a second, which is not the first time for me this year in a TT. Didier Rous proved his strength and took the prize with Dave Millar falling into third. Both Dave and I took the safe option and rode standard road bikes where as Didier proved it was possible to pass the slippery descent quickly and safely on a TT bike.
A small field but the aggression between the French teams has not been so tight in years and will make this pre-Tour lung opener a real fight.
Stage 1 - June 11: Morzine-Avoriaz - Bron, 227 km
Well I thought it was only the Italians who had no idea how to design race profiles. 'Flat but long' was the cry on the start line under threatening skies. The rain did not fall but the road definitely was not flat; long, yes, but not flat. The road went up, then down then up again and eventually down to what could be deemed as 'flat'. By this late stage in the race the entire bunch was already thinking ordinary thoughts of the race organizers for this deception. Hey, fearful nightmare prologue no worries, 230km stage no problems just do not say flat when it is anything but flat!
Chan McCrae, riding for Mercury is funny enough just to listen to speaking normally but the few of us 'anglo boys' in ear shot just cracked up when his distinctive little accent cried "Where the hell are we going man?" half way down the side of a never ending mountain. It was that way the entire day as climb after climb made the whole bunch feel more and more deceived.
Eventually we did arrive in full launch for the finish line with; you guessed it, just one final accent at 700m to go. This slight incline finished all hopes for my form-searching sprinter, Jimmy Casper after an all-in attempt by FdJ to get the little bull to the victory. The stage was taken by Fabian de Waele, chez Lotto in front of Nazon from Bonjour.
Stage 2 - June 12: Bron - Firminy, 170 km
At 170km the length of the stage was never going to be crucial but the rolling climbs, false flats and head wind would prove the challenge of the day. My heart dropped seeing Axel Merckx and Jens Voigt launch off the front, with 90km to go. Impressive stuff that would see a small group form then explode leaving only Merckx and Roux out for the win and leader's jersey (both for Roux). Teams 'riding' included Cofidis (for Millar) and AG2R with Salmon but mostly the day was full of attacks and counters keeping the average speed high.
I had a stab for third place with an attack at 1200m to go but it didn't happen so I smashed back into the sprinting peloton, at 400m, took Magnusson's wheel and eventually fourth place, plus a lot of lactic acid!
Stage 3 - June 13: Guilherand-Granges - Carpentras, 184 km
Ouch! Mount Ventoux is not on my holiday destinations list post cycling career anymore. Sure it looks impressive and has staged many famous cycling performances but it really offers no respect to its challengers. 20km of solid climbing and arriving at oxygen deprived 1900m and above. But I sure had fun screaming down the other side at 100km/h.
With the Ventoux being the only challenge for the day our home-grown team sprinter, Casper, took off at kilometre zero and at full throttle. I thought he was joking! I thought he would ride 200m then stop, turn around and let out his joyous howl of laughter. I did not think he would ride into the distance and only be caught at the foot of the climb!
He did get some TV time and I guess that counts for something. More importantly he may have chewed a few more pounds of his chubby legs and therefore may be able to take a stage in this year's Tour.
Euskaltel took the stage and continued their domination for any race that goes 'up'.
Stage 4 - June 14: Beaumes-de-Venise - Valréas ITT, 43 km
A 44km Individual Time Trial into a strong headwind with long false flats and a few short climbs - lovely. Jonathan Vaughters (Credit Agricole) must love this race. 2 years ago he won this stage but the difference being that 2 years ago the time trial went straight up Ventoux. Jonathon seized his chance with the tough conditions and opened the lungs for a brilliant victory ahead of an all out Millar, at 4sec, and daylight to third place.
Stage 5 - June 15: Romans-sur-Isère - Grenoble, 151 km
Did you know that Jacky Durand, now my teammate and big name Frenchie, comes from Grenoble? Well I do because every 50m for the 20km climb up to Chamrousse the loving crowd would cry "Allez Jacky… c'est chez toi!" Meaning to say it's your home town Jacky so you better do something. The fact that at this stage we were in a group of 40 or 50 riders bringing up the tail of the race (known as the gruppetto) backed off their support.
Up the front of the race (I gather this info second hand due to my, er, willingness to accompany Jacky in the gruppetto) the attacks were on with my room-mate Sven Montgomery taking second place behind Kivilev (Cofidis) after a quick descent. Both Vaughters and Millar were in difficulty after their huge TT efforts the previous day. The other GC players came to the front to play games and included Moreau (Festina), Salmon (AG2R) and anyone from Euskaltel (just take your pick as these guys are everywhere. I am sure they have two more starters than every other team here!)
Stage 6 - June 16: Pontcharra - Briançon, 193 km
Just think BIG. Big mountains, big kilometers and big fat drops of rain that became hail over the top of the final summit. A total of 55km of climbing including the Croix de Fer, Telegraph, Galibier and then a final punch up to Briancon at 10 per cent just to remind your legs that they must respect the high Alps.
Motivation was your biggest friend today as the depart was taken under torrential rain and with the chance of snow over the monstrous peak of Galibier 2600m above.
My day started really well with a spectacular crash at the sign on arena in front of, well, everyone. Great one Brad, really stylish!
Soon the heavens ceased the deluge and the climbing began. Slowly but surely the pack was culled down to 30 or so riders at the top of the Croix. A quick descent with a few gaps opening up had the panic button fully squeezed for a few kilometers as my team pulled for Sven Montgomery (our in-house Swiss climbing sensation I am sure the guy was born pedaling the 23 cog!) before returning the duties to team Festina and their man in yellow, Moreau.
At the finish, Moreau was third but dominated the climbs and retained the lead ahead of Tonkov (2nd in the stage and overall). Mayo added to his tally for another win and a group including Montgomery and Salmon came in at 1.25" to fill the G.C order.
A beautiful day's racing for all as for us riders we have again passed the high Alps and the spectators toughed-out the freezing conditions to witness the heroic performances. I have to thank the guy who gave me a drink at 2km from the summit of the Galibier as without it I am sure I would have passed out, fallen off the edge, into the snow beds and been found a few thousand years later by some crazed nomadic bushwalker.
Stage 7 - June 17: Vizille - Chambéry, 125 km
Most tours finish off with a peaceful roll into a major city to cool down and show off the winners before a spectacular bunch sprint. Not the Dauphine 2001. A final 10km circuit over an ancient World Championship course with a 2.5km climb and tight descent was the challenge. Five laps of sheer hell as the torrential rain and thousands of painted road strips turned the course into a slippery dip. Tonkov put in a solid attack up the hill but admitted later he was not hoping to get away from Moreau. He was trying to cause a panic in the race leader that would lead to a slip on one of the nightmare corners!
Jens 'all-purpose Jensy' Voigt took the stage with an impressive "Me not scared" approach to the conditions. No change in overall. All done and finished with this year's Criterium du Dauphine Libere, proving itself (even with a small peloton) to be the great race it is respected for.