Poland/Czech Republic/Germany, May 11-19, 2001
After having to make quite an effort to obtain my visas for Poland and the Czech Republic, I was thinking there would be no more hassles for me to get to the start of the Peace Race. I flew to Berlin, where the team picked me up. The long haul to Lodz (Pol) was hell. Kim was definitely not impressed by the highway infrastructure in Poland (which is actually completely non-existent!) It took us 8 hours in the car to do the 450 km trip. Kim thought it would only take us 4 hours max, especially because he is able to do some low flying in the team's Opel cars. He was wrong, very wrong, not one freaking freeway!
Besides that, my first impressions of Poland were very positive. The countryside was beautiful with all the trees in flower; spring had finally begun and the sun brought new life to this part of Europe. This was my first race I started without wearing arm and body-warmers. As we headed down south, towards the Czech border, the plains got even greener and the flat gave way to rolling hills covered with pine trees.
The 1610 kilometres of the 54th edition of the Course de la Paix were cramped into 9 days of racing, 10 stages in total. The race took us into three different countries, 3 days in Poland, 3 days in the Czech Republic and 3 days in Germany.
Stage 1 - May 11: Lodz-Lodz, 141.6 km
The first two stages were very flat and fast with average speeds in the high 40's. Surprisingly I felt really good. I felt the legs getting better as the race went on. I say surprisingly as I thought I would have to struggle through the first stages because of the way I had felt during the races in Denmark. I had prepared myself for some suffering to get my form back but I shouldn't have worried. The speed didn't bother me; I sat in the back of the peloton, out off the wind. Rudy, our masseur, was also feeling the difference, with the tension in the muscles improving.
Uwe Peschel took the victory in the first stage and put on the Yellow Leader's Jersey. He had attacked at approximately 50 kilometres before the finish and left Wacker (Mroz) behind him in the sprint.
Stage 1 results
Stage 2 - May 12: Pabianice - Czestochowa, 177.6 km
The second day was similar with another two riders, two Mroz boys this time, Wajs and Poitschke, breaking away from the peloton with a big power-display; it looked like they were on bloody motorbikes. They took first and second.
Stage 2 results
Stage 3 - May 13: Kluczbork - Kudowa Zdroj, 196 km
It wasn't until the third stage that I got the chance to catch up with one of the other three Aussies that were in the race. Scott McGrory is now riding impressively for the Italian Mapei Squad and is looking at redirecting his career onto the road. With Tom Steels still suffering with glandular fever, his team told him he might even get a start in the Tour de France this year.
The other two Aussies are not cyclists; they both have a soigneurs job. I spoke to "Greeny". He is a former Australian National Team masseur and is now working for the American Saturn Team. The Czech Wustenrot-ZVVZ Team had an Aussie in their ranks too, Brian only just arrived from Victoria to do some work with them and was clearly enjoying it.
This 3rd stage had a few climbs in the last 50 kilometres. A break of 9 riders went just before the first climb. Gerölsteiner and Team Nürnberger were working to bring them back and the stage finished with a bunch sprint. Jacob Piil (CSC) crossed the line in first position before Glenn Magnusson (Domo).
Stage 3 results
Stage 4 - May 14: Bystrzyca Klodzka - Olomouc (Cze), 194.8 km
Stage number four was the first of the big mountain days, 195 km long and 5 climbs. On the second climb (1st category) a leading group of about 30 riders was formed, I comfortably went with it. Steve Kleynen (Domo) and one of the Mroz riders were tired of our company and felt like riding the last 100 kilometres on their own. Gerölsteiner and Nürnberger spent over 30 kilometres trying to figure out what to do, chase or wait.
Their hesitancy allowed a group of twenty, with the sprinters Tom Steels and Glenn Magnusson in tow, to close the gap of two minutes we had on them. The teams got organised and we started to pull back the gap.
The finale was nervous, with the last kilometre cobbled and two dangerous turns in the last five hundred meters to top things of. Steve Kleynen got caught back in the last hundred meters. After putting up a stout resistance to the wind during his long breakaway, he had deserved the win really, but Enrico Poitschke (Wiesenhof Leipzig) decided otherwise. Steels came second. I finished in fourth place.
Stage 4 results
Stage 5 - May 15: Olomouc - Zdar nad Sazavou, 168.2 km
The fifth day had some more climbs in store, the 168 km long stage counted 5 of them. It went up and down all day with no first category climbs but the fact that we went full gas from the start made it hard for the first half. The peloton eased and a group went off the front. As there were no threats to the general classification, with most guys in that break ranked at 18 minutes from the leader (except for a young Czech who had only four minutes to make up); there came no immediate reaction from the peloton.
The peloton took it that easy that the first group took up to 15 minutes. Gerölsteiner had seen the danger to their Leader's Jersey but they were waiting for another team to come in to do the work. With only six riders per team, it makes it very hard to control things in such a heavy, fast, mountainous race. Gerölsteiner found no support, of course, and were forced into chasing on their own. In the end Mroz gave them a hand and Uwe Peschel was able to keep his Jersey, with bugger all seconds left. Marc Streel jumped away from the leading group and went on to win the stage.
Stage 5 results
Stage 6 - May 16: Zdar nad Sazavou - Plzen, 234.5 km
Stage number 6; 234 kilometres. Only one categorised climb but not one bit of flat. It was a leg-snapping course, going up and down, up and down, the whole day. Once again, we went full gas from the gun; it started to be the norm in this race. After 20 kilometres a group with some classement riders and the yellow jersey took off. No Festina's, no Coast riders and no Domo-Farm Frites in there. My teammates asked me if they should start riding. I told them not to. We were here to pick up a stage and it was not up to us to do the chasing. We laid low, waiting to see what the teams aiming for the first spots in the GC would decide.
Domo took charge, supported by the Festina squad and the Coast Team. No sooner had the break been taken back or another went. My team mate Roberto Lochowski and I went with it. Gerölsteiner again had to chase and they called in the Palmans-Collstrop team to help. After 15 or so kilometres they caught us. This was a dangerous moment for another attack. It did happen and a group of eight went.
The peloton did not react and the group went out to five minutes. In the leading break there were a few guys who were high up in GC and Gerölsteiner had to work again to bring it back. They again got help from Palmans-Collstrop. Mroz joined them for the last kilometres but their efforts were futile and Uwe Peschel lost the Yellow Jersey to Enrico Poitschke (Wiesenhof Leipzig).
Stage 6 results
Stage 7 - May 17: Plzen - Zwickau (Ger), 209.2 km
Day number seven; 209 kilometres, 7 climbs and tipped by Pavel Dolezel, the race director, as the hardest, the "Royal Stage".
On the longest of the climbs, after 128 km, the race got blown apart. A leading group of seven had gone in between the previous climb and this one; Kurt Arvesen (Fakta) was with it. Although he's a sprinter he showed some serious climbing talent that day. Garmendia (Team Coast) attacked from our group of thirty riders, he took Jacob Piil with him. I waited to see the reactions of Liese (Nürnberger), Peschel and Michael Barry (Saturn). Not one of them seemed to have the legs to go after them and I saw the time right to go myself.
I bridged the gap towards Garmendia and Piil. We swiftly caught up to the leading seven. This small group worked hard. With each of us having another team mate there, everybody was willing to give it some stick.
On the first category climb, 50 km before the finish, our group lost five riders but we now had five minutes lead on the group with the Yellow Jersey. It was just a matter of holding it till the finish.
I was riding comfortably all day and had ridden a tactically perfect race up to the moment I kinda screwed up, in the last two hundred meters. I know I should have led out in the last corner before the sprint; the placings never changed from that moment. I finished third, my teammate Kurt sixth; that was a great effort for a sprinter.
We had now nearly bridged the time gap to the Yellow Jersey. Piil won. Poitschke was still leading but only by a few seconds.
Stage 7 results
Stage 8 - May 18: Greiz - Plauen ITT, 25.8 km
Stage 9 - May 18: Plauen - Gera, 97 km
With the minutes being tuned down to seconds; it was a sure thing that there would be a great show during the time trial on the 8th day. I'm not particularly fond of time-trials and although I did well finishing 23rd, I felt disappointed. Since Amstel '98, I find it difficult to remain in Time-trial position for a long time. My lower back starts hurting; something I experience also during long flat days, where I don't get up out off the saddle as much as on the hilly parcours.
The time trial was won by Thomas "The Tank" Liese (Nürnberger), averaging just under 45km/h. Bondariew (Mroz) won the afternoon stage.
Stage 8 results
Stage 9 results
Stage 10 - May 19: Schkeuditz - Potsdam, 166 km
The last day was the only day we had an easy start. Everybody was happy to ride along at a nice, cruising pace for the first 120 km of the 164 km long stage. We arrived into the city of Potsdam, with 3 laps of 3 km to go and a huge crowd to welcome us. I led the peloton into the last kilometre, with my teammate Lochowski in my wheel. Roberto was beaten just before the line and finished a nice fifth.
That's it for the Peace Race.
I was happy with my result; I had a third, a fourth, a thirteenth in stages, finished third in the king of the Mountains competition and seventh overall. Not bad as I previously had thoughts of just rolling along and let the others do all of the rocking.
P.S. Coming up GP Wallonie (1.2) and Tour of Germany (2.3)