All aboard the Team Telekom Train
On Monday the 28th, Sabine dropped me off at the airport and we had a relaxed cup of coffee together as we watched the Lotto and Domo Farm Frites team stroll by after they had checked in. A quick kiss goodbye and I was off through Customs and onto the plane.
I was the only Team Fakta rider travelling this route to Hamburg for the Tour of Germany. My teammate Manu L'Hoir would have been joining me if it weren't for the fact that he was still in hospital after crashing severely during training (see May 23 news). Manu has just left hospital yesterday, the 4th of June. We all hope that his recovery will go smoothly and that he'll be racing again soon.
The Tour of Germany has gained popularity during its 3 years existence and last year the total of spectators was recorded to be no less than 4 million! The German public has really grown a taste for cycling since the success of guys like Jan Ullrich, Erik Zabel, Udo Bölts has planted the seed of enthusiasm. Olaf Ludwig, ex-pro and ex-PR Officer with Telekom is now doing a fantastic job commentating for television.
The hotels we stayed at were very nice, honouring the German tradition of sound quality and polite service. The food was nice, in contrast to most French hotels I have stayed at during races. Australian and American fans who talk to me about racing in France always seem very surprised when I tell them I definitely can't appreciate what is on the menu during the races in France.
This is, I need to add, only during races! I have spent a lot of time in France over the last 13 years and I have had the most exquisite haute-cuisine, dining with my wife on our way home from races or while being on training camps or when holidaying. It's just that, during the races, the 'haricots verts" (green beans) simply tend to become too much and the pasta is often overcooked and all mushy - yak! (I once had quite an explosive moment with Jeff Braeckevelt (assistant team director Lotto) because he didn't allow me to have potatoes or French fries with dinner on our way home from a race; he insisted I'd take "Haricots verts", this after having them with almost every meal the days before.)
The organizers of the Tour of Germany were proud to present big names like Erik Zabel, Vinokourov (Team Telekom), Johan Museeuw and Romans Vainsteins (D-FF), Tchmil (Lotto), Alex Zülle and Escartin (Team Coast), Tom Steels, Oscar Freire, Bettini and Bartoli (Mapei) , Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), and so on.
German teams, Team Telekom and Team Coast had big aspirations for this race. The first three days were a controlled affair with the teams keeping things together for the sprint finish. The Telekom train was doing most of the work. Tom Steels (Mapei) reclaimed his spot next to the world's best sprinter Erik Zabel by impressively winning the first stage. (Tom has suffered seriously from mononucleosis a.k.a. glandular fever). Zabel (Telekom) won the second stage though.
The Tour of Germany seemed to be favouring the sprinters and no less than 5 of the 8 stages finished in a mass sprint (there was a time trial, a mountain stage and a stage I can't quite define; hilly and flat)! Zabel took no less than 3 victories here and it is only justified to say that Telekom (5 stage wins) and Mapei 2 stage wins) were dominating the whole Tour.
Team Fakta's tactics were simple: to go in all attacks and if there was a bunch sprint, our task was to position Kurt Asle Arvesen at the front with one kilometre to go. I tried to conserve my energy in this Tour; having left Belgium with a blood test showing I was getting tired and the doc said I needed to take it a bit easy for a while. I also tried to keep away from the crashes plaguing the first few days. We did well, animating the breakaways and especially Kurt Asle Arvesen was riding strongly.
As I said, Mapei and Telekom controlled most of the race.
A Phonak rider went away in the morning stage before the time-trial, on a wet a very fast 3km descent to the finish line. Nobody had the balls to follow him. Mathias Buxhofer, took a great win two seconds before Zabel.
Stage 7, leading the peloton through the Black Forest was probably going to be the only stage in which Team Coast got the chance to challenge the team Telekom train. As we headed into the mountains, quite a few riders were not comfortable with the weather predictions of rain and snow. I had put every piece of clothing I could put on at the start and what I couldn't put on I had in my rain bag (which is always in the team car containing rain jacket, thermal body warmer, hat, gloves, and even spare racing shoes. I say always 'cause Murphy's Law has it that when you don't have it there, for sure you'll need it)
After 25 km it started sprinkling rain. By the time we got to the first mountain sprint we were getting seriously drenched. The temperature dropped suddenly from 12 degrees Celsius to 4. On the second climb, the rain was coming down in buckets and turned into snow and hail by the time we reached the top. During the climb we were able to function reasonably normal; the high heart rate produces a lot of body heat and we were able to keep sufficiently warm. Some guys had taken off their rain jacket but I thought it was best to keep mine on.
My fat percentage has reached the minimum level and I suffer like a plucked chicken in the cold; many of the guys in the peloton are experiencing this at this time of the season. Now you can imagine a long descent where the heart rate drops to 80 beats per minute, being skinny and in wet clothes, in high speeds the cold wind just chills you to the bone. Corey Sweet (Team Batavus) told me afterwards he saw me on that descent and I was shivering that much he thought I was going to shake myself and the bike straight off the mountain.
Udo Bölts lead the Team Telekom attack on this descent. A smart move as everybody was too busy keeping warm and trying to get some food in to give the body some more energy. He went, with teammates Rolf Aldag and race leader Vinokourov. On the second last climb, another one of first category, Udo had to let go off his team mates and he got picked up by a group of eight, containing Marcus Zberg, Bart Voskamp and with Garmendia (Coast) and Escartin (Coast) leading. Rolf Aldag who took the race leader to a definite overall win, deservedly crossed the line in first position.
I came in with three Mapei riders, Nardello, Bettini and Bartoli, who weren't able to help me much in my cause to chase down the group of nine in front of us. I did manage 13th and moved up considerably in GC, to the 14th spot. I was a bit disappointed I couldn't breach that gap to the nine in front, so I could have had a shot at finishing top 10. But I was happy enough about getting through that day the way I did, it was definitely not the type of weather I prefer.
That evening we moved to a small but very cosy hotel, just outside of Freudenstadt. We shared the comfortable family hotel-restaurant with the Post Swiss Team. The hospitality was great; the owner had everything organised into detail for the trucks, cars, etc. We had a fantastic meal, the atmosphere was really nice.
The next morning we woke up; looking out the window at a cold but clear blue sky. The Tour of Germany finished with a stage going into Stuttgart. Thousands of spectators alongside the roads again; as they had been all week, in sun, rain, hail and wind. There was that much cheering, we often couldn't talk to one another as we passed through the intermediate sprints, it was simply awesome to race before such an enthusiastic and cycling loving public.
Zabel once again pleased the crowds and won another stage. Team Telekom's mission had been completed, 5 wins, the Points Jersey (Zabel) and the White Leader's Jersey (Vinokourov). Garmendia (Team Coast) finished second overall and the 3rd spot on the podium was taken by another Telekom rider, Rolf Aldag.
Australian Corey Sweet proudly took the King of the Mountains Trophy home; I settled for 13th in GC and another few precious UCI points. Again, can't complain, it hadn't been a bad week.
Talk to you after Schynberg Rundfahrt and Tour of Luxemburg!
Tour of Germany results
Stage 1 -
May 29: Hamburg - Hanover, 210.4 km
Stage 2 - May 30: Goslar - Erfurt, 173.0 km
Stage 3 - May 31: Erfurt - Bad Neustadt (Saale), 177.1 km
Stage 4 - June 1: Bad Neustadt - Mannheim, 239.8 km
Stage 5 - June 2: Mannheim - Heppenheim, 92.0 km
Stage 6 - June 2: Weinheim-Heppenheim ITT, 27.2 km
Stage 7 - June 3: Offenbourg - Freudenstadt, 160.9 km
Stage 8 - June 4: Freudenstadt - Stuttgart, 161.0 km