The Tour of Denmark (2.2), from the 14th till the 18th of August, on the whole was good. Team Fakta always had riders in the important breaks and as a team we rode strongly. On a few occasions we just lacked the little bit of luck we needed. Being a "home race" for the team, in the race, we got what we expected, we were looked at, chased and run down. A few of the guys were going great; I still wasn't going at my best yet.
But, team Fakta got some favourable press and TV coverage. Peter Sejer Nielsen, our team manager told us we created quite a bit of interest with possible new co-sponsors. It was of course a pity that we lost our first spot in the team's classification because of the 20 seconds penalty we received due to an unfortunate misunderstanding about the length of the feeding zone. (Kim handed a bidon one kilometre into the non-feeding zone on the finishing circuit).
The most important thing for us at that time of the season was that our sponsors were happy. Kim Andersen had a few VIP's on board of the team car during the different stages; that way those guests were able to see with their own eyes just how many people are standing alongside the road during races; the best way to convince a businessman to put some money in the team.
Anyway, it's nice to see how popular cycling is becoming in Denmark, as well as in other countries like Germany, Poland and even the Czech Republic. Bjarne Riis set cycling in Denmark on fire in '96, but that fire was extinguished brusquely because of the '98 Tour. Most of the Danish journalists jumped on the band wagon with the rest of the judgemental press and made some very harsh comments.
Fair enough, I suppose, if there is something to write about, that's what has to be done. The angle that was taken on the whole case made ALL cyclists look like criminals though and we all thought that was unfair. Now, things have turned around again and as cycling is currently the most drug-tested competition sport, the sport's honour, credibility and entertainment ratio seems to be restored. The journalists have followed that development positively also; well, most of them that is, there are always going to be a few only thinking black.
The next race I rode was the GP Le Télégramme, (1.4) in France on the 27th. The weather was OK and the race circuit was fine. Big crowds, as always in Bretagne, and very fast racing. 6 kilometres after the start the first attack was launched and it didn't stop until the finish; it was go, go, go. My Swedish teammate Marcus Lungqvist was in a good break, put in a crackerjack ride and finished a well-deserved 2nd. This second place was highlighted because he was in a leading group of 5, with 4 French guys!
I got the chance to catch up with Stuey (O'Grady) and Jay Sweet. I hadn't seen these guys since the spring classics, so we had quite a conversation going. Jay is looking at changing teams and Stuart had lost count of the post-Tour criteriums he had ridden in Holland, Germany, France.
I have had plenty of racing after Denmark; something I needed because the form was below the freezing point. I've been feeling like I am just trying to catch the shadows of the riders in front of me most of the time; just trying to get a good ride in. It became very frustrating there for a moment.
Fakta was on the start list for the 65th GP Dr. Tistaert Zottegem (1.4) on the 21st of August, a 'hometown' race. I went with everything but missed the decisive break, the legs felt like crap the whole race. I finished, went home right away and didn't even feel up to going to the reception I had VIP passes for. I just wanted to shower, eat my dinner and go to bed.
In Overijse (1.3) the day after, I was feeling just as shitty. Fairly disappointed, I followed Van Petegem and co. to the showers once the local laps started to ask too much of a toll; I wasn't going to make a result anyway.
Poitou-Charentes (2.4, France) followed, from the 28th till the 31st .At that stage I was getting very annoyed with myself, I still felt like I was flogging a dead horse. Luckily there's always someone to pick me up a bit, this time it was our soigneur Rudy. Rudy has been in the job for so long now, he senses when the tenseness in the muscles isn't just physical -he put my mind at ease; explaining why it was only normal I wasn't riding results just yet. He said: "You have been sick in July, which forced you to rest instead of building up again, and you haven't ridden any races that really suit you so far".
Rudy is one of those guys you bless when you come off the massage table, with relaxed legs and mind. He advised me to cut myself some slack and I told myself to cop it sweet. I had accepted I need to climb bit by bit to the level I was at in the months of April, May, and June - It will take a few more days racing to get my arse into the right gear.
One thing is clear, the form WILL come back and along with that those precious UCI points. The team has continued gathering those little diamonds steadily; I started off in the beginning of the season and the other guys have continued the quest for the top 30 of the team's classification.
Something I really notice with Fakta is how the whole team races for the 'greater good' of the team. Because of the UCI ruling there is one complaint I often hear from other teams; how most riders are racing to build up their own points total and the team spirit goes out the door. Fakta doesn't have that problem. I was talking to Kim about that and he is a firm believer in paying riders for the work they do in the team, not just for the points they obtain. Other teams work with low salaries and seriously overrated bonus systems; it makes you lose the essence of the "team sport" I think.
The transfer period is as cruel as it looks. The stuff that happens in the months of September and October, when riders are ditched and replaced by "other and better" is incredible; it makes my friends raise their eyebrows when I tell them about it once I'm back home in Australia at the end of the year. It's not only a fight on the road, during the race; you have to be tough as nails in other areas too. The negotiations are hard and as a rider, you need to sell yourself, like a farmer sells his prize-bull. If you don't feel up to it, finding a good manager is a necessity.
I have been told that in 2003, the minimum salary for a professional cyclist will be 40,000 Swiss Francs (let's hope this is true); which has to enable all riders in all countries to live in an acceptable way. This might seem a lot to some of you but remember that most teams only pay for your bike and cycling clothes, the hotel room and the food when you're away racing. Individual training camps, material you need at home, a car to drive to races, food supplements, medical expenses for monthly blood tests, etc., are to be paid out off the monthly salary.
The 'hidden costs' are numerous. For one, a good medical and life insurance costs professional cyclists an arm and a leg. Phone bills, physio, chiropractor (believe me, I know all about those last two!), they all need to be paid and they don't come cheap. My bank balance over the last few years has been a proof of that! So I sincerely hope that young riders get a fair start soon, with a good salary it so much easier to concentrate on the job.
Today, in GP Jef Scherens, a 1.3 in Leuven, Belgium, we welcomed one of our new stagiaires at the start. Trent Wilson, is a fellow Australian and I am proud to have him in the team. He has been in Italy for the last two seasons and as he is turning 23 this year, he couldn't be part of the under-23 squad of the Australian Institute of Sport anymore. I talked to Kim about him as his name had been catching my eye in the results of races in Italy.
Trent clearly deserves this traineeship and he's now getting a taste of what it feel like to go out and "play with the big boys". I truly hope all goes well for him as I think he will make a great addition to the pro peloton. I noticed straight away Trent fits in fine with the rest of the Fakta team and because Scandinavian people are very similar to Australians, he was greeted warmly by the rest of the squad. I bet though his breakfast bowl this morning was filled with nerves and anticipation of what was coming.
Trent arrived in Belgium only a couple of days ago and he is going to be racing with us during the coming weeks. While I'm talking to him, over breakfast, lunch or dinner, I vividly recall my time as stagiaire with TVM - it was all such a roller coaster-rush.
Cyclingnews' Dr. Jones interviewed him, while having some tucker and a glass of wine or two at my place and he will be adding his bit to my update.
For now, I leave you, feeling better on the bike, I went OK in Leuven today finishing 13th and I really was strong enough to challenge a podium place, but the flipping race just didn't go that way; ç'est la vie hey. I'm a bit toey for some results though!
On Tuesday Trent and I will be driving the team car flat chat to Frankfurt, where we will be racing the International Hessen Rundfahrt, a spicy 2.4. If I get the chance to draw breath after that one, I'll write you a few lines!
Catch yer later,
PS feel free to ask me any questions you might have, you can send me an e-mail. I'll try and answer every single one and frequent questions will get their reply in one of my diary updates.
Editor's note: Scott appears to be back in the running, judging by his third place in the first stage of the Hessen Rundfahrt