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Germany, September 19-23, 2001
I didn't have much time to celebrate my win in Fourmies. Only a couple of days after that, I was in the team car again, direction Germany for the Rheinland-Pfalz Tour (2.4); five days of racing, 861 km.
There were two good reasons to include this race in my program:
1. To gain some more UCI points for the team. The top 30 in the UCI Team Classification is something we want to hold onto and secure. The only way to do that is quite simple; the 8 highest ranked riders in the team need to keep getting places. Easier said than done of course.
2. In preparation for the World Championships this would be ideal training.
The parcours of the 36th Rheinland-Pfalz Tour was to my liking. The stages drawn by the organizers were very hilly with short, steep climbs (10%) and longer and steadier climbs (5%). Weather wise, well, let's say I would have chosen a complete different climate for it, but unfortunately that was out of our hands. The cold temperatures and the rainy days have made the month of September very humid and chilly in the Northern parts of Europe.
I do admit I get a bit envious when I watch the peloton in the Tour of Spain enjoying their daily dose of sun. Can't stop the thought that it won't be too long before I'll be doing some miles on the Fat Boy (Harley) back home, or cruise to the beach, lazing in the sun like a lizard on a hot rock and catching some waves in the great surf, hmmm.
Anyway, enough daydreaming, there's still some racing to be done before that.
The Rabobank team that lined up for the start was strong, very strong and that warned everybody these guys weren't here for a bit of fooling around; they meant business. Rabobank took a first and second in stages and first and second overall. They controlled the race from start to finish thanks to the strength and the cohesiveness of the team.
I still can't get my head around some of the tactics a few of the other teams displayed on the first day though. In the last 8 kilometres, Dekker and Boogerd were unchallenged when they simply rode away from the front of a group of 17. The others just watched them.
Ullrich and myself tried to bridge the gap as soon as we saw nothing was being organised to bring them back. But there was no co-operation from the rest of the group and we both seemed to make the same decision at that moment: not to give everybody a free ride; so we went off the front after a while.
Just before the last kilometre, Mario Aerts attacked to take 3rd and the last bonification seconds. He was 3rd overall for the rest of the race.
With his great win in the 3rd stage, my fakta teammate Marcus Lungqvist put things right. He had been very disappointed with himself the day before when he started the sprint too early. Marcus was ecstatic and tching-tching, another 10 UCI points in the till
Jan Ullrich; I cannot write this update without giving him a mention. He was active on the climbs, attacking now and again but keeping his cool and it gave me the impression he was only there for training in preparation for the World's. (that thought was confirmed later when I read the newspapers). Michael Boogerd's name gets added to my list of favourites too, along with Dekker.
Team fakta can look back on a good week: my 140 points in Fourmies, another 40 for finishing 5th overall in Rheinland-Pfalz. Marcus Lunqgvist put in his share (10). Bjørnar Vestøl's 2nd place in Koolskamp (Belgium) was good for 28.
It has been said to us on several occasions that it is quite extraordinary for a team of 16 riders, with only 14 active, to be able to acquire so many points, a how we have made such a good name for the team in the races we started in.
Our motivation to finish the season in the top 30 of the teams classification is great for the team atmosphere; we're really enjoying racing. To end the year on a high is good for more reasons than one : It leaves you with a comfortable feeling, it's great for the motivation, it helps the younger riders by increasing their confidence and it gives everyone an incentive to train harder and better during the off-season.
My program for the coming weeks:
September 28-30: Paris-Corrèze
October 4: Paris-Bourges (1.3) (France)
October 14: World Championships in Lisbon (Portugal)
October 18-28: Herald Sun Tour (2.4) (Australia)
2 criteriums in Queensland (Australia): Noosa Sportsfestival (November 3) and Brisbane (November 10)
Manuel Samaniego (Atlanta, Georgia USA) sent me a nice mail, his also had a question:
"I know you have a ton of questions to answer, but this one has bugged me for a few years. When a sponsor decides to stop funding a team, what ever happens to the bikes, clothing and other equipment you guys use? Do they auction the bikes? Do you get to keep the clothing as souvenirs?. I know you mention that next year team Fakta will ride Principia bikes. Where are the Viners you are riding now going? I read somewhere that when Sean Yates retired, he bought his time trial bike from the Motorola team. Is this the case in most instances?. Thanks a bunch in advance, say hello to the family and the guys in the team."
Well Manuel, first of all it depends on the arrangements (contracts) between the Teams and the bike suppliers. For example; some bikes are given to the teams and they don't need to be returned or, as in the case with fakta and Viner Frames, all bikes need to be returned to the Viner Company at the end of the season. We got 3 to 4 bikes each. In other teams, the cyclists can buy their bike(s) at the end of each season (normally at a very fair price)
When a team pulls up stumps (for non Australians: discontinues), it is known to have a huge garage sale at the Team's Service Course (Headquarters); I went to have a look at the Motorola "sales" when they stopped and I had a ball; like a kid in a toy shop (I'm sure all guys know the feeling).
Any other items received by the riders; e.g. suitcases, racing clothing, shoes, glasses and casual clothing is the rider's property and it doesn't have to be returned. Well, in normal circumstances that is. I have heard about guys having to give EVERYTHING back to their team director or manager when they decide to leave a team - petty behaviour if you ask me. What the team does with that gear afterwards; wouldn't have a clue. I mean, who'd wear second hand socks?
As for the cars, trucks and camping cars or busses; these are normally leased by the team, frequently on a 12-month basis, and returned afterwards (pretty much trashed to buggery).