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Personally, the first stage was a bit of a struggle. We had no chance to ride the day before due to press and TV commitments. They took up most of the morning and the afternoon. This morning we got out for about 45 minutes before it started raining so we headed home to prepare for the criterium.
The crit wasn't too bad. The course was very technical and slippery due to the conditions [cold and wet]. There were two crashes on the same corner, and you had to take the inside line there. There were plenty of early nerves, you had to be on your guard so you didn't get caught up.
A few guys slipped off the front with 10 laps to go. We let them get that 150 m/10 second gap and that was it. We (Malaysia Airlines/fakta) just wanted to ride around and get through this first stage. McKenzie was geed for it, and there were a few criterium specialists there.
I'll be just trying to get through to the end of Saturday evening. Since Paris-Bourges (October 4) I've only done two lots of 2 hours training. If I get through the first few stages and the jet lag then it should be all right.
I was caught by surprise by so many time bonuses. It was a little bit of a pity as there's really only one mountain stage, and we're doing the easy side of Mt Hotham. In the middle of the climb there's 10 km of flat, before the last 4 kilometres of uphill. As we've only got one mountain stage, it's going to be a difficult task. But we've got a few cards we can play so we'll see how we go.
It was a bit of a pity how things went the other day - I had diarrhoea the first few days; probably because my stomach didn't have any favourable bacteria anymore after the heavy course of antibiotics. To say I was having a bad time is an understatement.
I don't want the stress of riding for GC any more. After yesterday (stages 4 and 5), I started to get better legs. Maybe Jorgen Bo Petersen (10th at 10'21) can move up for us if he gets in the right breaks.
I sent him away on the first cat. 1 climb. Then there was a another third category followed by a first category. I went across to him on this climb. I had 30 seconds, and there were two Mroz (Echuca-Moama) guys chasing. If Jorgen Bo was allowed to feed, then we wouldn't have been caught. You have to do everything from the car, and he was by himself for 20 km.
We went up the back side of Mt Hotham. The actual climbs themselves weren't bad; it was 22 km from the last first category climb to the finish. But it was block headwind. I held the two Mroz riders off for 12 km. I was struggling to keep it at 15 seconds. It would go out to 20 seconds on the climbs, then they'd bring it back on the flats to 12 seconds. At the end I thought just save it and they made it back to me. I was pretty confident I could beat them in a sprint, as I had done in the Peace Race.
Now there's nothing for me really - one stage with a few hills at the end. It's only fourth category though and the sprinters will get over it. The day into Colac is good too, but the hill's a fair way from the end.
Anybody who's willing to have a go can win. There are a lot of sprint bonuses - 55 seconds in one criterium stage if you attack from the start and stay away to win.
I'd be happy to ride Mount Buller tomorrow...
The boys are relaxing now and everybody's kicking back for the Bendigo criterium. It was pretty hectic today - a 3 hour drive from the mountains to the start. Then 180 km of dead roads, very long, with a lot of wind. It was a bit like riding in the south of Spain. It was the first day of real sunshine though.
We started with 10 laps of a crit circuit. I jumped straight away and we were gone. The plan was that we would leave the Echuca-Moama boys to chase, but Stafiej kept jumping across to the groups. Then a group went with Lupeikis. We settled down in the peloton and rode tempo with Gerolsteiner (Ballarat*Eureka) and NSWIS.
They kept it at a couple of minutes, not too far. There was a fair bit of wind and it was just as easy to ride at the front as it was to hold the wheel. The boys wound it up for the last 10 kms and the break only finished 37 seconds in front.
Some of the other riders weren't too happy with the result because there should have been people eliminated yesterday (Mt Hotham). But they are just some of the things you have to live with. The commissaire said that we have to try and keep in as many as possible, otherwise we would have only started with 60 guys today.
All the French guys [Alexandre Chouffe, Benjamin Levecot and Stephane Barthe] rented a car and went home. They said it was too hard for the end of the season, too many crits. [Ed: they were also involved in a crash during stage 6]
Some other snippets: We went for drive early this morning and saw a few kangaroos - thought it was cool. In the race there was a copper riding along with a big long snake - thought it was cool. We enjoyed the scenery and everyone's happy with good weather.
Also, with my win yesterday we have the same number of wins as CSC this season :-)
On Steve Williams (best Aussie at second overall): It depends on the TT a lot. Wrolich is very strong at the moment. His team did a lot of work yesterday. It probably won't happen, but you never know.
It's coming to an end, and it's not only the end to the race but it's the end of the season. The weather hasn't been great, it was only sunny for two days. Everyone's getting pretty damn tired. Quite a few guys (McEwen, Gates, Vogels) who did the time trial this morning but didn't start this afternoon.
I lost 16 minutes in the time trial - I've totally gone flat. The boys wanted to try and go for the win but I had nothing. I was crook before the World's, had the stomach bug and I really pulled myself up for the stage to Mt Hotham. Last night I slept really badly, woke up a lot. It was a 2.5 hour drive to the start, and I was just too tired.
Tomorrow is in the back of my mind too. If I get the opportunity, I'll try and go up the road. I might have a lash for the mountain jersey tomorrow - only 5 points difference between me and Eric Wohlberg. It would be nice to get on the podium.
Overall, I think this race at this point of the season is a little bit too much a) for the Aussies, who are not used to it. There would be more in it for them and it would be would be more exciting if it was 6 or 7 days long; b) for the Euro's who come over here, it's getting too long in the season.
The Polish guys come out here for the money, they get that and go home. During the year they do nothing. It's ideal terrain for them, with the flat, windy courses. For me it's not hard enough - you can't make the difference. The second category climb tomorrow is still 80km from the finish. You're in the wind and everything and you can't do it by yourself.
From an Australian point of view, Ashley Humbert and Peter Dawson have really impressed me. Hopefully they can get onto something later. They are attentive, strong in the hills and both are in teams where they've got good experienced riders.
Results - Stage 12, Stage 13
It was wet, cold and windy again. We did 10 laps of a crit course at the beginning, and it was full gas. We haven't rolled out for one start without going full gas.
Some breaks went away at the beginning. The plan was that I was going to go with it. Nobody would give me an inch though. Eventually a break went off, and we rode behind it all day. Gerolsteiner and Fakta controlled the pace - everyone was too knackered. Mroz was quiet because they had a guy in the break.
In the last 25 kilometres, we just started to pick up some tempo and pulled them back. The Mroz guy hit them with about 20 km to go and won it alone. We caught the rest on the line and I managed second in the bunch sprint.
The Mroz guys are here to make the money. They get on the podium, no smiles, no thankyous, that's it. The Bank race was so much more pleasurable, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Some guys think they're still racing in America - they're better off to take it easy and try something at the end.
This tour is a few days too long for the Aussies - they don't do any stage racing like this during the year. The Euro's have had enough too. There are so many transfers - 1 hour before and after the stage, double stages, washing to be done, finding somewhere to eat, go shopping for lunch for sandwiches. There's a lot to do.
To keep the quality in the race, I think they're better off keeping it at 7 days. Have criteriums to start and finish with, and five days of hard racing in between.
Hopefully we can have a sunny day tomorrow. With the bad weather and lack of promotion, there have been no crowds during the race. They could have done so much more with it.
I want to go for the win tomorrow. It's only a criterium but I'm going to give it a good shake.
The Geelong course: It was a really nice criterium course: 500m of hotmix although the rest of it was rough as guts. It was very, very windy too. We came into the back straight at 55-60 km/h, then it was a block headwind and by the end we were down to 35 km/h.
The race: I was just trying to make sure I could get away in the group. Some others got across including a couple of guys up there on GC (Ari Hojgaard Jensen and Russell Van Hout). They were driving it and giving it full gas. Alessandro Pozzi was also up there going for the Most Aggressive award. We kept a 200m gap for most of the race.
It would have been nice to win on the last stage. I wanted to make sure I was first into the final corner as there was a very sharp pinch coming into it. I wanted the inside line but McCook was also there. I had to cut the corner early and come out later. But Jeremy Hunt was on the other side of the road, coming into the left hand side (my side). So our lines were crossing and we came together in the apex...
Hunt and I got our handlebars tangled and McCook came underneath us to win. So we ended up with nothing. C'est la vie.
Looking back, it was a mentally fatiguing race due to the double stages and a lot of bonus sprints in the criteriums, You were always racing on the edge - the crits were full gas and you really had to watch who was going where. In the road races, there was a lot of wind. You had to be attentive to keep away from crashes, and near the front in the cross-winds.
Physically, myself and a lot of other riders feel quite good. Mentally a lot of the Euro's are quite tired. You always had to be alert. The cold weather meant that you were burning more energy.
There weren't any 'piano' or 'tranquillo' periods at the start of the stages. Not the normal intermingling between stages in the parks having lunch. We'd go to a pub or a coffee shop to keep warm. That's what I missed in this race.
Overall, the weather and the crowds were disappointing, and these were certainly related. Even in Bendigo there was only a few thousand whereas last year they said it was 10,000. It's also to do with the TV promotion: Channel 7, 9 and SBS were all interested in footage, but it would have cost $40,000 for a satellite link up. It was beyond the budget this year, but think how easy it would be to get that money back next year if you could guarantee coverage on three major TV stations.
John Craven [race organiser] organises these stages due to the necessity of getting money which is fine. He has to make allowances for what happened though. They don't have enough experienced commissaires, and the organiser has to listen more to chief commissaire Beth Wrenn-Estes, who did not seem to have the authority to make decisions. There has to be a better working relationship between race direction and commissaire.
Otherwise it was quite good. The Mrůz dominance was good for them, but in one way it made the race look a bit one sided. Fair enough if they're motivated. They used their abilities to the maximum possible level. From an Australian point of view, riders like Sean Sullivan, Trent Wilson, Peter Dawson, Ashley Humbert and Steve Williams all impressed me, but they needed stronger teams. If it was only 6 days they could throw out a stronger challenge. There is a wealth of talent still there.