This morning, I woke to the singing and chattering of the dozens of birds living in my parents' garden. It was early, but the rising sun filled our bedroom with a golden glow and I just enjoyed the scene. It was perfect, home again. The simplicity and the instant fullness of the moment made me a happy man as I lay there in this little corner of my personal paradise.
Knowing the season has been great, fantastic really, gives me a feeling of fulfilment. I have come back from hell to take my place at the top of International Cycling. I was the best Australian finisher in the classics and one-day races this season, a status I have been able to hold onto for quite a few years now.
Being proudly ranked as second Australian behind Stuey, finishing 66th on the UCI in the overall ranking with 615 points (+10 points to add from the Herald Sun Tour) is not bad at all I reckon. I have been able to reach all my personal goals over the last few years, this year accomplishing the goals I set in racing with the only hiccup being the World's.
This feeling was topped of with a late telephone call last night. The cherry on this year's cake must be the ruling of the court in Tongeren. The Correctional Judges decided to reinforce the verdict of the Police Judge. It makes me feel that the suffering and hardship I endured after the '98 Amstel Gold accident has not just been brushed off the table.
My off-season really only started from this moment. There has been a lot of stuff on my agenda and there were so many friends and family to go and see before I could come and "hide" in my parents house. (Hence the delay of this up-date.)
It's late in the year maybe and even though I have had little time on the bike for the last couple of weeks, my mind hasn't switched to holiday mode until now.
The Herald Sun Tour was fine. The rain dropped a grey veil over the event, but the guys from Team fakta who came out with me enjoyed the experience. We won a couple of nice stages and I can't help but be proud to have taken victory in the Queen Stage of the Tour; the tough climb to Mt Hotham.
Kurt won a stage as well and the rest of the shorter criteriums weren't really our forte, so you don't hear us complain. The prize money is a bonus and for the guys it meant some extras during their stay in Oz.
Once the Sun Tour was over and done with; we flew up to Brisbane, where our wives and girlfriends met us. We picked up the four wheel drives we received in a sponsorship deal with Holden and drove up to Noosa; stopping briefly at the Ettamogah pub, a real Aussie icon.
In the days leading up to the Noosa criterium we were asked to participate in a number of promotional activities. Since the evenings were filled with rich dining and the greater part of the nights with partying, I have to admit we weren't at the start line of the Noosa criterium with the best of legs.
Actually, after playing 18 holes of golf on the Thursday -- most of us without the luxury of a golf buggy -- my team mates could do little more but laugh about the soreness in their end-of-season-bodies.
While I was struggling over the last holes on the golf course, I got a friendly call from ASDA; Australian Sports Drug Agency. They asked me if could pay them a visit the next day for some out of competition testing; they enquired what my schedule would be. I had to fit them in between a 6 am "ride with the legends" tourist ride and an 11 am media launch.
Cadel Evans and I were the ones who received the honour of providing ASDA with some of our bodily fluids (urine and blood).
Noosa was pumping, as it is every year during the multisport festival. On the Sunday morning, I competed in the celebrity-tri event. I was teamed up with Ky Hurst and Steve Moneghetti Your guess ≠ yep, we absolutely killed it!
My son SaŽn really dug the gold medal I received that afternoon during the presentation ceremony held in the huge tent. It was absolutely packed with participants and their family and friends. SaŽn proudly wore the blue ribbon with the medal around his neck, hoping everybody would ask him about it.
Thanks to Lawrie Cranley for his great support and to all of the USM (United Sports Management) crew, especially Garth and Donna. Also a word of appreciation to Steely from the Noosa surf club and Matt and Judy of "Jaspers" restaurant! We had a great time.
After the criterium we decided to stay with our friends, Peta and Dave Woods from the Emerald Resort on Hastings Street, for a couple more days. The rest of the fakta clan went to the beautiful Frazer Island for "recuperation".
Mid week, we drove back down to Brisbane. My sis Naomi invited us to stay with her. She lives in New Farm, in the penthouse of a 14 floor high residential building. The view over Brisbane and the Storey Bridge is magnificent by day, breathtaking by night.
Jorgen Bo and his wife Suzanne arrived and a couple of days later Marcus and Carina, Kurt and Nina and soigneur Allan showed up. They were very impressed by the beauty of Frazer Island and had great photos to share their experiences. Cadel Evans joined us for the time in Brisbane, as he had in Noosa, and we took it easy, just relaxing and thinking very little about racing.
The weather on the Saturday of the crit was shocking. The rain poured down and turned the event into something that looked more like a duck race than a cycling event.
Marcus was the only one who had the incentive to hang in there. He finished, finding the rest of us tucked away underneath the awning of a corner tavern on the circuit.
Although in better weather, this is truly a nice race, I think the weather gods chased all of the crowd away after the finish and there were only a dozen or so spectators left to watch the podium ceremony.
Anyway, that was the last "race" of the season and we knew a good night was to come so we all went home, after the guys ran up a bill of no less than 24 beers in record time, we got showered and met at Naomi's place. We ordered Indian take-away and everybody just sat around, enjoyed the food and conversation until it was decided it was time to head out.
Some taxis took us to the Holiday Inn bar, the venue for the live band "Miles from Nowhere". They were cool, good rocking with a touch of punk; a popular band in the Brisbane area. The girls sang along when the guys played one of their own numbers: "My girlfriend is smarter than me". Carina even decided to buy their CD's on the spot.
It was a choice night! That evening, I got the partying out off my system for the rest of the year, and for the whole of the next season as far as I am concerned right now.
The rest of team fakta departed from Australia with a great tan, in an up-beat mood and vowing to visit again soon.
Tweed Heads was our next stopover on the route to Inverell, my hometown. While finalizing our accommodation for the month of December, I stayed at my cousin Tony's place for a couple of days. His wife Nicole and Sabine are close friends and SaŽn is best mates with their dog Simon, so we were happy to catch up with them at their house in the Tweed hills.
We booked an apartment on Point Danger (awesome view of the surf by the way!) so I'll be joining the morning bunch at Coolangatta again from December 9 till mid January.
For now, well, my Harley is craving some attention. I'll take it out on the NSW roads in the coming weeks; blow the cobwebs right out of it and see if I can strip some rubber of that rear tyre.
I even have a little get-away with Sabine planned for next week; we'll be cruising the bike over a few mountain passes to Port Macquarie. No doubt, the run through the great landscapes will be more healing to the soul than anything else I did this year. I love the winding roads on which Sabine only just manages to stay on the bike.
My training program sees me starting in December. Until then, some leisurely outings on the pushy, with SaŽn and Sabine in tow, will be sufficient. Some light cross training and laps in the pool are on the schedule again too.
My diet is something Sabine and myself watch over the whole year really; we're a bit alternative in that area maybe. I'm one of those people blessed with a constitution, which handles sticky date puddings and carrot cakes with ease and I put on only little weight during non-active periods.
I do swear by a vegetable and fruit juice cleansing during my off-the-bike time, so I guess that will have to take place the coming week. I'm not going to let my mum's home cooked roasts pass me by though!
On December 5, there is a screening camp for the team in the pre-selection for the Commonwealth Games (Manchester, summer 2002). I'll be flying down to Canberra for that and return to the Gold Coast December 8. Talk to you then!
Yours in cycling