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News for February 3, 2003
A day in the life of a Directeur-Sportif at the LTdL
By Anthony Tan in Tanah Merah
Monday's stage 4 from Gerik to Tanah Merah was destined to be an exciting and colourful one - too good to simply sit back in the comfort of my air-conditioned media car and talk bollocks the whole day. That's for tomorrow.
With a number of teams poised to test the nerve of Team Saturn on the two category 1 climbs of G. Pilong and Titiwangsa, there was plenty of talk at the start of attacking and long breakaways, especially from the boys in Flanders-iTeamnova.
"Alby (Allan Iacuone) and I have been given orders to follow any dangerous breaks," said Trent Wilson, one of two featherweight climbers on the team.
"The climbs could well sort out the general classification - riders like Lanfranchi (Panaria-Fiordo) and Munoz (Colombia-Selle Italia) will try to break it up, and I wouldn't be surprised to see only 30 or so riders left at the finish," said Wilson.
So off I jumped into the team car, parking my rear next to Flanders-iTeamnova directeur-sportif Francky Van Haesebroucke to get an idea of what transpires on a day when a team decides to go all'attacco.
A bit of trivia: Van Haesebroucke used to be a professional cyclist for seven years; first with Flanders (1995-98), then Collstrop (1999) and finally Navigators (2000-01), so Francky knows a thing or two about racing and also thing or two about the team he now manages.
Asked if the Le Tour de Langkawi is a big objective for the team, Francky nods in agreement, but first explains why.
"For us, the Classics are important," begins Van Haesebroucke. "The sponsor wants to see us at the front, and to see us win, so races like Langkawi are very important for the riders' condition leading up to the Classics."
We're now on the first climb of the day. Rider 131 - Flanders-iTeamnova's Ronny Assez - has already lost contact with the peloton after less than 15 kilometres.
"I hope he has someone to ride with," says the mechanic. With more than 150 kilometres to go, so do I. Poor guy.
A break of eight riders goes clear near the summit of the first mountain, spearheaded by the second-placed rider on the overall classification, Roland Green of Canada. Green gets the KOM, but with only 30 seconds advantage over a largely intact peloton, it's likely to come back together before the start of the next climb.
"I told them to get into an early break, so when the eight riders were gone, one of them should have been there," says Van Haesebroucke, his face tensing. "OK, it's only 30 seconds, but when you're the climber in the team, you need to go when it matters."
The second climb to Titiwangsa is really doing damage. Riders are dropping off like flies, with Roland Green once again showing his strength, this time in the company of Ruber Alveiro Marin from Colombia-Selle Italia. Looks like we'll have a new leader in the King of the Mountains classification tonight.
It's the hottest day of the LTdL so far, well into the high 30s. But as we make our way up to the Alpine regions of the Cameroon Highlands, the temperature falls and raindrops begin to patter on the windscreen.
Says Francky: "Surely this climb will finish shortly. If they keep going up, we'll end up in heaven," he muses.
"But I haven't confessed all my sins yet" quips moi.
Saturn are setting a fearsome tempo up the latter stages of this climb, too much for David McKenzie and Jamie Drew, who among others, have tailed off the back.
"I can't get the top off the squeezy... F*&%!" says Macca, gasping for air. You see these twisted faces up close and you feel the pain, especially if you're a racer or been one before.
Stop press: Ronny Assez is disqualified for holding onto Flanders-iTeamnova's second team car after a wheel change!
We're called up to report to the Chief Commissaire's car. An altercation between Van Haesebroucke and the commissaire takes place at 100 kilometres an hour with no more than 30 centimetres separating us and them. Initially, Assez, the driver of the team car and Francky are expelled from the race, but with the use of some particularly colorful sign language, Van Haesebroucke will keep his position in the peloton for the remainder of the race. At least for today.
Willo and five others also lose contact towards the top of the climb, but a superb chase led by Eric Wohlberg from Saturn gets them back on before the descent into Belimbing (87.4km), and Willo happily rejoins his teammates Allan Iacuone and Jurgen Landrie in the front group.
After 103 kilometres (69 kilometres remaining), the chase group containing Graeme Brown, Flanders-iTeamnova's Jamie Drew and David McKenzie and a bunch of others are just 45 seconds behind. Despite almost 35 kilometres of climbing, it looks like it's going to be another bunch gallop unless the leading group of four riders - Hirose (Japan), Nieto (Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada), Leblacher (Credit Agricole) and Dekkers (Marlux-Ville De Charlerois) - manage to stay away. I'm secretly rooting for them.
"You have to be a rider before you can be a driver," says Van Haesebroucke, referring to his prowess (or madness) behind the wheel as we descend into Jeli at 100+ kilometres an hour.
"Flanders-iTeamnova to the peloton," says Race Controller Alan Rushton over the race radio. Suddenly we're going even faster; I knew I should have brought a change of underwear.
"C'mon Guyton, you can do it!" yells Francky as he hands over what seems like a dozen bottles of water to Scott Guyton.
"I dreamed about him winning last night," says Van Haesebroucke for the second time today. "He's a good rider, but lacks self belief. Otherwise he'd win plenty of races."
At the second sprint in Jeli (53km to go), all riders bar the four breakaways and a few abandons ride as one, the lead group's advantage over the peloton now hovering at two and a half minutes and closing.
The town of Bukit Bunga, the location for the third and final sprint of the day at 138 kilometres, could well be hosting the finals for the World Cup soccer there's that many people. Thousands of fans wait the best part of an afternoon for a few seconds of action, but for them, it's all worth it.
The teams of Lampre, Formaggi Pinzolo Fiave' and Saturn started motoring shortly after, and at the five kilometres to go banner, it was all back together.
With their sprinter David McKenzie injured, Flanders-iTeamnova were not looking a favourite for the finale, and in the end, it was Luciano Pagliarini for the third time in as many days. Maybe he should consider a name change to Luciano Déjà vu.
Images by Cyclingnews / Anthony Tan