Team Cyclingnews.com - Down Under - 2004
Tour de Berne, Switzerland, April 25, 140km, UCI 1.5
By Phil Thuaux
On Saturday at 6am, seven riders, and three staff set off from Belgium. The destination - Berne, Switzerland.
Sleeping for most of the way, I woke for a quick stop at Luxemburg, then snoozed again through Germany, before our lunch stop in France.
Greeting us after our ten-hour haul was the Hotel Florida, a nice setup at Studen, just several kilometres from the race course. We were quickly on the bikes, for a reconnaissance mission of the course, turning the information we'd been faxed on the race into reality.
What we found out was that the wind through the valley was likely to come into force more so then the 1km, eight percent climb, or the other 2km drag at four percent, which were located evenly around the 28km course.
Dinner at the hotel was eaten overlooking a giant pond within the hotel grounds, which even had its own flock of pink flamingos.
Getting to the business end of the weekend however - the breakfast at the hotel was great!
Breakfast consumed, we rode from the hotel to the race start in Lyss. The headquarters of the race, and the team preparation area was in an army barracks. Army personnel directed traffic, and things ran as smoothly as a genuine Rolex straight out of Switzerland.
As we pinned our numbers on and filled our pockets with race food, we only had one hiccup. Our staff's regular equipment was with the other half of the team, who were racing in the Netherlands - we had nothing to cut up our Energy flapjacks with. Not panicking we remembered where we were. Someone was bound to have a Swiss Army knife handy! And the situation was quickly solved thanks not to the army personnel, but our own Josh 'McGyver' Fleming, who produced a tidy Swiss Army knife unit, solving our problems.
The race got underway at precisely 1pm, and we commenced the first of five laps. Feeling good on the bike I maintained a constant presence in the top 20 of the field, always able to pounce on dangerous looking attacks. It was early still, and not worth wasting any energy on fruitless early attacks.
The strong teams in the field included the Div I Phonak Hearing squad from Switzerland, as well as many other Swiss pro teams, and of course ourselves, team Cyclingnews.com/Down Under.
No major breakaways succeeded in the first half of the race, although the field was constantly strung out, due to a reasonable pace.
At almost precisely half way, just over a dozen riders escaped the peloton in the crosswinds leading towards the steeper climb. We had no one there, and sensing some hesitation in the field I launched an attack out of an intersection and was able to build a gap immediately. My team mate Eric was able to join me soon after and eventually two other riders along with us closed the gap to the lead group.
We now had two laps remaining (that is, 56km) and were informed that our lead over the peloton was increasing. As we started the steeper climb for the second last time we got a boost to our team numbers with Cameron and Sven now joining us, thanks to some impressive riding by them to get a small group across to our lead bunch. Some further good riding by Sven, and some of the other dominant teams kept our lead group of 23 intact as we passed the finish area with just one lap now remaining.
We knew who our main contenders were going to be, and thanks to the continuing work of Svender and co we reached the final climb of the day (the steeper one) as one group.
Taking the wheel of the race favourite and Swiss National champion, Daniel Schneider, I followed his attack up the climb. We opened a gap immediately but were then soon joined by six more riders as we crested the summit. This was it - the final selection of eight riders, from the original 111 starters. We had just 11km remaining and our group contained two Phonak riders, two GS Saeco riders, three riders each from separate teams, and myself.
Some minor splits occurred as the two dominant teams (each with two riders) had some better cards to play, and decided to start using them. It was becoming time for me to gamble, but calculated gambling at that. There was an open section of crosswind approaching after a small descent. At the end of that we would have just over 3km remaining, the majority of which would be into a headwind. I attacked in the crosswinds, but unfortunately no one decided to join me. I built a small lead, but it dwindled into the headwind, as the two major teams had the numbers to work together and chase me down.
I recovered a little on the back (which was easier to do into the headwind). It was time for Plan B! I still thought it worthwhile to avoid a group sprint. I was second-last wheel (a good position) as we passed under the red flag indicating one kilometre to go. There were three riders on the front, each committing themselves to holding a good pace to the finish. I did think however that they could be outsmarted.
With 600m to go there were two 90-degree bends, 30m apart, forming a U-turn. This made the final 500m a tailwind run to the line.
I'd have to get an ideal run at the corner, but I thought it was worth the gamble for a possible victory.
In hindsight I'm not sure how much it mattered, but I got baulked as I was preparing to launch into the first of the corners. Maybe the extra speed and hence ground made would have proved useful.
I entered the final straight with a small, but perhaps sustainable lead. Like last weekend in Germany, the wind was behind me, helping that little bit more in being able to maintain a small lead. 400m to go, and I knew I had a gap, but didn't care to turn around, rather focusing on getting towards the finish line still in first place.
250m to go - I'm sure that the three-man train mentioned earlier would not be allowing me to stay away. But had I outplayed them? A slipped gear momentarily interrupted the burdening cadence as the finish line continued to near.
150m to go - I was going to be sprinting to keep second place - I'd been passed by a rider
100m to go - Another rider edges past me, but I can still hopefully make the podium!
As the final 100m pass I'm edged out by a third competitor, but get across the line with fourth place secured.
The rest of the guys finished off the day with Eric taking 11th, Sven 15th, and Cameron 19th. Robbie and Josh came in with the main peloton a little further back, whilst Nathan had served his duty early in the race and had hit the showers early.
Til next time,