Team Cyclingnews.com - Down Under - 2004
Tour of Hungary - 2.6, July 26 - August 1
Satisfying the win hunger in Hungary
By Phil Thuaux
Well, in between two 17 hour drives, we've been hanging about Hungary, competing in a bike race, taking in some sunshine, some rain, and discovering the accommodation standards that Hungarian students live by. Our team for the race was, myself, Cameron, Cody, Matt, Leigh, and Nathan.
The week proved to be successful with some nice results along the way. We started the tour with a 3.5km prologue, in the town of Veszprem. The course was up or down, and finished with a cobbled climb several hundred metres long. The team started the tour well, with Nathan "Chookman" coming fourth, myself 5th, Leigh 7th, and the other three guys all in the top 30 in the 108man field. We were all in contention, with the time gap to the leader only being several seconds from us.
Stage One, 178km, Balatonfüred-Balatonföldvár
We started the day well with Leigh placing himself in the early break of the day. 40km into the stage though the group returned to the peloton, and the fireworks started again. The wind started to play havoc with the race, splitting it into pieces at times, as things were thrown into the gutter, and the race became a case of dodging the stopped roadside cars. We all survived to get to the rolling hills, where the pressure continued. Cam covered some moves well, and given a good opportunity I followed a counter move as we progressed onto one of the final rolling hills of the stage. I was away, and we were moving, but too fast for me, as my legs wouldn't push the pedals hard enough as we approached the crest, and mowed down the front few riders who had until now held the lead for the stage. The rest of the stage was downhill, but I couldn't close the gap to the leaders, but did stay in front of the bunch to cross the line solo in between the two groups. The result put me in 8th place overall. Leigh had done it tough in the early break of the day, and unfortunately didn't cross the finish line, and thus couldn't start the next stage.
Stage Two, 167km, Balatonföldvár-Pécs
This could be the 'day in the sun' for Team cyclingnews.com, so to speak at least, as we raced in the rain for much of the day. Only several kilometers into the stage I found myself in a 6 man break going clear of the field. Less than 30km later we were joined by 8 more riders, including Cam, and we extended the lead over the peloton to several minutes. The real challenge of the day was still to come however, with a Category 1 ranked climb to contend with, before two laps of a 'b*##$*it' hard 10km circuit, which had a cobbled climb, as well as a kilometer long 'wall' of pave that finished before a 6km descent to the finish line.
Things were going well for us until a 'complication' with the neutral spares slid me across the wet road and pulled me from the lead group. A required tune up of the front derailleur, which sliced open my ankle in the fall, and the mechanic and director had me back in the lead group. A chat with Cam and Eddie our director, and the game plan was developed for the circumstances. It started to work as well, as Cam covered the attacks as we approached the major climb, letting me save the legs for the critical moments. By the top of the Cat 1 climb it was only myself and the Tour's defending champion in the lead from the now splintered lead group. The peloton had picked up their pace, and started to reduce the time gap.
Once on the finishing circuits I was preparing for the 'wall' of pave, and fortunately had the legs to use it to my advantage, being able to ride away from the Slovakian that had been in my company. There was 16km to go still, and feeling the way I did, I was able to capitalize on the situation, and finish 1 min, 6sec ahead of him, and 3 miutesn in front of a group of 5 riders who had come from the chasing peloton. It was a result that put me in the leader's yellow jersey, as well as the Blue King of the Mountains jersey. But it was a long way to go until the finish in Budapest, 4 days away.
Stage Three, 45km Team Time Trial
The race of truth, for the teams! We'd been training for this one, but some last minute team changes meant that we hadn't all had the chance to practice together. The course was dead flat, out and back, with minimal wind. We started on the back foot, only having five riders, against the standard six (Leigh had withdrawn earlier in the tour), but with the yellow jersey in the team, who knows what might have been about to happen?! Just before halfway a pot hole claimed Ricey. Sticking to our game plan, we all 'sat up', waiting for him to get a wheel change from our following team car. Things weren't that simple however, and a slow diagnosis on the terminal bike problem meant that a bike change was necessary for Ricey. He wasn't going to be able to contribute effectively to the team train, so we had to go on without him. For the rest of the stage the remaining four of us held a great pace, but against teams of six riders it wasn't going to be our day. We still averaged about 49.9km/hr, but lost several minutes, as well as the yellow jersey. I was in 3rd place overall now, just over two minutes of the lead.
Stage Four, 180km, Karcag-Miskolc
Rain pouring down a tight opening circuit resulted in a crash in the middle of the field, which sent someone to hospital. The cyclingnews.com boys survived though, and the race went out onto the open road for a day of mixed showers and sunshine. The race director had mentioned before the stage start that the day could be shortened to finish on the summit of the final climb, and avoid a dangerous descent which was so narrow that no room for error would be allowed in wet conditions. The chosen summit was only 14km from the planned stage finish, and the results would likely be the same, except for the possible hospitalisations if things turned rubber side up.
Anyway, following standard tour procedures, a break with no real general classement riders went up the road early, the leading team sat on the front of the peloton and kept it in check. As we approached the climbs near the end of the stage we got the information over our race radios that the stage was going to be shortened. The break was still holding a small lead, but with the extent of the final climb, it all came back to the riders who survived the climb from the peloton. All of the GC (General Classement - overall result) riders marked each other, and the stage was won by a lesser overall threat. All the leading riders finished within seconds of each other, not bringing any changes to the overall standings. I collected enough points to maintain the blue King of the Mountains Jersey.
Stage Five, 148km, Mezõkövesd - Kékestetõ
This was the day that I decided to try and win the tour overall. The finaleof the stage included two category 1 climbs, with the final one including 3 kilometres of a 10 percentt to the stage finish.
To win the tour I would need to make up 2 inutes on the current race leader. It was going to be hard, but hey, I'd ridden away from the race leader for my stage win earlier in the week, so why couldn't it happen again? I wasn't going to go home without trying!
Oce more, the stage took the normal proceedings. An early break went, with no real threats involved, the leaders team set the pace, and we proceeded towards through the stage, once more generally at 45km/hr. The boys once more did a superb job of looking after me during the day. Ricey was a great wheel to sit on, just behind the yellow jersey, and a new water bottle was only a matter of asking, and the boys would have one from the team car. Everyone knew what they had to do, and they did it. Scooting down the descent of an early Cat 3 climb I punctured the rear wheel. A quick call on the radio though, and the troops were assembled. Cody gave me his wheel, which let me get going again without having to wait for the team car to reach me. The rest of the boys then got the cyclingnews.com train in motion, and we rejoined the peloton, whilst Cody was serviced by the team car and also shortly rejoined us for the remaining battle.
The first cat 1 climb had the pace set nicely, with a bit of spice thrown in there by each of our guys to keep everyone honest. To gain the required 2 minutes, I was going to have to commit far enough from the finish to build the lead I needed. I still had the King of the Mountains jersey on my shoulders, but that wasn't a priority for the day. The climb gained its cat 1 status thanks to its length, rather than any steepness. The problem with that was that the attacks were at close to 40km/hr, and everyone could still get a reasonable sit in the draft behind each other. The group certainly did get quite small, but there was no room to allow me to gain any time on this first climb. I wasn't going home without a fight however, so some final attacks, but still no luck. A counter attack was launched by a German, and it left me chasing a group of 6 riders, including the yellow jersey. I closed the gap, but not in time to gain any defensive points for the King of the Mountains jersey.
Anyway, a quick descent, and we were soon heading for the final climb of the day. The replaced rear wheel wasn't real healthy, but kept us in the game, to the summit. I paid for my efforts on the previous climb, but had a comfortable enough lead to know I could still maintain my 3rd place overall. I did however lose the King of the Mountain jersey. A minor loss though, in comparison to what we'd been aiming for.
Stage Six, 138km, Gyöngyös - Budapest
The final stage of the tour, and according to the course profile, things were likely to stay the way they were. The second half of the stage was flat, and would allow the race to be controlled relatively well by the leader's team. There was minimal wind, so splitting the race would be hard. We studied the map, and chose our plan of attack if the opportunity arose. The day was controlled too well by the dominance of the leader's team however.
Once more, a small group of non overall contenders tried their luck, but it wasn't to last. Given the likely chance of a bunch finish we had decided to work for our team's sprinter, Cody. Less than 20km to go, and the lead break of three riders held a lead of approximately 1min, 30sec. It wasn't likely to be possible to gain the two minutes to take the tour lead, so we assembled the express train for Cody to ride to the finish. The view from the Danube river was one of five cyclingnews.com boys stringing the peloton out along its banks in single file at 50km/hr. From 15km out the guys did a great job of dominating the race, and we held dominance over the 10km of the 3.3km finishing circuits. The 3 race leaders had their lead quickly diminished, and with just two laps to go they were in sight of the peloton. As the bell lap sounded, the time was down to just seconds. Ricey peeled clear in the closing kilometers, and Cam, myself and Chook kept Cody's delivery continuing. Cam peeled clear with approximately 1500metres to go, as Cody's moment neared. My final turn swept up the break with just 800 metres to go, and Chook came through to lead Cody and the peloton through the final corner at 400m to go. The rest was finished off by the team's 'pocket rocket', whose delighted win was shown with handshakes and hugs for the boys shortly afterwards - Good job mate!
To add to the team's successful finale, there was also a chance of a move to second overall for myself after the rider who held a 35 second lead on me had had a mechanical problem in the final 10km of the stage, and never got back to the field. The results were finally published, and I was fortunate enough to have gained enough time to move into second overall.
So, a good week in Hungary for the team with results of
Chookman - 4th in Prologue
The coming weekend has half of the team competing in the four day 'Tour of Antwerpen' in Belgium, whilst the rest of us will go to Germany for Sunday's UCI 1.3 in Dortmund.