Saturday, May 29, 2010

Berlin

Last week I finished the Tour of Berlin in 17th overall, 2nd in the young rider competition. The GC was mostly decided by the 16km time trial on the penultimate day, in which I finished 15th. As a first-year U23 rider, I was happy with a top 20, although as usual I see room for massive improvement. For one, Team USA had a disastrous team time trial on the first day. The TTT was only 5.3km with eight hairpin turns, and although we had a team of strong time trialists, a crash in the third turn shattered our momentum and put some of our riders too far into the 'red zone'. We ended up losing 20 seconds to the winner (in 17th position out of 21 teams), but I am confident that without the crash we could have placed in the top 5. The next day was a 160km (4x40km) road race with a 500m cobbled run in to the finish each lap. Miraculously, only one USA rider (Travis Burandt) crashed despite the extreme nervousness in the peloton and Cole House scored a top ten result in the sprint. Day three included the time trial and along with a 130km circuit race in the late afternoon. The time trial went as well as it could have - I may have gone out too fast but nevertheless I was satisfied with my ride (and it was wonderful to have my sister in the team car!). Team USA stacked riders in the top 30 with a 15th, 18th, 19th, and 24th, but no one could quite crack the top ten. I was just 10 seconds off top ten and the lead in the young rider competition but 'oh well better luck next time'. The afternoon stage was nervous. Jacob Rathe made the day's break and scored the most aggressive riders jersey. He was caught with 10km to go, just as it started to pour rain. The course was sketchy even with dry roads as every turn was graced with gnarly cobblestones and road furniture was ubiquitous out on the suburban roads, so the rain really shook things up. I managed to stay in the front part of the peloton and finished the stage in 32nd. Cole House was positioned well for the sprint but a crash with 300m to go sent him flying into a roadside cafe (he's fine don't worry). Only 50ish riders made the front split, but the time gaps weren't significant enough to move up on GC. The final stage was a 190km drag that started in downtown Berlin, headed west to the town of Premnitz, and then back the same roads to finish back where we started. No break went the entire day despite my best efforts, so we just rolled along in the pouring rain for 4.5 hours. Occasionally, a team would go to the front and split the group in the crosswinds, but no effort was extended enough to keep the stragglers from regaining contact with the peloton. With 15km to go, we entered the urban roads on our way towards central Berlin. I have a vivid memory of watching 'Star Wars: Return of the Jedi' when I was a child and watching Luke and the Ewoks rip through the forest on speeder bikes, narrowly dodging fallen trees and other shrubbery. I would always imagine how thrilling it would have been to chase down storm troopers on hovering motorcycles myself, but alas I have never had the opportunity to ride a high speed hovering motorcycle. The final 10km of the Tour de Berlin, however, may be as close as I come to such a thrill. We hurtled into Berlin at 50+km/h on a six lane road; we occupied the three right lanes, while the three lanes on the left were full of very much mobile oncoming traffic. Riders were jumping into the oncoming traffic lanes, dodging cars, all in an effort to get to the front. The right side of the peloton was equally unwelcoming; parked cars and the occasional protruding truck caused violent swerves and swells within the peloton. With 5km remaining, we turned right off the highway onto a smaller side street; I had opted for the right side of the peloton because a parked car seemed more friendly than a moving one - and thank goodness I did - because on that right hand turn two riders slid out, causing a crash and a split in the peloton. I had jumped up on the sidewalk (dodging curbs, fire hydrants, parked cars, and pedestrians alike) so I easily avoided the crash and regained contact with the front split. The last 3km were more tame as the field had been reduced and the pace was fast enough to discourage any of us in the back from moving to the front. I crossed the line around 30th place and immediately met up with my sister and found the nearest bratwurst stand. As terrifying as these sprints sometimes are, the thrill is unmatched - unless you have a Galactic Empire military grade speeder bike...

Now I'm in Salou, Spain for the Vuelta Terragona. No more cobbles and and road furniture, just mountains (a our team climbers call them 'hills', but after living in Belgium for two months I would call them mountains). Five days of hard hilly racing are on the menu and I'll write an update sometime in the next week.

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