16 February 2009

Tour of Qatar- Race review

After a bit of a drive we arrived at the airport in Frankfurt for the flight to Doha, the biggest city of Qatar. We had a team of six riders, and staff of three, so the pile of bikes and luggage was pretty massive, we were expecting a bit of a fight to get it all on the plane, let alone for free. We only had eight bikes, five spare sets of wheels, massage table, nine very large personal bags, tools and work-stand, radio gear, 100 bidons, massage, nutrition and hydration products, so you can imagine the pile. At least we were on time, if not a bit early, which always helps. We were pretty well looked after at the desk, with a personal check-in lady organising everything for us effortlessly. A quick estimate of the weight (we under estimated by about 40%, just in case we had to pay the excess ourselves), and all was sorted very quickly. We found out later that Qatar Airlines had sponsored the flights and luggage, lucky for us, they had a special container for the bikes, so at least they would be a bit safer. Two other teams were on the flight, Columbia and Nurenburger, so we didn’t feel so bad, as they had just as much equipment as us, if not a bit more.

So before I could watch four movies in a row, we had landed, midnight in Doha, now the fun really started. After sitting in the passport control line for what seemed like the best part of an hour, one of the riders finally got to an officer. We were all watching in anticipation as none of us had, or wanted to pay for an entry Visa (about 25 Euro). It was all too much for the system, riders had blocked every counter, none of them having any luck getting through. Well it was all too much for the passport control, so they herded all the teams into and area and told us to wait, while they tried to sort out the problem. After another half an hour or so, we started asking the important one what the story was, it was getting late, and the riders needed to sleep, he looked at us with confusion. He asked what we were doing sitting over where we were told to sit, and then in a moment, he waved us through. After gathering up all the teams bikes and bags, we packed it all on some open bed trucks, hoping nothing would fall off the side, en-route to the Hotel. An hour later we made it to the hotel and got a bit of a impromptu tour of the city as well. But we still had not seen the truck with our luggage yet, so no relaxing for me yet. The girls checked in, and I waited, and waited, and waited, 2 am rolled around, still waiting, I had visions of the truck stopping somewhere, and few bikes and bags being offloaded in the night. After a while, one of the teams went and had a look at the bike tent (still up from the men’s tour, and ready for us for the race), and what do you know, the two trucks were sitting and waiting for an hour for us there. We unloaded the bikes, delivered the bags to the team, and finally hit the bed. The hotel was a dream, the Ritz-Carlton, next door to the ‘Pearl of Qatar’, we had a nice room on the 21st floor, looking through the central atrium, to the foyer below, put the shits up me. Think it was a bit of jet lag playing with my head, the balcony outside was just as creepy, I hung onto the rail as if the building was swaying in the wind. A short sleep later, I was ready for action.

The girls on the front, causing a bit of a stretched bunch.

A few hours to unpack the bikes, and the girls were ready for a nice training ride. The team for the race was Susanne, Mirjam, Loes G, Loes M, Trine and Iris, the best team we could muster for this early in the season, but pretty strong all the same. Training was pretty boring, 3 corners, then a nice straight road 40 km out, and 40 km back, not a corner or camel in sight. The bikes made it without any damage, we had all of the gang riding on last seasons bikes, just in case they wrecked them. The new bikes we were picking up when we arrived home, so you have to wait for a close look at them later. The race started the next morning, so I race tuned and prepped the bikes, wheels and cars, a few hours work, little bit of tyre pumping, and I was ready to roll. It was nice looking around the tent at the other mechanics still working as I walked out fully organised, experience is a great trait for races like these. Being organised before you leave, can save a lot of time, especially when sleep is at a premium.

The warm and dry weather, was a welcome change from the snow and ice of Holland. I had only a few days or so of this, but it was enough, a week in the sun was just what I needed (I had two weeks of winter, that was enough). Temperatures were sweet, at about 25’c, and all the bikes and riders were loaded, ready for the small transfer to the start. The ‘Museum of Arabian Art’ was our start point, a fantastic looking building and surrounds, holding some of the countries most precious art and artefacts. The setting was unreal, with the half built city in the foreground, and old Asian junks floating close by, giving us the impression Qatar has come a long way, very quickly. But we had a race to start, so I donned my mechanics cap for the first race of the season, and looked busy. A 94 km stage, six corners, with two straights of about 40km long each, simple to remember for the riders. We had a special plan for the day, attack from the 14km mark, so the girls were really motivated for some early fireworks. And by the looks at the 20km mark, no one was expecting us to attack. We had been practicing a bit of team time-trailing the day before, and it seemed to have worked out perfect. The bunch split badly, with a small group of about 12 riders out the front, we had half of the team in there. The bunch put the hammer down for the chase, they had been caught out by our attack, and the race was on. About the time we turned at about the 60 km mark, the gap was about a minute, not much, but the damage was done. Half of the peloton was at 8 mins, and the chasing group of about 20 was about to join the leaders. A small group of 30 made it to a sprint finish, with Giorgia Bronzini (Italian National Team) taking the win, Mirjam was in 5th, loes about 8th and Susanne in 10th. Not bad for stage one, three in top ten, four in main group, with the bunch distanced sitting on about 14 mins behind.

A bit of rehydration after stage No.1

Most of the teams were suffering many punctures after stage 1, the tent had a nice smell of fresh glue, we seemed to be lucky, with not a single flat so far. But that was all to change. Stage 2 started a bit out of town at the Oryx Farm, but we could not spot a single one, it was good to know that there was some wildlife that could live here, besides a few camels, and plenty of sand and rocks. The girls were in good shape, with their two hours on the front yesterday not really bothering them too much. They were ready for more action, most of the other teams were ready though, with a stage of 110 km, and a total of four corners, it was going to be fun. We had planned to attack the bunch again, no one else was going to, so we had to try and make the day a little bit interesting. The Men’s race a few days before had enormous amounts of wind, we seemed to have a bit of a lull for our race. We needed the wind to cause some damage, but nothing was happening today, but we had to give pain either way. And pain we gave, the team performed well, hoping to smash the bunch again, soon they would be submissive and would not fight back. But just as things were looking good, with 5 of the team in a small breakaway, the first puncture happened. Loes M was our first customer of the day, with a quick fix, she was back in the bunch. Then it was Trine’s turn, and then Mirjam in the front group (neutral service looked after her), our plan was failing with all the punctures going on. Then it was Susanne’s turn, 4 in total for the day, funnily enough three flats in the front wheels, one rear (normally the other way around). The plan was over for us, but at least the other teams were suffering as much as us, punctures everywhere, with the roads state, you could not escape it, rocks and holes are not easy to navigate around sitting in a big bunch. Eventually there was a small breakaway of two riders, Eva Lutz and Veronica Adreasson, they had a couple of minutes up on the bunch. They were both on 14 mins behind, so no one was really chasing them. Lutz sprinted for the win, Veronica second, and the funny thing was Rochelle Gilmore, sprinting the bunch home, thinking she had won giving a full victory salute for third place. Apparently her team had not told her there were two girls out the front, opps.

The water carriers are very important in the desert, what would we do without them.

Stage three was our last chance, Mir was still in 5th, Loes G in 8th and Susanne in 12th, so we were still looking ok in the GC. Our start area for the day, was the ‘Camel Racing Track’, everyone was looking forward to that. We had seen the odd camel along the way, but this was a good photo opportunity, and great to see the most popular sport in the country, up close. It was cool as we arrived, groups of camels and their handlers everywhere. Small bunches of race ready camels, cruising the course, it was pretty amazing to see, with the music blaring out on the loud speakers, it was surreal. I think the jockeys (if that’s what you call them) were just as surprised to see a bunch of lycra clad Women, as we were to see a bunch of locals, training and racing camels. It was a funny situation, right up to the point when one of the girls (she shall remain nameless this time) noticed she had left her shoes at the hotel. With a 45km drive back to the hotel, this was not an option. A panicked scout around the other teams, and we managed to find a spare pair of shoes, a couple of sizes too small, but she kept quiet, they would fit, no matter what. The race was under way, and again we tried a few things, but the wind was even slower than the previous days, so we just kept awake, and took any opportunity we could. We raced, the bunch split as usual near the end, Bronzini won the last stage, Kristen Wild took overall honours, and we managed to hold on to the team’s classification. Not too bad, as all the team was coming out of a cold winter. A quick bit of bike, and equipment packing and we were ready to fly. A few hours in the hotel waiting for our flights, and then we were out of there. Four days, three stages, five punctures, one crash, and six nice trophies later, we were content for the first race of the season.

Finally a corner, we get to see some of the race today.

And if you have not seen the photo pages look further, Stage #1, Stage #2, Stage #3

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