Monday, September 21, 2009

end of a long hard race

I watched quite a bit of the Tour of Spain (Vuelta a España) on broadcast TV. Sad to say, Joost Posthuma, the bike racer whose career I follow most closely, did not take part in it. His team had decided to put him in the Tour of Britain, and then he came down with the 'flu* and didn't start that one either.

Meanwhile, Garmin-Slipstream, an American team which prides itself on racing clean, did very well in the Spanish tour. I've a couple of favorite riders on that team: David Millar and Julian Dean — the one a Scot who was caught taking performance enhancing drugs, served his suspension, and is now a sort of grizzled veteran of the sport; the other a New Zealander who has always raced clean (or so I believe). Millar is a mountain specialist who can turn in a good time trial. Dean is a sprinter who's likely to come in at the back of the pack on the mountain stages. Like Joost, they're both used mainly as support riders with occasional chances to shine on their own. And like Joost, they both value cooperative effort a bit more than individual celebrity.

It was a pleasure to see Millar win the Stage 20 time trial.

He writes infrequently on the Garmin blog, but always engagingly and with great generosity towards his mates. About this win, in a post called Winning, he says
I am so relieved that I won — I am so happy that I felt as good as I hoped to — and above all, I am over the bloody moon I won a sword! [This sword is the Sword of Toledo, see photo and caption below.]

But what makes this great is that I can share my success with my team. Kiwi Guy [i.e., Julian Dean] is sitting here next to me right now having a beer, he has done 62 grand tour stages this year, 63 tomorrow. From May 9 until now he has on average raced every other day… that is our sport. That is Kiwi Guy! He is so sick and tired and finished and yet he hasn’t given up.

{David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) was given a sword made in the host town of Toledo. source:; photo credit Fotoreporter Sirotti}

{Two images of David Millar from Garmin-Slipstream's banner head celebrating his Stage 20 victory}

Julian Dean writes on his own blog — julian dean pro cyclist — rather than on the Garmin page; or, more often these days, his wife Carole writes. Dean is very much the realist about himself and his racing. Carole's writing is conversational, personal, and quite funny. They both make plain the hardships of professional bike racing, its dangers and the huge effort required of riders to persevere.

On the first day of the Vuelta, Dean writes: "Yep, it’ll be three out of three for me. I’m lining up for my third start in a Grand Tour for 2009 [The Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, and the Vuelta]. . . I’m not sure whether I’m going to be much use. . . My bets are that I’m not likely to be that good." During the Tour de France, Dean and a rider on the Rabobank Team were hit by pellets from an air gun. About this Dean writes:
As you may have heard, my ‘shot’ finger blew up like a ping pong ball, got super red, hot and nasty and heinously infected. All this drama culminated in the rather urgent surgical removal of the ‘foreign body’. I was hoping the Doc’s report would say, “bullet” or at least, “pellet” but obviously neither of those were clinical enough! Anyway, all this action saw me spend a couple of weeks on some serious antibiotics. It knocked me around a bit – on top of already being buckled after the Tour - and I feel like I’ve only really been coming right over the last week or so. Not really in enough time to do some serious training for the Vuelta.
In his second post he writes: "I was unsure of how I would be after limited preparation coming into the Vuelta, I actually felt and rode great. The best place to be on days like today is in the front and I was comfortable there the whole day, battling to stay out of trouble. Coming into the sprint, it all seemed like it was going in slow motion. I was able to sit in comfortably, finding my place and moving around with my fingers up my nose, as we often say in cycling when racing feels easy. I placed Tyler well and was happy with how the day had worked out." And then, "On to Stage 2 and the dream was over for ‘Freddy Fresh Legs’. It seemed like the day before I could do no wrong and on this day I couldn't do anything right. . . . It was a real struggle the whole day. I was just off my game and did a shit job."

Worse was to come: "Stage 3’s weather to Liege, was nothing short of a hellhole. The first 50km were ok but from then on we were pelted with relentless rain – all 175 km to the finish. Inevitably the stage became a crash fest. I was one of the first guys to go down in a crash that was really my own fault. I locked it up coming into a corner when I wasn't paying attention for a split second. Initially I managed to keep it upright, sliding for some time but then I hit the gutter and high-sided over top of the bike onto the deck. I wasn't really badly injured but did have a substantial gash below my left knee. I decided not to look at it again after an initial ‘peek’ and just got on the bike to see if I could ride. After struggling to get back to the race, I made my way to the medical car where, after quite an effort that took four attempts, they finally managed to get it covered up. I was able to continue on – somewhat a little battered and bruised but essentially not too bad. I was feeling shit and besides, it wasn’t like I was going to be able to contribute anything positive to the final anyway."

Dean is silent after this post and Carole takes over. She writes:
Hey all. Carole here. You'll just have to put up with me updating you for now. I've asked, nudged, urged and finally pleaded for Julz to flick me through one of his own but to no avail. His third 'grandie' for the year is taking its toll on his body and his mind.

Have to say I'm expecting little more than an empty shell by the time I get him back! I'd say boobs on a bull would be more useful than Julz as a husband after his hectic 2009 season.

The results page on Cyclingnews does little justice to the work horses of the peloton. My Mum asked me, "Isn't Julz feeling very good?". Well if you look at the black and white of it, it certainly doesn't look too flash for our Julz. But I know that our Julz has been busting his arse for one and all and although is weeeeeeellllll dowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnn on GC, he's proving once again to be an integral piece in the machine we commonly label as the 'team'.

He's the only guy left who has started all three 'grandies' this year, finished both the Giro and Tour and is still trucking in the Vuelta.
And later:
Right, who's stabbing the crap out of a voodoo doll of Julz??? It's mad. Unbelieveable.... Friggin unbelieveable. That guy has the shittiest luck...

The 16th stage of the Vuelta came down to a sprint today. I was glued to the tv watching the final kms and spotted Julz nicely tucked in the front of the peloton.

I was fizzing that for the first time this year Julz was going to have an opportunity to sprint for himself.

Things were unfolding nicely in the race for him while my house was unfolding chaotically at the wee hands of the boys as they took full advantage of my complete and utter focus on the telly.

Anyway, with about 3km to go, the peloton was seriously getting down to pre-sprint business through the city streets of Puertollano. The overhead TV shot showed the front of the peloton and me being soooo familar with Julian's riding style I quickly picked him out. He was without a team-mate and making his way up the outside of the peloton to get into a better position. I was impressed with how easy he was moving up.... at which point one guy got squeezed out, which squeezed the guy beside him out, which squeezed Julz out toward the barrier. That was ok, Julz still had enough room to move... until he collided with a spectator who was hanging too far over the barrier! Beauty. So there my eyes were fixated on this body tumbling over the handle bars. At that split-second, I wished I wasn't so good at picking him out of the bunch 'coz the feeling that floods me whenever I see him crash is that of such dread and fear that it really does make me nauseous. And then there's the wait..... Waiting to see whether he's ok or not. One eye wants to continue watching for any signs of 'ok-ness' while the other eye just wants to seal water-tight shut just in case Julz is really hurt. I've witnessed too many of his crashes on live TV and shared every post-crash rehabilitation period with him so my 'fear-metre' is hypersensitive these days. . .

Anyway, thankfully Julz was ok. He sent me a message as soon as he got back to the bus to tell me he was fine; no skin left but no broken bones. Grated like a chunk of parmesan cheese but not crumbled, I can handle. Phew.
And finally:
Well, the nut-bag has pretty much nailed it! Just the 110km womble into Madrid tomorrow left and barring any bizarre meteorite-crashing-into-Spain-and-wiping- out-the-parcours-into-Madrid-incident, Julz WILL cross that finish line tomorrow.

He IS the walking dead right now. He has an ever-growing list of 'ailments' which now include mouth ulcers, cold sores and the flu - all on top of his sore neck, skinless back and the hole in his knee (from his crash in Stage 4). How he is still racing is beyond the comprehension of a non-athlete such as myself, but why he is still racing is something I can understand and have fully supported even if it does mean the boys and I will be left with trying to 'rebuild' Julian from the squillions of broken pieces that'll get sent home to us on Monday! . . .

So he's fizzing to have made it. I talked to him tonight and he's quietly chuffed with himself. In true Julz style he's certainly not out there blowing his own trumpet... But then leave his trumpet-blowing to me, I reckon.

{Julian Dean on the pavement (in a different race); source:}

{Julian Dean upright; source: Garmin photo}

* See entry for 9/12/09 on Joost's page.

No comments: