A Good Heide-ing
Well I'll give them one thing; the organisers certainly know how to make an impression. I don't suppose many of you have been to Celle but if you have you'll know that there's a schloss thing right in the city centre and right now, at nine twenty five, a good percentage of the elite under eighteen riders, at least for northern Germany are lined up in front of it.
Not of course that the Schloss is getting that much attention from us riders, no indeed. Tali rode it last year so over breakfast she was giving us the beginners guide to the Lüneberg Heide Jüngere Grand Prix circuit. The main feature is that it takes place largely in the German equivalent of Salisbury Plain, an area not generally open to the public. I'd tuned out the MC's incessant drone as I went over the team plan for the day.
“Drew!” Tali poked me in the ribs.
“Come on, he's called us to the front.”
Girls to the front once again, not that it really makes that much difference once the event gets going.
“No racing please in the neutral zone or we will halt the event.” The commissar ordered.
Yeah, yeah come on get on with it, I'm freezing my tits off here! Well not really but there was a cool breeze giving me goose bumps in places boys shouldn't have them.
“Three, two, one, GO!”
The lead car sped across the wooden bridge then led us through the park surrounding the schloss before we poured out onto the road. I'm sure it was just a photo opportunity for the local rag but whatever; we missed a section of cobbles.
The neutralized section was somewhat longer than usual, nearly two kilometres in fact. Not that it made much difference to the pace; clearly no one wants to peak too early. We did however manage to rotate back into the bunch a bit, it was reassuring to have four of us riding today, we can cover any moves much easier.
We zipped along through Winsen/Aller, everyone quite happily maintaining a steady 35kph pace through the woodland and meadows up to Meißendorf. Not much beyond the village the first move of the day was launched, a couple of lads trying their luck on a slight rise. It was clearly doomed, they kept checking behind but then I spotted why they put the effort in, they just wanted to be first into the military zone.
Although it's open most of the time to civilian traffic, the signs warned of military traffic and the possibility of road closures. The road is well surfaced and wide allowing the bunch to spread itself more than usual. The escapees were soon brought to heel as we started a series of rolling climbs, not steep or long, just enough to break your rhythm. The road dropped a bit before starting a long right-hander.
“We turn off in a bit,” Tali whispered across, “the road's crap for a bit then it improves some.”
She wasn't wrong, just as we entered Ostenholz we made the turn and the surface degenerated to pot holed concrete whose effects were multiplied by the steady climb we now found ourselves on. It suddenly reared up which caught not a few of the bunch including I have to admit myself. Just before the summit we made a hard right and you could see the ribbon of road rolling away in front.
The signs said ‘Military Zone, keep to road', moments later we swept through a guard post where a few military types were stood watching us. No sooner were we through and any chance to look at the scenery was lost as the first serious move was made by a big lad I vaguely recognise from somewhere else. He was good; I'll say that, the bunch quickly strung itself out in chasing him, our little coterie safely in the front third but never quite getting to the front.
A dip in the road, a bend, a short climb, that's all it took for the chase to be killed off temporarily as the bunch imploded. The road was now less well surfaced and much twistier as we crossed a stretch of open heath land littered disconcertingly with bits of wrecked tanks and trucks.
The lead group started to reassemble; all of Apollinaris were included amongst a thirty strong peleton. The lone rider ahead was maintaining his lead but no longer increasing same, no one seemed keen to do more than keep a watching brief at this stage. We made another turn before a sweeping descent took us back into the trees and some shelter from the warming sun in the blue sky above us.
I checked around me, apart from the girls I noted a few other familiar faces with whom I've previously crossed wheels along with a few newbies. ‘My' lot weren't the only girls; two others seemed to have made the cut, which I reckoned was pretty cool.
We took another couple of turns before joining another almost straight road with a good surface that snaked over the heath that we soon re emerged onto. If my computer is right we've got several k of this before we start the second lap.
“You guys ok?”
“Sure.” Gret nodded.
Roni gave a thumbs up and Tali winked with a grin by way of reply.
I signalled my intentions, the others once again agreeing to the plan non-verbally. We rolled along for another ten minutes before reaching the public road again after passing through another gated checkpoint. Escape boy was still dangling about three hundred metres ahead but now I noted one or two more interested looks around us.
The turn off was expected this time and our smaller bunch was able to dodge most of the worst potholes. Before we reached the climb proper two lads took off simultaneously, followed closely by Roni and Gret. I had to hold my nerve a mite longer then as the road reared up I took my turn. I dropped a sprocket and heaved the gear up the incline, quickly joining the earlier escape attempt then as they all tired I turned up the screws so that I was some thirty metres clear when I took the right turn.
With a clear road and a rabbit ahead, I snugged down into a crouch and selected time trial mode. Whatever happens behind happens but I know what I'm doing. The first down slope was the thing that provided the impetus and I hit 55kph before the roadway changed to an upward direction again.
My target was still a good 100m ahead of me as we chased across the heath but when the road started the twisty section I seemed to reel him in quickly so that I caught him just as we crested the following climb.
I know that voice, I glanced round, it couldn't be, could it?
“Man it's a bleedin' girl.” He announced in his strong Newcastle accent.
“The last time you called me a girl I took the National Title off you.”
“Josh Waugh you can be a right tit sometimes.”
“I dinna recognise yer man, what're yer doing here?”
“Trying to win a race, now stop yakking and get riding.”
“Whatever you say boss.”
Who'd have thought the old mucker would be riding over here? Still, what a stroke of luck.
“Geez Drew, I wish'n yer had grown a bit.”
“Some of us are more carefully assembled.”
“If you say so.”
We were now doing a passable two up back towards the main road, to be fair, Josh was doing the bulk of the effort, my size not really giving him more than a wheel to follow. There's not that much further to go, another full lap then another half before heading to the finish south of Bergen. It was like we rode together every week, we just clicked.
This is no fairy tale of course and a quick glance behind on the run in to Ostenholz revealed the imminent arrival of another half dozen riders. Bum. There was no point in trying to do anything at this point so I signalled to Josh to ease off.
Contact was made metres before the turn and you could almost hear a collective sigh as we let them swarm past. I was hoping one of the girls might be in there but no such luck, it looks like any assistance will be from Josh, well maybe. A quick count stopped at eleven and one or two look pretty handy too. There was no point in attacking on the climb a minute or so later so I just made sure I was in the middle of the bunch.
Once over the top the speed picked up again but being within a larger group it was more pleasurable, even Josh was getting some rest! For a time we hit the squiggly bit and for the first time I read the sign at the bottom of the climb ‘Sieben Steinhauser', wonder what that is? Have to ask Dad later, there's cars and a coach parked there.
“Hey girly, you going through?”
“Er sorry.” I took my place in the train, ‘you'll regret that comment buster!'
No one seemed too interested in racing and after 80km who could blame them? I sought out Josh; I needed to know his plan if any.
“You got a plan?” I enquired.
“Not really man, the racing's different to back home alright.”
“Yeah.” I agreed.
“I suppose you do have a plan?”
“Of course, you up to give it a go?”
“Why, eye, got nothing to lose have I?”
“Where I caught you then.”
“Okay.” He nodded.
There was no sign of any further chasers behind us; they must be several minutes adrift.
I know I've not actually mentioned it but our cheer squad have been stationed on that steep climb, that is Bernie and the two mums, Dieter is riding as mechanic with Dad behind the bunch, a job he does when Greta and Tali race together. Frau Luchow will play race driver to try to get them to the finish before we do.
For the last time we swung onto the trans heath road, I'm guessing any break for freedom will be on the Ostenholz climb so although the pace remained relatively high everyone was still happy to co-operate – at least for now.
I took a long draught from my bidon, hmm nearly out but I guess it's only about twenty k to go. If anything the speed dropped a bit as we hit the concrete for the last time, yup, there's gonna be some action quite soon.
A fumbled gear change was the alert and several riders tried their luck, Josh and I latching on to the stronger pair.
“Come on Drewbie!” Bern yelled.
“Up up up!” Angela encouraged.
“Go 'pollinaris!” Sonja added as we grimaced our way past.
We made the turn and the hammer went down as we breasted the checkpoint for the last time today. From eleven we were down to six and I noted the guys I picked out earlier were all present. Big Josh was mixing it with the rest however I managed to avoid the rotation and sat in at the back. I allowed myself a look behind – the rest of our breakaway were strung out in ones and twos so no real danger there.
For the last time we approached the Sieben Steinhauser and I readied myself for the attack. Josh signalled he was okay, time to go!
The shout went out before I'd got half way past the others. Over the top I had the lead but only by a bike length, bugger! I eased off slightly and let the others come back up.
“Stupid mädchen!” that same youth just about spat as he overtook me.
“These guys are good.” Josh panted a moment later, “guess it's down to the gallop now.”
“Guess so.” I agreed.
I tried to resume my previous back marker position but they were having none of it so reluctantly I joined the rotation as for a last time we descended from the heath into the woodland. This time however, instead of turning right at the bottom we went straight over and were soon entering a village, Belsen. That name rings a bell for some reason.
It can't be far now; any pretence of working together was long gone as we negotiated the narrow lanes through the village. Whistles ahead alerted us to a sharp left hand turn onto a main road, the pace immediately increased and I had to scrabble to stay in contact.
The next corner was mere metres further on and even tighter but to the right. By chance I had the inside line as we burst onto the wide expanse of tarmac that leads up to the line just visible ahead.
Flippin' ‘eck! The sprint was on and I could still see the two hundred marker ahead of us, talk about going for a long one! I've not come this far to let it go now so I latched onto the first wheel that came past – bingo! It's Josh! The others were just about lined abreast across the road, only me tucked in behind.
With fewer than two hundred left the pace dipped a bit, lets face it no one can really sprint for 400m straight out. Give him his due Josh kept the pace as long as anyone then at about ninety he blew. I darted under his right elbow almost on grass.
The crowd were pretty vocal.
“Get on girl!”
The line was there and I was first across it!
Yes! I punched the air in delight.
I rolled through the finish area towards the control area. Then I saw the sign and I knew why I knew the name. ‘Gedenkstatte Belsen', the former concentration camp we were discussing just a few weeks ago in social studies.
to be continued....
Maddy Bell 12.10.09 © 2009