The lead group managed to make some ground through the feed and as we crossed the fens to the river crossing the neutral service car zipped past. Not the end of the world, it might even give them a false sense of security, but it was a little worrying nonetheless.
We swung sharply away from the river and to my surprise turned onto the autobahn! Well not exactly a motorway in full flow but rather the not yet open new road under the Weser. This is certainly not something you get to do very often - if ever again! The road entered the portal and we moved into the artificial lighting of the tunnel as we dropped fairly steeply under the river.
“Weird huh?” Gret mentioned as we coasted down the perfect tarmac.
“Yeah, you guys up for a bit of a go on the way out?” an idea had just come to me to make use of this river crossing.
“Er what you thinking D?” Tali asked.
“Bit of a go on the way out?”
“'Kay.” Gret agreed, Tal nodded.
I checked the tunnel ahead, “on the left where those cones are.”
“Usual?” Tali queried.
“I'll mark.” Gret offered.
“Let's do it!”
it was still a couple of hundred metres to the cones, the three of us separated and positioned ourselves ready for the action, Tali and I dropping back a few places whilst Gret moved forward. The plan was to use the stiff breeze following us through the tube to give us a bit of a boost up the surprisingly steep exit ramp. The front group were already out of sight long before we reached our departure point – not that I was expecting to bridge the gap in one go.
Click, click. Action time.
Tali took off up the right kerb like her bum was on fire, Gret did her best to slow the reaction then as the bunch started to react I hit the turbo. With most attention on the girls my move, whilst not missed didn't garner a great deal of interest. Their mistake not mine!
Out of the saddle still, pump the pedals, a clattering of gears behind then the top of the climb coming into view and beyond the brightness beyond the tunnels exit. My gamble on the back draft was paying off nicely and ahead the gap to the leaders was seriously dented. The girls were more successful than I could have hoped at the distraction / interference work and I shot into the daylight having taken well over 150m out of the peleton. The only problem now was the fact I was on my own between the two groups.
I took a deep pull on my bidon before assuming a neat tucked position to cut through the now stiff headwind. The course quickly returned to ‘normal' roads, a lot twistier than on the outward leg and although the bigger groups have some advantage with the wind equally I'm not delayed on these lanes to the same extent. My elastic to the main bunch was well and truly broken and the shirt tales of the long departed break were close enough that the service car was clearly debating dropping back behind me – if I make the connection Dad and Dieter can move up here, that there aren't any team cars up here means that my arrival will put Apollinaris at a numbers advantage.
“What do you reckon Josh?” Roni asked as the pair crossed in the rotation.
“Could be if they moved early like.” The Geordie agreed.
The leaders were still intact after over 70km out front although a few of their number were looking a bit ragged. The absence of Drew hadn't gone unnoticed and there had been some discussion amongst the escapees about ‘breaking' the diminutive Rheinlander – yeah, that's gonna happen.
They reached the relative shelter of the town of Brake and there was a collective sigh and easing of effort.
“Cars gone,” Josh noted next time round, “I'll drop for a look.”
“Uh huh.” Roni mentioned, once again getting to be the team's point.
I was no way going to follow the instruction on the sign, ‘Brake', he he. Is that someone slipping off the back? I dug a bit deeper as I followed into the town, the neutral service now fifty metres behind me shielding me from view, if the others could see it that's the signal to try and break up the chasers.
“'Bout time man.” Josh stated as I slipped onto his wheel.
“Thought I'd enjoy the view, how are they?”
“Organised but holding for a sprint like.”
“It'd shell a few fer sure.”
“Holding her own, not sure she'd make the cut if we go through though.”
The question was whether it was worth the risk at this stage.
“Stick to plan A then.” I decided.
“Yer da should be coming up soon.” Josh noted having done the numbers himself.
“Let's get on the tail then.”
The road was now hard against the river defences and the wind was forcing the front group into echelons ahead of us. The pair of us did quick rotations and the distance to the rearmost riders was quickly closed giving us a bit of relief. We joined in the rotation and I heard at least one curse as I was recognized.
“Thought you'd missed the bus.” Hans mentioned as we rode alongside briefly.
“I didn't want to miss the fun.” I grinned as I slid backwards in the line.
What you don't realise big boy is that we, that's Dad and Dieter, planned this – well as much as you ever can.
The flood defences offered some respite from the stiff crosswind but after getting into echelons our group seemed stuck there.
“You alright Ron?”
“I'll do.” She replied before taking a hefty swig from a bottle.
I silently signalled my intention; she nodded and moved away in the rotation. I flicked through my computers screens, 35km to go, about half an hour at this pace into the wind, maybe a little longer.
Meanwhile Gret and Tali were in the front group of a quickly splintering main peleton some two minutes behind the leaders. The twenty or so kilometres had been hard work for the pair at first chasing the wanna be chasers to ground then in turn trying to organise a ‘chase'. As Drew and co left Brake they entered in a much reduced bunch of maybe thirty riders, the rest now on a long and constantly stretching bit of elastic.
The road turned more directly into the wind for the run back into Bremen and the pace dropped to a scant twenty five which caused a return to more of a single bunch even if they were still rotating.
I hit the front and kept up the pressure lifting my speed to over thirty, hopefully some of those behind would start to feel the pace and reduce our numbers. Swinging off the front I winked at a flush faced Hans and grinned at Roni on his wheel.
When it was her turn Roni did a long hard turn too and when Josh crossed me he let me into the up line ahead of him. The next time I hit the front it was another hard pull that Josh took over keeping the pace up and we soon had a hard core of some eight riders with the remainder now starting to straggle behind. The last ‘town' before the finish was Berne and I decided then that this race would be for my Bern locked away somewhere in the UK.
Clearly no one was interested in going it alone but a collective effort to the finish seemed acceptable to the five non Apollinaris riders in our little group. The elastic to the remainder broke not long after Berne depriving two of our companions of any team support giving our threesome quite an advantage.
“What do ya reckon?” Gret asked her friend.
Greta sat up, ostensibly to stretch but surepticously to check out the rest of their group.
“One or two might tag along, they're looking pretty tired.”
“When you're ready then.” Tali agreed the plan.
Gret took a swig from her bottle, a great diversion; no sooner was it back in the cage than Tali took off.
Gret barely missed a beat in her own departure so that the two Apollinaris girls took a side of the road each, effectively splitting any reply to the move. Of course, male pride resulted in several riders giving chase but the damage was done and when the getaway effort fizzled there were just five riders left. Luckily they were all prepared to do some work so they were soon organised into a concerted chase – whether they'd manage to bridge the gap only time would tell.
“You think the others are coming?” Roni huffed from alongside the Bondlet.
“It was the plan but I guess it depends on how they're feeling.”
The leaders rattled across a railway crossing and the first real signs of others considering the approaching finish appeared with some nervous looking about. Of the riders in their group Drew was only aware of Hans' finishing, the others were new to him.
“What d'ya reckon Josh?”
“The guy in the green can be a bit handy like, Hans'll be there if it comes to sprint but I think the others are looking for a solo.”
“Best try to keep it together then I guess.”
After the long solo into the wind I must admit that my legs were feeling a bit the worse for wear and the thought of another hard chase wasn't sitting too well with me.
Shitza! Why now and why the back wheel?
“You want us to wait?” Ron asked as I bumped to a halt.
“No, the others will cream us, Glück.”
In fact Hans was already making a bit of a move.
“Go!” I encouraged.
I watched helplessly as they left me in the gutter.
There was a squeal of brakes and slamming of a door.
“Come on Drew, get with it!” Dieter shouted as he sprinted up to me.
Right! Brake released, crash the gears, bang wheel – one out. I dropped the bad un on the verge and held my bike whilst Dieter slipped the replacement into place. Do up brake, spin pedals to get chain back in service, hop on – a shove from the mechanic and I was off again. Total time from the bang about a minute.
That's the good news, the bad was that the rest of the lead group and the neutral service were now perhaps 500m ahead and I'm on my own – bummer. I could hear Dad coming up to me as I got back into some sort of rhythm.
“Keep it steady kiddo, there're some chasers coming up.”
“'Kay.” I allowed as Dad dropped behind, he'd stay close until the commissar pulled him back.
Behind them the bits of the lead group and the chasers had mostly joined so that a group of nine including the girls was now coming up to Drew.
“Looks like our car.” Tali opined as Greta slid past.
“Hope that means we've bridged.”
“Can't see a bunch up there.”
Compared to the riders in front, this group was now moving together in a regular bus and they were soon up to the Apollinaris car. Dave sounded his horn to warn Drew before pulling to the side.
“Yes!” Dieter enthused as he spotted his daughter in the small bunch.
“Let's hope they've still got some legs.” Dave supplied as he set off again.
Behind them riders were now spread over nearly ten kilometres, the early pace and the attrition of the wind having taken a great toll.
“Wasn't expecting to see you again.” Tali noted as Drew gratefully slipped in behind her.
“That them ahead?” Gret asked before offering her own wheel.
“Uh huh.” I puffed.
“We might just make it.” Tali mused.
“Give me a mo and we'll stir things up eh?”
“Yes sir mon Kapitan!” Gret made a snappy salute as she grinned at me.
“Do you reckon he'll get back?” Roni asked the big Geordie beside her.
“It'll be touch and go lass; it won't be for lack of trying like.”
For the last five K the pair had been constantly chasing down attempts at escape, even Hans had assisted a couple of times – his best chance was a sprint too.
Ten determined chasers, seven leaders playing poker with their fifty second lead, less than seven kilometres to go. The vital, for the chasers, point was the sight of the neutral service pulling to the side, yes! Under thirty seconds gap. The suburbs of Bremen were by now springing up around them and the two halves of Team Apollinaris were each working towards a victory.
Sensing danger, the front group added a bit more speed to their effort, Josh dragging Roni in his wake, she being the better sprinter on recent form. So near yet so far, less than two hundred metres behind Drew would have to decide soon whether to make a big effort to bridge the gap or to settle for the ‘B' sprint. Don't be daft, there is no ‘B' sprint, the only one that matters will have Drew Bond in it!
Two to go and they swung alongside the river in Bremen's Neustadt, the Altstadt and the finish just metres away across the water. It was going to be tight and a couple of riders had already blown since entering the city limits. The two groups were almost in contact when they turned onto the Weser bridge but was all the effort enough?
Off the Ring and into the old town and someone was off the front, Josh with his shadow close behind – too soon!
There was still a couple of bike lengths between the groups as I spotted the finish banner, well I'm not gonna get a second go at, I snicked the lever up a gear and launched myself forward from the shelter of Tali's wheel. I virtually had to elbow my way through what was left of the leaders to find a four up sprint in progress, still with 100m to go.
Talk about eyeballs out! I picked my line between the barriers and thrashed the pedals round. I couldn't tell you what happened next as I descended into the red mist.
to be continued....
Maddy Bell 15.05.11 © 2011