We retraced our outward route for several kilometres before heading more southward along a road of wide sweeping corners and a distinct downward tilt. The five of us worked well together and unlike last week's gentler ride we weren't taking any prisoners.
There wasn't much to see although there were occasional glimpses of a large body of water off to our right before we plunged down to meet the Sûre at over 60kph. Over the river then the painful realisation that all that downhill would have at least an equal uphill. At least the climb started without too much gradient but as we prepared to depart Heischtergronn (where do they get these names from?) the road heaved itself upwards into the forest once more.
The sound of running water to our left was a constant reminder of the currently out of sight black storm clouds that we were on a collision course with. When the road swung to the left a little over a kilo into the climb we got a chance to spot the chasers below, looked like six of them probably two minutes down, for now we just needed to keep things together.
“Those clouds are looking dodgy.” Roni noted as we finally pulled out of the trees and could get a view over the summit.
“Reckon we're gonna cop for some before we're done.”
“What do you reckon to the chasers?”
I took a pull from my bottle, “they've got to work hard to get up here, I'd prefer a smaller group if it gets wet.”
We'd been climbing piano but we were all now preparing to get back down to a rotation.
“Drew, what's up?”
“Apart from the likelihood of rain? If we keep the pressure on I think we'll break the chase on the next climb after that it's along the valleys for a good distance, fast roads and after Ettelbruck not much in the way of cover.”
“Best turn things up a bit then.”
Michael made the universal sign to crank things up to his countrymen who nodded in understanding, these guys are tough cookies, certainly more tenacious than most of the Germans we race with.
We broke the summit and quickly formed into a fast moving rotation, short turns to keep the speed up aided by the downward tendency of the road.
It wasn't even close but it was loud and echoed around the surrounding hills, oh boy, this is gonna be fun. The current descent was over six kilometres long and the rain hit as we hit Feulen still some thousand metres before the next river crossing. It started as intermittent but heavy drops, traffic coming towards us was using lights and the sky was black as night.
We were actually on the climb, a short but fairly sharp affair, when the rain really started to bounce down. The temperature dropped and I had to remove my glasses to be able to see anything. The five of us managed to keep it going and then there below us was Ettelbruck where we'd join the Sûre valley that would take us down to the Sauer and the German border.
The drop into the valley was fairly straight; our chasers would possibly see us, well if the rain ever let them see down the road. We were soon into the outskirts where one final steep descent dropped us into the town proper. I think we were each glad of our time at the front as it meant we weren't getting spray as well as the falling wet.
Negotiating the town was a bit dicey in places, wet manhole covers and greasy corners, slowing our progress some. A few hardy souls stood at the side of the road sheltering under huge umbrellas, cheering us as we sloshed past then we were out of the town and on the straighter, flatter road I took the chance to pull my race cape out.
It could have been a recipe for disaster, an attack right now would have me floundering. Instead, seeing my move, the others effectively called a truce and those who had them joined me in slipping the plastic macs on. Bit late I guess but they'd keep us a bit warmer if not drier on the long riverside ride.
The thunder and lightening rolled away behind us but its departing gift was more of the wet stuff which in places was already causing some minor flooding, Dad's gonna have a right job with the bikes later. Our speed was still a respectable thirty five and so far everyone was still pulling their turns.
If you've never been on a bike in this kind of conditions my advice is don't, avoid at all costs! Whilst our capes were now getting our body temperatures back up we still have wet feet and can barely see more than a few metres ahead.
We all had brakes jammed on as we came up hard on the back of the lead car which had had to wait for a stupidly huge campervan to clear the bridge over the Sûre at Reisdorf. Clearly we lost time but also momentum, we were nearly at Wallendorf and the Sauer before we had things back together again.
So far the chasers were still just that but I think that bit of delay, maybe thirty seconds, focused all our minds on that still real threat. A few years ago the next bit of a route wouldn't have been practical but these days we can cross the river and the border with impunity, we don't even change the coppers leading us on our way until Echternach.
Over the bridge and onto Sauertalstraße which first hugged the river closely then climbed a little through the forest, drop and repeat. The trees did little to hold the rain at bay but we managed to keep the train running past the next bridge and into the climb of the Pölsenhof. Water was running down the road transforming it into a torrent several centimetres deep at times. Our progress slowed to a slog but eventually, well it felt like an age, we found ourselves on a more level bit of road, all thought of a rotation temporarily forgotten.
“The neutrals dropped back Drew.” Roni informed me.
“Bugger, not again.”
“Hmm looks like about three, maybe four.”
“They'll be more tired than us, Michael?”
“Company.” I motioned behind.
“Only a few, let them come or make them work?”
“Work I think.”
He nodded in agreement. The grim faces of the others showed determination, why should we let anyone else into our select group without a fight.
The train was formed and the speed increased as the rain decreased, small mercy at least. Wet hairpins are not a favourite but we safely negotiated not one but two on the drop into Bollendorf then let fly down the main street and across the bridge back into Luxembourg.
Bit between our teeth, we were soon rotating at over forty along the slight decline towards Echternachbruck. The neutral service came back a couple of K outside of the crossing point at which point it was tempting to ease off but common sense prevailed and we continued our effort right into the town. There were quite a few people about, it's a bit of a tourist place, and their cheering lifted our dampened spirits a little.
Suddenly we were a pile of bodies and bikes.
Whatever the cause we were all quickly pulling bikes apart and the others were moving again. Not me, my front wheel was mangled, bum, bum, bum! The service guy was pretty good but even so, by the time I was moving again the chasers were on me, in fact past me.
I set to and managed to get on the back of them as we crossed back into Germany for the final time. The rest of ‘my' group were easily within sight, maybe two hundred metres ahead but now these new arrivals had the upper hand. Into the trees once again, up a short climb before crossing under the autobahn and back down to the river.
Roni and the others, now a bit the worse for wear were still keeping a good pace but my new companions could smell the front so were still catching them at a steady rate. We turned away from the Sauer into a smaller valley that would have us climbing pretty much all the way to the finish now only twenty five kilometres distant. The first stretch was still in the trees so that the dripping masked the cessation of hostilities from the heavens as we climbed determinedly up to Irrel and then a short drop into the Nimstal.
The gap was closing, from my station hanging on the back of the four, the other four were clearly identifiable, I guess I'd best get back up there. River and road emerged from the dripping trees into a brighter and precipitant free landscape, the clearly newish road making the job of returning to the front much easier than the lumpy ascent up from the Sauer. Decision time, work with these guys or go it alone and hope some of the others can follow. Nine wouldn't be too bad, make the approach easier certainly – nah, lets go for it.
Michael and co were clearly aware of the danger from behind and were now holding steady. I took a turn through the chasers; let them know I'm still in here but mostly to check out the lie of the land. And there it was, a rise up to the next village. I timed it so that I was on the front as we crossed the river but instead of through and off I went through and on! Up the gears, out of the saddle and stomp on the pedals.
The gap was maybe a hundred metres; I closed most of that by the time the road flattened out into a long straight. Then it was into time trial mode to close the remaining distance to a lead group who were not only aware of my approach but reacting to it. We were bypassing the next village before I made contact, gratefully slipping onto Ron's wheel.
A quick check behind confirmed my read of the chasers, my attack had broken their cohesion, oh they were still following along but instead of one unit they were now split into three, each of which effectively riding alone.
“Didn't think we'd see you again.” Michael mentioned as I followed through.
“Only a bent wheel.” I offered, the others seemed to have a few scrapes and so on; Ron looked to have bashed her noggin by the scrapes on her helmet.
“I reckon we've got about five left.” Michael calculated.
“Let's make sure they don't get another chance.”
The roads were drying, the sun out and I was tempted to get rid of my jacket but taking off is fraught with more danger than the putting on and I could do without another tumble. Ron was quiet, the strain evident in her face as we kept up a goodly forty K on the last climb – so okay it isn't much of a climb and I guess there was a slight tail wind.
As we dropped under the motorway we all shook hands, a race well ridden but the final metres would be open warfare.
“Up for this Ron?”
“My legs are gone.” She admitted, “I'll try to give you a bit of a lead out.”
“I've a feeling everyone has rubber legs.” I grinned.
The approach was down an arrow straight road into the town, each of us unwilling to show our hand too soon meant we rode almost line abreast until the little dog leg that put us on to the main shopping street. The finish is at the Rathaus at the far end of the pedestrian precinct so we have a curb to negotiate and a fairly narrow approach to within twenty metres of the line. Not much room for manoeuvre or error.
Although it was normal half-day opening, and being nearly three o'clock now, the majority of shoppers seem to have hung around to watch our finish. We hit the pedestrian zone, two fifty to go, and Michael made his move. Neither of the other Belgians had anything to answer with and Roni faired little better leaving me to give chase.
Come on legs, don't give out now! Eyeballs out, I hit the gear change one last time and surged forward, you can do it Drew! The red mist started to descend as I chucked everything into propelling the bike forward.
Then Michael was coming back at me, he'd blown big style less than fifty metres from the line. I punched the air, yes! The Drewmaster does it again! I freewheeled across the line before slumping into Dad's waiting arms.
“I did it!”
“I guess a lecture on the evils of alcohol on race nights won't cut ice right now.” Dad sighed.
“And in third place for Team Apollinaris, Veronike Grönberg!”
There was a goodly cheer as Roni, now sporting a dressing on her temple, climbed the podium.
“Second place from Dynamo Houffalize, Michael Desgrange.”
After the cheering died down it was my turn.
“Our winner of the 2005 Dreilander Jungere Grand Prix, Drew Bond!”
Yay, another double podium. If I'm honest, if Michael hadn't blown I don't think I would have taken him, but he did, so I did!
“So what's it to be?”
“Peppered steak?” well that's what I fancied even if we were sat in the Dolce Vita on Bitburg's Market place.
“Roni?” Dad asked.
“The tagliatelli please, I could eat a horse.”
“We aren't in Belgium now you know!” I retorted.
“Is that your phone Drew?” Angela enquired.
“Yeah but whoever it is can wait.”
“Now that's the first sensible thing you've said all day.” Roni grinned.
to be continued....
Maddy Bell 15.06.11 © 2011