Although the sky was clear, blue as anything, I had to suppress a shiver as we stood waiting for the start, not in Hamburg but in a place called Ahrensburg. Today we've got a big anti clockwise loop, Tali reckons it's undulating without any particularly steep climbs. In their wisdom the organisers have put a couple of primes in, one in Lubeck and the other in Kiel.
"Oh come on , Gab's , it's not that bad." Gret noted.
"I'm still cold."
As is usual at these national series events we had to have the introductions, as series leader, Apollinaris ended up last to go, although we were wearing the lowest numbers. To be honest the crowd was a little thin this morning, I'm guessing due more to location than lack of interest.
"And finally the team who have dominated this years series, Apollinaris!"
There was some polite clapping as we stepped up on the makeshift stage.
"From left to right we have Josh Waff, Greta Luchow, leader of the girl's series, Veronike Grönberg, Thalia Schmidt and finally our series leader Drew Bond."
We each gave a wave in turn. It might be good PR but when you have the series leader in both male and female and the team competition at stake, well it makes the other riders more aware of you. That and the stupid leader's jersey. I'd been on the lookout for faces I knew, as you might expect the bulk were from the north, I spotted several from Celle and Bremen but only a handful from down in Baden.
After a few more platitudes we were ushered back to our steeds.
"Everyone set?" Dad enquired.
"Yes , Boss."
"Everyone okay with the plan? Roni? Drew?"
"Okay, the feed is at some place called Eutin about twenty five after the first prime so be ready , Josh."
The girls tittered.
"Okay, good luck and a safe race."
The other adults added their own input before leaving us to the mercies of about a hundred ravening, testosterone filled riders - and a few girls!
As usual the start was more for show than anything else; we were neutralized until the town exit board, 1km gone, lots to go. The plan was simple but fraught with potential hazards – have a go locals, concerted opposition shut downs, even outright hostility – look at what happened in Stuttgart. The plan? Oh right, get to the finish in one piece.
We were on the old Hamburg – Lubeck road with a rolling closure which was just as well, no one was too keen to set the pace this early and the peloton was more like a pile of blancmange moving along the road. Of course everyone seemed to be watching us, I'm pretty sure most of the field had encountered at least part of the team before but now there are five.
True to intelligence, the road rolled between the fields, a steady breeze on the right shoulder, it might become a factor later but for now we were too many to worry about it. The steady pace was broken after a few K's with a diversion through the first ‘town', a couple of locals pushed the pace a bit to look good for their supporters but once through things settled down again.
The front of the pack is the safest place to be and whilst we avoided setting the pace it's where we stationed ourselves, I spotted Hans keeping a watch nearby and the Paulaner guys close by too. I gave a nod to Eric, there were no collaboration plans in place but I reckon we can count on some support there. Some less friendly riders were marking us too, the guys we humbled at Bremen didn't look any too pleased to see us – ah well, that's their lookout.
The road turned slightly more into the wind which finally had some effect, the more experienced riders forming a more organized pack. We could hardly stay out of things now so we contributed just enough, the pace went up and it started to look more like a Deutsche Cup race. A quick look around the pack revealed a distinct hierarchy, the front consisting of the big teams and a few hopefuls, the rear; well if they hang on as far as the feed they'll be lucky.
I guess it was only a matter of time. Josh was on first watch and joined about half a dozen others giving the chase. The first prime was by reckoning less than ten kilometres off; this was a well timed attack. The attacker was wearing a jersey I didn't recognise but the chasers represented all the big teams.
We cut under first one motorway and then a second and then we were in Lubeck's western suburbs. Up ahead the leaders, for they were all together, had about two hundred on us, not enough to offer a long term problem but far enough to make a concerted chase a bit redundant with the prime less than five away.
Of course that doesn't mean no one fancied their chances, as the metres ticked down we were hit by a series of solo efforts. We switched around a huge roundabout then the road took a right turn downhill ; not steep but fast. There were a few unexpected braking moments on the next roundabout where we swung to face this city gate thing.
By the time I noticed the prime banner it was well past worth reacting, we zipped around the tower, over another bridge then a left onto the waterfront. Our route looped around the town before spitting us out onto a dual carriageway with all the excitement of, well nothing. As we made the gradual climb out of Lubeck the housing gave way to woodland and the leading pack hovered, some ten strong now, a little over a hundred metres ahead.
“Tunnel ahead.” Tali mentioned quietly.”
“Shorter but it's steeper on the exit.”
As usual we were using English; it won't fool all of them but enough.
“What do you think Ron?”
“Okay, but don't push it if you don't make contact.”
“The road'll be wet in there too.” Gret put in.
The road hit a brow the n flattened once again to a featureless strip of tarmac . A way in the distance assorted flashing lights indicated the tunnel entrance, the breakaway ahead looking quite business like. Of course the tunnel will usually be barred to bikes and according to the signs, not even fully open for a few weeks, but we had dispensation and as we approached the pay booths I made a few little adjustments and gave the girls a nod.
Talk about a gaping maw, I can understand how Jonah felt in the whale! The road pretty much tipped itself into the hole, I'd already taken care of my glasses, others hadn't been so observant. The flashing light of the lead car reflected off the walls giving an eerie feel to the subdued lighting. Around me others were relaxing, freewheeling even; I picked my spot ahead and manoeuvred to a clearer exit from the pack.
Any glance or signal would be picked up on immediately so I just had to hope the others were ready. We were nearly at the base of the slope, condensation kept the tarmac damp and from the hum of best part of a hundred cassettes whirring, the tone changed to a higher pitch hiss. The sign read ‘HerrenTunnel, 780m' ; less than 500 metres to make my move!
I'd intentionally dropped a sprocket lower than I needed to prevent at least some wheel spin on the damp surface – I shot forward to the sound of a chorus of echoing warnings. Once my speed was up I snicked up a gear and the group ahead started coming back towards me as they started onto the exit ramp. Friday evening's session had been good preparation for just such a move and whilst there was some cussing going on behind, there didn't seem to be a real reaction.
Rather than heave a huge gear out of the saddle I stayed at a higher cadence in a time trial tuck and the gap to the leaders seemed to shrink at every look. Ahead the first signs of daylight indicated the tunnel exit, if anyone ahead looked behind now, I'd most likely be just about invisible. Suddenly we were in sunlight and on the feeder lane away from the tunnel.
“Wotcha , Josh!”
“Geez , Drew , man, ya freetened me ha' to death there.”
“Couldn't let you have all the fun now could I?”
By now the others had assessed the new situation, if they didn't have experience they had surely heard the rumours, one Apollinaris wasn't too much threat but two…
The new link roads quickly gave out to some rather poorer surfaces in short order which soon had us riding line astern with some pretty long turns until we picked up the old road around a kilometre further on.
At this point, with over one hundred to go it would be daft to expect this group to go all the way, no this manoeuvre was designed to divert attention from the real plot! Another long straight road headed us directly towards a curiously out of place tower block, the next sign said Travemunde . O ur route headed past some huge ferries before chucking us into the old town. Our lead was still not much over one fifty; we must have been lost from sight a few times as we negotiated the old town.
The tower block turned out to be some fancy hotel right on the coast, the earlier breeze now fair ripping across the flat parkland. The ground to our left clearly rose away from the coast; no doubt there'd be a climb sooner or later. Our fellow escapees didn't quite know what to do now, keep going? The series leader must have a good reason for being up here, or sit up to spoil the ‘attack'?
“That went well.” Tali stated a few seconds behind.
“Leaves us with all the work again.” Gret grumbled.
“You know that's not right , Gret,” Roni put in, “it keeps him out of trouble, and with three of us back here it might put a few off the scent.”
“You would say that.” Gret mumbled, clearly not everyone in Apollinaris was currently a Bond girl.
The road took a sharp left and in metres the climb came, neither long, steep nor technical but clearly some weren't ready for it. Of course at fifty kilos Drew had quite a weight advantage over the larger, older riders in the group and romped easily clear up the couple of hundred metres of incline.
A look back as it levelled off revealed riders spread over a long strip of road, it's not like they were all flatlanders, certainly the Paulaner lad knew his way around a climb, but you only need one or two to hesitate and poof! Momentum gone to pot. I let my face show a bit of a grin as I waited to see who would rejoin me quickly.
In the end just three, Josh being the last. We checked each other out, exchanged acknowledgement of success and with no further ado formed an efficient if small rotation. The coast road was a bit in and out but we tipped down into Timmendorf with about two fifty metres clear of our one time companions, the main peloton some way behind them.
By my computer the feed station couldn't be too far away, my bottle was already looking a bit low. We turned off the coast road and that niggling wind now sat on our backs. Time to appraise the situation, we aren't supposed to be up here now, with the longest leg left, do we push on or ease up? Let's get through the feed.
“Crrsckk Jo screech, w, repeat crrsckk sh and crrsckk.”
“Flippin radio's rubbish.” Angela moaned to herself as she sorted out the musettes.
Angela and Sonja had drawn the feed, Dave and Dieter providing service. It's not that she minded but it was certainly easier when one of Drew's friends tagged along. The feed zone was smack in the centre of Eutin, a nice wide stretch of road deemed safe for this potentially dangerous job. With the full team riding it should be easier, the plan was for Josh to do the grab and distribute but clearly by Sonja's garbled message things, as usual, weren't going entirely to plan.
“Crrsckk pe…ton crrsckk thirty screech.”
Well maybe not quite so awry!
She quickly grabbed up the other bags and readied herself in the road as the lead car hove into view. There was a slight dip into the zone which allowed her to see the tiny lead group, phew, should be easy. She spotted Josh first, the tall Englishman sitting head and shoulders above his companions, so where's… ah of course the wrong jersey!
“ Thirty !” she shouted as Josh grabbed the musettes.
“I'll collect.” Tali offered as the feed warning sign flashed past.
“We'll get out of your way.” Roni noted, motioning grumbly Gret to go ahead.
“ Thirty !” Angela repeated when Tali came alongside, “four.”
Job done she hurried clear of the rest of the largely intact bunch to wait for her driver.
“Thirty , Drew , man.” Josh told his friend, passing over the bag marked ‘Bond'.
“Not much is it? How are you about it?”
“If it was a minute like, I'd not hesitate but thirty, we must be in sight a lot of the time like.”
I got the others attention, not difficult as they were already ear wigging.
“How are you guys?”
“Truth?” Paulaner boy asked, I nodded. “I'm out of my depth here.”
“Me too.” The other lad agreed.
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 12.10.2011