Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Sibiu Tour


We arrived in Romania 2 days before the prologue and still had time drink a coffee in the beautiful "Altstadt" of Sibiu and have a look around. Something I enjoyed thoroughly as it doesn't occur very often. 

Hermannstadt Sibiu

Then the day of the prologue arrived. We had a quick 2h spin in the morning, checked out the course in the afternoon and were ready to race by late afternoon/evening. 
About the course: around the center of the "Altstadt", 2,3km long, 19 corners (maybe more) and only about 200m of road that wasn't on cobbles. 

Team presentation

Normally not the type of racing I enjoy but that day was different. Already during the warm up I was having fun steering my bike through all the corners, searching for the perfect line and speed. 

During the prologue I never pushed it to the max. It was a short circuit, you couldn't lose a lot of time and the risk of crashing was high. So I went fast, but not so fast that I was feeling uncomfortable. 
The only bad thing was that it was over too soon. I just started to get the feel of the speed and bumps when I was on the finishing straight already. But it was good fun and I can't remember ever having fun during a prologue. 

Sign in
30 seconds....
Teammate Joshua in action

Stage 1 - Sibiu > Sibiu

Once again we had the start in the pretty Altstadt of Sibiu, but it was a neutral zone until we got out of the city. A 5km climb followed and I was in the mix to make sure no big group would leave without us. 

Soon after the climb 4 guys went and things calmed down. We were cruising along at a nice pace and I had time to chat to a few mates including fellow Namibian Dan Craven who is currently in pretty good shape for the Olympics that will follow soon. 

However the calm didn't last long as Nippo Vini Fantini sent 2 riders up the road 50km into the stage and a small-ish group formed around them which caused a little bit of nervousness in the pack. 
They were soon caught again and Nippo kept on driving it over the next KOM (King of the mountain) 60km into the race and it was actually starting to hurt. Bumpy roads and sketchy descends with sand in the road followed before Nippo came to their senses and stopped their doing. 
Strangely enough the break still had about 7 minutes at that point. 

Then a railway crossing followed where the break and the pack got held up, so there was a little breather where you could go back to the car, get more bottles, take a nature break before the escapees had their 7 minutes again and we were allowed to continue. 

At 150km and 170km there were 2 more KOM's and they were a little tougher than the ones before. Plus we were going all out now in order to catch the breakaway before the line. 

I passed the first KOM without much difficulty, but before we got to the second one I almost couldn't move up in the pack. It felt like everyone else was just going 1km/h faster than me. Luckily I still found an ok position before the hardest climb of the day and made it across in the first 40 positions. 

However on the downhill and run in to the finish once again I felt like I was on the back foot and everyone else just had to push a few watts less than me. 

5km before the line I discovered why. At one point I glanced down at my front brake and saw the right brake pad was half the size of the left one. I looked down again and saw why. It was rubbing against the wheel and it was rubbing badly. 

I tried fixing it and pushing the brake to the other side, but it's a dangerous thing to put your fingers so close to your wheels going 60km/h. 

Naturally the super fast bunch sprint wasn't something I could score a good result so I rolled across the line in the top50, a little mad that I had been robbed of valuable energy. But at least I didn't lose any time. 
The next day would be much harder and shake up the GC for sure, so I was hoping it didn't take too much out of me. 

There's always a reason to smile

Involuntary break; train crossing

Exhausting day

Stage 2 - Sibiu > Paltinis

The second stage was 210 km long with a vicious mountain top finish in Paltinis. The stage started on the same roads as stage 1 and once again I was in the mix to see that no big group leaves without us. Unfortunately I was the only one from our team doing that, so after a while I had to slow down a little and find the others to help. Of course in that exact moment a 13man group got away, never to be seen again and we had no one in there. 
The whole peloton seemed reluctant to chase. Either they had someone in the front group or they didn't have anyone strong enough to be in the GC. We gambled a little and hoped someone else would chase them down, since we all weren't sure weather we were strong enough to stay with the leaders up the last climb. 
So it was relatively relaxed most of the time, but we still made sure we sat together as a unit behind the teams that were chasing halfheartedly. 

Nothing special happened for a long time except the roads being exceptionally bad and a truck blocking the whole road, disrupting the chase a little more. The break now had around 10 minutes and everyone knew we wouldn't see them again and the GC would be sorted from those 13 guys. 

At km 170 the pace was upped immensely, the field split in a few parts and we were going "a bloc" into the last climb to Paltinis. I tried to stay with the first group for a while, but then realized I was probably not going to make it anyway and the GC was done too, so when there were only 30 guys left I let them go and rode my own pace. 

Later captain Schumi joined me, he also took it a little easier, his mind set on the hill climb time trial the next day. We cruised to the finish together. 

Later we still rode back down and to the hotel, giving me a total of 257km for the day. Never in my life have I ridden that far, but strangely I didn't feel like I had just done my longest day in the saddle until now. 

Shadowing the leader

Apparently Georg and I look very much alike...

Romanian vibes


Stage 3 - Balea Lac 

The fourth day was the highlight of the Tour and probably the highlight of the year. A mountain time trial of 6,8km on the beautiful Transfăgărășan road up to Balea Lac which climbs to 2034m above sea level. Did you know that this road is Top Gears favourite road in the world? Here's the video, you can skip the first 4 minutes:

On the lower slopes of the mountain I was a bit nauseous as doing hairpin turns with a bus isn't the greatest thing in the world, but the nausea soon made way for a different feeling. I was in awe. The road kept rising, the bends didn't stop and here and there you could peek through the trees that were lined along the road just to get a quick glimpse of how high you were already. 
Suddenly the road straightened, the trees were gone and I was at the most beautiful place I've ever been. I'm not even going to try and describe it because I'll just be disappointed of how lame it'll sound compared to how amazing it actually was. The photo's below come a bit closer but it's a place you'll just have to be in person. Magical! 
The time trial itself was a little disappointing. Either the gear was too hard and I couldn't push it, or too easy and I couldn't turn it fast enough so felt like I was going nowhere. The altitude also made me feel like I was breathing through a straw and I was well out of breath when I got to the top. 

Nonetheless it was still a special day. Of course I couldn't miss the chance of riding down the whole climb on my bike, even if that meant I had to do another 45km into a terrible headwind back to the hotel as well. 
Sad that days like these always go by so quick and you don't have more time to look around. 

Warm-up with a view

Magical place

The air is thin at 2000m above sea level

Stage 4 - Sibiu > Sibiu

The last day consisted of 4 and a half laps just outside of Sibiu, before we headed North to enter the city from the other side again for the finish. With 143km it was by far the shortest stage and the start was only at 5 in the afternoon. 

Hanging around the hotel for almost a day before getting on the bike makes you feel like you're still sleeping once you finally head to the start line late in the afternoon. On the first lap my legs still felt terrible and numb but once I sprinted up the climb to the KOM they opened up and felt surprisingly good for the rest of the day. 

Even though the speed was high, I never felt like I was struggling and enjoyed being out there on my bike. Once we headed away from the circuit the roads got bad again, but we were prepared and sat right towards the front (after a long hard fight against some Italian teams). 

15km from the finish my race almost got ruined when the peloton was lined up on the right side up a climb and suddenly swerved left to avoid a dead animal on the road that I had seen too late. Still can't say what exactly it was, maybe a dog or a deer but it was big! It was too late for me to steer past it so all I could do was jump and hope I'd make it. And I did. Shows you that practicing bunny hops is not just playing around but can actually save you from crashing. 

The finale had a lot of twists and turns and cobbles and road furniture, so I thought it'd be better to stay out of it since the risk of crashing is high and getting a good result will be difficult. 

However 1.5km from the finish we took a roundabout on the left and had the chance to take the short way into the left lane of the road, or the long way into the right lane. My speed was high so without thinking I took the long lane, which turned out to be a brilliant move! All the others who had taken a shorter way were stuck in between cars that were stopped due to the race and were waiting for us to pass so they could drive on. 

So in less than 50m suddenly there were 30 riders less in front of me. Now I regretted not being further in front. Moving up was impossible by now, it was all stretched out in a thin line and once we hit the last km everyone basically rolled across the line in the same positions they had entered the cobbles 800m from the line. 

A mediocre 33rd place was the result for me. Sometimes I feel like I should really just switch off my brain and go for the sprints, but once I'm in the situation and all the elbows start flying I never seem to have the guts to commit. 

Although the results and the racing wasn't as I hoped it would be (45th overall), the Sibiu Tour was a lot of fun and good training for the upcoming races. Definitely hoping to be back next year! 

Dodgy roads here and there

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Oberösterreich Rundfahrt

Stage 1

The first stage of the Oberösterreich Rundfahrt started with unfamiliar territory for me. 12km uphill with a mass start. I've done hill TT's before but never with a mass start. Nervousness came over me the day before as I wasn't sure about my knee and two things were certain. It would be hectic and it would hurt. 

The first 6 km were the steepest and I didn't feel great but felt like I could keep up. 5 km in I moved up into the first 15 riders (not that easy when 120 riders chase that line as a mob of starving lions chase their prey) and then suddenly I was "standing like a bucket" as my teammate would describe it. 

About 40 riders were ahead of me and I just had to let them go. I felt like there was a lot left in me but I couldn't go deeper. 
A small group formed around me, of which I broke free again towards the end and sprinted to the line in 44th place, more than a minute and a half down on the winner. 
Not what I had hoped for but it was expected since I was still missing a lot of sharpness from all the breaks I took because of illness and injury. 
A time trial up there would've suited my likes better. 

Warm up

Stage 2
Stage 2 started in perfect weather conditions except for a lot of wind. At the start I tried to get into the breakaway but quickly changed my mind when I saw we would have a headwind almost all day. It would be a waste of energy since it was basically impossible for the break to survive. 

It was super relaxed in the peloton at times and when we came onto the final circuit with 40km to go and the break still had an advantage of 5:40 I almost regretted not being in it. 

One lap to go we did catch them though and the expected bunch sprint came up. Way to hectic for my likes so I kept out of it and finished safely in the pack. Almost disappointed my legs were still feeling so good after the stage. 
Uh oh someone needs to move up a few spots..

Stage 3

The third stage was the first one that could shake up the GC for good. We started with a few pancake flat laps before the first climb of the day came that was about 15km long. 
I really wanted to be in the break, but decided to gamble and not follow a single move until we hit that 15km climb (which was after 30km only). 

It was a good decision since everyone was still together at the foot of the climb and after following a few strong riders I found myself in a 12 man group off the front. It still makes me mad today that I wasn't more aware of my surroundings though. Seemingly I was too proud that I had made the group and managed to stay with the good climbers over the top that I didn't realize how many strong riders were represented (always a bad sign for a break because it means behind many guys will chase) and that the peloton was in fact right behind us. 

Inevitably we got caught again pretty soon but I kept trying to get into the right move. Until one of the strongest riders in the race attacked and I thought: "Ah no need to follow here, no chance they will let him get away.". Which of course they did and the break for the day was set. Without me. 

Things got worse when I hit a drain cover which lead to my handlebar sliding down and my front brake locking up. For some strange reason I didn't go OTB (over the bars) and no one crashed into me although I basically just stopped right in the middle of the pack. 
Naturally our teamcar was right at the back of the convoy and I stood there for quite a while before I received my spare bike. 

A chase that was harder than it was supposed to be followed until I was back in the pack. 10km later I had to call the teamcar again because my chain wouldn't stay on the big ring. Either it fell back to the small ring or straight over on the other side. Less than ideal! 

Luckily my other bike had been fixed, so I had another bike change and another chase back that was mostly uphill. Back in the pack I felt that attacking up most of the climb and changing my bike twice had drained a lot of my energy. But I was sure that I could recover well in the pack and be back to normal once we hit the final circuit. 

However the pace stayed high, I struggled all the way to the final circuit and got distanced on the climb of the first lap already. It was horrible. 
Never say die though, so I kept on pushing and made it back on the downhill, just to get dropped again at the same spot the next time around. At least now a reasonably big grupetto had formed and I rolled to the finish with them. 

Seems like there's still a lot of work left for me to do. 


Stage 4

We've had absolutely stunning weather the first 3 days in Austria, but I might've complained too loud about my helmet strap tan lines, so the last stage started in pouring rain. Be careful what you wish for. And just as dark as the weather was my mood. The stage before had killed me mentally. I was not used to getting dropped like a rock on a climb. I even sent a premature "That's it I'm done with cycling, where can I apply at university" text to one of my friends. Obviously it was all just a little over dramatic. 

My body didn't seem to respond that well either. Not the tiniest bit of nervousness, no stress... Just doing what needs to be done, all with a hint of indifference. 
Sign in, get some oil rubbed on the legs, listen to the strategy, put on shoes, put on overshoes, roll up and down the road a few times, stand at the start, start, neutral over, official start is given... 

After 10km of racing I was a little worried how little attention I was paying to the race. 50 men could've gone off the front and I wouldn't have noticed. Just keeping the wheel in front of me, going with the flow. It took a real effort to wake up the senses and start getting into the racing mood. 

Suddenly as I was becoming more aware of my surroundings, my bike didn't feel comfortable at all. Almost as if someone had lifted my seat and my shoes were feeling strange too, so loose and.... !@#$%^&* I let out a stream of swear words in all languages I know. Since it was raining that day, I didn't want to ruin my newly bought white pair of shoes and took the old ones. Somehow I had forgotten to change the inner soles (which I always do as I have special soles with a higher arch) and was riding shoes without any soles. 

I hated myself that day and I still do now. That is just a mistake you should not make. Plain and simple stupid.  
But it got worse. Without the soles, my knee was moving into the direction it shouldn't move and still having a slight inflammation it soon started hurting again. 

I dragged myself 100km along the back of the peloton, then got dropped 10km before we crossed the line for the first time and had the ride of shame to the finish, where the broom wagon was right behind me all the time and you just feel their stare of "get to the finish faster you snail so I can get on with my day" on your back. I'm sure he was a good lad and didn't think that but that's how it felt. 

The shower of shame followed (which is a shower all by yourself compared to the massively crowded showers by the time the main peloton had reached the finish) and I was glad when that was done and I could hide in the bus. 

A day to forget that's sure, but maybe also a little motivation to be more aware of my surrounding no matter how dead I am. And also to get back to the person I once was, getting up climbs in the front, not getting dropped on them alongside the sprinters. Actually most of the sprinters still got dropped later than me... 

Anyway, Sibiu Tour in Romania is coming up soon and I'm motivated to turn these horrible last few months around into something good. 
It already had a good-ish start with me missing the Strava KOM by one single second on the most famous climb around here. I'll be back to take that KOM, no doubt! 

The squad (bad hair day, don't ask)

Post Cup Bornholm, Rund um Köln

Next up was a Post Cup race in Bornholm. A bit silly traveling all the way to Denmark and back for one "little race" if you ask me, but you've got to do what you've got to do.
The drive up was all in good spirits until Hamburg where our Crafter broke down. On the left lane of a 4 lane highway. Luckily we managed to maneuver it onto the right side without anyone getting hurt. And there we stood waiting...

Long story short the Crafter got towed, we got a rental car and continued our drive to Malmö, where we had 4 hours of sleep before we had to get up again to not miss the ferry going to Bornholm. Less than ideal conditions for a race but we still had pretty much all day to recover.

The race was held on a undulating course and the wind was blowing. Some teams had as many as 12 riders at the start, big disadvantage for us since we only had 6.
The break went up the road and we had no one in it. Since my shape was anything but good, I left the thinking to my teammates and offered to work whenever they told me.

The command to work came surprisingly soon and although I didn't think it was a good idea to spend riders that early I did what was asked of me; bring back the break so someone could jump over.
2 laps later Frederik and myself had closed the gap to less than 20 seconds and blew up. Job done usually. However no one jumped, the gap grew out again, then the attack came (at a very bad moment as a downhill with a head wind followed) and he managed to cross over to the break.

Half a lap later everyone was back together and we had 3 guys left in the race of which 2, including myself, were completely spent. I was mad. That was a mistake we weren't supposed to make.
A lap later only 2 were left. My mood didn't get better.

Somehow I managed to hold on through all the crosswinds and attacks and was the last man standing from the team with 4 of the smaller laps to go. However at some point there's nothing you can do as a single rider anymore, when there are 30 riders left, and 3 teams are still represented by +-8 riders.

So I cruised to the finish line on my own in a mediocre 33rd.
I still had a slight moment of shock when I wanted to brake late for a corner and realized my brake pads were worn down so bad that the front brake was almost non-existent. Happens when you take the wrong brake pads. Good thing I was on my own at that point.

Discussing the plan of action after an unfortunate break-down

A game of Mini Golf to calm the nerves

After a troublesome week with some pain in my left knee the journey continued to Cologne, where the famous German classic "Rund um Köln" took place. The knee got better towards the weekend so I was hoping it'd be okay and I could build on my form again for the "Oberösterreichrundfahrt" which would follow soon after.

Many dark clouds surrounded us as we took the start to tackle 200 km around the North-East of Cologne.
I tried a few times to jump into the break of the day, but unfortunately always got caught again and before long my legs blew up and I had to be satisfied with being in the peloton for the rest of the day.

The further the race dragged on, the worse I felt. Not my legs, but my head and my knee. I was scared the injury would cost me another few weeks to recover from, a few more races that I would miss and more scrambling for good form. It's been way too bad this year already.

As we came to the feed zone after 130 km I pulled the plug. It wasn't worth it riding on, putting more pressure on the knee and risking further injury.
Good decision; after I was brought back to the finish by car, I couldn't use my left leg at all and pedaled back to the car using just the right leg.

The day after I did what I should've done 3 weeks before, when the knee problems came up for the first time. Called approximately 20 physiotherapists around Darmstadt until I reached one who had a spot open for the next day and scheduled a bike setup with the guys from IQ athletik.

The latter was very successful as the IQ athletik crew, helpful and friendly as ever, found a few things that might've caused the problem, changed them and off I went with fresh motivation and hope for the upcoming "Oberösterreichrundfahrt" (Tour of Upper Austria).

Team presentation

Going backwards already

Bike fitting starts with the shoes. The IQ athletik guys helpful as ever

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Skive-Lobet, Tour de Bern

As it turned out my sickness I had caught after Morocco wasn't just a little flu but pneumonia. The doctor said that it didn't look so bad at first so we hoped it would go away by itself, but it didn't get better at all so some days later I was on penicillin.

Bad timing because the only 2 one day races that I've been looking forward to this whole year were about to come up - GP Herning in Denmark and Rutland Melton Cicle Classic in England. Why was I looking forward to them? They featured lots of gravel sections. Pure carnage promised! So again, why was I looking forward to them? Honestly I don't know, normally they wouldn't suit me that much but on a good day I could definitely be up there and in that case races like those are a lot of fun!

Unfortunately I wasn't even close to being ready when the races arrived. Nonetheless I was still buckled up in the car driving to Denmark, hoping I could do at least 1 or 2 races the following weekend.

The pneumonia was stubborn though and took its time to go away. Finally 2 weeks after we had finished the Tour du Maroc I could climb on my bike and start training again. Still feeling tired and very uncomfortable on the bike for the next couple of days though.

 I left out GP Viborg and Himmerland Rundt to be 100% sure I'll be fine for Skive-Lobet on Sunday.

The Saturday before my legs still felt absolutely terrible on the pre-race ride though and the weather hadn't been that great all week either. 

But by Sunday the sun came out, however the cold wind still made for a crisp start at 2 in the afternoon.

I was at the back in the neutral zone but sneaked past everyone on a bike path and started the race in the first 10 positions, which was perfect as had the breakaway in mind. A few attempts were made to get into the break but soon I realized I didn't have the legs to follow many more moves (no surprises there...), so the break left without me a little while later.
Probably a good thing because it was quite relaxed in the peloton for a long time.

Never in the whole race did I feel overly great, but strange enough I always hung in there.
At one point we wanted to move to the front, I got boxed out just before a narrow turn and had to watch my own team putting me into the gutter together with team Trefor. Of course I wasn't the leader so it was a good move by them but if the wind was any stronger or the roads didn't turn early enough into a tailwind I might not have made it, because at some point I was looking back and there weren't many guys left behind me. And I didn't even start that far back.

Although there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on in the peloton I felt really comfortable right in the middle of it, just going with the flow. Strange, because normally I get very nervous when there's so much movement in the pack.

Even the many crashes which occurred on the finishing circuit didn't make me nervous. The climb to the finish was however, as I felt my power decreasing every time we went up again.

Finally with one lap to go the elastic snapped and I was left alone. Not a bad thing necessarily as 5km before the finish I passed some riders that were still down on the ground due to a horrific crash. Plus I didn't think I'd finish at all, so job done.

Traveling like big boys in a big bus

Chatting to a mate I met in Morocco

However it seemed like I had misjudged my health somewhat, because 4 days later I was sick again. We had a few worrying days when the doctor feared it could be mononucleosis, but luckily that turned out to be wrong.

A very difficult decision followed on weather I should do Tour of Iran or stay home. I chose the latter and had some relaxed days that finally gave me the chance to recover fully. My dad came to visit too, which was great of course since I don't see my family much.

Selfie time with dad

Tour de Bern followed and I barely had a week and a half of proper training in the legs. But racing is the best training so I was keen.

Normally the course would've suited my likes, with a steep, long-ish climb at the beginning of the lap and not many flat meters on the rest, however a few kg above my racing weight and no training it was a punishing circuit.

The first 3 laps were hard on my morale. I'm used to getting to the top of the climb in a better position than I started it. Here however I was going into the climb in 15th position and over the top in 110th, sometimes already being gapped. I always made it back afterwards but it wasn't easy.

Lap 4 out of 5 then saw the field explode into pieces and as I was "standing like a bucket" on the climb again, as my teammate would say, I had many groups to catch again before I came to the one where many of my teammates were left.

We started chasing and I buried myself a few more times in attempt to bring the race back together, but it was all for naught and we turned into the grupetto by the time the last lap commenced. Even then I had trouble making it over the climb, but was happy enough to finish another race where I wasn't sure before if I could make it.

Spirits high despite bad legs

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Tour du Maroc

Tour du Maroc

Stage 1

Coming from the Coppi e Bartali I wasn't too sure what to expect in Morocco. My legs had felt like I was missing many hours of training behind the scooter, but there was no time to do that anymore. 

We all arrived safely in Casablanca, although Morten was almost arrested at the airport for taking a selfie. 
The wind was crazy the next day and the weather wasn't what I had expected either as the sky was covered with clouds and it was a fresh 12 degrees only. The pre-race ride was great anyways, it's always exciting to ride in a country you haven't been before. 

The first stage started hectic as expected and the team did a great job covering all the moves. I joined in and after 65 km we finally got successful. A group of about 13 riders got clear and we hardly went below 50km/h for the first half an hour. 
Then things settled down a little and everyone just circled at a good speed. 
I wanted to take the King of the Mountains jersey as there weren't any points the next day so you'd have the jersey for 2 straight days, but the climb wasn't as hard as expected and no one was sure where the line actually was so many guys sprinted at the wrong time and then got surprised by probably the fastest sprinter in the group who then made it across the real line first. 

Later on I was told not to work anymore as Stefan Schumacher was on his way over with a few other riders. As soon as they joined I tried to keep the group moving as good as possible, but many riders stopped working and it wasn't that easy. 

In the last 10km it was almost only a Unieuro (the strongest team on this race) rider and myself working at the front. The peloton was on our heels too but never caught us luckily. 

In the last km it was all uphill and I got dropped a little from the group due to the work I had done earlier. Stefan had a good day though and finished a strong third. I was 15th on the stage, 14 seconds down on the winner. Not a bad start to the tour at all.

Stage 1 start scenery

Team presentation. Left to right John Mandrysch, Frederik Zeuner, Stefan Schumacher, myself, Morten Gadgaard, Mathias Krigbaum

Stage 2

The second day was a little more relaxed than day one. It took a while for the break to go but once it was gone it was relatively easy. Except for one point when the Moroccans put us all in the crosswind but it didn't last long. 

With 40km to go the break still had 5'20 and I was getting scared they might actually make it. However Unieuro smashed it up a few little rises, putting a lot of riders into trouble and the speed was kept so high that we caught the escapees a few km before the finish. 

The finale was absolutely terrifying. Besides the usual fighting for position there was the occasional spot with a lot of gravel on the road and I mean a lot! I'm still wondering how everyone stayed upright there, especially through the corners. 

Stefan had another brilliant ride to finish 3rd, which moved him up to second overall due to the bonus seconds he received. John finished 12th and I moved up to 13th in the general classification. So far so good. 

Stage 3

The third stage was the first one wit a few difficult climbs. The first 30km were almost all uphill (only slightly at first) and unfortunately we had two riders with stomach problems and they were gone after 21km. Stefan had to save himself for the important moments and John was struggling a little uphill. So I was left to chase down 5 Unieuro riders on my own. After 50 km things settled down a little although we had caught the breakaway again. The calm didn't last long though as no one really knew how to control, so it was just chaos all the way. 
Once again I had to follow move after move after move but at least this time John was there to help me cover. Some sketchy descents with dogs running across the road made it even more exciting and finally with 10 km to go a few teams started controlling. 
Nothing particularly exciting happened at the end except the usual finish sprint chaos but I kept out of it as good as I could. I didn't want to crash for nothing. 

The two sick Danes luckily also made it to the finish in time to hop onto a bus for a 2h30 transfer. One thing I knew for sure was that if I had to do the same thing the next day I wouldn't be able to. 

Some interesting landscapes to be seen from the bus window

Stage 4 

The longest stage along with stage 5 at 193km started with chaos again. Attack after attack again, but it seemed like our Danes had recovered well overnight as they were a great help covering the moves. Then the break left and everything seemed to calm down. Until some ... (insert bad word here) attacked again and chaos was on once more.
Then we put Frederik onto the front just to control things a little, some teams joined and it actually worked. Until all the other teams stopped working and then so did we.

The whole stage had potential of splitting the field in the crosswind, but no one committed to doing it. Still it was super nervous because once you were at the back you didn't feel safe there and moved up, so it was a constant shoveling and shoving.
Then the inevitable. A crash. Someone at the front went down and half the field followed. We had 4 riders involved. John only dropped his chain, put it back on and he was off chasing the bunch. Frederik was soon back on his bike too. Mathias looked like he would never stand back up again and had a frontwheel that was broken in 3 places, whilst I was standing there waiting for a backwheel. When I received the backwheel, I lost a brake pad but got told to just leave it, we would fix it on the road. So I left the accident scene and had to wait a while for the car catching up with me, Mathias trailing in the slipstream. Then our brave mechanic Kuba put a new brake pad in, his fingers only millimeters away from my wheels that were turning at 60km/h.

We made it back safely, more crosswind came, more nervousness but no more big crashes, a chaotic finale as usual where I once again decided to keep out.
With Schumi second on GC I was looking forward to the Queen Stage 5 of the tour. It's good to have a mission on tough days. 

Killing time before the start

Stage 5 

The word epic is much overused these days but there's no better way to describe the 5th stage. Let me explain: 

The start was given with some dark clouds ahead of us and a light drizzle. However the roads here don't seem to be built for a lot of rain and sometimes it felt like we were riding through small rivers. The temperature was quite cold too. 

A 21 man group went off the front, we had Mathias in it, but decided to work  with the Venezuelan guys behind as they already had over 4 minutes after 35km. That said, Frederik and John did the work while I was sitting behind them together with Schumi. My legs didn't feel great at all. They worked until the start of the second climb, where a Venezuelan rider upped the tempo drastically so that they couldn't hold the wheel anymore. I took over and set a good tempo on the climb and for the first time that day my legs felt quite good. The Venezuelan took another strong but short turn at the top, but I rode the majority of the climb at the front. Imagine my surprise as I turned around and there were not more than 20 riders left. 

The downhill that followed was treacherous, wet and foggy. I don't know if it was dirt or very hard raindrops that shot into my eyes but I had my eyes more closed than open. Not that ideal going downhill...
At the bottom the group swelled up a little again and we caught some riders of the breakaway including Mathias who did some valuable work before the last climb. 
I punctured shortly before the climb, but was back quicker than expected although the pace was really high. 

Then something strange happened. I was taking a turn at the front and suddenly had no idea where to go anymore, the road just stopped and a big mudfield opened up ahead of us. Turns out that was a road which was under construction and we had to ride on it. At first I thought it might be 500m or a km long, but it turned out it was the whole climb. Almost 8km uphill of that! Everything was covered in mud in no time. My eyes and face were full of it, you couldn't see the red colour on my cycling shoes anymore and the poor white socks... The gears also stopped working occasionally or the chain slipped because it was all just full of the slimy brown mass. The frozen hands didn't help the shifting problem. 

Halfway up we caught the rest of the breakaway and from then on it got tough. Unieuro was setting the pace and I could barely hang onto Stefan's wheel anymore. When we reached the top and I looked around there were only 7 guys left, 2 of those have been in the breakaway. That filled me with a lot of pride, it's been a long time since I had done such a performance and it was exactly what I had planned to do, not leave Stefan isolated over the climb.
 Unfortunately it was still almost a 100km to the finish from there and I was broken. 
There were so many times before we hit the proper downhill that I almost got dropped. 

Then the downhill came, Schumi lead into the first corner and immediately hit the ground. A few meters later the Venezuelan... When I came around the corner I understood why. There were immense gusts of wind coming from various directions and sometimes the mountain sheltered the road from the wind and sometimes it didn't. I almost got pushed off the road too, but just managed to stay upright because I leaned with all my weight into the wind. The high profile front wheel that I had received after puncturing made matters so much worse. 
So in the course of 300 meters 4 riders out of the 7 in the lead group crashed. 

Afterwards we were super careful around every corner, but it came so unexpected sometimes that you could almost not control it and many more times someone took an off road detour. The group got a little bigger again later on, but the wind stayed almost the same. Sometimes you went 80km/h without pedaling and after the next corner you were doing 20km/h going full gas on the downhill. Staying on the riders wheels was tricky too, you wanted to be sheltered from the wind, but never knew where they would swerve when the next wind gust came so you didn't want to be too close either. 

I did my best to bring a little peace into the chaos and control things, close gaps on guys that jumped or keep the tempo up, but couldn't do it as much as I wanted to because many times I was very close to being dropped. 

The wind calmed down a little the further we descended, but now there were sandstorms and I still hadn't managed to put my glasses back on so my ability to see was reduced once again. 
With 30km to go someone tried to split the group in the crosswind and I had just taken my turn at the front trying to find shelter from the wind again. That I didn't manage and got dropped. Luckily Schumi was still in there and looking quite strong. 

Then a miracle happened, the road turned and we had a blistering tailwind. I had two companions with me of which only one was working with me, but it didn't matter because we were in our biggest gear almost all of the way and hardly going below 70km/h. The occasional crosswind still got me off guard sometimes and I had to stop pedaling for a few seconds but it didn't matter because even by not pedaling for more than 10 seconds I was still going above 70km/h. Fastest 25km of my life. 

Schumi showed his class, rode away from most of his rivals on his own and finished third on the stage, taking valuable bonus seconds and taking the yellow jersey by quite a margin too. Needless to say, the team was thrilled!
I finished about a minute and 30 seconds down which still kept me up in 14th place on GC, less than 2 minutes behind the yellow jersey. 

Unfortunately Frederik broke his bike and wasn't able to get a new one so he had to abandon the stage. Controlling a crazy peloton like this with 4 riders including the leader over 5 days will be a mission and a half, but we will give it our best. 

Looking back at this stage I can't really believe what I had lived through in a single day and reading over what I just wrote here made me realize it's not even remotely close to describing how crazy the day actually was. I think we we were more warriors than cyclists that day. 

Free mudbath

The soigneurs on top of the last climb in freezing conditions

The weather got better, the wind didn't.

The aftermath of a brutal stage. I left my socks right where I took them off, there's no saving them.

Stage 6 

After a 3 and a half hour bus transfer before the stage, we started what was supposed to be and easy stage. Almost all downhill seen from the profile and only 120km long. 
Unfortunately the break once again took a long time to go and a few penny's had been spent before we could take over the work at the front. Also John had taken a bad tumble in the first few kilometers and didn't look that fresh anymore. 

Lucky for me Stefan told me to stay behind him because he needed me for the next stage (with more climbs) and I should rest. Some teams helped us and the break was caught before the line and another bunch sprint was on the cards.

So I had a bit of a relaxed day except that I felt like I was pulling my brakes all the way while riding. Which actually turned out to be true... After the finish line I picked my bike up and tried to spin the back wheel. It didn't even go halfway around before it stopped again. Definitely not what you want to see, but I guess I could blame my bad legs on that, partly at least.

Stefan receiving another yellow jersey

Stage 7

Once again a hectic start to stage 7. We were on winding hilly roads along the coast and one dangerous break went after the other. After around 10 kilometers I was in a 12 man group but it didn't last more than 7 kilometers. 

After that I don't know how many times I covered some of the dangerous riders, because Mathias was nowhere to be seen (he punctured as it turned out later and took quite a while to get back on) and John was a little tired on the climbs and still suffering from the wounds he got from his crash the day before.

Finally another 12 man group went off the front, including the guy who was second on GC with 3 teammates alongside him. I was there too and tried to break the rhythm as good as I could but they were working quite well and unfortunately he gained another 3 valuable seconds in the intermediate sprint. We went on to the first King of the Mountain classification at 65km which many riders tried to go for, but once that was done there was not much collaboration left in the group and we got caught again by a now reduced peloton. 

Almost immediately 2 of the most dangerous riders for the GC went on the attack and since Schumi was nowhere to be seen I jumped with them. They went flat out and almost immediately build up quite a lead. Shortly afterwards more riders came over and we were now 8 in the front, almost all of the favourites represented. Still no Schumi to be seen. This was a bad sign! 

But while they went all out in the headwind I just stayed behind and tried to save as much energy as possible to go for a possible stage win later or maybe move up on GC as well. Unfortunately I got called back just as we created the second King of the Mountain at 123km to help bringing the peloton back. 

As it turned out Schumi had mechanical and had some troubles coming back too. Right in that moment all the favourites attacked, thus his absence. 

Working at the front of the peloton in the headwind was brutal, but more and more riders joined and once Stefan joined in as well with his yellow jersey the lead came down pretty quick. 
Too quick unfortunately as we caught them with more than 13km to go. 

More attacks followed and a 5 man group got a gap, one of them only 1'30 behind on the GC. So I took a big turn at the front to bring them as close as possible and then blew up. It was up a bridge and all in the crosswind so there was no chance for me to catch a passing riders wheel. Then there were no more riders. 

But then 2 dropped riders came to the rescue as they worked hard to come back on the following descend and we got back again when the peloton slowed down for a roundabout. 

Immediately I went to the front again, took a few more turns until 3km to go and then blew up again. This time I could stay in the peloton though and finish in the same time to conserve my 14th place on GC. Not that it mattered because we're going for yellow here, but it's a small victory nonetheless. 

There was some drama afterwards as supposedly Stefan got a penalty for drafting a car when he had a mechanical (which is pretty normal), which meant he wouldn't be in yellow anymore. But later it was all good, no penalty and the yellow was his. 
3 more days to go.

Still smiling...

Stage 8

Stage 8 was terrible. My legs were in a constant state of pain, even when I wasn't turning them. So were my ankles, knees, hipbones, elbows and wrists. No idea why.

Contrary to the usual non-stop attacking, there were no attacks at all today. After Morocco unsuccessfully tried to put everyone in the gutter, we rolled along and no one tried to go. Seemingly I wasn't the only one that was tired.

Finally 6 riders went and we could start doing our turns at the front. It was a terrible headwind though and we barely managed to get over 35km/h, so this was a brilliant day for anyone that didn't have to be at the front.

The day just didn't seem to end. Turn after turn was taken, but the kilometers were creeping by in slow motion. Luckily we had made some friends in the peloton that helped us pull, we would've never managed to defend with only 3 guys working!

25 km from the end there was a turn to the left and we all knew how dangerous it was. Crosswind alarm, all the way to the line!
Although we went first around the corner, there was nothing we could do when the other teams moved up. We made some big efforts to stay in front and out of the wind and seemed to succeed at first. But when you're that tired and you've been on the front for 110km in a headwind you only have to be in the wrong spot once and you're out. First John was gone and pretty soon Mathias and myself followed. So the yellow jersey was isolated with other teams still having 4 to 5 riders. Less than ideal.

I tried to stay in the second group that was close to the first one, but was soon out of that one too. I hate crosswind!
The third group that came along was going really fast and I thought I would just let it go because my GC spot was gone anyways and that would just be wasting energy, but there was still around 18km to go and I wanted this day to be done as soon as possible. So I hopped in and actually managed not to get stuck in the wind again.

To my surprise we didn't finish that far behind and I only lost one spot on GC. More importantly though Stefan managed to defend his yellow jersey for another day. I seriously thought we could've lost it there.

Stage 9 

The next stage had the same start as stage 8 ended. Which meant the first 25km crosswind. You know how I feel about that by now.
As expected it was all split at some point and I found myself in the second group as well, but only occasionally as many riders tried to make it back and I was in the front group before the crosswind ended.

Then it was the same as the day before; working into a headwind. Today was worse though, I felt empty before the stage and it didn't get better. It even got to that point that I looked at the fork of Mathias who was riding in front of me and was terrified when it started to move. Then a moment later I realized that my vision was a little blurry and other things that weren't supposed to move did the occasional wobble as well.

And I thought stage 8 was bad... At least I was forced to be at the front. If not I would be a ticking timebomb in the peloton, because my reactions weren't that fast either.
Strangely though I held through, and actually started feeling a little better when other teams joined the front and upped the tempo to catch the breakaway.

Another crazy finale came up. Maybe also crazy because at the 10 km to go sign everyone started to move up and start their leadout trains, but it took another 9 km before the 5 km to go sign arrived... Not the first time those signs were a bit misplaced by the way..

Stefan finished in the pack to get another day in yellow. So did I, although I still don't understand how. It's crazy how far you can push your body when you really have to!

After the stage I sat about 40 minutes on the hotel bed with my head in my hands and didn't move. There was just no energy left. After the shower I spent almost all of the evening in bed, with a light fever, hoping a miracle would come and I could start and finish the last stage.

Stage 10

One more stage was ahead of us before we could possibly be the overall winners of Tour du Maroc 2016 (Stefan could be for that matter, but it's a team effort). A miracle did happen overnight as the fever had disappeared and I felt rather fresh. Still hurting on the bike but at least I could see straight.

A lot of attacks were thrown at us again before a group that we were happy with left. This time we had a blistering tailwind instead of the headwind like the previous days.

All was in control...

Until someone rode up next to me and said: "Hey I think your leader has a problem". I looked back and he wasn't behind us anymore. The message spread quite quickly and the pace slowed down. Luckily no one tried to take advantage of the situation and respected the unwritten code of waiting for the yellow jersey when he has a problem. Thanks everyone for that!

Behind all hell was loose. Schumi had a plastic bag stuck in his rear derailleur which didn't took some time to get out, then he wasn't allowed to pace back by the cars and the regular traffic was opened again, so he had to jump normal cars and even horses all on his own just to get back into contention. Mathias luckily came soon to assist him with the chase back but it wasn't an easy one I can assure you that.

Back in the pack and hell started for us. Due to the lull of waiting for Stefan we had lost a lot of time on the breakaway and it's extremely difficult to gain time quickly in a tailwind. So all of the teams working for a stage win pulled their men from the front and at times we were only 3 pulling between 50 and 60km/h all the way.

Mathias cracked due to the work he had done for Schumi, John cracked.. and finally I cracked too and we hadn't even reached the final circuit yet (5x5km). We weren't given any time gaps either so we had no idea what was going on. All I knew we needed more men to ride.

As we got onto the circuit for the first lap I was dropped already, but still in the cars. Made it back somehow, recovered a little in the wheels, went to the front, did one turn and was almost straight out the back again. I tried that once more with the same effect and with the third try I didn't even manage to get to the front.

Somehow there were always enough guys to pull though and the break had a mere 45 seconds left at the end (they had more than 5 minutes as we came onto the circuit).

Schumacher finished in the peloton safely to retain the yellow jersey and thus win the race overall. We had done it! All the hours of suffering and pain were somehow forgotten when he stood up on the podium and gave us a thumbs up and a wink as we cheered and whistled for him.

Mission Accomplished!

It's a big win for the team I can assure you that and we hope there's more to come.

As for myself, I finished 14th overall, which I'm proud of as I've done a lot of work. I'm even more proud of achievements you can't see on paper. Like being among the 7 riders that made it over the top of the highest climb first, never missing an important move, being a teammate that Schumi could count on (I hope)... All in all this tour has boosted my confidence a lot and it should've given me a lot of power for the upcoming races too.
Sometimes you only see how strong you are when you work for someone else. Because You really have to give it your everything until you blow. And that blow mostly comes a lot later than expected. This is why I really enjoy having someone like Stefan Schumacher on our team.

The last meal ... uhm ... I mean breakfast

Our British friends from the Planet X team

Schumi in yellow has become quite the familiar sight for the Moroccans

2 days and a few stressful moments later (like almost missing our flight back to Frankfurt) I was properly sick. I still denied it a little, but when I took a 40 minute nap, slept from 17-18;30, then again from 20-22 o'clock and then all night through to 11 in the morning I realized I might've been worse than originally thought. The good side was the long sleep made it a lot better, but it still wasn't perfect.

So I probably won't be racing Giro del'Appenino, but there might be a few Danish races coming up for me soon and maybe even something real special (I'll only tell once I know for sure).
Until then I'll recover as well as possible and hope I took some good form off Tour du Maroc.