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

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