Tour of Serbia


The Tour of Serbia


I was nervous before The Tour of Serbia for a couple of reason. One because I have never done a tour that has gone for longer than three days and I have never done 1,100km in one week of training let alone racing. The other reason I was nervous was because the 90days I am allowed to remain in Europe for was up and I was worried that on my return the customs officials at Dusseldorf Airport would send me back to Australia.


So with a few butterflies in my stomach and a couple of questions ringing in my head thanks to the customs official who stamped my passport on the way out of Germany I arrived in Serbia ready to go. The first stage started on Monday morning and at only 133.5km and with only one cat. 3 climb along the way I felt confidant about trying to get in a break away. The stage started calmly enough, wether this was caused because everyone was enjoying the sunshine or because everyone else was also daunted by the next seven days of racing as well, I wasn’t about to question it or ask for it to stop.


After about 10km of relaxation the racing began to intensify as everyone wanted to get into the break. Because it was the first day and everyone wanted to be in the break it took until after 60km before the move actually formed. It was a fairly large group with all the GC (General Classification) favourites present along with one purple jersey in the form of Matt. The break got out to 3min before some teams that had missed out on the move began to organise themselves and bring it down to 1min by the finish line that was 140km from the start line and not the official 133km. Matt ended up 9th on the day and earned himself 1min advantage on the rest of the field.


So stage 1 was over and straight away my mind was turned to stage 2. Recovery drink was consumed and once at the hotel I began drinking my first 2l bottle of water. The rooms were basic to say the least, this isn’t something I mind too much, Its just I like to be able to go to the toilet and not have to stand in a pull of rusty water because of the leak from the room above us and the room beside us. Nor do I like showering while standing ankle deep in water. Peter was the one who really struggled sleeping in a box that he couldn’t even fit in.


The next step in recovery is eating as much as you can. Lunch time saw us introduced to what would be our staple diet of; surprise meat (possibly stray dog) cabbage and mashed potatoes. At least there was a lot of it and we didn’t have to wait long to get it. Then straight back to the rooms to drink more water, eat more food and keep our legs elevated. This was also the time to get a massage from out swanie Steffan. Steffan used to be a baker and so now instead of working with dough he works with flesh. By the end of the week we were calling him the miracle worker and going to see him was the highlight of the day.


After sleeping on what seemed like the floor and eating pasta that had been cooked for about 1hr too long it was time for stage 2. At 165km and containing a 20km cat.1 and a 5km cat. 2 I was wondering how my 82km frame would go against gravity. Nico our DS (Director Sportif) gave us the job to look after Matt as best we could during the day. Keeping Matt out of the wind and near the front was the main idea. Everything was going well for me and the team 10km into the climb. Then the lactate hit me. Back through the pack I began to slide. Unfortunately it wasn’t far to the end of it and before I new it I was in the cars. Not even a couple of sticky bidons could help me stay with the pack and so Nico instructed me to sit up and wait for the next pack of riders to come through (the gruopetto) and ride with them to the finish doing as little work as possible to save myself for the next day. The idea of stage racing is that if you cant win overall you save your energy and use it to try and win a stage.


Apart from the Big Peter the rest of the team had faired the same way arriving into the finish near Sarajevo in small groups behind the lead pack. So with stage 2 done the recovery process began again. A lot of lying down, eating and drinking. I was rooming with Peter and luckily he had bought his laptop and a bunch of DVD’s so at least I didn’t spend my time staring aimlessly at Serbian TV. Instead I spent it staring aimlessly at a computer screen.


Stage 3 and I was feeling surprisingly good. 175km long with a cat. 2 climb 20km into the stage before two more cat. 2 climbs with the first coming at 140km and the last climb being the finish for the day. Nico had said that I should probably not try and escape today. However, over the top of the first climb I was in the front of the group. I was still there after the descent and found myself following wheels as the breaks started to go. Everyone sat up and started looking at each other, so I went. I thought someone would follow me, or someone would come across to me. But no one did. Solo by myself on day 3 of a 7 day tour isn’t the smartest move; some would even call it suicidal. However, there was a chance the pack would sit up and give me 10min seeing I was no longer a threat on GC and then bring me back over the last two climbs. All they gave me was 3min40sec before other riders began to attack each other. It didn’t take long for them to catch me. This was also the day where we went through 31 tunnels. Not long after I was caught we went through one with no light and with a lot of standing water on the ground. Someone in front of me locked up his breaks and fell then someone else did, then I did, then some more did leaving at least 20riders on the ground. The chase back on was long, hard and stressful, but thanks to Nico and a few pushes from the car I got there. Just in time for the second climb. I didn’t last long and was dropped. So another day in the gruopetto.


Stage 4 the longest of the tour at 183km and containing the a 20km monster that the stage would finish on and would decide the overall. The stage also had two cat. 2 climbs early on that had to be gotten over. The plan was to protect Peter, our highest placed rider on GC and put him in the perfect position at the bottom of the final climb. I was worried about the first two climb of the day. I survived both in the front group and was feeling good. The next 100 odd km on bad roads really hurt my body and I wasn’t feeling great. I wasn’t the only one and most of the pack was feeling the same way. With 50km to go I stepped it up as my real job began. I went back to the car and got Peter some drinks and then began to move him through the pack. With 20km to go until the climb Michael, Peter and myself were sitting well about 40 wheels back. We slowly moved up over the next 10km while the team with the yellow jersey began to lift the pace. With 5km to go I had taken Peter to the top wheels and at the foot of the climb I had him starting in second wheel. I stayed with him for the next 1km of climbing and although I was feeling good I sat up and saved it for another day. Peter ended up climbing really well and getting a top on the stage and I went to bed happy that I was riding strong and was able to do my job for the team.


By now I was used to the 5l of water I was drinking between stages but I wasn’t used to the food and my stomach was telling me so. Everyone thought the 153km stage 5 would be a quite day of rest. I was hoping to attack but my legs were full of crap and didn’t want to work in the first 20km when the break went and when  the field got split apart in the cross winds. Luckily I have been riding cross winds for months now in Holland and Belgium and even though I didn’t make the front group I was sitting pretty in the second group taking some revenge on the climbers who hurt me so much the previous few days. The stage finished with an average of 48km/hr not bad for a day that was meant to be slow. Luckily we went that fast because it allowed enough time for a massage before dinner.


Stage 6 I felt strong and with Nico who had predicted every other stage so far on my side I was planning on attacking between 15 and 20km. I went at 15km with two other guys. The race was going fast and although we lasted a few kms we were bought back and the next break was the one to go. Peter was taking the race by the horns and was in that break trying to gain time on his rivals and establish himself in the top 20. So a hard day for him slogging it out in the headwind and an easy day for me sitting in the bunch doing 120bpm. The break was caught with 30km to go and the hammer went down. I was in the right place for the sprint when two riders went down in front of me with 700m to go. Luckily I avoided it but was out of the sprint.


141km to go. I missed the break and in the end the week caught up with me over the last climb 20km to the finish.


It wasn’t a spectacular tour for me. I didn’t have any results or wins. However, I learnt a lot and the k’s that I put in my legs are going to hopefully get the results later down the track. I am someone who loves to win and naturally I am unhappy that I couldn’t win in Serbia. However, I have to learn from Serbia and take that forward into the rest of the season. Also I have to be happy that I got back into Belgium without any problem


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