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Suisse Roadside: An Austrian Adventure
I have to admit, at this point, I’m spoiled. I don’t have to go anywhere to see the big races anymore, they just seem to come to me. Yesterday was no different, as Stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse finished about 60k from my doorstep in the Upper Inn Valley town of Serfaus, Austria. The climb was classic Tirolean fun, and the result – not too surprising – a small group of the strongest decided the day amongst themselves.

After taking the train and riding my bike for a couple of hours (more on that later), I settled down to what I figured would be a good spot on the hardest part of the climb to Serfaus. There were two switchbacks, grand views, some crazy Luxembourgers, and well, I just liked it, ok?

Seriously, they’re down there.

As you can almost see from this first picture, the field is far, far down below in the Inn Valley. The substantial field was still mostly complete sans about 50 riders who met their demise on the mighty slopes of the Arlberg Pass just a little while earlier.

Just one of many Luxembourg fans waits for his three heroes: Andy, Frank, and Kim.

That whole complete thing was but passing fashion. The field was not going to be very complete in a few minutes time. In fact, in the span of exactly two kilometers, the field went from nearly 100 down to about 20 by the time it reached my bike shoe clad feet.

Rein Taaramдe put in a great effort, but there was nothing doing. Watch him come July!

The day’s long break had been gobbled up, the second break had been devoured, and now all that was left out front of the hard-charging multi-colored shark was a young Estonian clad in Cofidis red, Rein Taaramдe. For what Rein has accomplished in 2009, he should not be too much of an unkown, but he is. Taaramдe already has the mountains classification at the super hard Vuelta al Pais Vasco and 3rd overall at the Tour de Romandie to his credit in 2009.

Here come the leaders.

Anyhow, Taaramдe was moving quickly, but it was not nearly enough to keep the shark from gnawing on one more victim. At this point, the field was led by AG2R, but only just. Overall leader, Tadej Valjavec, was looking just fine up front, but his final teammate remaining, crosser cum roadie John Gadret, appeared to be in the throes of death. His rocking shoulders, doing their damndest to eke out a few more seconds for his team leader were just not heavy enough to push his legs any harder.

John Gadret: trying to look good for the ladies.

The lead group, melting like the snows in the high mountains, was down to less than 20, and at the back of this group was what seemed to be the entire Saxo Bank team. Frank and Andy Schleck, both looking exceptionally calm and peaceful, nigh ice cold, guided the suffering mass of Fabian Cancellara through the hardest part of the climb, whilst Gustav Larsson and Chris Anker Sorensen were right on his wheel. It was indeed obvious what the Saxo game plan is this week: all Cancellara, all the time.

The Schlecks were pursued by an army of Luxembourg fans through this section.

Sure, he lost the lead in Stage 4, but when the going gets arduous this week, the troops will be rallying around Cancellara’s side. After all, if he can make it up Crans-Montana on Saturday in reasonable fashion, who in their right mind will be able to go head to head with Cancellara in the race ending time trial? Exactly.

Cameron Meyer put on a solid display of climbing to show that his talents aren’t only on the TT bike and the track.

Right behind the leaders, it seemed that most of the Garmin team was making a desperate chase for the back end of the leaders. Tom Danielson was close near the top of the Category 1 GPM in Ladis, but he apparently couldn’t make the junction – so Danielson, Hesjedal, and young Cameron Meyer all came to the line together, nearly 2 minutes in arrears.

Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal chases.

After a brief section of desperate chasers who had nary a shot in the world of catching on, there came a steady stream of exhausted riders doing their best to get to the top of the nasty climb and be done. Latter stage animators Marcus Burghardt and Bjorn Schroder came lurching by behind the desperate chasers. Burghardt and Schroder had worked hard for a paltry leash from the field, only to be taken in as the first course of a very long meal as the climb beckoned skyward.

Burghardt has looked better in the past – remember his face when he won Gent-Wevelgem a few years back?

Schroder didn’t look too perturbed. He put in a good dig, and was stoic in the task before him.

I swear I wasn’t trying to take this many pictures of Garmin riders. It just happened.

A few more stragglers past, and then the mood of the race took a distinct turn for the lighter side. Garmin’s Huub Duyn passed by, and then what’s that I hear? Laughter? Joking? No suffering? First, Filippo Pozzato passed, looking just as cool as ever, but far off the pace, and just in front of a very lough laughing group.

Pippo Pozzato didn’t want to play with the other Italians at this point.

This wasn’t THE laughing group, but they were laughing a lot. I think World Champion Ballan was making fun of Pozzato just a hundred or so meters up ahead. They were certainly gesturing in his general direction. Ballan, for his part, looked good on the bike, but then again, who doesn’t when you’ve pulled the plug and are having a good time?

…So Enrico Gasparotto and Alessandro Ballan made fun of him. I’m actually just making that up, but they were laughing in his direction.

The real noise was still to come. A rather large contingent of Milram riders idled by not long after. You could be forgiven if you forgot you were even at a bike race at this point. Their pace was leisurely, nigh recreational. Some might call this unprofessional or some other nonsense, but hey, if you’re not looking at a win or going for the overall at a pre-Tour prep race like the Tour de Suisse, you’re definitely not looking to burn through your storage of precious matches that are lying in wait for three arduous weeks in July.

The German speaking professional group ride eases by.

A good portion of the Milram team was in this group – Linus Gerdemann had made the front group (as expected), Schroder was in the late break, and now four were making their easy way up the climb led by their sprinter, Gerald Ciolek. Interestingly enough, Heinrich Haussler was a part of this group, but he was more or less doing his own thing looking most definitely unhappy. He was riding behind the raucous German joking with apparently no interest in partaking, just trying to get to the finish.

The German speaking professional group ride is confronted by frantic, impassioned cheering. Go faster! Go harder! Hopp! Hopp!

After the German group ride passed slowly out of view, I looked around, waited a bit, wondered how far back the gruppetto was, and got back on my bike. Oh the foolishness. I descended out of the bright sun, into the dark shadows of the sun foresaken west side of the mountain, and of course, the gruppetto arrived. Right on cue.

And here they are, the final 50 or so enjoying the 3k, 10% climb.

Just as with the groups before, there was no hurry in the group. Just a reasonable pace to get home with as little energy expenditure as possible. The 50+ strong group succeeded ably and came in over 18 minutes down. That’s not a bad gig at a race like this – race hard early, pull the plug, and finish out a solid day of training. It shouldn’t be surprising in these years of specialization, but it is quite impressive to see the process in action.

After that, it really was over…we’ll be back on the road soon enough, but for now, that’s all from Austria.

Questions? Comments? Happy? Sad? Send me an email!

Looking for more pictures? Head on over to Flickr for much more.

There’s always the trusty if you ever get really bored.


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