Challenging stages, lead cars, completely closed roads, police escorts, and cheering fans – this Giant Tour is about as close as you can get to the full pro experience (unless you’re a pro!)
Every stage of the Giant Tour begins like the pros. Our Giant Media Team led out the neutral start from the center of town.
This event is amazing – here we are cruising along the beautiful Rhine River, castles on every turn, river boats, the sun is even shining – at last! There’s a stiff breeze in our faces but the pace is easy. We’re relaxed, but no one talks – we’re too busy thinking about the last 3 days, and looking forward to our last kms together.
Then the race commissaire climbs out of the car window and waves the yellow flag signaling the official start. I’ve been riding beside Enguerrand from French mag “le Cycle” in the second row, and he says only: “good luck” – in his accented English.
“Bon chance” is my reply, and immediately the pace picks up. After the shock of day 1’s speed, I’m ready to drift back to a saner place – stay out of danger and enjoy the ride.
But the pace is good – it’s fast for sure – maybe 40+km, but the group stays together and I literally get sucked along. I hold my line and hang for a while.
But the bunch is too big, and 20 minutes later there’s a touch of brakes setting off the chain reaction – and CRASH! I’m just ahead of the pileup but it’s enough to snap me out of the speed zone. I drop back a bit, but stay in the big group.
A few kms later, passing over a cobbled section, we pass another crash – this one looks serious as the rider staggers off the road looking completely dazed.
The group finally begins to break up. This is cool for me as I’m ready to find a group with a slightly lower pace. We hit several over-passes that demand effort – so much for relaxing.
After 90 minutes we hit the only climb -a fairly steep rise of 100meters, which is also the feed zone. The groups break up even more and I eventually find a group of 50 or so riders with a good pace. But after 2 hours, my shoe gives some trouble, so I pull over to fix it.
Our French compatriot Enguerrand was on a super day, breaking away with two riders… until…
No worries, another group will be by in a minute… so I ride solo (which is unusual for this Tour, considering the large field). Pretty soon I’m passed by our film crew, who report I’m now the lead rider for our team –Enguerrand has crashed out, and Taufig Khalil (from German radio ARD) also went down – Tom is driving a big group that contains a huge corporate team from T-Mobile – that is about 2 minutes back. Today’s stage finishes in front of the T-Mobile HQ in Bonn – so the pink shirts will be gunning for glory.
I draft the film crew’s car for a while, take on more water, and smile for the camera. Then I pull over and wait for the big group, as I’d much rather ride with the guys than on my own.
It comes along and is moving fast – now the T-Mobile corporate team is driving the pace – it seems like 20 of ‘em on the front of a group of 60+ riders. I absorb into the group and drift back until I hear Tom call my name. Taufig asks if I’m okay.
“I’m good!” I reply. “Where’s Ben?”
“Right behind you!” says Ben. And we’re back together.
Taufig laughs out: “Okay Guys – Giant versus T-Mobile- team time trial!”
One of his breakaways crashed in the gutter and took him down.
Instantly my speed doubles as I’m swept along by the bunch doing 40+kmh. Time to get back into the zone. The pace is unsteady, as the many of the riders are quite strong, but not so experienced at riding in the bunch. Tom decides to clean things up and gasses it to the front.
The bunch thins out, and although we’re going a gear faster, it feels much safer with less riders around. I’m feeling good in the top 20-30, my legs are spinning and I easily match every acceleration.
Over the one climb with around 45 km to go.
Finding My Form
maybe 35 minutes later Tom says we’re somewhere inside 7km to go. This pace is high, but the group is inexperienced at this speed and things just seem dangerous. Don’t crash – not worth it.
I keep my own pace high and look for little holes to fill, gaps to close and places to move up, just to stay out of danger.
We take a turn and I see a wide open line on the inside. Sweet – I move up a bunch of places. I feel good, but expect it to get even harder – just like Day 1 when I got blasted out the back.
I see another orange course marker. The pack of T-Mobiles ahead of me swings wide around a traffic island, and again the inside is wide open. I dive through and start a short climb up an overpass. The T-Mobile’s slow even more on the incline and I pick off a couple more – cautious to not get too far ahead – I’m here to follow wheels – not be a hero.
Then I see Tom jump by on my left – he’s out of the saddle and making a move. I remember Tom’s words from dinner last night – “no problem – you’ve just got to follow wheels all day and you’ll be fine.”
He’s a good wheel for me.
Over the top and we speed down the other side to a right-hander. Tom’s speed carry’s us past the last few riders to the front – one T-Mobile is ahead and swings wide (again) while Tom dives through the center of the hard right hander – into the lead.
My instinct takes over – no brakes – stay tight.
I feel like Slim Pickens in “Dr. Strangelove” – along for a ride that I’ve got no control over, and will surely end with a bang.
“Tom! – I’m here!”
His chain jumps 2 cogs to the 13, and the hammer goes down. I have no idea what I’m in for, but when the adrenaline is pumping at 186, who’s cares?
Clickclick and I’m into my 53×13, we’re inside 3kms and full-on “in the zone”.
“Now this is C O O L” I think… “we’re leading the race and I’m second wheel! Wait till I tell Mrs. Pez about this!”
We’re flying – I’m turning my usual 105 rpm – close to the rivet – but not there yet. It looks like I’ve found my form after 3 days and 2 tough stages.
I have no idea how far to the finish, but know it’s close and hope I can hang on.
Tom is flying – and I’m trying to be as small and aero as possible to get sucked along in his draft. Even 3 inches to the right or left and I feel the wind blasting me. …Stay close.
In The Zone: Tom’s face just before his attack.
The fans scream and cheer as we race by, but the whole thing is so surreal – . Here I am in a real race situation – never mind that we were going for 200th place – the rabid pack chasing us was all the proof we needed. I told the Guys on the PEZ-Crew I would do ‘em proud and now is my time to deliver.
I assume we’re towing the bunch, and expect the T-Mobile guys to come by, but they don’t…
Tom glances in the shop windows to see who was with us and sees only me and a T-Mobile guy on my wheel.
We have the gap and are going to shoot out the final.
I’m “au block” as Enguerrand would say, totally on the rivet. I don’t dare glance to the windows myself – lest I do something stupid like cross Tom’s wheel and crash – my only mission at this moment is to stay as tight on his butt as possible. I should have looked, but this was not the intensity I’m used to.
Just ahead – 90° right hander. Tom swings through the turn and the road rises up over a small overpass. Problem is: after 100km and some serious pace, it feels like a climb.
T-Mobile attacks on the left.
I’m inside of Tom, he looks over his shoulder and yells: “GO Richard!”
Working in a group mid-race. My famous Pez musette bag drew a few looks from the overly serious bunch.
T-Mobile has 5 meters and I try to go – but the full force of the wind hits me like a wall – my legs are toast – I can’t even get out of the saddle.
Okay – switch to TT mode. It’ll be just like yesterday, only now it means something more.
Crouch even lower – dig, dig, dig – it’s up to me – can’t let down the team.
I go up one more gear. Nothing but cement. Okay, back down and spin it out – 107-108 rpm.
I hit the red zone head first. My heart is beating off the charts and my ears fill with a rthymic bellowing that I soon realize is my breathing. Not good.
I glance up, searching for some indication that we’re nearing the finish – how far can it be…?
I see the 500 meters board. YES!! I’m almost home… but T-Mobile has 20 meters…
Then Tom comes around me and I try to catch his wheel.
Not this time… I veer into his draft but get only wisps… He sees T-Mobile’s gap is holding steady and makes his final dig. He’s done all the work to make this break and isn’t about to hand over the win to another team – even Giant’s corporate partners.
The German fans love to make some noise – the cheers we got on every stage were amazing.
300 meters to go – my head is down – I’m rolling all over the bike chasing – expecting another rider to come by – . I risk a glance and finally see for myself that we’re away.
The fans are already lining the course, hours ahead of the arrival of the DeutschTour final stage – they’re banging the barriers and screaming just like we’re the real deal.
My head is filled with pounding, cheering screaming, and sounds from my lungs like I’ve never heard.
I the next seconds Tom passes T-Mobile for a brilliant and deserved win, and I cross the line just meters behind for 3rd.
Sure – it’ third in our group which was somwhere back of the actual stage winner – but the competition, efforts, and emotions are real.
Talk about a moment in life – this is going on the top shelf. I’m in utter amazement with what’s just happened, and am thrilled that Tom did us proud.
Moments after the finish, Taufig and I start swapping stories.
Get more info:
• Giant Tour
• DeutschTour Website