The highlight of the event was watching the Colombians carve up the Omnium and the Madison event. Real racers, a huge passion and their coach was an awesome guy, very humble and grateful his team was rewarded for their efforts.
Over the winter I have been trying to fit some riding around my coaching and even started a few races. The racing hasn't gone too well but have done a few good rides to Coffee Culture Sumner for a brew and a bagel. Great news is Greg Thompson and Anthony Chapman have opened Optimal Performance at 66 Wharenui Road where they have a very well set up gym and several LeMond Revolution ergs.
In August I had one of those meetings that become a game changer. I was given the opportunity to manage the Benchmark Homes Cycling Team for the Tour of Southland. Before the meeting I was also asked to manage a team supported by Felt Bicycles to the Tour of Tasmania. At the meeting I was asked to manage the Benchmark Homes Cycling Team for 2013. Initially I accepted and was Men's Team Director at one of the rounds of the Benchmark Homes (these guys put a lot into the sport) Elite Cycling Series.
Then I travelled with Dan Barry, Will Bowman, Hamish Schreurs, James Early, Sam Horgan and Team Masseur Hans Lutters from Hands On Clinic. Via three flights, Christchurch, Auckland, Melbourne starting at 4am we got into Hobart 14 hours later. There we met up with the sixth team member Josh Atkins who was winding down after a big season in the US and Europe, but keen to race.
Hobart is a lovely port based city with Mt Wellington looking down on you from all angles. The start to the Tour was an 18km Team Time Trial to the top of Mt Wellington and we used the day before the start to ride the course from Cascades Brewery to the summit. It was a nice 20 degrees at the base of the climb but by the top at 1200m it was very cold and exposed and there was snow on the side of the road.
Racing started the next day the team excelled to finish 4th out of 22 teams including some very Professional set ups.
At the end of the day Hans got to work on the riders legs while I took care of the laundry and making sure the bikes were clean. Fortunately our accommodation in Hobart and Burnie had a hose handy and the weather wasn't too cold.
Day two of the tour the racing started with a 123km stage from New Norfolk to Lake Pedder. While we were ranked 4th in the convoy my rental vehicle was over 1.6 metre limit and I was shunted to the back behind team vehicle 18. This was mildly annoying but I got to see some amusing sights. Slightly different approach to assisting riders back on after a puncture, crash or mechanical and a lot of riders hanging on to team cars on the climbs out of the sight of commissaires. Despite being at the back I was able to get bottles to all the riders thanks to Annie from Pure Black (the other Kiwi team in the race) who helped me out.
The next day started with a 3 hour drive from Hobart to Westbury going straight through the middle of Tasmania. Aside from getting stopped for speeding it was a comfortable trip. First up was a 30 lap criterium in Westbury with all right hand turns. It was an amazing sight to see 150 riders on a 1km lap as they came out of the top turn into the straight in single file. The guys started far back but Dan and Sam pushed ahead and Dan started clocking up Sprint Ace points.
In the afternoon it was a 100km stage from Hagley to Great Lake. The course profile suggested that there were two Cat 1 climbs in the final 20km but downloading the profile into MapMyRide it looked more like the final 20km was one big arse climb to 1200m. To add to the challenge the wind had picked up and for the first 50km it was nasty crosswinds from all angles. Josh's legs decided it was one race too many in an long season and he climbed in the car with me. James struggled in the crosswinds but Will torched himself to get him back up front. It was crazy times in the support vehicle trying to get past groups to ensure Dan and Sam had support up front.
On the climb, that did go on forever, James crashed early on after a branch blew off a tree and hit a Team Genesys rider but then found his climbing legs and went off in pursuit of the 4 riders who had broken clear early on the climb. Sam did an amazing ride for a big TT rider to foot it with the weedy climbers. James placed 5th on the stage and Sam moved up a few places on GC.
Then another 2 hours of driving to Burnie for the next 4 nights of our time in Tasmania. A nice seaside town that was close to most of the racing.
Next morning was the Ulverstone Criterium held on a tight course with a short sharp climb out of turn 2 and a finish straight beside a school so there was plenty of support. Dan was on fire in this race and took the lead in the Sprint Ace competition. It was also encouraging that James, who struggled in the Westbury Crit, stayed with the bunch for this race.
The afternoon stage from Ulverstone to Penguin showed us a different style of course to the first two road stages. Short and savagely steep climbs were now the order of the day. After 3km of neutralised section it was straight on to the climbs and Sam went on the offensive. After making sure Dan scored points in the Sprint Ace Sam was in every move of the day and came in at the front of the race to move into the top 10 on General Classification. The stage was end of Will's race.
Next day started with a Crit in Burnie on a 800m circuit. James had an early mechanical but we got him back in. Unfortunately Dan was heavily marked by the Search2Retain team who worked Neil Van der Ploeg back into the Sprint Ace jersey but not without a fight from Dan and Hamish who worked hard to combat 6 riders chasing points.
The afternoon stage from Burnie to the CAT Underground Mining (Race Sponsor) facility featured more savage climbs and some equally suicidal descents with a few gravel sections added for extra spice. Hamish suffered two punctures and we decided to employ a prolonged sticky bottle to get him back up to Sam and James in the 2nd group. This earned me a ripping out from the Commissaire but I played dumb, he doesn't need to know I have been a Comm since 1993 and know the rule book inside out.
The break didn't feature any threats to the Drapac team and their GC leader so they shut down the 2nd group which saw Sam drop out of the top 10 on GC.
The final stage was a 12 lap race on a testing 4km loop around Devonport with a mix of fast straights, roundabout, strong sea breeze and some stupidly steep climbs. It was Dan's last chance for the Sprint Ace and he won the first of five but Van der Ploeg was in 2nd and in the 2nd sprint he didn't place. He would have to settle for second in Sprint Ace.
Disaster happened as the race radio announced rider 174 had crashed on the finish line. This was Sam and we let Hans and Josh out to support him but he was still down and it looked bad. He had gone down at speed on his face and Hamish and James had stopped to check he was okay. The race organisers credited all three as having finished the race and thus completing the Tour. Dan went on the attack to try and win the stage and finished with another top ten.
It was a real downer to finish such a great event like that and we were more concerned about getting to the Hospital to check on Sam than reflect on the last six days success. We were still 7th from 22 teams on GC. Dan was 2nd in Sprint Ace and both him Sam and James had earned money in Sprint Ace, King of Mountains and Stage Placings.
Sam had been taken to the Burnie Hospital and we were grateful that his injuries were not more serious. He would be able to fly home with us the next day. Early in the morning we drove to Launceston, said bye to Josh who headed back to Sydney while we made our way back to Christchurch.
It was an awesome time but I did feel guilty not being at Denton Park for the first three nights of Track Racing. With the red stickering of the Grandstand there has been a frantic effort by the Track Committee to make the racing season happen and Syd Martin has been the main man making this happen and I really wanted to be there. I also had riders at the Yunca Tour and Track Carnival. The great thing about track is that I am there to see everything and can give each rider guidance on how to improve.
With that I made the decision to pull back from managing the Benchmark Team for 2013. I will manage the Team for Southland but then will focus on my personal coaching and being part of the team out at Track Racing.