So I thought this might be fun. I know I seem to just be pillaging through other material on this blog at the moment, but it is all in the name of research, trust me. This is the first ever blog that I wrote, I think it would have gone up on the old old British Cycling website (that was Echelon-velo.co.uk for all you trainspotters) in May 2000. It's interesting to me for a few reasons, writing is something I do so much of now it seems like I've always done it, but I did actually start somewhere, and I remember the seed being planted in my mind on the back of the bus from the airport to the hotel when we arrived in Montenegro, it was John Herety who actually suggested I write it up, so I have the man to thank for more than just the bike races. It still amazes me how a little suggestion can change the direction of a life.
I'm also amazed at the guy who wrote this, it drips with enthusiasm and youthful innocence, so it's kind of like reading a diary or meeting up with someone you once knew, at first I cringed, the writing is crap, the humour obvious and it seems so naive. But it had to be didn't it. So thanks to anyone who may have read this the first time around, I don't know why you thought it was a good idea that I wrote, but I will get there one day.
Montenegro, the Big 'A'
Now I figure that to pass pro there are certain things that a young rider has to do. There are plenty of things on this list (mainly involving suffering), such as 'getting your head kicked in at the back of an echelon somewhere in the Low Countries'. You get the picture. Last month I had to complete the part that goes something like, 'a mega hard racing trip in a third world country where everything that can go wrong will do'.
Our 17-day trip to Montenegro, a state of southern Yugoslavia provided all the bad hotels, dodgy 35-year-old Italian riders, insane transfers and snipers for all six of us W.C.P.P riders careers put together. From now on it will just be known to all involved as the 'Big A', that's 'a' for adventure, there was plenty of that.
The race was 'The paths of King Nicholas' a U.C.i 2.6 category six-day stage race. The first two stages were based around Bari in Italy but hey, we had to get there first.
This meant putting my heart firmly in my mouth for a good 2 hours whilst we flew into Yugoslavia in Montenegro Airline's finest exñaircraft, (the emergency exits had already seen action).
Then we were treated to four days of Montenegro's own Costa del Sol. Getting thrown out of hotels, having chips and bread every meal everyday, and the most incredible training race I have ever come across. Two days prior to the six-day event the organisers put on a training race for those teams already there. The route was 150kms and covered two 25km hors category mountains. I laughed. I didn't finish.
Next we had to get over to Italy where Montenegro's finest ferry company put us on the overnight ex-boat. A good 12 hours in a sweaty cabin directly above the engine without any sleep whatsoever stood me in good stead for the next day's opening stage, surely if I could stay awake I'd be flying... well no.
All this time two things had kept us all going, one that hopefully once the race started everything would improve and the time would fly by. Or just maybe John H would see sense and send us home before we actually went to Montenegro for the second time. Neither of these happy outcomes occurred. It went on.
Racing in Italy is worthy of a story of its own, with stages finishing 30km before they should or starting 20 minutes early whilst half the peleton were still getting changed. But I won't go into that.
We ground our way around the first two stages in torrential rain and a freezing coastal wind, hardly encouraged by having to get changed in a cafe porch after 4 hours in the rain two days on the trot. Each of us harboured thoughts that John was bluffing and really he had those sacred plane tickets straight out of Italy. Surely we didn't have to go back? I still had hope this was the case even when we boarded the midnight boat back to Montenegro. But alas, it went on.
At this stage of the game I was almost completely cracked I couldn't care less about the race. I had just been chewing on my handlebars for too long. I didn't laugh much. In fact I was so tired didn't open my eyes much from this point on.
The amount of time in bed got shorter and the stages got longer and seriously hilly. The rain stopped though, which was nice. I had stopped caring about what I ate (10 days of a bread and chips diet kinda does that). It got so bad I craved bananas - I hate bananas. That is when I knew things had gone down pretty low.
The race was finally drawing to a conclusion and I was managing to regain the plot a little. On the last mega mountain day I even felt vaguely like a bike rider again. Jamie (Alberts) also got to flex his muscles and spent the day putting the fear of god into the Cantina Tollo guy in the yellow jersey on every rise, corner and descent. Dan Bridges also decided to become a mountain climber for the day and put a few people to shame without even using his beloved 11 sprocket. Things were looking up, a bit.
All this sudden excitement about going home had improved everyone's legs so much we came away from the race with Jamie in 5th overall and winning the pink jersey. Funny thing is we never found out what it was actually for it looked very pretty though.
The flight home was about as much fun as it was on the way out. I calmed my nerves by playing with the putty that was in the big hole in the fuselage that I was sitting next to.
What did I learn from all this? How to handle tough situations and stay focused on racing my bike despite all these difficulties and hard times? How to be patient with others when I'm too tired to be patient? How to remain professional in races like this? How to stay cool with commissaries and Italians?
Well... err... no just that next time someone tries to drag me off to a race in a country that hasn't done a single repair on anything since 1972 just get sick and stay home like the wiser members of the W.C.P.P...