In Omer’s first report from New Zealand, two stages of the Tour of Wellington were completed and his teammate New Zealand TT Champion Jeremy Vennell was in third place on GC down by 8 seconds from the leader Australian Road Race Champion Peter McDonald (Drapac Porsche).
The duo are racing as part of a 5-man composite team, Cardno which also includes new Bissell rider Tim Latham.
While Australian Jai Crawford (Savings and Loans) won stage 3, McDonald increased his lead to 19 seconds over Vennell who moved up to second place. That takes us to the two split stages on Saturday and Sunday.
Stage 4 on Saturday morning was a 79-mile (128 km) circuit race with three laps each with a sprint and KOM. Stage 5, a criterium followed a few hours later in the afternoon. Stage 6 on Sunday morning was the 7-mile (12km) time trial where no-aero equipment was allowed which was once again followed by another crit in the afternoon to close out the stage race.
Where was I….?? I think my last post finished with stage 3. We felt good about where we were sitting in the GC. While taking the yellow jersey would have been great, as a team we knew that it would be tough to defend. So, we started stage 4 thinking about how to make Jeremy have as easy a ride as possible going into the stage 6 individual TT….
Stage 4 was a lollipop shaped circuit race. At first the race bible stated that the race would finish on the circuit. At some point, in typical race organizer fashion, it was decided that we would race back into the town we had started in. Lucky for us, the organizers decided to use a different route, so as racers we had no idea where we were going. Great….
The break went as we hit the circuit for the first time. We put Justin Kerr into the move and had hopes he could pull off a victory. Justin was told to sit on because there was a rider about 2 minutes back on the GC also in the break. I told Jeremy to take it easy and my other teammate for this season, Pete Latham, to be ready for the finish if the break came back and also save some energy for the afternoon crit. This meant that I rode the front with the GC leaders team to control things. 100km later, we had the break exactly where we wanted, about 50 seconds ahead of the main field. This meant we could see the cars following the break, which got the local guys excited and they started to ride HARD!!! Our plan of letting the break stay away was out the window and it was full gas towards the finish line. About 15 corners later, Pete came through with a 2nd place and Jeremy was 5th. It was a hard morning for all of us, but another stage down towards the TT….
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not judging kiwi’s or their races. But, having an afternoon crit 2 hours after the longest stage of the tour is dumb. I knew that the GC leader was really strong and aggressive, so the plan for the crit was to keep Jeremy out of trouble and make sure the leader didnt go up the road. It was a windy day and that just added to our workload. The leaders team had shown they were strong and wouldn’t hold back to keep the jersey. It was a intense 60 minutes that included several attacks by the leader going across to a small break and me and Jeremy working to bring it back. Eventually the end came and several hooks later, we made it to the finish line with no time gained or lost. The work was done, Jeremy just had to ride his best the next morning…..
The stage 6 TT was probably the hardest TT I have ever done. Maybe it was the workload in the previous 5 stages, but I suffered badly and knew about 1 minute into my personal effort that Jeremy would win and I should save everything for, in typical kiwi style, another afternoon crit. I was correct in my thought process because Jeremy won….!! But, not by enough to take the jersey. I have to say that I was disappointed because all I could think about was that maybe I could have done more to help him. The TT finished and Jeremy was still 16 seconds out of the lead. With a stupid hard afternoon crit to come, we knew that it would be a really tough win to take….
2 hours later we are standing at the start line of the crit. After sacrificing all week for Jeremy and GC goals, we were 6th on the team GC which was the call up order for the 750 meter crit complete with 5 corners and a 180 degree turn. It was probably the worst course for a rider like me, a professional donkey = no sprint. We pushed and shoved and after the neutral lap, another kiwi thing I think, we got Jeremy into the top 10 where he stayed for the duration of the race. I was able to get up there a close a couple of gaps, but Jeremy had great legs all week and he was fine sitting in the wheels. I wish we could have really made the leader work for it, but he was part of an Aussie pro team and had personally beat 2 Team Columbia riders the week before. I knew the whole team was peaked and at the end of their season. We did the best we could….
Pete, Jeremy and I are just at the start of our 2009 season. Today we fly to San Francisco and then are up to Santa Rosa for training camp. It will be great to see all the guys again and congratulate them for awesome racing in Argentina.
In the end, Australians swept all the jerseys. MacDonald won the overall classification and Vennell finished second. (Complete results here)
Photo of Omer Kem taken at Tour de Nez 2008.