Stage 5 of the Eneco Tour had the race heading back into the bumpy territory that did so much damage on Stage 3, this time on similar roads to those used in the Amstel Gold spring classic.
Svein was still in contention for a podium position on the over all, and the main role for the boys was to make sure he didn’t lose time on any of his close rivals. That job unfortunately became more difficult on the start line as Robbie Hunter was too unwell to ride his bike, despite signing on for the start.
I was lucky to again be riding in the second car with team physiologist Marc Quod (Quody) and Andrezj our mechanic. We were hopeful of some breakaway action that would mean we’d be up the road supporting our man in the break, but obviously that is never guaranteed. Before we started that though, we had to take Robbie back to the hotel so he could begin recuperating.
Thus there was a mad dash for those of us in the second car to drop Robbie off, work out approximately how long it would take us to get to various points on the course, and work out at what time the race would be heading through there, then decide if we could make it on time or not.
We had an option of going a long way ahead of the race on a motorway to guarantee things, but we’d be out of the action for over an hour. And it would be a whole lot less fun than driving back roads and side streets hunting for the race at full gas.
We did get back to the race fairly quickly (the joy of having a top-end Garmin in the car), and literally pulled into line on the convoy when we heard that Jack Bobridge had made it into the break. Perfect timing!
After some last minute instructions from director sportif Matt White (Whitey), and then some last last minute instructions phoned to us, we got in behind Jack and settled down for the day, keeping him updated on where people were in the race, how he was looking, and also keeping him fed and watered.
The break was never allowed to go away by more than 4minutes or so, so we all held only a faint hope that things would stay away for the whole day. Jack was of the same mind, but figured that since he was there, he might as well stick around and have a crack.
It was funny watching some riders, knowing Jack is a neo-pro (first year Pro) try and con him into doing more than his share of work so they could take it easier. If there is one thing Jacky Bobby isn’t short of, it’s self-confidence. He was having none of that, and they stopped trying to put it over him in short order.
As the day progressed and time gaps remained stable, the main job for us in the car (having since received Whitey’s last, last, LAST minute instructions, then I-swear-this-time-is-seriously-the-last-time last minute instructions) was to keep Jack from getting too excited too soon. He would drop back to the car, grab some food and a drink, then ask if he should “hit ‘em” at 50km to go. Quody and I would both yell out “NO… WAIT!” and Jack would just smile at us and roll back up to the bunch for another turn. Cheeky bugger.
Wise words coming from Quody to Jack
The 204km of rolling hills and steep kickers started to take their toll, and at one point Jack rolled back to say he was hurting. All we could do was encourage him to stay with it as long as he could and help Svein out if he was dropped. Secretly we knew that when he started to get a sniff of a win, JackyBobby would find a few extra gears.
Slowly things were whittled down: firstly the number in the break, and secondly the size of the gap to the peloton. We in the car thus started to oscillate between hope that Jack could do something special, and acceptance that the peloton would catch the break and things would go back to bunch sprints. With 15km to go there was 1min 41sec, at 10km it was 1min 7sec, at 8km it was 45sec… it was going to be very close!
As the break hit the final climb is looked like they were going to stay away, and Jack was not going to keep up: he just started to drop off the back, but fortunately the top of the hill came before he lost touch. The next thing we saw on the in-car TV (we had been told to pull aside for the oncoming peloton so were no longer close enough to watch things unfold live) was what looked like Jack on the front, but it kept dropping in and out with static.
Quody was too excited to drive; Andrezj and I were not watching the road either, so in the interests of safety, and also to get better TV reception, we pulled the car over to see that Jack was slowly pulling away from the rest of the break, and it looked as though none of them could do anything about it.
I will admit to a lot of noise coming from the inside of that car as the final metres ticked down, and as Jack turned the corner for the final 300m, we all knew he had won the stage, and so we started going on like porkchops, yelling and punching the air and hugging. The only other sound that filtered through was Whitey on the race radio saying “You’ve bloody done it Jacko! Well done.”
A post-mortem brains trust meeting
A 21 year-old first year pro just won his first major race on the road as a senior, and those of us who saw it all were beside ourselves with happiness for him. It was a great moment, and a great ride.
Congratulations to Jacky Bobby, and the team for getting him there. Gold.
More photos from recent races: