Neil Van der Ploeg is a busy man, currently he is off racing with the UniSA National Team over at the Santos Tour Down Under. Today he spent a fair chunk of time off the front with an Avanti alumni and all-round top bloke Will Clarke. Here are Neil’s thoughts on the proceedings:
Tour Down Under Day 1, by Neil Van der Ploeg
I’ve just returned to the hotel after completing my first World Tour race: stage 1 of the Tour Down Under. While I wait for a shower that is clearly needed, judging by the smell, I have a brief moment to reflect on the day.
Road cycling is a funny sport. You can often look at performances from a number of perspectives. Today I went in the early breakaway, of only two riders. Was it a ‘daring, courageous’ or ‘brave’ effort? Or was it ‘stupid, foolish’ or ‘dumb’?
I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one, but for the sake of keeping my ego a float, I’m going to go with ‘courageous’… I’ll tell myself that we really ‘animated the race’ and stuck it to the man. Ultimately, we were caught and passed but we gave ourselves a shot an unlikely, heroic victory.
As we rode off the front, I was very disappointed, and a little concerned with only having two riders to share the workload. This was equally daring as it was foolish. Never-the-less, once we had a minute’s gap to the peloton, there was no turning back. We were committed.
I’m still not sure how I feel about my breakaway companion. On the one hand Will Clarke is the perfect man to be in such a daring move with- he’s big, and so gives a good slipstream, he’s mega strong, which will boost our chances of hero status, and he’s a nice, Aussie guy, which is just… well, good for moral!
But, on the other hand, I was a little concerned that he was a little too strong. A few years ago, he became renowned and feared in the Australia and perhaps throughout the WORLD for tearing grown men’s legs off, and simply ‘riding them off the wheel.’ He won a heap of races this way and went straight to the World Tour ranks.
With only myself and Will in the break, I was inevitably setting myself up for a one on one comparison. From a cycling stand point, this was bad, but in other departments I think I had him fully covered! Although he may have curl potential, I saw none flowing from his helmet.
Meanwhile I’m pretty sure I had stacks of curls sticking out in all directions, which I can only assume were resplendent on camera… I was also wearing a lot of blue, which is maybe a little easier on the eyes compared to a harsh, aggressive red of Drapac? That’s probably about it!
We worked hard and eventually I was unhitched by Will just before we were caught by the peloton. We’d hoped to get a head start on the climb- Menglers hill- and perhaps snatch the KOM if we were lucky but the bigger teams made no errors, and never gave us much time. I was unable to hang on to the bunch leading into the climb and grovelled in with a few sprinters like Marcel Kittel and Graeme Brown!
The rest of the team had mixed fortunes. Caleb seemed pretty disappointed to miss out on unleashing his sprint once again, but there are plenty more chances. Haig, O’Brien and Giacoppo made it over the hill, but were caught behind a crash in the final kilometre, while it’s unlikely the first two were going to get the better of the likes of Von Hoff, Greipel and Gerrans in the sprint, it was a pity that Giacoppo wasn’t able to give it a crack- he does have the speed. Flakemore and Linfield also didn’t make it over the hill in the front group, but they remain optimistic of what lies ahead.
Presently, I have that feeling you get after a solid day’s work, of any kind, you can’t help but feel pretty satisfied. Maybe it’s a big dose of those post-exercise endorphins that people talk about? Until they wear off, I’m sticking with ‘courageous’! Looking forward to the rest of the tour!