Rathe Report: Storming the streets of Berlin
Portlander Jacob Rathe rides for the Jelly Belly Cycling Team and the USA Cycling U23 National Team. He recently competed in the four-stage Tour of Berlin with the national squad and sent Cycling Action this report.
By Jacob Rathe
After a rough beginning of my trip, it was good to show up to the Tour of Berlin healthy, road rash free, and ready to go. If you read my first report about Hoboken, you may remember that I crashed. Three days later, racing in a kermess, I crashed again. I woke up the next morning with sore limbs and also the beginning of a week-long cold. I’ve had better weeks.
I spent a few days in bed, rode a little bit and raced two kermesses on the weekend. They are a whole story in themselves. A long story short, I got 7th one day, rode way too hard the other day, and woke up Monday morning good and tired.
The Tour of Berlin is a four-day stage race in and around Berlin, Germany. There were three road stages, a team time trial prologue, and an individual time trial.
The team time trial prologue was Friday night in downtown Berlin. This was one of the most impressive environments that I’ve raced in. The course was 1.2 kilometers long, and each team did four laps. It was on a 600 meter section of a big boulevard with U-turns at each end. The course was lined with shops, bars, restaurants and a cobblestone square. Tons of people were walking around, not necessarily paying attention to the race, but nonetheless creating a nice atmosphere.
Team USA’s prologue was nothing short of a disaster. We started well, in U-turn number four the rider in second wheel crashed, bringing those behind him to a stop. Then, on the last lap, I pulled off coming out of the last corner to only see two riders on my wheel. The time stops with the fourth rider. He rolled in 12 seconds after us. We got 17th, but only 25 seconds off the winning time.
This 160 km stage consisted of four laps through the rolling countryside on the outskirts of Berlin. The start/finish line was in the middle of a 500 meter section of cobblestones, the rest of the course was unremarkable, except for some bad roads.
The first hour brought me back to the feeling I had in the juniors. It was fast, nervous, and chaotic. There were cars parked on the side of the road, squeezing the pack even tighter around them. There seemed to be a crash every kilometer for awhile. We raced into the woods, all of sudden the road was wet. Then at the same time there was a pile up into a parked car behind me and another crash in front of me.
The race calmed down eventually. It always surprises me how many crashes there are even at this level. At home we think of the Cat 3-5s as being dangerous and crash-ridden because of a lack of experience. That is not the case in these races, but rather, due to the battles that take place for position. In the European peloton, there is a constant flow of riders within the bunch, if there is an open space in front of you, you should fill it or somebody else will. There are times when two people go for one spot. There is only room for one rider, so one rider usually backs down while the other moves up — somebody wins and somebody loses. The problem is when neither of them backs down. I call it a tie. But really, they both lose. When two riders try to fill the space of one, or 1.5 riders, it can be troublesome. Not always, but usually. It doesn’t take much to send multiple bodies crashing down onto the pavement at 30 mph.
The rest of the race was somewhat uneventful. I fought hard to be in position for the sprint to lead out teammate and BMC rider Cole House. It was as most field sprints are here, chaotic and stressful. I opened up my lead out with 600 meters to go and was the first one to hit the cobbles at 250 to go. House got 7th, I got 27th. On cobbles you can go backwards really fast. …
In the morning we did a 16 kilometer individual time trial. It was pretty straight forward. A slightly up hill drag out and back, on a smooth and mostly straight road. I was 24th, 1:15 off the winner. The team rode well, I was 4th. We were all within 20 seconds of each other, the other three in the top 20.
Later that afternoon we had a circuit race, nine laps to total 133 kilometers. It was an interesting course, a few cobble sections and some twisty sections through neighborhoods. A perfect day to get into the breakaway, and that is what I did.
I was patient through the fury of attacks that starts every stage, then 30 kilometers in it calmed down. I jumped across to two riders dangling off the front, and we powered away. It got to a minute and I knew we were gone for the day. It was awesome being in the break. There were sections of the course lined with spectators partying in the street. There was one group that had a horn, and everybody did ‘the wave’ when we rode by.
We worked well together, and two more riders came up to join us, but immediately one of the original riders was dropped and we had four. With 30k to go we had two minutes. I thought we had a chance on such a technical course, and it was starting to rain.
About that time I flatted on a cobble section. The neutral support was there but the wheel change took for ever. A minute later I was off again. The break, which I thought was going to stay away, was out of sight. The car paced me for one straight then drove off. I rode through the finish by myself, in no-mans and, amongst a corridor of motivating spectators. The neutral car came back, and through some interesting maneuvers, I was back with the break.
We got caught with 10 k to go. It was pouring rain. I went straight to the back, I shouldn’t have though. There were tons of crashes at the end. I finished, and was happy to learn that I won the most aggressive rider award for the day and would get to wear the red jersey on the last stage. My failed efforts got me a little podium time, a jersey, some flowers, and a small power drill. Just what I wanted.
The last stage of the race was a 180 kilometer out and back starting and finishing in downtown Berlin. We rode to a town, did some circuits there and came back the same way.
It was a long day, but longer than expected when we had an 11 k neutral that wasn’t included in the overall distance. It was a wet and windy day, and all the way out with had head and cross winds. On every crosswind section a team tried to split the field, the peloton shattered a few times but always came back together.
An hour into the race it started to pour rain, and it did for an hour. We got to the town that we were to turn around in, the sun came out and we got stopped by a train. All of the sudden everybody was happy again.
It was dry all the way back. No break ever got away for an extended time. My teammate Max Durtschi got in a break on the way out that had 50 seconds. I thought it was gone for a long time, but one team tried to split the field in one crosswind section and they came back.
It got nervous and fast with 20 k to go. The roads were big, so it was hard to stay at the front but easy to get to the front. We were on one of the big boulevards and turned right onto another big boulevard. I was on the outside and not where I needed to be. My front wheel washed out in the corner for no reason. I kept it up, with my right foot unclipped, I took it wide and sideswiped and motorcycle police standing there. I lost about 100 positions and my race for the win was over. After the race I noticed my tire had maybe 40 psi with a slow leak. No wonder.
Paris-Roubaix report coming sometime … maybe I’ll get around to writing it during Spain’s Vuelta Tarragona, which I’m racing in this week.