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Chaz Checks In... Donington Park

Well things have been pretty much non stop for me in the last month. After the Dutch GP I went home and for our first month long break of the year. Whereas MotoGP gets to go to Laguna we get to sit at home and watch it on the TV, great…!! Aside from all the bumps and the bit too close walls it looked a really cool track and properly suited to 125/250‘s. It looked a right handful on the bigun’s! Fair play to Hayden as well, he was on it all weekend.

The first 2 weeks of our break I clocked up quite a few miles on my road bicycle and was addicted to watching the Tour De France which started on July 3rd. Like I said in my Assen update, the plan was to drive down to the French Alps and watch the main mountain stages. So on the 10th I loaded up my bike, sleeping bag, all the essentials, e.g. energy bars, tools for the bike including spare tyres/tubes and that was about it. I set off from home on the Sunday night and drove to Dover to catch the ferry across to Calais. Just to drive to Dover from my house is 4/ 4 ½ hours! I caught the next available ferry which was at 1.45am, slept on the ferry a bit, drove until about 4.30am the other side and then found some services and slept for a few hours in the back of the car. My car is pretty good because all the seats come out so I left the back seats at home & the front passenger seat and I could stretch out perfectly! About 8am I got back on the road and planned to get to the alps that night. My sat-nav had it at about 1000miles from home, it was all going to plan until the sat-nav took me through Paris, nightmare! Too much traffic, it took me over 2 hours to get through Paris and was big time holding up progression!

After Paris it was pretty easy, I hit the biggest storm just as I was about 100 mile from the Alps, It was huge! At about 6pm I arrived at where Stage 10 of the Tour would pass through. It was the first real day in the mountains for the riders so its good to watch. I stopped in Courchevel which was the final big climb up to the finish of the stage. The roadsides were full with campers and tents, posters and paint all over the road saying normally stuff like 'GO LANCE', and loads of other stuff. I was at about 3km down from the summit which was a good spot. If you go right up to the finish it is really busy and crammed with thousands of people so you’re best off coming down a bit so you can see more. I met a couple of Aussie guys that night just as I was getting something to eat. They had come from Oz, rented a motor home in Belgium and were following the tour for just over a week.

After another night in the car, I got up about 8 and got the bike out to do a bit of riding before they close the roads. Rode down to the bottom of the Courchevel climb and then up to the summit which was 25kms of climbing. Loads of people were doing it which makes it good as well, and there’s a real good atmosphere on the side of the road, with people shouting at you Go Go Go etc! That was the main reason why I took my bike, so I could ride all the major climbs. About 3k from the top I met the Aussies again and decided to hang around with them for the day. There’s a lot of hanging around from the time they close the roads but when the riders start getting closer the atmosphere is pretty tense as everybody is waiting for them to appear and when they do come, it goes wild. There was a breakaway of 4 riders including Armstrong who came by first. The speed which they climb at is unreal, especially since they have already rode 180km!

We then drove to the next stage which was the ‘roof’ of this years tour, The Col Du Galibier. It’s the highest point of the 05 tour at 2645m, not bad when you consider the biggest mountain in Wales is Snowdon at 1085m and the biggest mountain in Britain is Ben Nevis at 1344m! After parking in Valloire and another night in the car I again rode the climb in the morning. I felt really good as well, I think I was starting to get used to these mountains, thousands of people ride the climbs in the morning from 10 years old to 80 so there’s always people to pass and chase.

Again I met up with the Aussies and watched the stage from an awesome spot which was very cool. After the stage I rode down to my car and travelled with the Aussies to the next stage and the final one I was going to watch on the Thursday. There were no really big climbs in it but there was a steep one near the end which I watched from with a couple of English guys. Again It was a really good day, to do what them riders do, day in day out is pretty spectacular.

After the stage I loaded up my bike and drove to L’Alpe D’Huez. The Huez is normally a part of the tour as it has a bit of a legendary status about it but this year it wasn’t in the route but I decided I wanted to ride it before I go home. I drove up to the town of L’Alpe D’Huez that night, and got a good nights sleep. In the morning I rode down to the bottom and the amount of people that ride it each day is unreal, literally thousands. There is a sign at the bottom reading ‘Departure, so that’s where the stop watch is started. The Alp D’Huez isn’t that long, about 15km/8mile but gets pretty steep at a max of 12% and average of 8.5%. Enough to make the legs hurt anyway. In the 8 mile there are 21 hairpins which all switch back and wind up the mountain. Numbered at 21 being the first and when you reach the top number 1. The first few k’s I didn’t feel so good, nobody had passed me but there was one guy catching me a few seconds at each hairpin. Then for some reason I started to feel good and I never saw him again and nobody passed me right the way up to the top which was good! I did it in 1hr 6minutes which I was pretty happy with. If I was to do a few weeks of mountain training it wouldn’t be too hard to get it into the 50 odd minute bracket. Armstrong won a time trial up the mountain in 2004 in 39mins 41secs! The slowest rider in the tour does it in about 50minutes!

So then it was the road trip home which went well apart from a bit of an argument in a service station with some guy who blatantly opened his car door straight into mine and didn’t even look like he tried to keep the door away from my car! I don’t think he knew I was sat in it but I let him know after, I wasn't a happy camper!

The sat-nav avoided Paris on the way back, thank god, and I made it in good time to Calais and caught the ferry early Saturday morning. I was home in the afternoon, after a 2100miles round trip. I was barely at home for 2 days before I was packing for Donington.

On Tuesday evening I drove to London for the annual pre-home GP press conference on Wednesday afternoon with James Ellison, Shakey, Myself and Rossi. After the press conference was over it was straight off to Donington and for some reason, all day my back felt as if it had a knife stuck in the top of it. I’ve always had problems with my back since a crash in Brno 2002 when my handlebar snapped and I don’t think It’s something I’m going to get rid of. I went MX riding with Shakey earlier this year and damaged something more and then did something in London which was about the worst it’s felt yet. When I got to the circuit I seeked out Dean Miller, Suzuki’s physiotherapist to see if he could help me out as I was walking like I was crippled and hadn’t even touched the bike yet! Dean is really good and he definitely eased the back but said it needed more work, he seemed to think that the rib had torn whatever it is that it attaches onto. As always at Donington there is more to do on the Thursday than most GP’s, with interviews and the auction etc. Its pretty well flat out and only in the evening do I get to go to the box and chat with the mechanics and check the things that need to be checked! Again Dean worked a bit more on my back and it was feeling better again.

On Friday morning its time to forget about everything that goes on and the fact that it’s my home GP and get on with the job. It started well, with the bike feeling pretty good from the off. All session I was around about where I should be and finished up in 11th on a 1.34.6. For the afternoon we had a couple of new things to try, a different front and rear tyre. The front which was stiffer to the normal one that I use and a triple compound rear tyre which is the first time I have ever used something like that. They both felt good. I liked the front because of its extra stiffness it allowed me to brake later and harder, and then rear also felt good. A bit more stable because of the stiffer sidewalls and seemed to give a good constant feeling which is good for when it comes to the race. I went 0.6 faster than the morning and was the first kit rider in 12th place, 0.2 off 8th.

On Saturday the sky looked just like it did on Friday, as if it could rain at any time but it was holding off, just. Saturday morning went ok. I had to use the softer side walled front tyre because we only had 3 of the harder ones for the whole weekend so the 2 we had, had to be saved for 2nd qualifying in the afternoon and obviously the race. The softer tyre felt ok, just a bit more loose on the brakes. I also had a small problem with the engine where it wouldn’t pull out of the Melbourne loop. I was having to get on the gas extremely early & stay on the side of the tyre as much as possible just to keep the RPM up which was quite dangerous. Other riders could stand it up and still pull well out of the corner. I told my mechanic but he said that there was nothing he could do. Just to back up what I was saying, I was 2 tenths slower in the last sector due to this problem. I was 13th on a 1.34.0. For the afternoon we put the harder front tyre in which I preferred. I started off pretty quick and did a 1.34.0 in 5 laps. Before the end of the session I was hoping to do a mid to low 1.33 which should have been good enough for the first 3 rows. The engine was still the same as the morning which was a bit frustrating as 2 tenths is important at Donington. With 15 minutes to go I had a new rear tyre ready for a first flying lap, the lap was ok but not perfect, on course for about a 1.33.7. I exited the Melbourne as best as possible and was still having to ride very much 125 style, to keep the rpm high, and make up for the dull bottom end power of the engine and it spat me over the top. I landed hard on my hip which was hurting bad.

I was pretty annoyed after the session, not just because I crashed but the way in which I crashed because I was having to ride differently to make up for the lack of grunt. I don’t like making excuses and of course the crash was my fault but it could have been prevented had the engine been a bit crisper off the bottom. I had 2, out of the seat warnings in the morning session at Melbourne Loop and it was inevitable that a crash was going to happen. A lower first gear would have helped but then it would have been too low for the final corner. The engine was OK on Friday but it seemed to change on Saturday with the weather and my mechanic couldn’t get it back to how it felt in first qualifying. The hour after the session I started to seize up. Not only did I land hard on my hip but it seemed to shunt my pelvis and especially the inside of my legs. Just as the back was coming good the torso area felt like it has been whacked from each side with a sledge hammer and then I’d been made to do the splits! Dean was back round after the session and helping out with the new problem, he has a really trick machine which baffles me the way it works but it measures skin impedance and gets the brain to send a neurological message to the area that hurts and then the body works to fix that area. It’s very technical but it seems to do a good job. Saturday night was a bit uncomfortable as my groin and all around the top of my legs was just getting tighter and tighter and sorer. I couldn’t bear my own weight with my legs If I tried to lift them up which was a bit of a problem.

On Sunday morning I was tight and sore. Dean gave me some pain killers which I had with breakfast and took the edge off just before warm up. As everybody now knows, it was wet, very wet! I had to run in the bike which only really gave me 2 laps at the end of the session to get a feel for the track. It was pretty slick, every lap down Hollywood and up around Starky’s the bike was twitching and spinning. After the session we agreed that the rear spring was too hard and put a slightly softer one on ready for the race. It looked like it might stay dry for our race but as Bautista found out in the 125’s it started to drizzle and properly rain in their race which guaranteed us a wet race.

I had another pain killer before the race. On the bike I didn’t feel too bad, a bit sore but nothing major. The most painful part was getting on the bike and having to lift and stretch my leg over the seat. My start was not so bad, I made up 5 places in the first lap. On lap 2 I was 12th and in a group with Corsi, Ballerini, Baldolini, Barbera and Lorenzo. Corsi broke away from our group and we were together for quite a while. I was losing a good 8 tenths/1 second coming out of the melbourne loop with the same problems as we had on Saturday so I was having to slip the clutch a bit. After 10 laps Barbera and Lorenzo seemed to find a bit of pace and pulled away from me. My bike was better than in the morning warm-up, but still a bit hard on the rear and snapping a bit around starkys. I was quite comfortable in 11th and Ballerini started coming closer and I was in two minds whether to push hard to catch him or just settle for 11th. I decided to go for it and was making up quite a bit of time on him. On lap 23 of 27 he was a few seconds in front and on the entry to Coppice onto the back straight I went in a bit too quick and the rear just slipped around and put me over the top. I landed on my hip again and was all ready to get back on the bike because apart from a bent in bar it was all ok. The marshals got the bike upright in the gravel and I totally forgot about my pelvis, started to push the bike as fast as I could out of the gravel with the marshals and then something just gave way in my pelvis area and that was it, I couldn’t move! Shit it hurt and made me feel sick, there was no way I was gonna get back on the bike after that. The worst thing was that one of the marshals still had his hand on my back pushing me and the bike through the gravel and I was trying to get them to stop! So if one of the marshals on that post reads this, that’s the reason why I suddenly stopped but cheers for your help anyway!

Another home GP disappointment after a miserable weekend. I was obviously very disappointed for those that sat out in the rain all day to watch me not finish the race so I have to apologize for that. I had to get Donington behind me and focus on getting healthier before the German GP and have another go there.




© 2006

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