Blazin' Saddles

Kangaroo Kenny

Blazin' Saddles

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Kenny van Hummel's kangaroo bracelet

Kenny van Hummel really wants to see a kangaroo. The Tour Down Under is over half way through but still Kenny's waiting to see that elusive hopping musette marsupial.

The Dutch sprinter won't settle for the two tame baby joeys the race organisers bring out at the start of each stage; nor does a sighting of Heinrich Haussler — the German Kangaroo — count.

It has to be a proper roo, out in the open bouncing around amid mother nature's most stunning scenery (such as Andre Greipel's thighs or the delightful Santos podium girls, for instance).

"I still haven't seen a kangaroo in the wild yet," Kenny told Saddles. "We've ridden past kangaroo signs but seen nothing so far. Yesterday we saw a wild koala in a tree when we were on a training run, but that's it."

You see, kangaroos are special for Van Hummel. The pint-sized Vacansoleil-DCM sprinter is even wearing a specially designed kangaroo bracelet for the entire duration of this week's Tour Down Under, raising money for charity in doing so.

"A friend of mine designs bracelets with a special design," Kenny told Saddles while wolfing down a pre-race sandwich. "This one has the emblem of Australia — the kangaroo," he said, raising his forearm.

"It's real silver and handmade. He asked me if I'd like to wear it for the race and then afterwards donate for a cancer foundation, which is a cause I would like to promote. I've worn it every day so far and I hope it stays on."

Staying on may be tricky. You see, it's one of those slide-on bracelets with an open back; one sudden move could see it skidding across the road amid blue empty bidons.

And Hummel is no stranger to sudden moves: on Sunday's showpiece criterium event before the Tour Kenny skidded out on the fifth of 30 laps, scratching a load of skin off his left knee in the process.

Two days later, in the race's opening stage, van Hummel clipped wheels with FDJ's Yauheni Hutarovich inside the final kilometre and then collided with Vacansoleil team-mate Wouter Wol, bringing down a whole sleuth of riders — including two that were forced to leave the race with broken bones — as well as an aged spectator.

On Thursday morning, ahead of stage three, a heavily bandaged Kenny is in fine spirits. I ask him why he's feeling so peaky and Wol butts in: "Yesterday was the first day you didn't crash!"

"Yes, I finally stayed on my bike," Kenny concurs before telling me about the bracelet. The chatty Dutchman then told Saddles that he was on the mend and ready to fight the likes of Andre Greipel and Edvald Boasson Hagen for stage wins.

"My injuries are ok. If there's a sprint today I will be there," he promised. "My morale is stronger than my body, that's a fact."

Another fact was van Hummel's 44th place in the stage three bunch sprint won by - who else? - Greipel. Perhaps Kenny was sidetracked by something hopping along the side of the road...

- - -

Saddles followed the first three stages of the Tour Down Under in a variety of official team cars — and Thursday's jolly with Vacansoleil-DCM was by far the best stint (by dint of an early breakaway by Belgian all-rounder Thomas de Gendt).

The highlight of Tuesday's opening stage with Astana was the unexpectedly sumptuous sandwich prepared for Saddles by the Astana soigneurs — that and the nail-biting driving of directeur sportif Guido Bontempi (who lives up to his name) and the admirable water-collecting duties of Kazakh pocket-rocket Assan Bazayev.

Wednesday's stage two was an entirely different affair: few words were shared in the smokey and serious Katusha vehicle, and a lunch of bruised banana and apple cereal bars brought Saddles right down to earth.

So it was music to Saddles' ears when Klaus, the Vacansoleil-DCM mechanic, informed Saddles and live-wire directeur sportif Michel Cornelisse early on in Thursday's stage three that there was "some good s*** in the food bag back here".

Not only could we feast on sandwiches, chocolate and sweets, we also had De Gendt's breakaway to savour — a move which won the youngster the king of the mountains jersey as well as two intermediate sprints.

What's more, Cornelisse proved an ideal travel companion, chatting openly about the race route ("if I was the organiser, the riders could be sorry"), De Gendt ("he's on fire!"), sacked Vacansoleil rider Riccardo Ricco ("I never met the guy, never want to — he's sick"), and Johnny Hoogerland ("cycling needs more people like him, otherwise it would be boring").

The Tour Down Under may not be the most important (or exciting) race on the ProTour calender, but it has been a real delight being involved. If you're interested in hearing more anecdotes from behind the scenes — plus see a whole load of regularly updated pictures from the event — then don't forget to follow Saddles on Twitter @saddleblaze.

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