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Tour of Murcia 2002

Story and Photos by Dan Hoeller

Copyright (c) 2002 by Dan Hoeller. All rights reserved.


Editor's Note: DP reader Dan Hoeller traveled to Spain to attend this race, which was held 6-10 March 2002. Here is his short account, plus photos of the race.  

Getting there –

A few days out I learned that two of the main reasons why I wanted to see this race – Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich, were not going to be competing due to stomach bug and knee troubles respectively. A disappointment for sure, but I already had my ticket and I was going to the race regardless.

I flew into Alicante on Friday evening, rented a car, and then drove laps around the city until I could figure out how to get out. Funny how Spanish roadsigns are difficult to understand if you don’t know the language! Eventually I figured it out and headed towards Murcia.

Stage 4 Ceuti to Alhama de Murcia –

I arrived the night before Stage 3 and learned that team Euskaltel-Euskadi was staying in my hotel – Giddyup! They’re a favorite team of mine because they’re the underdogs – a small team in the Basque region of northern Spain with a small budget. You may remember that one of their riders won a stage in the Tour last year, Roberto Laiseka. While Roberto wasn’t racing this time, David Etxebarria was, and I was glad to have the chance to see him and his teammates in action.

The next day I got up in time to catch a quick breakfast and head towards the course several miles away. I knew I wanted to be at the top of the Collado Bermejo (the largest climb of the stage), but I didn’t know where it was. The course ran through the Sierra de Espuna so I headed for the park. A couple of painful ‘conversations’ in Spanish later, and I was on my way to the Collado. Turns out I could have left Murcia much later because I got to the location about four hours before the riders were due to pass through! I read a few cycling mags and a book to pass the time. More and more people started to arrive as the day went on, and I eventually moved down from the top of the mountain in order to get a good spot on a corner. Soon enough helicopters hovered nearby, motorcycles streamed pass, and the chatter of the Spaniards increased, so the time was close. Next thing I knew the helicopter was about 50 feet off the ground above us and the first two riders were approaching!!

Danilo Di Luca had a thin lead on Leonardo Piepoli and was gritting it as he powered up the hill. You could tell he was suffering pretty badly and was spinning on pure willpower. I wasn’t riding a bike up the mountain but my heart was pounding about as much as his was -- all that time spent waiting for just these few precious seconds! Before I knew it they were past me and rounding the next corner. The first chase group came by a few seconds later and contained riders from Kelme, ONCE, Lotto, ibanesto.com, and others. A couple of groups later I saw Pantani struggling at the back; a good sight to see given his recent comments on his ability to win the Tour this year and about Lance not being a superstar. I saw a few Posties ride by too, but because of the groups they were in I couldn’t tell who they were. Needless to say my shouts of encouragement were the only English spoken on the hill! So seemingly before it started it was all over. This was my first European stage, and I had a blast!

Stage 5 Time Trial in Murcia –

I was pleased to find out that the time trial started and finished about a block from my hotel, so I didn’t have to drive all over the countryside again to catch the action. Walking out to the street I said ‘good luck’ in Spanish to a Euskaltel-Euskadi rider warming up on a trainer. He said something back to me, but my limited Spanish skills didn’t help me understand the reply. With my luck it was probably ‘Hey, would you like to take one of these sweet Orbea time trial bikes home with you?’

The racing had just started about 30 minutes before I got out there so there weren’t many spectators yet. This allowed me time to walk around the different team buses and get some good photos of the riders warming up and of their gear. I looked all over for the Postal bus but couldn’t find it; I guess they like to be away from the crowds. Just imagine if Lance had been riding!

I had picked up a newspaper in the hotel that listed the starting times for the big name and local Spanish riders so I knew when Pantani was due to start. He arrived late to the ramp and I thought they might go on without him. He eventually pulled up to the gate with a big smirk on his face. This, and he shows up wearing something that looked like a big bandanna/rag on his head that went down to his back; weird. If you’re that far out of the race I guess you don’t need to worry about aerodynamics in the last time trial! Even though this is a small early season race, show some respect and get to the line on time and in appropriate gear! Can you tell I don’t like Pantani? J

I was also able to catch Roberto Heras, Levi Leipheimer, Jose Luis Rubeira, and Gilberto Simoni in the starting booth and on the course. I yelled ‘Go Levi’ at one point and I think he was a little surprised to hear English because he looked right at me after I said it. I wish Postal had been able to keep a hold of him; he’s a great talent and I’m sure his podium finish at the Vuelta last year is just a precursor to what he’ll do in the future.

All too soon, the last two riders had finished (Di Luca and Edo) and it was all over. The award ceremony started immediately after and to my surprise, Victory Hugo Pena of USPS had snuck in and won the race! He made up over 25 seconds on the short 12 km time trial; very impressive. I tried to get a hold of either him or any of his teammates after the race but they disappeared too quickly.

Alhama Panorama

Stage 4 Ceuti to Alhama de Murcia

Bermejo.JPG (17188 bytes)
Crowd near top of Collado Bermejo


Leaders2.JPG (26582 bytes)
 Group.JPG (29366 bytes)
The second group



Postie.JPG (29697 bytes)
The second group with a Postie
Stage Five Time Trial Shots


 Levi2.JPG (21429 bytes)
Levi Leipheimer


Heras3.JPG (19641 bytes)
Roberto Heras
Once.jpg (16983 bytes)
ONCE in action


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Telekom Time Trialer
Heras2.JPG (26210 bytes)
Roberto Heras "lounging"


Phonak bike

Saeco bikes



Top Three GC


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