By Charlie Melk
Spring is in the Air...
Few things for me complete a beautiful spring-like day like a nice, easy
spin. The sun is shining on your back, the songbirds are changing their tune,
the eagles and geese are returning, the puddles on the roads are less numerous,
and only minute, marshy islands of snow remain from what only a few weeks ago
was a solid white blanket that prevented me taking "#1", my Colnago that is, out
of the protection of the house. The roads are still full of sand, and to a small
degree, salt, but enough of the "bad stuff" is gone so that the post-ride
clean-up operation isn’t even approaching the law of diminishing returns
anymore. It’s safe to say that on a day like this, life is good.
Spring in Wisconsin - Spring Thaw. Photo by
Of course, it would be a lie if I said that all I did was go out and ride
nice and easy. I always start out with that intention, but some switch in the
nether regions of my brain always clicks at some point, and I turn it up a
notch. This usually feels good at first, so I go faster still, and just as the
switch in my brain clicks from "sensible" to "loony," seemingly of its own
accord, the switches in my legs click from "this is easy" to "I’m in some
serious pain" just as quickly and unwittingly.
Now, I’ve been riding a road bike for over half of my life, and one would
think that a person would learn a little something about building up fitness
gradually in the spring from year to year, but this is definitely not the case
with me when my nose gets a whiff of the spring thaw. As far as things that will
never change go, however, I can handle this little bit of ignorance on my part.
After all, I rationalize, it might even do me some good—a little pain never hurt
There is a form of ignorance I usually encounter on that first real road ride
of the year, though, that I will never accept and that will always irk me, to
put it mildly—the ongoing hostilities between motorists and cyclists. I didn’t
have to wait more than two miles today to be reminded that I am an annoyance
just a little bit more important, perhaps, than a parked car or a stop sign to
passing motorists. Riding down the right side of the road, all the way to the
right, too, I might add, I encountered my first verbal threat of 2004. This one
was really eloquent: "How fast do you think you could ride if I opened my door,
I used to holler back, or give them the middle finger salute, but I’ve been
doing this long enough now to know that no comeback, however clever, really
makes people like that change their minds about cyclists and their inherent
right to use the road. I used to take some pride in the fact that what I
hollered back was always funnier and more insulting, even if, in all likelihood,
the moron behind the wheel wouldn’t have even understood what I said, but I
don’t really do that so much anymore—now I just stay to the right and let them
drive away to wherever it is that they’re in such a fuming rush to get to, and
feel bad for them that they’re so angry on a beautiful day like this, and that
they will probably never feel the joy it is to get out on the road and take the
time to notice all of the things you feel so close to on a bike and so far away
from in a car . . . even if you’re a moron like me and can’t ride at a
sensible pace so early in the season.
I think about all of the people who have been killed or seriously hurt due to
reckless motorists, and to say that it worries me to share the road with them is
an understatement. I think of all of the things I have been hit with by passing
motorists (here is a brief, and incomplete, list): a cheeseburger, a bucket of
water (at least, I hope it was water), a burning cigarette (several times), and
a paintball fired from 10 feet away (now that one left a mark). I also
think about the two times I have been hit by motorists over the years. The first
time, I was thrown 20 feet from the car (the motorist blew through a stop sign).
The second time, I was riding on a multi-use path. The motorist didn’t see me,
pulled out from a parking lot, and knocked me 10 feet into the far-right lane of
a busy, four lane thoroughfare, which, luckily for me, wasn’t so busy at the
time, and completely totaled my one week old road bike.
Obviously, this is all in the back of my head every time I go out for a ride,
and I’m sure that some of you have had similar, or even worse, experiences.
Please be safe out there, people, and wear a helmet—unfortunately, it’s a war
zone, and we are at a distinct disadvantage.
Postal Comes Out Swinging
This could be a momentous season for the US Postal presented by Berry Floor
squad, with the historically unique possibility of scoring a sixth consecutive
Tour de France victory, obviously resting at the top of the season agenda.
Judging by their results so far, it appears as if they have all been good in the
off season, because they have come out swinging, en masse, right from the bell.
Actions speak louder than words, and the message they are sending is that they
will be a force to be reckoned with this year, and in a very big way, from the
classics squad to the riders aiming to reach peak form much later in the season.
It all started at the Vuelta Andalucía (2.3), otherwise known as the Ruta del
Sol, where Max Van Heeswijk scored two impressive field sprint victories in
three days. Always a fast finisher, it appears that the veteran Dutch classics
specialist has either gained a newfound confidence in the bunch sprints or is
coming into some unprecedented form.
Although it is still very early in the season, it only takes a brief glance
at the quality of the field at the Vuelta Andalucía to get the impression that
Van Heeswijk has reached a new level. For instance, in his stage two victory he
surged past two of the fastest finishers in the world—Oscar Freire and Erik
Zabel. In stage four, Van Heeswijk bested Nico Mattan and Peter Van Petegem,
with Freire and Zabel a bit further back this time. The other teams are going to
have to put him on their danger lists for the upcoming classics now if they
haven’t before, which could provide some interesting tactical benefits to US
Postal come April.
The next race where Postal exceeded their expectations was the Volta ao
Algarve (2.3), in southern Portugal. Lance Armstrong agreed to race the Volta
when the organizers enticed him by including a 24 km individual time trial.
Always one to test his equipment, and wanting to get a feel for his new TT rig,
Armstrong and Company rolled into Portugal and simply dominated.
This fact was most noticeably apparent in the aforementioned individual time
trial, where Armstrong, admittedly surprised by the result, narrowly won the
tough, headwind fraught race of truth over his own teammate, Floyd Landis. This
result looks better still when you take into account that he isn’t even close to
peak form. Still more impressive is the fact that Landis (@ 1 second) and Victor
Hugo Peña (@ 12 seconds) rounded out the podium. In fact, riders from US Postal
took five of the top ten placings in the ITT, with Michael Barry in seventh and
George Hincapie in tenth.
To top it off, Floyd Landis rode a remarkable final stage, attacking his
breakaway companions and finishing alone atop the Alto De Malhão for not only
the stage victory, but consequently, the overall win. This win was definitely a
confirmation of Landis’ talent and a reward for all of the hard work he has done
for others in the previous two seasons, but it is also a confirmation of the
depth of US Postal as a team, with Peña finishing second overall (@ 26 seconds)
and Armstrong finishing fifth overall (@ 1:11), after sitting up on the final
climb and letting Landis go for the win.
Finally, a number of Postal’s new recruits are already proving that the faith
placed in them by signing them was not in vain.
At the always selective Tour du Haut Var (1.2), Stijn Devolder, a rider who
comes from the same village in Belgium as US Postal D.S. Dirk Demol, won the
King of the Mountains competition, the Most Combative competition, and took
third place from a five person breakaway group, containing two Rabobank riders,
one of whom was Levi Leipheimer, and two Cofidis riders. It seems that Postal
might have much more versatility in the classics this year with a strong, young
rider like Devolder.
At the Clasica de Almeria (1.3), both Benjamin Noval and Michael Creed showed
that they aren’t just sitting in and taking notes, with Noval taking his first
podium placing of the year—third place (@ 13 seconds back), and Creed debuting
well in his new colors, taking twentieth place (second place in the main field @
. . .
Good things seem to be on the horizon for Postal this season. Time will tell,
but such strong results early on are a great confidence-builder. Any way you
look at it, five wins in February is a good thing. But it’s that "6th"
win they’re really gunning for—the 2004 Tour de France. Everything builds toward
this goal, and the foundation of their 2004 season is more solid than it has
ever been. In fact, Postal hadn’t won five races as a team until mid July last
year! Personally, I don’t think they’re afraid of anyone.
Postal autographs - San Francisco GP 2002. Photo by Jaime