Story and photos by Kelly Fowler
Lance Armstrong's Trek time trial bike. Click for larger image.
I've always had a thing for the domestiques. Maybe it comes from that time
when I was six and this "cool" guy pushed me into an ant pile while we were
waiting for the school bus. He tried to make up for the 50 or so welts I had by
giving me a little felt purse he'd made. I wasn't impressed. Ever been nailed by
one of those nasty red demons crawling all over the Arizona desert? It ain't
pretty. They're roughly the size of a chihuahua and they don't like it when
visitors come knockin'.
So I'm dancing around with ants in my tights with everyone just standing
there with their fingers in their ears, when this kid named Kevin comes over and
starts helping me. The poor guy took abuse for years over it too. Cool guys
don't help the girls. I've had a soft spot in my heart ever since for the
helpers of the world.
Saeco's Damiano Cunego. Click for larger image.
Enter the domestiques. Those guys who rarely get mentioned in the press,
hardly ever get asked for their autograph and probably never get to sit in the
front seat. We had the supreme opportunity today to DRIVE the sag wagon behind
such a guy. After roughly 4.5 seconds of instruction we were handed a very
expensive wheelset from team Saeco and told to try not to run over the rider.
Got it. The only thing I wasn't sure about was how quickly I'd be able to get
him a new wheel in my cowboy boots! Wouldn't you know the ONE day I decide to
wear the traditional dress of the old country...
The course was deceptive today in that it appeared to be flat. In reality
those never ending, slightly skyward grinds combined with the wind make for one
tough ride - for our little Spanish car that is! - I think I can, I think I can,
I think I can - For Saeco's Damiano Cunega it was business as usual. Here's a 22
year old guy who's in his second season as a pro and he's already ridden in the
Giro in support of Simoni and racked up 4 wins as a pro.
And he's humble too. After being pursued by Saeco's Giuseppe Martinelli right
out of the juniors - where he'd just been crowned World Road Race Champion in
his hometown of Verona, Italy - he made the decision not to join the team right
away to give himself more time to watch and learn in the U23 classification.
Smart move. After all, he had only started racing 3 years prior! Martinelli kept
watching and by 2002 had succeeded in signing him to the team. He says he loves
being a Saeco rider because they keep his feet on the ground when he wins and
don't allow him to get too discouraged when the race gives him "a kicking".
We introduced ourselves as his stand-in team car, wished him luck and we were
off. The words to that Talking Heads song kept going through my head - "Well,
how did I get here? This is not my beautiful car - This is not my beautiful
But it was! I think I took at least 20 pictures of Damiano's backside as he
negotiated the course. He's not a big guy - he's built for the mountains and is
looking forward to Saturdays' stage - but he was flying along at more than 60kph
and his calves are huge! A walking anatomy class. Another beef jerky man.
Beef jerky Cunego. Click for larger image.
I'd left my megaphone at home so I wasn't sure I could do my Manolo Saiz
impression. You know, that slappin' the side of the car, spit flying, screamin'
thing- Venga! Venga! Venga!- which roughly translated means "Get off your lazy
butt you donkey and move those feet or you'll find yourself back cleaning
toilets at the Micky D's faster than you can say double-cheeseburger!" It seems
to work for Manolo, but I went with the traditional "You Da Man!" I didn't even
know the guy, but now I wanted this little climber from Verona to kick Lance's
butt all the way back to Texas! Ande! Ande!
Lance Armstrong in the starthouse. Click for larger image.
We caught up with him after the race at the team van for a photo op and
wished him well in the mountains. He was kind enough to let me keep the banner
with his name on it as a little souvenier. Another nice guy.
Damiano Cunego and Kelly Fowler. Click for larger image.
Of course the day was far from over and we spent plenty of time adding to our
photo archive of riders of the delicieaux variety for a little tribute, a la
Crazy Jane, we've got planned. Don't worry guys, we've been getting the lowdown
on the podium girls as well, but more on that later.
All in all another spectacular day in paradise. The only rough spot came when
it was time to give the wheels back after the TT. They'd match up perfectly with
the campy 10 groupo on my bike. I heard myself saying, "Sure, you can have 'em-
when you can pry 'em out of my cold, dead, fingers! - my precious - we's thinks
we's needs thems more thans you -"
It's all good though. I came away today wanting to get home and get on my
bike and ride. And isn't that what it's all about anyway? Venga! Venga! Venga!
Gerolsteiner's Michael Rich warms up. Click for larger image.
US Postal-Berry Floor's new young rider Jurgen Vandenbroeck.
Click for larger image.
Jan Ullrich starts. Click for larger image.
Kelme's Look bikes. Click for larger image.
Illes Balears-Banesto José Gutierrez wins the time trial. Click
for larger image.
Third place finisher Marco Pinotti of Lampre. Click for larger
Saeco's Cannondale bikes. Click for larger image.
T-Mobile's Giant bikes. Click for larger image.
Posties. Click for larger image.