Men on Marco's Mountain.
Story and photos by Kelly Fowler
I love men. I do. I love the way they think and the insane things they do. I
love their testosterone driven need to BE the man. To go farther, fly higher,
ride faster. Sorry, but you'll find no feminist between the lines of this
writer. I loved the line in that Tom Cruise movie where Renée Zellwegger's
character tells Cruise, "You complete me." Not "you fixed me," or "you saved
me," it's more like - with you in my world, it's all good. For me anyway, that's
what it is with guys. They're different than us and that difference is what is
so interesting. Hangin' out in the manly world of pro cycling makes me feel
connected with a force much more intense and primal than that of which I'm made.
And it gives me valuable insight into why my son, my dad and my sweetie act the
way they do. Sometimes making me crazy, sometimes amazing me, but always an
Illes Balears-Banesto. Click for larger image.
Mr.Bookmaker's Jo Planckaert. Click for larger image.
T-Mobile's Eric Baumann. Click for larger image.
Lampre's Juan Manuel Garate. Click for larger image.
Hanging around before the start of the race I feel like one of those women
reporters who are now allowed inside the men's locker rooms in the NBA, and I'm
wondering if that was a positive development. If you're invited into their world
you gotta figure you're going to be taking in the good, the bad, the naked and
the ugly. After all, men don't do sports. They do EXTREME sports. Men don't
perspire. They stink and they sweat. And in cycling they sweat a lot. Guys can
teach us ladies a little about feeling liberated too. How else can you explain
the fact that they not only make all kinds of disgusting, bodily noises in
public, but they actually have contests to determine who's the best! "Whoa,
Relax-Bodysol: Moises Duenas and Xavier Florencio. Click for
Relax-Bodysol's Julio Lopez. Click for larger image.
T-Mobile's Cadel Evans. Click for larger image.
Today brought us the Queen stage of Vuelta Murcia. Interesting choice of
titles. After driving the course this morning I'd say this Queen is more like
Bloody Mary. I actually rode up this mountain during last year's Vuelta Murcia
on the stage when Victor Hugo Peña took the win. All I could think as I was
turning over my lowest gear at a pace that would have had Chris Carmichael
running back to the drawing board, was how long it would take the ambulance to
get past those gun toting, army guys blocking all the access roads, to reach me.
I wondered if the race organizers would part with one of their helicopters to
come to the rescue. Then I remembered that would mean my sorry mug would be
plastered all over the evening news. Not in this lifetime.
The civil guard. Click for larger image.
I was happy to see I wasn't the only one who'd had a hard time with that
mountain. After watching the riders take their first turn around the course I
had a pretty good idea that the smack-down had begun. What a stage! Team
tactics, attacks and counter-attacks, escapes, abandons - we had it all today.
One of my favorite domestiques was huge in today's stage as well. Serious props
to Damiano Cunego with Team Saeco, who together with Zaballa (Saunier Duval-Prodir),
Vila (Lampre), Charteau (Brioches La Boulangere), Torrent (Costa
Almeria-Paternina ) and Blanco (Relax-Bodysol) formed an escape group that
ultimately helped determine the stage winner. Way to go Damiano! Did I tell you
that guy could climb?!
Damiano Cunego and Anthony Charteau trying to escape. Click for
The chasing peloton. Click for larger image.
On the climb. Click for larger image.
There's a phrase in Spanish they use to describe feeling wiped out - "hecho
en polvo" - literally translated it means "made into dust". That pretty much
describes how most of the riders looked after the race today. Whether they'd
come up with the win or not, these guys had once again pushed themselves to the
edge of insanity. The legs are lead. Hair matted. Faces and helmet straps
stained with the salty crust of exertion. And still they were smiling. Well, not
all of them. Those serious Germans were still serious Germans, but here I was
again in the midst of people fulfilled. Guys being guys. Creatures fulfilling
the measure of their creation. You can't help but be happy for them. We should
all be so lucky.
Ullrich and company hecho en polvo. Click for larger image.
Yesterday I had a chance to speak with Danilo Di Luca, to talk to him a
little more at the request of one of our readers. He strikes me as a guy's guy.
If he was an American I'd peg him as a truck man. You know, the kind with the 6"
lift, monster tires, chrome everywhere and flames coming out of the engine. The
kind with the blower on the hood and cherry burners so everyone hears you
coming. Lately though, his confidence has taken a hit. He's in his sixth year as
a pro and although he had 25 pro wins to his credit, going into the Vuelta
Murcia he had been feeling like it was time for him to make his mark.
Ladies and Gentlemen, he couldn't have picked a better day and a better stage
to do it. This baby wasn't handed to him either. When they rounded the final
corner and were heading into the finish it was still wide open. It was going to
come down to who wanted it the most. Valverde and Di Luca were charging like
sprinters with those bikes flying from side to side until Danilo realized he had
it, sat up and pointed skyward as he crossed the line. Another Zen moment.
Danilo telling the world he's back, and doing it on Marco's mountain.
Saeco's Danilo Di Luca wins Stage 4. Click for larger image.
Alejandro Valverde after the finish. Click for larger image.
Dani had told me he'd still been looking for his form recently, but was
feeling strong and was hoping for a good result when the roads turned up. He was
very active in yesterday's stage in Yecla so I was looking forward to seeing how
it would go with him today. Well, he definitely got the result he wanted. He's
now looking forward to Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tirreno-Adriatico as races he's
targeting. With what I saw today, I'd say he'll be a marked man from here on
Di Luca. Click for larger image.
As the race ended today and we all started making our way back down the
mountain, I looked around at all the guys on bikes around me. By this time the
only pros that were left were the guys from Gerolsteiner. Now THOSE guys are
big! I'd have sworn they were the defensive line of the San Francisco 49ers all
decked out in some new skyblue spring uni - well ok, maybe the offensive line
then - either way, they had my attention if for no other reason than just to
stay out of their way.
No, the mass of guys and bikes crowding around us as we left were just normal
everyday Joes out doing the same thing as every guy in the peloton today -
proving to themselves that they're alive, they're stronger than they once
thought, and they've got it goin' on. And me? Well, I can put up with the toilet
seats, the forgotton anniversaries, the strange smells and the two hour rides
that end up lasting all day, if it means I get to peek into the heart and mind
of one of these strange creatures we call men.
See ya tomorrow.
Di Luca on the podium. Click for larger image.
Di Luca with the Pantani Trophy. Click for larger image.
The Pantani Trophy. Click for larger image.
The plaque on the Pantani Trophy. Click for larger image.
The Pantani Memorial.