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Tour of Murcia Stage Five: The Fan's View
By Staff
Date: 3/8/2004
Tour of Murcia Stage Five: The Fan's View

Story and photos (except where noted) by Kelly Fowler

I turned on the radio this morning as I was headed to Murcia for the final stage of the Vuelta and was greeted by Sheryl Crow singing "Come on, come on, come on. Break my heart again". How appropriate. It's strange how quickly you can become friends with people when you're all thrown together in a situation like this.

They miss their families, I miss mine. I suspect the life of a pro racer, a production crew roadie, or even a podium girl from Rome wouldn't be all wine and roses. I guess I could have maintained my journalistic "distance" but, more than anything I'm a fan, and I can't help but cheer when the guys do well and worry when they announce there's been a crash in the peloton.

Seeing local boy Alejandro Valverde win the GC at the Vuelta Murcia was a treat. Here is a kid with a huge smile and a talent to match. He's the first Murciano in the 24 year history of the race to win the overall title and the locals were going crazy. Kelme has a history of developing exceptional talent and it looks like they've got another future star on their hands. It's consistency that counts in these multi-day races and Alejandro showed us this week that he can do it all.

Alejandro Valverde. Click for larger image.


The Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme best team. Click for larger image.

Sure it's early in the season, but it's still early for Alejandro as well. He's definitely one to watch. Chechu Rubiera of US Postal is one of those guys who'd be a sleeper if he wasn't so dang good. He's not one to demand attention as he quietly goes about kicking butt and takin' names. Last year Rubiera was awarded Clif Bar's "Beyond The Podium Award" for being the uber-domestique that he is. Looks like the fans appreciate all his hard work as much as the boss. I had a chance to catch up with Chechu today as he was posing for pics with his crowd of admirers. It seems he's recently graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.

Chechu Rubiera. Click for larger image.


Chechu. Click for larger image.

Take it from me, to graduate in Spain with an engineering degree is not only an accomplishment it's practically a miracle. The schools here are tough! And to do it while running the circuit as a pro racer? Impressive. Talk about your Renaissance Man. Now, I wonder if he can cook!

So when does Chechu figure he'll be trading the bike for switchgear assemblies and Megohmmeters? Well, he thinks he has another two to three years as a pro and then it's off to a "normal" life. Good on ya, Chechu. We wish you the best.

Michael Barry.

Since we're talking Posties, Michael Barry is one I had really wanted to talk to since he has the unique distinction of being married to another pro biker - World Champion, National Champion and T-Mobile team member Dede Barry. Sheesh! To think I stress out over coordinating my trendy little backpack with my sweater!

As you could imagine, the worse part for Michael is the time they spend on different sides of the world. Those 6 or 7 week absences are tough. Right now though, Dede is back from Australia where she started her quest for World Cup gold with a 9th overall in the Geelong Tour. The change in climate from the sizzling beaches of an Australian summer to the icy rain of a Spanish winter was quite a shock for her, but being in the same time-zone as Michael cured that case of jet lag in a hurry. The next race up for this Postie is the Criterium International in France on the 26th so I'm sure Michael is anxious to get back to Girona for a couple of weeks of playing catch-up with Dede.

Wanting to write a report each day after the race, I was a little worried I'd begin to run out of material. I quickly realized though, with 111 guys starting the race and an army of support personnel, there would be no shortage of interesting people to talk to.

Enter Maximo. Ever wonder how they manage to pull off looking so organized throughout 5 days of mayhem? He's the guy that keeps it all together. He's also the guy that gave me the opportunity to play Giuseppe Martinelli as I drove behind Damiano Cunego (Saeco) during the ITT. Obviously he's on my top-ten list from here on out. Five screaming chilies, Maxi!

Maximo's job, simply put, is that of professional babysitter. And he's good. If you're not where you should be it's "Fuera"! "Out"! If you're a podium girl it goes something like this - "Maite, Maria! Stand back! Don't block! Alejandro, come forward! The check, WHERE is the check! Fine. Now the flowers. NO!!! NOT the kisses yet! Ok, NOW the kisses. Now, Mr. Mayor move forward. NO! Forward! Fine. Now the cup. CAREFULLY!! Now look to the left, now the right. Raise the flowers! Fine. Ok, everyone back. NOW, NOW! Move back NOW!"

Maximo at work. Click for larger image.

It's like watching Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. He has such complete control that he could have even Armstrong doing cartwheels if he told him to!

Maximo. Click for larger image.

After watching this scene repeat itself five times each stage, I had been wondering how the podium girls were going to hold up and I'm sure they were relieved that today was the final day. Granted, being a podium girl isn't all THAT tough. But guys, let me tell you, it isn't always easy being charming and witty with overweight, cigarette smokin' old guys who don't know the first thing about racing and are only there to bask in the glory of someone else's day in the sun, all the while having to look like you're headed to the prom!

Podium girls at work with Valverde on stage one. Courtesy Vuelta Murcia.

Now before you get all weird, I've got plenty of friends that are overweight, cigarette smokin', old guys. It's that part about not knowing anything about racing that's unforgivable. Remember, the PG's are there like icing on the cake. They are not allowed to go wandering around, hangin' out with the riders. After all, they didn't want another scandal like that one in France!

Since I have a daughter with no interest in racing - though she thinks Lampre's Juan Manuel Garate is cute (I think it's the hair) - I thought I'd chat it up a little with the girls since Marina really wanted to know more about life as a Podium Girl. I had a chance to speak with Maite, Maria, Roberta and Paloma. Paloma is the only local girl in the crowd and was having a great time hamming it up in her own pueblo. She said the first day was really tough and she was nervous and stumbling over everything. Since the races are shown live, that adds another dimension to the fun.

Maite from Asturias and Maria from Zaragoza are not newcomers to the podium. For eleven years Maite has been handing out kisses to the boys and Maria's been along for four. They both agree that the best thing about this work is the people they work with and the worst part is all the time spent hangin' around with nothing to do, and of course their favorite riders are the Spaniards.

Maite and Maria. Click for larger image.

Roberta's from Rome and has only been in Spain for 10 months, yet she speaks fluent Spanish. Please tell me you studied before, Roberta! This girl is as smart as she is lovely. She's still in school here, has been an "azafata" or hostess before, but this is her first cycling race and first time as a podium girl. She says the best thing about this gig is that she's IN the race now. She's a fan of cycling and has watched plenty of races on TV and for her to be here, to be able to meet Armstrong, Valverde, Gutierrez and the boys is a true pleasure. I asked about her favorite rider and she quickly responded "Marco, Marco Pantani." Ah, the heart of an Italian!

Roberta and Paloma. Click for larger image.

Italy! As I'm writing this we're packing up to head for Rome in the morning. I had told Roberta we were heading to her hometown and she was anxious to make sure we had a good time. We exchanged contact info and promised to keep in touch. That's how it is here at these races. Koldo Fernandez (Euskatel-Euskadi) even asked ME how I was doing after HE had just crossed the finish line at the Cima Pantani - the nasty finish of the yesterday's stage. I told him, "Probably a lot better than you"!

The race today ended in spectacular fashion with the breakaway of Mariano Piccoli (Lampre), Xavier Florencio (Relax Bodysol), and Mikel Pradera (Illes Balears-Banesto) only being caught in the last couple of kilometers. Then with about 1km to go there was a crash in the peloton!

Saunier's Juan Gomis (?) a little dusted up. Click for larger image.

Fortunately it didn't affect the frontrunners as they flew to the finish in the heart of downtown Murcia and no one was seriously hurt. In the end it was Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini of Lampre taking the stage by edging out Erik Zabel of T-Mobile and Miguel Angel Perdiguero of Domina Vacanze. Alejandro and the Kelme boys came in just behind with their 1,000 watt smiles lighting up the finish line.

Luciano Pagliarini, the stage 5 winner. Click for larger image.

Yep, come on Murcia. Break my heart... my 15 minutes are drawing to a close and I'm gonna miss you! Thanks Janna for such a fabulous opportunity and Muchisimas Gracias to everyone for their emails and notes of encouragement. Danilo may have reached the Cima Pantani but this has been the top of the mountain for me! I suppose it's time I should take my press pass off now, though I think it makes a great fashion accessory. Maybe I'll wait just a little longer... Un beso muy fuerte! Venga, Venga Venga!


Baumann and Evans during the stage. Click for larger image.


The finish. Click for larger image.


The peloton finishes. Click for larger image.


Danilo Di Luca. Click for larger image.


Cadel Evans, third overall. Click for larger image.


Miguel Martin Perdiguero, Mountains jersey winner. Click for larger image.


The Kelme team. Click for larger image.


The end of the day...Click for larger image.


...and it's a wrap...Click for larger image.


Click for larger image.

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