Stage 2: Leon - Burgos
With or Without Me
Last night there was one storm after another. We all went
to bed wondering the same thing, “What would the weather be like tomorrow? What
would we have to ride in?” It seems that all of our bedtime wishes came true,
as we woke to beautiful skies. Good weather certainly does put you in the mood
to climb on your bike for another Vuelta stage.
The stage started, and it started off fairly mellow!! When
was the last time that happened during the Vuelta? But then again today was a
long stage, 207kms, and we started off with a strong headwind so there was no
rush. People were quite content to keep a good pace and chat with their
neighbor. The group covered 30 kilometers and the director started to get on our
radio to let us know that our direction would shift - I don’t think that our
director was the only one warning his riders of the upcoming wind shift because
the peloton’s speed picked up almost immediately. All the chatting stopped and
we all began to fight for the front positions. We could see the road ahead turn
to the left - the stress increased and US Postal took up the front pulling hard to
get Floyd in a good position for a sprint, but about 200 meters before the
peloton seemed to come to a near stop. The stage route ran parallel to the road
to Santiago where there were hundreds of people walking on foot, or riding on
bikes and horses. It was a beautiful sight and it seems that I was not the only
one in the peloton who though so - we all seemed to be dumbstruck. I would love
to walk the route one day, but not quite yet.
There were many small villages that we entered where the
road narrowed considerably. The race organization vehicles would be there to
warn us of the narrowing. Normally, we slow down a bit to pass through, but no
one seemed to be braking at the front today which was not entirely bad. This
is usually when there are crashes - when we are going the slowest, but today even
though there was not unexpected braking at the front, a few people still managed
to go down in crashes.
At one point, as we were passing through a small village, I
saw Inigo make his way up to the front. I didn’t think much about it until I
noticed that there were 3 other Cofidis riders up there as well, and I instantly
knew what was going on but NO, NOT NOW! I did not have the legs for it now. I
knew what was going to happen but it was not the team plan to start an echelon,
but oh yes, it looks as if they were going to do it. Before we left the village
“a bloque” came over the radio and I knew that as soon as we were out of town…
And I still needed to make my way to the front!
By the time I started to make
my way to the front my teammates were on the other side, and the only thing that
I could hope was for the peloton not to break up, but that was wishful
thinking. The peloton broke up into three, and I was not at the front. I was
caught too far back, something I hate more than anything, and my teammates were
at the front hoping for disaster. The damage had caught a few of the favorites
in the back but the other teams didn’t seem to take notice, or the message
didn’t get to the front of the bunch that a few of the favorites were not in the
front group. Obviously this is why we regrouped, but no one else seemed to be
happy with Cofidis’ echelon efforts just before the feed zone. There was a bit
of yelling, since it caused several to miss their food bags. Sometimes people
attack at the wrong time, or start echelons at the wrong time - everyone seems to
have made a mistake like this, but then again the favorites had missed the
I arrived at our hotel to find that I could not get
internet service once again. This journal will have to wait to be sent.
Stage 3: Burgos - Soria
Stories to Keep You Up at Night
Today started much like yesterday - fairly mellow. Even this
was the usual way things went; these last few years had been different. It had
been more and more common for attacks to begin at the start line. Today, of
course, the attacks did eventually begin. At one point we had a nice tailwind and
were speeding along at over 75km/hr, which always feels great as the only thing
you can hear is the whir of our wheels. A small breakaway formed and the
peloton mellowed out a bit again. The stage route was very familiar to me,
being a route used commonly during the Vuelta a Burgos. I was not the only one
who was familiar with the road though. Igor Astarloa was also very familiar
with it, and Lagunas de Neila.
In 2000 I was riding for Euskaltel and we had
had the leader’s jersey. I had spent most of my time working at front that day,
pulling - up to the foot of Lagunas de Neila anyway. I was in a gruppeto with
Jalabert and Astarloa and I clearly remember how tired Jalabert had been, coming
to the end of the season. It was Astarloa’s first year as a pro and I remember
how much he suffered going up that last climb - he couldn’t talk and had a hard
time even staying upright on the bike. So every time we are climbing this
hill Igor and I always joke about that day and how horrible it was, and today
was not different. Just as I was reminiscing myself, Igor made his way to my
side to revive those memories.
Later in the stage, as we were passing through a small
village, there was a lot of commotion up at the front, followed by a lot of
braking which nearly caused the entire peloton to go down in a bunch crash.
Soon after, I made my way up to the front and Inigo Cuesta told me what had
happened. He said that someone threw a large rock (size of a brick) just before
he reached for his camera, hoping to catch a great shot of a massive crash.
Incredible!! Luckily he did not get what he was hoping for.
Cofidis was doing a lot of work with a couple other teams
at the front to reel in a breakaway before the sprint, which paid off with
Stuart getting 2nd place.
It looks like we are staying at another small hotel again
tonight. This one does not even have a restaurant, so we had to pile into the
team cars and drive to dinner, which was not that good. Even though I had asked
for my meat to be well done, it was brought to me as red as could be. Those
that asked for their meat medium rare had arrived basically raw. Matthew White
had asked for his rare and you can not imagine how his arrived! His meat was
still half way frozen! I am not kidding you. We got a good 20 minutes of laugh
out of the experience, but Luis was more worried that we would all wake up with
food poisoning and diarrhea.
Sometimes you just have to laugh when things are bad, and
today was that kind of day. Lagunas de Neila: the town of rock throwing and
frozen steak. We will have to hold on to these memories for another year.
Stage 4: Soria - Zaragoza
Etapa Inesperada - Unexpected
Normally, today’s stage would bless us with a tailwind, but
after yesterday’s unexpected headwind finish, and the change of weather these
last few days, it looked like we would not get what we had expected. First thing
in the morning we went down to ask our mechanics to put on 54 and 55 ring
plates. We arrived at the start line to see that everyone had changed their
plate. But wasn’t there going to be a headwind? Was this not the same stage
that we had broken a record for in 2001 for finishing in the fastest time? So
how could we doubt that it would not be the same? Yes, but we had all changed
our plate just in case.
That was the fear that most of us had, that the wind would
change. People were not attacking like they had in the years passed. We were
all wondering the same thing - when would the echelon begin? When would the road
veer to the side? When would the wind change? How would one team catch us
off guard if we were all waiting for the same thing? We were all on our guard
the entire stage, our ears tuned into our directors and teammates… waiting,
In the end, the wind never did change, but it was not what
we expected either. Instead of the expected tailwind, we had a such a strong
headwind that I could have sworn that it should have been classified as a
hurricane. Of course, there we all were with our 54 and 55 plates averaging a
cadence of around 10! Here we were struggling at 35km/hr when we would normally
be breezing by at 70km/hr. It was quite pleasant tucked away in the middle of
the group - I can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed. The fun couldn’t
last forever though.
There was a sprint coming up and we started to work at the front. Then I
noticed something a bit odd; it was Matthew White, and he was riding on a road
running parallel to the stage route and there was a fence dividing the two roads
so that he could not pass back over to our road. Oh Matthew!! What horrible
luck, how are you going to get back on the right road? Yes, luckily there was a
roundabout ahead and he could get back on the right road again! Wait, oh no!!!
There was a policeman there directing traffic and he was not letting Matthew
pass by. He must have thought that he was a fan riding alongside the stage route
and did not want to let him through. Luckily the police realized that he was a
rider soon enough; he let Matthew pass through the barricade. What a disaster it
would have been had he not been able to get through! Matthew was quite red by
the time he rejoined the group, and understandably so.
O’Grady did not finish well today, and he lost the point’s
jersey (which is blue with fish, not green like in the Tour de France). We had
already gotten enough laughs from the jersey since O’Grady does not eat fish, he
only eats meat. We kept telling him that we would paint little cows all over
his next jersey.
Stage 5: Zaragoza – Morella
The Day the Real Vuelta Began
The Vuelta really began today, there
is no doubt about this. Without such a strong headwind, there were quite a few
riders who wanted to attack. Those who lost a lot of time in yesterday’s stage
were doping to make up some minutes today. Since so many people lost time
yesterday, we were bombarded with a lot of attacks. Even we had a hard time
believing how many attacks there were. After a group of three riders we said,
“Puff! Finally, we may get some peace and quiet.” Normally a small breakaway
group is welcoming to the peloton. The leader’s group usually sets a pace at
the front and the rest can take it easy. Well, normally anyway. The group
gained 7 minutes on the peloton before Rabobank started to work at the front.
Fassa did not want to waste their energy pulling, since the mountain was a bit
tough for Petacchi and we were certain that O’Grady would take over. This is
what we thought, but we were not 100% positive.
Rabobank set a fast pace, and with a
bit of sidewind the peloton would break up. At one of these unfortunate points
I had been riding at the back of the peloton, so when one of the riders in front
of me lost the wheel, 9 other riders and I were left behind. There were only
ten of us and to make things worse we did not work our butts off to pull
ourselves back to the group. Riders were tired and unmotivated which is not
uncommon so late in the season. Okay, so even though I understand that people
were unmotivated I still think we should at least try. We have a right to be
unmotivated but not a right to start our vacations now - not now when we still
have a chance. There were still 90km left in the stage and we were….. it did
not look good, but luck is funny sometimes. The peloton slowed down
considerably and we were able to catch up with the peloton. I immediately rode
up and found a safe spot at the front; I did not want to be caught it the back
again, as I would most likely not be so fortunate.
After this, we hit the base of
the mountain, and the peloton really picked up in hopes of losing a handful or
more off the back. Stuart had reached his limit and we were there to help him
over and then hope that he still had enough left in his legs for the sprint.
Zabel and Freire were still in the peloton, but without team support so us
Cofidis boys started to pull. With 20kms left, Trentin and I were the only ones
working at the front, except for one guy from T-Mobile that came to help out for
a spell. My legs were burning! Atienza finally made an appearance at the front
but I couldn’t seem to recover enough. And how could we? The fast pace was
picked up even faster and we were going 5km/hr faster. This was not going to
help either Trentin or myself and we keep yelling up to the front to step it
down a notch. Of course in the last few kilometers we were pulling at our max
again for O’Grady, expecting him to pull it off in a long sprint.
Oh, and one thing. Did you notice
Freire’s shorts? He had cut the elastic on the legs just before departure.
Maybe this is the newest sprinting technique, but he said that he had cut it a
bit too much this time.
Yellow Jersey Tours