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Vuelta a Espana Journals: Bingen Fernández
By Staff
Date: 9/11/2004
Vuelta a Espana Journals: Bingen Fernández

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 group.

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, listening.

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.

Bingen Fernández
Yellow Jersey Tours

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