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Setmana Catalana - Reports from the Ground: Stage 2 and 3
By Magpie Latham
Date: 3/24/2005
Setmana Catalana - Reports from the Ground: Stage 2 and 3

Note: A few technical difficulties, including 200 youths running rampant through the reporter's hotel in the night, prevented these reports, written on the day, from appearing sooner. Apologies!

Stage 2: Loret de Mar-Empuriabrava, 168.8 km.

The second stage of Setmana Catalana started again in Lloret de Mar and was mainly an undulating stage until the last 40 kilometres, during which the riders tackle a 2nd category climb and a first category climb. The last climb is at only 25 kilomteres from the finish and is a short but very steep climb, so if a split occurs this is where it will happen.

I caught up with Chris Horner, who had managed to make it through yesterday's stage and seemed quite bright at the start. He said the stage hadn't been bad and at the finish he was leading out Angel Edo, but there was a misunderstanding between them as to what Edo wanted. Commenting on the final climb, he said that the roads had been narrow and twisting and with the rain it made the surface very slippery. In fact he said it was one of the most slippery surfaces that he has raced on and he was surprised that the whole field managed to finish, as he thought the conditions would cause a break in the group. (The roads in Spain can get really bad in the rain because most of the vehicles use diesel, so unless the rain is really heavy it leaves a slippery coat on the road.)

Naturally Chris is very pleased that his leg has held up and he was happy that on the final climb he was able to cross the summit in 7th or 8th place, but on the descent he backed off as he needs to be cautious - another crash could make his injury worse and there are not that many racing days before the start of the Giro and he also has Georgia coming up. He said that although the leg is still painful it seems to be better on the bike, but he has noticed that he has less power in that leg than he would like. It means that when racing he has to slow down more at roundabouts and ease into them gently.

Chris lost a lot of his early season racing due to a visa problem and when he finally arrived in Europe he raced twice in Switzerland and then went to Tirreno where he had his crash. Commenting on Catalana's stage 2, he said that the final climb being much closer to the finish will make things difficult, he has heard that it is steeper than yesterday's climb and he thinks that maybe a group of 20 riders could escape. He thought that the climbers in the bunch will go hard today but thought they would be better to wait until stage 3 and the etapa reina so as not to waste energy. He felt the amount they would gain today will not be a great advantage in the final time trial, and he said unless someone goes really well on stage 3, the time trial will be the decider.

Someone to look out for on stage 3 is Simoni, who Chris said was looking very strong on the final kilometre of the climb and when he powered on the pressure he passed Chris with ease. Having noticed Simoni earlier on today he exudes a quiet confidence and his legs look in great shape and very, very powerful.

Tom Danielson said that the team did really well yesterday and everyone was towards the front of the group on the final climb. He also believes that today's stage is harder with the climb so close to the finish, and more so as the climb today will be harder than that of yesterday. He thinks that there could be a break, he said many of the riders have different objectives but if the right combination of riders and teams are in the break it will be successful. Tom is looking forward to stage 3 and termed it as a good stage in which to take time, as it will be hard.

Like a lot of riders, Tom pays attention to his diet as he doesn't want to carry too much weight. He said it is a matter of combining the right carbohydrates with protein. At present he is trying to burn more calories than he eats as he wants to lose weight with the Giro coming up. He said it was important to get the weight off now so as not to lose power when it's needed.

Initially Robert Hunter had been picked to go for the stage but in the last five kilomteres he decided to do some work for Uros Murn, who was feeling good. He said Murn had gone over the mountain better than himself so he decided to work for Murn and things turned out pretty well. As far as his injuries from recent falls are concerned, Robert said he went better than he thought he would yesterday, so he is happy and feels this race will do him good for the future. When Robert finishes here he goes off to the Three days of de Panne, then some of the Belgium classics including Gent Wevelgem, after which he will be building for the Tour de France.

He thinks that on today's stage there is the good possibility that a group will get away today, and there will definitely be some action on the climb and maybe some of them will be able to stay away.

Jesus Suarez Cueva, the Sports Director of Relax Fuenlabrada, said he wasn't disappointed that the escape of Perez had come to nothing in the final kilometres, he said that happens in racing and stressed that it was important to keep trying to win a stage. He felt yesterday had been a good day for the team because there had been a few breaks and members of his team were in them. They had tried to win with Perez and as he gained the mountains jersey there has been some reward for his efforts.

The objective of the team in this race is to compete for the general classification with Josef Jufre as he has been 2nd and 3rd in the past. He said that Jufre is in good physical form at the moment so he is trying to win the race this year. The team will be working principally for Jufre but there are riders like Luis Perez and Florencio who will take advantage of the opportunities to escape and go for a stage win.

As expected, a group of about 20 riders escaped off the front on the final climb, but the chasing group worked really hard and finally caught them in the final kilomteres. Corioni of Fassa Bortolo took the stage and the jersey. On the final descent two of the riders fell and were in need of medical attention, then Pat McCarty of Discovery, who was just off the back, went round a bend and straight into the back of the doctor's car and was thrown from his bike with incredible force. Valiantly he finished the stage but I saw his bike later and the frame was broken by the force of the impact. I was told that he was being taken to hospital to be checked out as he has a suspected concussion. Let's hope it is not serious.

Read Fabio's Stage Two Race Report.

Setmana Catalana Stage 3: Castelló d'Empuries to Coll de Pal, 157 km.

This is the Etapa Reina, the day when the real action happens as the race hits the mountains and finishes on the category one climb of Coll de Pal at 2,080 m. However, before they reach the finish line, the riders have to go over the Coll de Canes at 1,120m and Castellar N'Hug at 1,400m. The weather forecast is not good as storms are forecast in the area, but at the start the weather was pleasantly warm and dry.

When I caught up with Tom Danielson he was listening to hip hop music after having signed on. He said the stage went very well yesterday, the team had 3 riders in the front group and feels they were well represented. His legs feel good and today with the climbs the team will be going harder to try and achieve their objectives. As a climber, Tom himself will be trying to do well.

He told me that Pat McCarty had gone home to Girona today as he still doesn't remember a thing about his crash yesterday, when he hit the doctor's car on the descent. Tom said the descent was difficult enough without parked cars and that Pat is a good descender. He added that the bend in question was "scary" and he can't imagine how it must feel to come round the bend and be confronted with a car. This was a bad crash, as it cracked and broke Pat's frame. Tom commented that was a shame for Pat as he had been riding strong all week and was getting stronger, but at least he has shown the team that although he is young he has great potential for the future.

Tom's wife Kristen also rides, and he says that they go out training together, sometimes she sits on his wheel while he works out and sometimes it is Tom sitting on Kristen's wheel. He said that they are a team on and off the bike and he couldn't do it without her support. As far as Tom is concerned it is critical to have family support, he commented he wouldn't have made it through last year without Kristen and also without the support of his parents he wouldn't be where he is today. Fortunately his parents were supportive of him from day one. He said the sport is so hard with so many ups and downs and it would have been impossible without the support he has had.

Jesus Suarez Cueva said that today is a key stage for his team, Jufre is 3rd on the general and for Jufre as a Catalan - he is racing "at home." Having been on the podium in the past Jufre is keen to take the winner's jersey. He said they will see what happens today as the race develops on the road and Jufre knows how he feels, if he is feeling good he will go for the win the stage. The team will do everything to support Jufre and help him with his objectives, also to help him have a good race.

He stated that the last climb is difficult as it is very long but not particularly steep. Those who have climbed it before will be at an advantage.

When Chris Horner left the team bus he was clearly limping, he is still not sure how his leg is doing but will know when he gets on the bike. He commented that his leg doesn't walk very well and has been like it for the past 10 days, but it is better on the bike than off it. After yesterday's stage it is very sore, as he had a flat at the start of the last descent and that meant he had to chase down the whole of the descent. He caught the bunch just as they got to the flat, then he found himself dropped and had to work to get back on again. Now he feels he may have overworked the leg, but despite all this he still managed to finish 8th on the stage.

He said he is not sure how today will go, he felt great yesterday on the climb but ended up getting dropped and having to work to get back. When he got into the group with the yellow jersey, he decided to stay with him as there was a good chance that the Phonak team would be working to get their rider back in contention. He then laughed and said finishing 8th with one good leg wasn’t bad!!

I asked if he could give any advice about what to do when suffering on a climb and he replied do what he did and find a good wheel and hope for the best.

Next I spoke with David George who has riden with US Postal in the past and is now with the Barloworld team. He has just come to Europe from his home in South Africa and this is his first race, so it is difficult racing against riders who have already done several races. Although he said the Spanish riders have done several races and some are looking good - they should be going well on the stage today. Personally, David is using this race to get race-fit and to play a supporting role for the other riders in the team.

It has never been easy for South African riders to join the pro ranks but David felt that with Barloworld things are becoming easier as it is South African-based. He admitted that the level of European racing is much higher than in South Africa, although he prefers to train at home in the winter as it is summer weather.

David's opinion of the ProTour is that it is a geat concept, but that it is not perfect in its present set up. Barloworld has the money and infrastructure to support a professional team but it will not be able to be considered for the ProTour for four years. He says in some ways it is good, but it is not good for the smaller teams and the system needs to be refined. Generally he thinks more people are unhappy with the ProTour than are happy with it and perhaps it would be better with a system of relegation and promotion has has been the case in cycling in the past. This would open up the opportunities for other teams, although he realises that to be a ProTour team a certain level of financial commitment is necessary.

When asked about advice for the suffering mountain climber, he said motivation was the key and the person has to do more, try harder and dig deep on a climb.

As the only way to get to the finish from the start was to follow the route the riders take, so I had to leave before the start of the race. The first part of the course was gently undulating and bathed in sunlight, the only hazard were the road works constructing a new auto route. This meant the roads were covered in mud and grit - okay if things remained dry - at one point workers were trying to hose away the mud.

When I got to the first climb it was steep and winding but the mountain was covered in thick fog and visability was reduced to a few yards. The sun had disappeared to be replaced with a coldness that chilled the air; just to make matters worse, the road surface was not very good and the pot holes would be difficult to see in the fog. On reaching the summit the fog magically disappeared on the side of the descent and it was clear with a splattering of rain.

Back on the flat the sun was warm again and with the trees still bearing the brown leaves it felt like a glorious autumn day. The second climb, although a category one climb, didn't feel as bad as the previous climb, but maybe it was just because I could see where I was going. Halfway up there was a short descent and the final climb was not as steep at the lower slopes. The road was well surfaced and the principle hazard seemed to be the cows that wandered freely grazing - the one I met in the raod did move away at the sound of the engine, but at its own pace. The start of the descent was not for anyone who suffers from vertigo, as the mountain dropped vertically at the side of the road without crash barriers or fencing.

The final climb started to go upwards at 20k to go in the village of Baga. It went up and round, up and round, it was never-ending and must be disheartening if you are suffering. On the way up I passed several groups of Jufre supporters with flags and messages to animate him. As I neared the summit I was surrounded by snow, although the roads were clear. The temperature dropped to 5C and there was a cold headwind. Even wrapped up in my warmest clothes I could feel how cold it was, the hardest stage and awful weather; what a combination for the riders.

Meanwhile back in the race, there had been several abortive attempts to escape, no one was allowed to get too much time and Liberty Seguros-Wurth hit the front if things looked dangerous. By the first climb the fog was still present and there was heavy rain, so the escape was allowed a bit more time. By the second climb the escape of De la Fuente, Lopez de Munain, Moos and Olmo had 3.04 but it never got any higher. By the bottom of the second climb the time had dropped and the peloton graually worked to neutralised the escape.

With 10k to go the group had been reduced to 18 riders, Discovery had 3 riders as did Liberty; Jufre was with this group as was Chris Horner, but he was beginning to suffer and drop off the back. Heras took the lead.

At 7k to go the group was further reduced to 12 riders and Heras was still pulling the bunch along and sitting on the pace.

At 3k to go Heras started to drop backwards, his work finished. At less than 2k to go, Contador of Liberty Seguros-Wurth attacked and whilst the others followed, no one was able to sit on his wheel.

At the finish Contador took the stage and the yellow jersey, another new leader. He is a self effacing rider who is deeply grateful to his parents whom, despite economic difficulties, did everything they could to get the equipment he needed. Last year he had serious health problems during the Tour of Asturias and it is wonderful to see him come back to cycling and take the stage and lead.

Arrietunancia of Barloworld was second and proved David George’s prediction of this morning. Koldo Gil, who won Murcia, was 3rd. Tom Danielson finished in 10th place, showing he has great potential and determination. Chris Horner, despite his suffering, finished 17th. Jufre finished 12th and appears to have lost his option for the overall win, although his teammate Luis Perez still has the mountain jersey, although the points are tied but he is better placed on GC so gets the jersey.

The amazing fact is that despite the difficulty of the climbs and the terrible weather all the riders finished the stage.

Read Fabio's Stage Three Race Report.

Magpie Latham reporting from Cataluña.

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