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As luck would have it the moment the team left training camp in San Luis Obispo, Ca. the good weather returned This was great for the guys that lived in California but for the rest of us we just moved on to more bad weather. Kevin and Lance went back to Texas just in time for that crazy cold front to come storming through their area. George returned to Greenville, S.C. in time to get hit by a fluke snowstorm. Kirk O'Bee and I came home to snow and bitter cold while Tyler experienced the same thing in Boston. I'm not sure what their training plans consisted of but mine did not include riding outside. I might have wussed out a bit this week because before training camp I remember freezing outside trying to get ready for training camp. After all the riding in miserable conditions at camp, plus we rode 1400km's in ten days, I didn't feel like suffering outside anymore. I was just plain tired of being miserable on the bike; I just want to get to some sunny weather. The problem was that after camp I didn't leave for Nice till Feb 1 and that meant putting in the hours or kilometers on the turbo. Talk about suffering, I can't think of something more mundane or uneventful. I knew this would happen so on my first day home I went and rented about six movies from Blockbuster Video, all action. My favorite of the week was "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels." I loved the movie but it ran a little longer than I could handle on the turbo. I ended up sitting in my basement dripping sweat for an extra fifteen minutes to watch the end of the movie. Speaking of movies, I saw in my local paper that one of my favorite movies "GO" was voted one of the ten worst of 1999. This is just to show you to not trust me about my week's favorite movie

I did go outside once this week. After three or four days of riding the turbo I cracked, but more importantly was that it warmed up to a whopping high of seventeen degrees. I busted out my Trek mountain bike and went hit the trails dressed to the hilt. I had never ridden in the snow before, talk about hard. For starters, I could barely stay on my bike. My front wheel kept sinking in the snow or washing out, I was hitting the ground at least twice every kilometer. Eventually I came across some snowmobile tracks and then things were much better. I said adios to the bike trails and just followed the snowmobile tracks. The snowmobiles pack the snow down enough so that the trails were rideable. Just to give you an idea of how cold it was when I took my Oakley's off the sweat droplets on the bottom of my glasses had frozen. I had a bunch of mini-icecycles hanging off my glasses. Since, for the life of me I couldn't stay on my bike by the time I reached my van I was covered in wet snow. That was the last ride I did outside before I left for Europe, good riddance.

You would think leaving for Europe for two to three months would be difficult to pack for. Actually, it turned out to be pretty easy. Because of our new sponsor Nike, everything that I received at training camp went into the suitcase along with a few pieces of casual clothing. I don't need many casual items because of the time spent on the road at races. On the other hand, packing for my wife and kid didn't go as easily. We had to pretty much pack everything under the sun for little Frankie. It ranged from summer clothes to winter clothes, along with a car seat and lots of toys. I think he alone has more stuff than I do. I stuffed all of the baby's stuff into an extra bike bag; it was easier than bringing three suitcases. We arrive on February 1st and I leave for Mallorca on the 4th. For some reason my flight going down there has me going through Paris and Valencia, it's like a six-hour schedule instead of a two-hour direct flight. I'm sure that after this long week of riding on the turbo trainer my racing legs will not be there for the first races. At this point I don't really care, I just need some sunshine and good weather and everything will feel perfect.

Next week will finally be what you've been waiting for, some race reports. Hopefully I'll have some good stories after talking with everyone from the different teams.


Spider Man and Training Camps

I don't know why but I'm always nervous for the first race, just not here. I've done Mallorca a few times before and for some reason I just don't get nervous that very first day. Maybe because it's not really a full race, just 100kms up and back along one boulevard. I can definitely remember my first races in the Ruta del Sol and even way back with the Tour of the Mediterranean. For those races I would be nervous but only on the first day. It's like once I got my feet wet and I remembered what the water felt like then everything was fine. On the other hand the first field sprints or wind-ups to the finish take a little longer to get used to. Every year it seems like the riders are crazier than ever. It just feels more dangerous and fast than what I remembered. Normally, after a few days of shock I find myself fighting in the sprint and then everything falls into place. After that its work like usual hoping that I have more good days than bad days.

My first day in Nice I could barely open up my eyes at 9:30 am. I knew I had to get up to start getting used to the time change but more importantly I had to get up to make the phone call. If I waited any longer I would miss the whole boat and end up being by myself. As soon as I hopped out of bed I gave a call to Bobby to see if he wanted to go riding. He was still home and luckily for me he was in no rush to head out the door. You see, normally the morning call that figures out what's going on for the day usually happens around nine. If you miss the call, or don't make the call, you end up riding by yourself. I definitely didn't want that to happen after riding all alone in my basement the last week. While riding with Bobby we talked about everything and he told me about this one group of fans he would see every day. The thing is they didn't know who Bobby was but they waited for him every morning. They waited for this cyclist who wore tights and was dressed from head to toe in his Cofidis colors of red, white, and blue. Each day Bobby, at the start of his training ride, would pass by the local school during their recess. The kids would have a lookout spy and when they saw Bobby coming they would all run over to the fence and start cheering. They would yell, "Spider Man, Spider Man, Spider Man." Once in awhile Bobby would play it up and pretend to shoot a spider web from his wrists. One day in December he rode by and all the kids were lined up along the fence but nothing came out of their mouths. They were in shock, they saw their cyclist pass by but he wasn't Spider Man anymore because he was dressed in green. It took them a few days but now Bobby is cheered on as the "Green Hornet." I asked Bobby what does the Green Hornet do, what are his super powers or strengths? Bobby didn't know so if someone knows what the Green Hornet does than go to www.bobbyjulich.com and let him know.

Sometimes the first races are actually before the first races. This year Mapei have had three training camps to prepare for the upcoming season. They had two camps in Italy, one in Spain and a team presentation in Italy and a team presentation in Belgium. The last training camp in Tuscany, Italy contained their whole entourage. This consisted of forty riders, ten mechanics, ten soigneurs, ten directors and helpers for a total of seventy people. Needless to say they took over the whole hotel. The riders must have been late every single day for their training ride. In order to find your bike, which is a clone of the other bikes, would have taken forever. I found it difficult just finding my bike out of eighteen. Part of the forty riders were Mapei's new young team. The young guys trained with the big guys but were not allowed to eat at the same table with them. The reason was, "so you don't learn any of their bad habits." The youngest rider on the team is an eighteen-year-old who went straight from juniors to professional. That's crazy if you ask me. They said they would give him an easy schedule but a 200km pro race is still a pro race - which means hard!

On Mapei's last day of camp Patrick Leffevre made an announcement, "Today is the last day of camp and your first race." The Belgians put the hammer down during a crosswind stretch and formed a break with about seven guys. The group behind, after chasing for many kilometers, couldn't catch them. So the director told the chase group to turn right at the next intersection. He then went up to the break and told them that they missed a turn and went the wrong way. They then had to chase and get back on to the new front group. As for who won, I don't know.

Johan Meuseuw decided that this year he will ride for himself. He is tired of working for Bartoli and others. He again will be the team leader for the classics. He also stated that he would continue racing after this year.

Cofidis, to the surprise of the riders, also arranged a last day race before the races. Their race finished up the hard fifteen-kilometer climb Mt. Faron. The mechanics, as a joke for themselves and I'm sure not to the rider, filled Vandenbrook's tires with water. When the attacks started happening on the climb his fellow Belgians, Nico Matten and Joe Planckart, dropped him. Frank never did catch them. This was a blow to Frank's morale and he was a bit depressed that evening until he found out about the joke that was played on him. The thing is he didn't finish too far behind so it would have been scary to see what damage he would have done with normal wheels.

The other morning I went training with Axel Merckx and we ran into Alexander Vinikourov. Vinikourov, who used to ride for Casino, just moved to Monaco. He has a new team, Telekom, and along with that a new big salary. This could explain the reason he changed his residence from St. Etienne, France to Monaco.

He just returned from one month in Australia, which included the ten day Sun Tour. He has a new seven- month old daughter, Erin. She was born a week before last years Tour de France started.

Sorry, no race reports. I had to get this out while I could. Our hotel has no phones, in the room or in the lobby, and a television whose screen is no bigger than my watch face. It's another beautiful start to the racing season.



For many the first race of the season started in Mallorca. The race was more like a high school reunion than a professional race. Everyone was saying "hi" to each other and talking about their winters. I found out that Europeans like to vacation as far away from Europe as possible. Some riders vacation destinations were New York, Miami, Orlando, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and Brazil. They were all reminiscing about how many Pina Coladas and Margaritas they were able to enjoy during their time off.

Rabobank had two camps. One was in Calpe and in January they went to Tuscany. They have gone to Tuscany a few times and Patrick Jonker, on Rabobank last year, said that they would always run into Andy Hampsten during their rides. Andy would go out, spinning along, for the four or five hours that team did that day. Patrick asked Andy how much he rides but, as usual from a retired cyclist, the answer was not very much. After dominating Paris-Nice last year Rabobank was excited about returning to the race. The problem was that Laurant Fignon, the new director of the race, was playing hard ball with a lot of the teams. He told Rabobank they couldn't do the race unless Boogerd came, he also made the demands for Cippo, Zuelle, Olano, and probably Lance. Verbruggen had to intervene a little with a couple letters stating that the Paris-Nice organization will have to stop using their strong arm tactics on the teams. The other race that Paris-Nice competes with is Tirreno-Adrriatico.

Once had an eight day training camp in Spain and they treated it like an eight day stage race. Every day was racing and they even had an individual time trial and a team trial. At Mallorca, Once had a prototype Polar watt measurement system on their bikes. Lucky it's a prototype because it looks like a one pound cardboard milk carton attached to the back of their saddle. The wires for the device are attached to the derailleur, and one pulley wheel, it also has a sensor along the chain stay for something. I heard that when the real device comes out it will be light and small. This will be a big advantage compared to everything that is out right now.

We didn't have a great hotel at Mallorca but we did have company, Farm Frites. They have a gray truck, two gray cars with one sponsor decal on them-Farm Frites. The Farm Frites organization removed Caees Preim, the old manager of TVM, from his position just after New Years. Since Caees had a close relationship with TVM, who was going to be the second sponsor of the team, TVM decided to pull out. This left the team with no contacts or sponsors lined up. They then hired a new first director, Teut Van Vliet, who many dislike and kept Henrik Redant as the second director. The new general manager of the team is Jacques Hannegraf who was with Telekom last year in their public relations department.

Johan, my director, told me a funny story about Jacques. Last year in June, right before the Tour, they ran into each other in Holland. Johan was up there buying the team radios to use in the Tour de France and Jacques was probably up there doing the same thing for Telekom. Jacques asked Johan what he was doing there and Johan explained about the radios. Jacques turned and told Johan, "you need radios, what are you going to do in the Tour?" Johan just smiled and said nothing. After the Tour Johan saw Jacques again. Jacques started sputtering and stammering about how he was so busy at the time and he didn't put two and two together with Johan and the team-yeah right!

Beautiful Mallorca, where cycling aficionados from all over come to ride, eat, live, sleep and talk bikes. This island is probably the most dangerous place you can ride your bike. The traffic is fine, the selections of roads are great and the people are nice. The problem is this place is like an ice rink. I don't know if the island sits on top of a grease pit or oil dump but something makes the roads very abnormally slick. It hasn't rained here in over two months so maybe it's all the dust on the road, or the left over oil from the cars. It could be from the olive trees dripping sap on ground or from certain sections of pavement that never see any sun. People crash here riding in straight lines on completely dry roads, it's the weirdest thing. I have already met three tourists and each have a broken bone on their body from crashing on the dry roads. These are not teenagers bombing a descent out of control, these are fifty year old tourists who end up hitting the deck at the blink of an eye.

We were not immune to the situation either. Many riders crashed during the races and when you watch the highlights on TV you can't quite understand why everyone is falling off. Luca Scinto had the best crash, not because of the fall but because of his theatrics afterwards. The throwing of the bike, yelling at anybody around him, throwing his arms up at the sky motioning "why me," and crawling on the ground for what seemed like ten minutes. Watching it on TV I felt like I should stand up and applaud after he got into his team car. The Once rider that crashed with Luca managed to get up and finish in the first group. I tell you, if you come to the island take your time and ride slow. We didn't get that option when we signed up for Trophee Mallorca.


My Vacation During the Season

I've spent many weeks training this winter but I must say none were as enjoyable as my last week in Mallorca. After my five race days on the island I was invited by VeloSport Vacations to train and hang out with their tour group clients participating in the Stephen Roche Camps. We had a great time riding the roads and as usual the weather here was perfect. For starters, the first day at camp was great because I checked into a great hotel, not the dump the organizers had our team staying at before, and my wife and son came down for a bit of a holiday also. It makes all the difference having Betsy and little Frankie around. The camps are divided into different groups for all riding levels. We had beginners, to hard core tourists, and even a small Irish racing club that came down for a training camp. Each day the groups split up, according their abilities and each have a ride leader. My ride leader was Phillipe, an ex amateur French racer, and on the first day he had me hanging on. I was so tired from the doing the races that my legs were dead, starting in the first group was not the best idea that day. After a couple days I felt better and the routes they had planned were some of the best riding I've done on the island. Each day we had a food stop with some tea or cookies and then we either hammered home or just cruised in. One of my last days there I even ended up motorpacing. I sat on the whole ride while a Swiss rider, William, pulled almost from start to finish at 40km/hr. The killer part is that he's only fifteen. On the weekend Stephen Roche flew down and rode with us. He comes every weekend to ride and talk with the clients, I think I would have to stay for all eighteen camps to hear all of his great stories. Overall there were some great people to talk with on the rides and at dinner. As one guy from Washington State said, " the price of this trip was the best part compared to the other Tours I looked into." I don't know about the price but the camp was definitely worth my time and I had a lot of fun.

While I was in Mallorca for the week Steffen Kejargarden went to Calpe for the week. He needed some mountains to train in along with the good weather. There was a Belgian amateur team that was staying at the same hotel as Steffen. He went ride with them a couple times and they asked Steffen if he was really on the team. Of course he told them he was. The next day he heard some tourists, who saw Steffen, talk with the Belgian amateurs and asked them if Steffen was on the Postal Service Team. They told the tourists that Steffen was Lance Armstrong's personal souigneer. I guess it didn't matter that Steffen was riding five and six hours a day, typical for a souigneer?

After the VeloSport Vacations camp I went to Valencia for my yearly UCI bike test. Everyone on the team has to schedule a VO2 test, EKG, blood test, and urine test. This is all part of the UCI health tests. It doesn't hurt us either to have a comparison of our VO2, lactate and all that stuff from one year to another. A couple weeks ago one of the first riders to take the test was Ekimov. Normally the team schedules three riders a day but Ekimov managed to break the ergo burning out the electronic tensioner. It took two days to get a replacement part then our doctors had two days of seven hours in the lab to catch up on lost time. My test went well, I guess. I got up to 460 watts and had a VO2 of seventy. My anaerobic threshold is 370 watts at 153 heart rate. Kevin was telling me that last year before the tour he had something like 420 watts at his AT. It worked out to be 6 watts per kilogram of body weight, crazy strong. After my test I saw the team the next morning at breakfast. Everyone was asking how the test went. I made a bet with George. I figured if I reached 460 watts he would have to go over five minutes longer to reach 500 watts. I bet George $100 he couldn't hit 500. I kept my $100 but only by a minute. For the tech heads, the test was incremental with a thirty watt increase every three minutes until you blew.

The team after Ruta had to drive for five hours up to Valencia so they could get their UCI tests done. They left right after the race and were travelling at night. After a few hours the riders were starving but they couldn't find anyplace to eat. Dylan Casey started talking into the radios about BigMac's, Large Fries, Large Cokes, and Quarter Pounders with cheese. After fifteen minutes of teasing everyone Dylan spotted a glow about one kilometer from the freeway, he made a sighting of the golden arches. According to Dylan the team had their best meal of the week sitting in the plastic chairs and tables. My flight to Valencia had me scratching my head. I boarded the plane last and sat in the back of the small propeller jet. As I read my paper all of a sudden everyone around me got up and moved toward the front of the plane. There was no announcement or anything. Then right before we landed, all these people started getting up from the front of the plane and sitting all around me at the back. Again there was no announcement and I had no idea what was going on. It took me awhile but I finally figured out that since it was a small plane it probably had something to do with distributing the weight evenly. What I can't figure out is how the people automatically knew to change their seats.

Rumors are that the UCI has banned time trail bikes in the team time trial (TTT). This means this years Tour de France TTT will be ridden on standard bikes with standard handlebars. We are not even allowed to use tri-bars or extensions, just the plain old traditional handlebars. I wonder if we could go back to using cow-horn bars? If they ban the bikes for the TTT why don't they just get rid of the aero bikes and make everyone ride their normal bikes the whole race. Why bring all this extra equipment for a prologue. As long as it's the same for everyone then I guess it all evens out. Last month I was talking with Peter Luttenburger (Once) and he told me their team had made new time trial bikes with 26" wheels for the TTT. Also a new rule this year is that both wheels must be the same size. What they did for the Tour of Med time trial was use their TTT bikes with normal handlebars. OK, this just in, Verbruggen is thinking of changing his mind because the teams are protesting that it's a stupid rule. Verbruggen has agreed to submit the withdrawal of the rule but they have to wait until the racing committee (some political group) approves it. It looks like we go back to the old rules of standard triangle frame, and same size wheels on the TTT bike.

Luis Puig

This was Escartin's first race in returning to the 2000 season. Valencia will be Lance's first race and it will also be Pantanni's first race since his expulsion from the Giro on June 4th. Today was a day of attacking and a day of crashes. The springtime is when all the riders go crazy until their dreams of being the star return to reality. It's must be the most important time to wear your helmet, and today pretty much showed that. One incident happened when, on a fast downhill, the Rabobank car was handing up a helmet to Steve De Jong for one of his teammates. On the twisty descent his handlebars touched the car and he lost control crashing hard. Later in the race, twenty kilometers from the finish, there were two huge crashes sending riders everywhere. Two Festina riders, Jeker and Casero, were sent to the hospital, a Cofidis rider, Pretot, was sent away in the ambulance with a major head injury. These were just the few injuries that I heard about. Steffen and Christian were both caught in the crash but they came out relatively good. Christian said it was not a pretty sight. The race ended with a five-kilometer climb and then ten kilometers to the finish. Nico Matten (Cofidis) was away with a Banesto rider for a good part of the day. Once started the chase and then Telekom. On the final climb Nico was alone with 25" and Marty, Eki, and I took over the chase to the top of the climb. I gave everything to get to the top of the climb and bring the seconds down. We caught Nico, I don't know when because I didn't see him, and Zabel won the sprint barely over Oscar Freire (World Champion). George got 4th after getting stuck behind Tchmill who sat up and stopped sprinting for no apparent reason one hundred meters from the line. The team showed much improvement from Mallorca, we just have to keep moving in this direction.

Next week I'll talk about Tour of Valencia and whatever else that might come up.


Post Valencia

I attended an APC meeting while I was in Valencia. APC stands for Association Professional Cycliste, its president is Francesco Moser and the group is supposed to represent the riders to the UCI. The meeting was held at our hotel in Valencia. There were representatives from different countries but pretty much anyone that wanted to go to the meeting could. Since we were in Spain there were a lot of Spanish riders, and a good amount of Italians. I went with Lance, Eki, and the only French rider to attend, Cedric Vasseur. Ironically, the whole meeting was held in French. I understood a bit and didn't understand a lot. In the end it really didn't matter, there was a lot of talk about nothing but the riders did get to gripe a bit. Some of the items they brought up were, shortening the calendar, changing the UCI point system, finding an EPO test, limiting the number of small professional teams, and securing the riders salaries so the teams can't stop paying their salary during the season.

Valencia was a hard race, especially if it was your first race. The team was much better here than previously at Mallorca. It takes time to get your race legs back and to learn how to suffer again. This year in Valencia the suffering curve was higher than normal. This year's course started off with a category one climb on the first stage. This stage decided the general classification for the whole race. I rode 39x25 and I thanked the soul who put that on my bike, the climb was very steep.

The next few days showed no relief from the mountains. This race was tailor made for the Spanish riders and they took every advantage they could by attacking in the hills. On the third day Pantani stopped, on the fourth day Lance stopped. They both complained of fatigue as the reason to stop. On the fourth stage the showdown that everyone was waiting for finally happened. We finally had a field sprint between Zabel and Cippo. What makes this interesting is that Zabel's new leadout man, Fagnini, used to be Cippo's main leadout man. Sure enough, Fagnini knows what he is doing and Zabel won the first moral victory of many battles to come.

The T.T. was on the last day and because of the television the first sixty riders were separated by only thirty seconds. I have never seen this done before. Olano won the time trial but not without a good amount of luck. He had the fastest splits the whole T.T. but in the last twenty meters he broke his chain and had to coast his way home for the win. If his chain had broken thirty seconds earlier he would have kissed his win good bye. On our team George is riding very strong and he is still getting in shape for the classics. Ekimov also is riding very well at the moment and finished the T.T. in sixth. The next race we do is Paris-Nice.

At the start of the second to last day Italian television went up to Gotti (Polti) to ask him a question. Italian Television has a reputation of usually only asking controversial questions, and with Gotti it's always a doping question. This morning when they asked if they could ask him a question, Gotti answered "why don't you just go and ask Pantani?" The same day after the race when Cippo placed second to Zabel the Italian Television rushed up to Cippo right as he crossed the line. Cippo turned and told them that they obviously didn't know what they were doing and showed no respect to thrust a camera and microphone in his face ten seconds after crossing the line. Then he said, "in response to your question, go ask Pantani." Both segments made RAI's evening news.

He's back and he's all dressed in yellow. He was very easy to spot in the peloton, all I had to do was look for about six yellow bodies and he was always in the middle of them. I'm talking about the return of Pantani and his Pirates. Every race he has his crew following him around like little ducklings lined up crossing the road. It gets kind of ridiculous battling for position in the back of the group against a Mercatone Uno rider just because he wants to ride next to his fellow crew. Pantani wore his trademark yellow bandana and his waterbottles have a picture of him on them. The other guys had different waterbottles, ones without Pantani's mug.

The rider suffering the most here in Valencia is Polti's new sprinter Jeroen Blijlevens. Blijlevens, after many years with TVM, he switched to the Italian team Polti. The team rides silver and black Fausto Coppi bikes except for Virenque, Martinello and Blijlevens. Virenque's bike is pearl colored with red polka dots all over it, and Blijlevens' and Martinello's bikes are all red.

The freedom to choose, that's how it is for the Spanish teams racing in Spain. When racing in Spain the Spanish teams have the freedom to choose where they stay for the races. They get a certain amount from the organizers to help cover their expenses; the larger teams get more than the smaller teams. For the foreign teams everything is pre-organized, we get no choice in the matter be it good or bad. For World Cup races each team is in charge of their own destiny, meaning good hotels or bad hotels. Each team gets an amount from the organizers to help take care of expenses for flights and hotels. The amount varies from 3,500SF to 11,500SF. A team gets the lesser amount if they are racing in their home country or didn't have far to travel. For the teams that don't really have a home country, USPS for example, they get a set amount for each race. In the end it all equals out to be the same amount for each team.

I have a cycling room in my home in Dearborn. It's where I keep some photos of races, jerseys from the teams I have been on and most of my old Tour de France stuff. I found out my cycling room pales in comparison to Eric Zabel's. He also has a cycling room in his house. His room contains cycling paraphernalia and in that collection are bikes from important races that he has won. He has them all on display in the room, twelve bikes so far. I told him he is going to have to move to make room for the bikes he keeps collecting.

The first big Belgian race of the season took place on Saturday, Het Volk. Het Volk, named after a Belgian newspaper, runs the cobbled hills and paved roads of West Flanders. Every year, on the Wednesday before the race, all the big teams do a reconnaissance mission of the racecourse. They start about twenty minutes apart, Cofidis, Mapei, TVM, Rabobank, etc. This year Mapei caught the Rabobank boys and you can imagine what happened when their egos collided. Mapei, on this training ride, averaged 38km/hr. That's a faster average speed than some of the years when I raced Het Volk. I was talking with Axel Merckx and he said Johan Meuseuw is as strong as ever. He mentioned that for the first World Cup Race, Milan San Remo, how the team is going to have problems. They have too many captains, Museeuw, Zanini, Freire, Bartoli, Tafi, Steels, and Bettini. Who is going to work? Oh yeah, Museeuw won Het Volk by himself. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I can't believe this so I'm sure you wont either. Last week Christian Van DeVelde ate his very first orange ever. He just never tried one before, now he is eating them like candy. Don't worry, we let him know how much of a freak he was.

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