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October 15, 2003
Magnificent World's
By Frankie Andreu

It's been a long year and finally the last races of the season have arrived. Time flies when you are having fun, but as a pro cyclist, after competing in over 100 races since February, the end of the tunnel could not come sooner.

The last official race for the U.S. Postal Service was the World Cup Paris-Tours. This dead-flat race is made for the sprinters, with the only challenge being the wind and a couple of bumps in the last 10 kilometers.

The team sent Max VanHeeswijk, Ekimov, Benoit, Damon Kluck, Pavel Padrnos, Victor Hugo Pena, Christian VandeVelde, Matt White, and Mikhailov. Many of these guys were still trying to recover from working their tail off in support of Roberto Heras at the Tour of Spain only one week earlier.

The fatigue from a three-week race does not disappear just because the race is over. Riders like Pena, Eki, Benoit, and White, although not sprinters, had to take advantage of the 260-km race to prepare for the World Championships that followed only a couple of weeks later.

As Matt explained, "The Vuelta was hard. I feel so-so but I'm doing Paris-Tours and then hopefully I'll be better at Canada for the Worlds." Paris-Tours, in typical style, finished in a huge bunch sprint where Eric Zabel won his first World Cup race of the year.

At the World Championships, the U.S. Postal Service was represented very well. It is always a very different type of race because it is the one race in the entire year where you wear your country's colors instead of your sponsors' logos.

Because the U.S. Postal Service team is so diverse, it had representatives from six different countries -- the U.S. (Hincapie, Landis), Canada (Barry), Russia (Ekimov), Luxembourg (Joachim), Colombia (Pena), and Australia (White). The USPS team also had its team truck in Canada to provide the U.S. team's support.

The Postal Service even sent over some of the mechanics from Europe to make sure everything would be in top working order for one of the most important one-day races.

For the U.S., the leader was George Hincapie, who stopped the Tour of Spain early to be able to concentrate on preparing for the World's. The last time George competed in a World Championships was when the race was held in Sicily, Italy. He spent the past three weeks at home in Greenville, SC, training five to six hours a day to stay ready for the race.

In spite of being right on track toward the World's he almost didn't make it to the race, "I was out training and a red truck came flying past and nailed my arm with his side mirror. I can't believe I didn't crash. I think I broke the mirror off."

The day before World's I spoke with George again, "My arm is fine, no problem at all. It's weird how I didn't hurt it more. I feel good and ready race." One rider who made the World's selection but gave up his spot was Christian VandeVelde. Christian had a bad crash a few weeks before World's,

"That Franco-Belge race was not fun! I crashed hard and I slapped my head pretty hard on the ground. I was out of it. So I decided I'd had enough and ditched the World's idea. I wanted the team to do well so instead of just showing up I gave my spot to Freddie Rodriguez."

The World's always starts with the time trials and immediately the Postal Service made its mark. Ekimov placed 7th on what many said was one of the most demanding courses they have raced. There was never a break in the pace as the course continually either went up hill or down. This made it very hard to get into a good rhythm.

The team also finished with Pena 32nd, followed by Joachim in 34th. Following a couple days of rest, the team prepared for the 21 laps of the World Championships road circuit. The first two laps were marred with crashes on the rain-slicked course but afterward the day turned perfect for the riders.

Victor Hugo Pena made sure to get his country noticed as the U.S. Postal Service rider was in the longest established break of the entire race. The remainder of the peloton was content to sit back and wait as traditionally the Worlds always come down to the final two laps.

This year the perceived tranquility of the peloton happened because of the strong head winds that developed later in the race. The wind was so strong that it made it almost impossible to break away from the peloton and stay away. The Italians controlled the race but even with their top riders riding on the front, you could see the bulk of the pack sitting and waiting right behind them.

When the decisive move was made, the peloton immediately broke apart and seven riders escaped. On the final climb, the pack came within inches of catching the group and this was when Michael Barry decided to seize the moment. Barry attacked the group and almost caught the sole lead rider from Spain.

At this moment, the seven riders from the break responded to Barry's surprise attack and chased him down. Barry's attack was so strong that only one other rider from the peloton was able to make the front group.

In the peloton, the American and German teams tried to catch the leaders for Hincapie and Zabel to have a chance for the sprint, but the gap remained too large by the finish. Michael Barry was the top-placed Canadian. The U.S. Postal rider finishing in an amazing seventh place. This will be a huge boost for his confidence as the season ends and he starts to prepare for the following season.

This might have been the last real race of the season but the race after the race was to see who could get to Vegas the fastest. Many, many riders from the World's headed out to Las Vegas to attend the world-famous bike show. Many were there to support their sponsors and many were there to just let loose after 10 months of dieting, training, and racing.

It will be interesting to hear some of their wintertime stories over the next few months.

October 31, 2003
Over but not Done
By Frankie Andreu

The cycling season is done but this doesn't necessarily mean that the riders get a lot of time off. Each rider has ridden between 90-100 races this year and, as the racing season comes to a halt, they are happy to have a rest.

This does not mean they are all sitting at home relaxing by the pool. After the World's the first stop for many riders was the Las Vegas bike show, mixing pleasure with business. Many riders from the Postal Service, along with many other stars from other cycling teams, were present signing autographs and having their pictures taken during the three-day event.

The same weekend of the bike show was also the start of the Tour of Hope, with Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Lance. The event started Oct. 11, with a group of 26 riders dedicated to a fight against cancer.

Each rider received a Trek bike with a custom Project ONE "Tour of Hope" paint job. The riders, with support from Trek Travel, ventured on a one week ride across America raising awareness of cancer and getting people to sign a "Cancer Promise." The event kicked off in Los Angeles with rock star Michael Ward playing the Star Spangled Banner. Also present was one of Lance's biggest fans, Robin Williams.

Lance didn't ride the entire route across America but he did show up more than a few times to surprise the cross-country riders. Each time Lance appeared, he would ride with the group three to four hours along the route toward Washington, DC.

The cross-country riders were split up into four teams, with each team taking turns relaying across the entire route. On the days that Lance would show up it didn't matter whose turn it was to ride. All the teams would filter out onto the road to ride with him. As you can imagine, the lift the riders got from Lance riding with them always raised the average speed of the ride.

The ride ended in Washington Oct. 18, with help from a police caravan to cut through the downtown area to finish across from the Capitol on Constitution Ave.

After the Tour of Hope finished, Lance stayed on the East Coast promoting the release of his book, "Every Second Counts." At two different locations, Lance signed books for ticket holders. The bookstores would open their doors at 8 a.m. for people to get tickets to return later in the day for Lance to sign their books.

One person I talked with told me he showed up at 7:15 a.m. at the book store in the Washington D.C. area, and he was already number 315 in line with only 400-450 tickets being given out. He thought for sure that the first 20 or so people camped out over night to make sure they got tickets. Ticket-holders then returned to the store at 5 p.m. to get Lance's autograph. After they were inside, the store locked its doors. Lance would show up, sit down, and sign books until everyone had come through, usually about one hour.

After his East Coast tour, Lance then flew to France. Along with many other top riders, Lance and Johan were present for the announcement of the 2004 Tour de France route.

The biggest change next year is that the time lost in the team time trial will only result in a maximum loss of two minutes for individuals. The rule in the past was that any time loss during the TTT was directly applied to all the individuals. Although this does not make a big difference for the Postal team, it will make a big difference for riders who have a weak team, but ambitions for a top 10 result.

For the top riders, losing even the maximum two minutes would be disastrous if winning the TDF was your goal. The other big change will be the individual time trial on L'Alp de Huez. What was normally a race-ending mountain top finish will now favor the pure climbers, which, of course, includes Lance.

Then Lance returned to his hometown in Texas for one of his biggest events -- the Ride for the Roses ride in Austin. A chilly day met those who showed up, but, as usual, nothing could dampen the spirits of the participants, or Lance, as they completed the different ride options.

On the weekend of Oct 24-25, some team members also went to the Bissell headquarters, sponsor of the team, for a group ride in Grand Rapids, Mi. Michael Barry, George Hincapie and Robbie Ventura all lined up in the 40-degree weather for a ride with about 30 people Saturday and a larger ride with 50 people Sunday.

They told me that Mark Bissell is a huge cycling fan and he made the trip as easy as possible, even picking everyone up in Chicago on a private jet to take them to the event. The riders said it was one of the best trips that they have taken this year.

A few more weeks of rest, and as November sneaks up on the riders, their time off will quickly disappear. They will begin to settle down and start to prepare for their training programs again. The cross-training, the weights and the bike will all come back into their lives as they get ready for the first Postal training camp in December.

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