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Thursday, Sept. 2

PRE VUELTA

The odyssey begins already. The whole process of doing a big Tour usually starts a few days before the first pedal is pushed. This goes from taking care of business matters to getting enough rest to packing. The packing part is sometimes the most time consuming. For the race I pack everything I'll think I need for three weeks, leave a good part of that at home, and try not to forget anything important. It's always a mistake no matter how many races I've done I tend to over pack. It doesn't happen much but my suitcase still explodes every once in awhile. The usual break down for a big Tour are three s/s jerseys, one l/s jersey, one thermal vest, one pair of leg warmers and knee warmers, three undershirts for the races, one l/s thermal undershirt, five pairs of shorts, three or four pair of socks, three pairs of gloves, two pairs of cycling shoes, my track suit, two T-shirts, two polo shirts and a pair of tennis shoes. That's it. I'll survive with that for twenty-one days. The team already has our "rain bag." This is the bag that goes in the back of the team cars that carries our bad weather gear. This contains race gear such as winter gloves, rain jacket, clear Oakley's, hats, and booties - standard wear and tear for the races. 

After packing the day before and making sure the bills were paid I flew out early Thursday morning to meet the guys in Barcelona. I had to wake up earlier than usual today because my wife was flying to Rome. Her flight left at a god awful seven in the morning. I met Bobby at the Nice airport where we also ran into Janna Lukua. Janna lives in Marseilles and was connecting through Nice to go to Barcelona and then on to Murcia. He just switched teams the week before the Vuelta so he would be able to ride the race. He was on the Danish team Accept Card and here in Spain he will be riding for Benfica. He said it was tons of paperwork to get the team switch done but well worth it. He didn't like Accept Card at all. Benfica is a big soccer club in Portugal. Benfica also has connections with Once. To put it in baseball terms, Benfica is the farm team for Once.

When I arrive at Barcelona I ran into the rest of my team. Waiting at the gate was Marty Jemison, Tyler Hamilton, Frank Hoj, Glenn Magnuson, and David George. Already at the hotel were Dylan Casey, Benoit Joachim, and Julian Dean. The team is young in experience. Frank, David, Dylan, Benoit, and Julian are riding their first three-week tour. Glenn has done three Giro's but no Vuelta's or Tour's. Marty, Tyler and I have done a few three-week tours. It should be obvious where our strengths are or who will be able to do what. Tyler will be our threat for the G.C. and the time trials. Dylan also will play a big role in the time trials but especially the prologue. Helping Tyler in the mountains will be David George and Marty. Going for the sprints will be Glenn and Julian. Frank, Benoit, and I will be helping the guys do the sprints and try to be in the breaks when the stage hunters come to the front. Our team will focus on trying to get a stage win and if we find ourselves in the hunt for the overall then all the better.

Today we received our race books. The Vuelta books are a little more detailed than the Tour. They show in more detail the climbs with the distances and percentages of the grade. We also received a computer CD with tons of information from the history of the Vuelta to a map of each stage in the 1999 Vuelta. 

Tomorrow is an easy day with only a team presentation at night. The morning of the prologue we have the mandatory UCI blood tests for all riders of every team. In two days we will see who will wear the leaders jersey of the Vuelta. The top four places of the prologue will get a jersey. There is an Overall, climbers, combative, and points. Hopefully one of us will have one of these jerseys Saturday night.

Friday, Sept. 3

Friday

This morning we woke up to the sweltering heat. Actually, when we got off the plane yesterday we were introduced to the heat and last night it became our good friend. Sweating is something you just have to get used to if you live in Spain.  We went for a three-hour ride thinking we would head into Murcia to take a peek at the prologue course. That turned into a mistake. Because of all the traffic and the size of the city it took us forever to even find the start. The locals that were riding with us said they knew the way but after a couple wrong turns I highly doubt it. I think they just wanted to go for a bike ride with the team. On our way out of town we ran into another local who, in English, asked where were going. We told him we just wanted to find a two-hour loop with a small climb that would put us out near our hotel. He told us no problem. He turned out to know what he was talking about. We went and found a small climb, dropped the local, and continued to climb for about six kilometers to where the road ended. We turned around and headed back to the bottom where the local was waiting for us. He knew the road was a dead end, we didn't. On the way down David George lost it in a gravel covered corner. I got a little sketchy going through the corner but David went more into the gravel and washed out his front wheel. When we got back to the hotel he had to get four stitches in his elbow. That was four stitches in the doctors' hotel room with no painkillers or anything to numb the elbow. David came out of there white as a sheet. 

Cofidis has a bright new big mechanics bus here. It's the size of an eighteen wheeler. Pretty impressive but the mechanics are not so happy. They ere joking about how the team has so much money but they can't even get a raise. They have big trucks and even an electronic Parmesan cheese grater. As Bobby said jokingly, "they get all the little treats now that I'm leaving." I joked back, "yeah, with you gone now they have the money for eighteen wheelers." Cofidis also has Vandenbroucke here and his mate Nico Matten. Nico is the rider that was diagnosed early in the year with a heart problem and told to stop racing. He stopped racing for a good six months when he got a second, third, and fourth opinion. Now the doctors say that Nico is at no risk to race. Nico's first race was just after the Tour, either Castel de Leon or Burgos. He then went to every race he could trying to play a lot of catch up on the other riders.

As usual the team presentation was pretty uneventful. It always turns into a pain for the athletes. They make us get there one hour before our scheduled appearance and then we wait and wait and wait. This year the presentation was held outside in a big courtyard. After hanging around for an hour we finally went up on stage for a whole twenty seconds. We got back to the hotel at nine thirty in time to sit down for dinner. For us it's a late dinner but for Spain it would be considered an early dinner. At the presentation I saw Ullrich. What a difference from the beginning of the year and also when he showed up to start racing after the Tour. He looks good now. Thin, fit and I think ready to cause some damage somewhere in the next three weeks. Telekom also has a new rider on their Vuelta team, Gaskche. He was a pro with a small German team up until two days ago. Now he is a pro with Telekom riding the Vuelta. I also couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Jackshe. I was talking him during Hamburg and he was telling me how he was completely cooked. He has not had a break the whole year, from all the classics to the German Tour to the Tour de France and now the Vuelta. He said he received the call three days ago that they needed him to start. We will see what happens. Cippo- maybe out maybe not. His wife got sick so he flew home today. He was here in Spain and he still might come back, it depends how his wife is doing. It's a good thing the first rider for the prologue goes off tomorrow at five in the evening. This will give Saeco time to find a replacement or let Mario catch a flight back in time for the start.

Saturday, Sept. 4

Prologue

This morning were the mandatory UCI "vampire" blood tests. The wake up call came at seven in the morning for TVM, Cofidis, Liquiglass, and us. We were all staying at the same hotel. After they draw the blood they transport it to a lab where the tests are done. I've heard nothing so I assume all teams are deemed healthy to start the race.

We did a two hour ride in the morning. Some of the guys went motorpacing behind the team car on the freeway. They also saw Ullrich doing the same thing. Over here riding on the freeway is not a big deal. It's still dangerous but you don't get pulled over or a ticket for doing it.

The prologue saw the favorites get rained out and the underdogs come to the front. The last third of the riders got caught on the super slick roads of Murcia. When I started it was just starting to drizzle but it wasn't too bad. By the time I finished the sprinkles were replaced by a steady rain. As I sat there watching the TV I saw a lot of guys cautiously taking the corners but still hitting the deck. Grzegorz Gwiazdowski (Cofidis), the winner of the Zurich World Cup, was told by his teammates to be careful in the race because of the rain. I don't think he listened closely enough, he crashed on his way to the start ramp. Our prologue specialist also crashed. Dylan, who had everything to gain and nothing to lose, except some skin, slid out with a kilometer to go. He was like a sixteen year old driving a Ferrari, all out!

Zulle is still riding his T.T. Pinerello frame that is illegal next year. Ullrich was riding a bike with different sized wheels. At the start there was a UCI commissaire measuring each rider's bike with a measuring tape. I'm not exactly sure what he was looking for. He held the tape up at the front of the aero bars and the other end by the middle of the saddle or where the seat post was. Anyway, I don't think anyone ran into any technical problems with the measurement. Of all the big guns that went late Olano had the best ride. Don't let the times fool you, the course was a mess for a lot of guys. Tomorrow is the first road stage. We have a couple guys sort of close to the jersey on time. We will probably try to get some bonus time sprints somewhere along the road tomorrow. Almost for sure watch for Once to try to get their sprinter some bonus sprints also. I think he finished fourth in the prologue and is a real threat to take the jersey. He has proven himself as a sprinter by winning a bunch sprint this year in Burgos.

On my morning training ride I saw an Amica Chips rider that was using the "power cranks." These cranks are supposed to increase your power on the bike by some percentage. I don't know the number. The thing about these things is that they are huge and ugly. They are sort of shaped like a long ping pong paddle. The base of the crank is as round as the paddle and the whole length of the crank is probably about six inches wide. I think the bikes are specially made for these cranks because the bottom bracket looked huge. It must have been five inches in diameter. I would be curious to ride the cranks to see if you pedal round or pedal in some different way.

The last few days have been HOT. Yesterday it was 42C. Today is almost the same and I hope it will cool off a little before the first races. I can't imagine racing if it remains as hot as it is now. Out on my training ride the other day I came across Rabobank and a little later Risso Scotti who were taking a quick cool down shower on the front of some Spanish guy's house.

Sunday, Sept. 5

Stage ONE

All in all it wasn't so bad today. It wasn't easy but it wasn't very hard. Because of the tension in the peloton I was glad we had big roads all day. Everyone is gunning for that yellow jersey and you wouldn't believe who got it. Actually, I couldn't believe he got it. First of all, the leaders jersey here is not called the "yellow jersey" it is called the "gold jersey."

The race started at one in the afternoon in what I think is the hottest part of the day. The organizers like to let it warm up before they send us out on the course. It was obvious the day was a scorcher by looking at the sweat coming off everyone on the first category 3 hill. I could barely see where I was going. Maybe it was the combination of it being my first race in three weeks and the heat. My body was getting rid of the cakes and ice cream I indulged in all last month. After the category 3 hill the first break went. It was a Fuenlabrada rider and no one cared one bit. Once his break was established by about a minute and it was obvious nobody wanted to do anything Jacky Durand (Lotto) took off. The two joined forces and rode away from the pack. The riders who were really in contention for the gold jersey were an Once rider and Robbie McEwen (Rabobank). As the break built up its lead Jacky was taking the intermediate sprints and moving closer to the jersey. Jacky and his partner got caught twenty kilometers from the finish but Jacky had earned enough seconds, eighteen, to have the jersey at this point. Robbie was going for the sprints from the pack picking up six seconds. It pretty much came down to what would happen in the final sprint. Even after Jacky got caught from his one hundred and sixty-kilometer break I saw him trying to fight for position for the sprint. Where he found the legs I don't know.

The final kilometer was slightly downhill with a ninety-degree turn at seven hundred meters to the line. A perfect recipe for some tumbling bodies. I was keeping Glen and Julian up near the front for the final sprint. With one kilometer to go Glenn lost me by somehow going from the center of the pack to the far left to get onto a Saeco train. He just decided to go left and somehow everyone managed to avoid him or get out of his way. They had to or else they would have crashed. Glenn was yelling at Agnolluto (Saeco) who was leading out Traversoni to go! They came flying into the turn in the top five or six. The problem was Honda (Telekom) who came flying on the inside of everyone at warp speed, probably eighty kilometers/hr, to try and make the turn. It was impossible. He crashed from the inside sliding out and took a bunch of guys into the barriers. Just behind, because everyone was slamming on their brakes, another five or six guys went down. Blijlevens (TVM) was furious, practically punching out some Lotto guy who Blijlevens thought caused the whole thing. For all I know he might have in the second crash. Because of the crash, the group and the leadouts got all screwed up. Robbie got third placing him about four seconds back on the jersey. I'm sure he will get it tomorrow. A Lampre guy from South Africa won, I think he is a neo-pro this year. And the Saeco guy that Glenn was yelling at to keep going ended up breaking his collarbone and was hauled off to the hospital. Not a good outcome for Glenn's friend.

Tomorrow is known for its cross winds. It's a classic stage they have each year in the Vuelta to Albacete and every time usually something big happens. I don't think Lotto will work to defend the jersey. The only way Jacky will keep the jersey is if a break goes up the road and takes all the bonus sprints from Robbie. Even then Robbie is in such good form that another top three or a stage win is very possible. I believe tomorrow is up to Rabobank to earn the jersey. If five or six guys go up the road it will become a cat and mouse game to see who will do the work. Lotto won't ride hard to keep the jersey so it will come down to the teams with real G.C. hopes. It could become a very hard day depending on the wind.

Credit Agricole was not invited to the Vuelta because of what happened last year. They wanted to come race this year but because the whole team ended up quitting the race last year the organizers said no way.

Because its been so hot we have been trying to park our camper next to the Rabobank bus. The Rabobank bus has a generator and it runs the air conditioning in their bus. We try to park next to them and run a line to their electricity so we can run our air conditioning in the camper. Today because it was so crowded at the finish it wasn't possible. I think it was hotter in the camper than it was outside. I still have not stopped sweating because as usual the air conditioning for the rooms is opening the window. I don't think it ever cools down, maybe tomorrow.

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