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Monday, Sept. 6

Stage TWO

We experienced the four seasons today. Luckily, all night and until about ten in the morning it was pouring rain outside. I thought we were going to have a long wet day but the start turned out to be dry. Our team and a host of other teams were very late getting to the start. The traffic was completely backed up getting to the start. It was very unorganized. At least we didn't get a penalty for not signing in. I saw the guy leaving the stage with the sign in sheet and told him to sign us all in. He wasn't happy but when he realized it was more than just us he let it happen.

The day started off hot, 40C, another sweltering day. The first obstacle, the same like yesterday, was a cat. 3 at kilometer twenty. I'll tell you this was one hell of a cat. 3. It must have been seven kilometers long and I suffered the whole way up. The peloton split into three groups, so this gives you an idea that they were not messing around. I was barely hanging on with the first seventy; a couple times I went to sit up but mentally worked through it. It was not a happy start for anybody. Going over the top there was a break of about ten guys. Once, Banesto, Liquigas started pulling right away. Then Once stopped because they had one rider there and Jalabert came up and told them to stop. After that Banesto stopped because Once stopped. So Liquigas and Lampre ended up doing the majority of the work to bring the group back.

At fifty kilometers to the finish the weather was changing. We could see up the road the black clouds engulfing the mountain we were heading towards. As we got close the lightning started picking up. Of course with a storm the wind started howling also. At the top of the climb the rain came pouring down and right away the temperature must have dropped fifteen degrees. We went from hot to cold in about two kilometers. The whole downhill it rained and everyone dropped back to get their rain jackets. Ten kilometers later we must have left the low pressure and we hit a wall of heat. As quick as the temperature dropped it went right back up to hot. It was very weird.

The rest of the way in was a battle setting up for the field sprint. Festina started the tempo twenty kilometers out. It was very windy and with about ten kilometers left TVM took over. They were flying. We were hanging in the back waiting to get closer to the line till we brought Glenn and Julian to the front. At about six kilometers to go we went flying past the group to get behind the TVM train. TVM was flying considering how windy it was. At about three kilometers to go I saw Marcel Wust with a team mate trying to move up on the inside of the group. They must have been twenty or thirty deep. I took Glenn up the outside one more time and then sat up. Frank was taking care of Dylan in the front till one kilometer to go also. After that the boys were on their own.

In the sprint Julian felt great but a few wrong moves and things didn't work out. That's the way it works sometimes. Marcel ended up winning which makes it more impressive to me considering where I saw him with three kilometers to go. He reached his goal for this race, a stage win. Now whatever happens will be icing on the cake.

Yesterday I told you that Andriotto (Saeco) broke his collarbone. He didn't and he was in the race today. He had a puncture wound to his arm and he had to get eighteen stitches in his bicep. He was very lucky nothing punctured a tendon, muscle or artery. Also, yesterday Dufaux (Saeco) crashed somewhere in the race. He had bandages on today. To top it off he crashed again today tearing up his shorts and jersey. Not a good start to a three-week tour. Maybe Dufaux can't see so well because it would be hard to miss the warning flags they have here. This year they have these ten-foot flagpoles set up at all dangerous places. It has a yellow flag at the top with a flashing yellow light. It also emits a loud beeping noise, like a garbage truck backing up, to give us a heads up warning. I don't think it makes much of a difference than the motorcycle guy waving the flag.

Vandenbroucke has a weird set up on his bike and I don't know how he gets away with it. He rides for Cofidis which uses Campagnolo. He rides Shimano shoes with Shimano pedals. He uses Shimano cranks on the right side and a Campagnolo crank on the left side. He must have some pull somewhere.

At the Village here in Spain, Wilckonson Razors has a booth set up right next to the sign on stage. They have a barbers chair set up in their booth to give riders a shave if they want. Of course they have some models that do the shaving so that makes their job easier trying to lure some cyclists into the booth for a shave.

If you are waiting for the spectacle of stage eight you better hope it doesn't rain that day. The organizers have said if it rains on the stage to Angliru then the race will end at the bottom of the climb. The climb is so steep that it would not be possible to ride up it on our bikes. As it is right now no team cars are allowed to go up the climb. It is definitely going to be a day to watch.

Tuesday, Sept. 7

Stage THREE

Ok, I was wrong about yesterday and that Jacky would lose the jersey. Well, today he gave it up. It was a miracle that he kept it until today. Robbie, Jacky's main challenger, who has been sprinting like a mad man has had some bad luck and has come up short a few times. The first day he got third, he needed second to take the jersey. The second day a break was away at the start of the race and they took the first two bonus sprints, that left Robbie with nothing. For the third sprint there was a break up the road with one guy and when another rider attacked a Rabobank rider followed him. As the rider died the Rabobank guy jumped around to bridge up to the first rider. This all happened one-kilometer from the line while Rabobank was doing a lead out to try and take the seconds. The Rabobank rider didn't sit up and stop so that he would not take the time bonus. If he had sat on the second rider then the two of them would have been caught and in the least Robbie could have sprinted for second or third place bonus time. Instead his teammate took the time bonus and left nothing for the peloton. The director was furious. Robbie was mad also and when he yelled at the guy, "Why didn't you stop and wait?" The guy said back, "Wait for who?" He had no idea what was going on in the race. I guess he is tactically slow. Even after the screw up Robbie needed to place second or better in the stage yesterday. He got third.

Yesterday also saw David Plaza quit the race. When I saw this on the results I was very surprised. This is a big blow to Benfica. David attacked early in the race yesterday and got in a break for the first thirty kilometers with a group of ten. When the peloton caught the break David pulled over and stopped. He was pissed at his director and team because they would not renegotiate the second year on his contract. He wanted some more money. He attacked to show them that he was fit and strong and he quit to tell them to bugger off.

Today the finish of the 230km race was in Fuenlabrada. By this fact alone it was evident who was going to be attacking all day long, Fuenlabrada. Guess who was the first to attack at the start? Wrong. We did, actually Benoit did. I couldn't believe it. He said as he approached kilometer zero he was riding next to three Fuenlabrada riders. So he thought he would attack first and they would go with him and then for sure he would be in the break. Good thinking! They got away for about ten kilometers but everyone wanted to be in the break also. Not helping the matters was a very strong head wind all day. It was very easy on the wheels but very hard in front. Finally after one hour of attacking the peloton settled to a slow trot. This is when a Fuenlabrada got away alone. He had 200kms to cover before the finish. The pack was content to cruise along for the whole day. We went slow and steady. The break got up to a maximum of twenty-five minutes before the group reacted at all. Then without really trying he came back like a rock. We caught him with about ten kilometers to go.

During the day we had three intermediate sprints. One spot was up the road so that left two placings to go for. Robbie won the first sprint tying him with Jacky for the jersey. Actually Robbie had the jersey because in a tie of time they go by points. Robbie has higher placings at the finishes than Jacky. The second sprint and third sprint I think was won by Robbie also. This put him eight seconds up on second place. The riders going for these sprints were Robbie, Hunter (Lampre), Guidi (Polti), and a few dozen others. The man not going for them, who was nine seconds back from the jersey, was Marcel Wust (Festina) He was waiting for the finish. The last six kilometers were pulled by Telekom for Lombardi who got second yesterday to Wust. At the end today it was the same result, Wust smoked everyone and Lombardi was second again. Robbie was nowhere probably tired from doing all the other sprints throughout the day. Robbie had the jersey during the day but he never got to put it on, Wust got that honor. Winning the stage gave Marcel a twenty-second time bonus and the leaders jersey.

Luckily, today was not as hot as the other days. It was still hot but everyone wasn't turning crispy. The constant motion of riders going back and forth to the cars for bottles is never ending. Dylan was taking one of his turns today and after passing out the bottles he had a couple left over. He motioned to Jacky to see if he wanted one, Jacky declined. Dylan went to throw the bottle to the grass and when he did he swerved into a Benfica rider. His wheel and the guys derailleur exploded. He broke the guy's bike; it was Joona Laukka, the rider who just transferred teams from Accept Card to Benfica. His new bike was only two days old.

On a sad note, Theirry Claveyrolat committed suicide this morning in his home in France. He was a professional cyclist for many years but I knew him from his years on RMO and Z. He was a fierce climber who always would use a 44 as his small chain ring. This year he was at the Tour for a few days and I'm sure this news is a shock to everyone.

Wednesday, Sept. 8

Stage FOUR

I can't believe its only day four; it feels like it's been two weeks. I don't know if it's the racing, the bad legs, or the heat. Some days we will cruise all-day and only the final thirty kilometers will be very hard. Even then I get back to the hotel tired, sunburnt, and sleepy. Starting tomorrow the real mountains begin and I will have to say the real suffering. Everything up till now has just been a teaser.

Today the Spanish heat wave continued. We started the day with a category 3 followed by a category 2 climb. The first one hundred kilometers were gradually up hill, after that it was a little flatter to the finish. Pretty much it was suffer for one hundred kilometers then cruise the rest of the way home. Things don't always go as planned. From the gun a Rabobank guy attacked. The start was on a gradual downhill and when I looked up after one kilometer I saw all the motorcycles were gone. At first I thought the Rabobank rider was a motorcycle going up the road. He was flying in front of us. I only realized it was a rider when I saw the orange colors of his jersey. Dylan told us at dinner that before the guy took off he looked over at Dylan and said, "you want to go?" Dylan immediately responded, "nope, see ya." The group was content to let the Rabobank guy go. He was going too fast to try and chase down right away. We did the cat 3 easy and then the cat 2 was medium difficulty. On the cat 2 Dufaux and few others were dropped. Dufaux ended up quitting later that day.

Zannini (Mapei) was pissed at Blijlevens (TVM) today. On the climb he was cursing and yelling at Blijlevens because he was getting some pushes from his teammates. He was telling Blijlevens that he was a shit because he always get pushes, or hangs on the cars for the hills and then wins a stage. They were at the back of the bunch yelling for a good five minutes. The same can be said for Wust (Festina). Every climb his teammates give him little pushes every one hundred meters to get him over the hills. Then at the end he dusts everyone in the sprint. This is the life of a sprinter.

After the cat 2 some attacks started and somehow a bunch of guys at the front crashed. David George went down and so did Herve (Festina) and a few others. After the two climbs it was supposed to be easy cruising till the finish for the sprint. Once had different ideas and on one cross wind section the whole team went to the front and put the hammer down. I was pinned trying to stay with the first group. It sucked; my legs were aching horribly. The peloton split into three groups and didn't regroup until maybe twenty kilometers later. Marcel, the leader of the race, was in the last group. Oscar Carmenzine (Lampre) was in the second group. When his group caught my group, the first one, a few of his teammates were like "ohh, Oscar." Oscar was pissed and was giving them the finger cursing at them in Italian because they didn't wait for him. Oh well. One thing I did see which I normally never see was Laurant Jalabert (Once) breathing with his mouth open. Normally that guy never shows pain or seems to break a sweat. During the crosswind section he was pinned and actually pulled out of the line and got dropped to the second group. Laurant also has been carrying water bottles for his teammates. Something else I've never seen before. It's nice to know as a leader he can still bow down and help others. Not all riders can do that.

After things settled from Once trying to screw everybody we cruised for about thirty kilometers. Again, I was thinking just follow the wheels till the final sprint. At twenty kilometers to go there was another crash with about ten guys. With our bad luck we had Tyler and Julian in there. Luckily because of the race radios we knew right away we had to stop and wait for Tyler. It was hard! Marty, Benoit, Frank and I did the chase back to the group. The peloton was setting up for the field sprint and Telekom was pulling all out. We were in the back chasing full out trying to catch the group before the finish. We got Tyler back on with about ten kilometers to go. The next step was trying to get him to the front of the group so he wouldn't lose any time when the riders start to sit up at the finish. I must have brought him to the front three times in the last ten kilometers. Every time we moved up he would end up drifting back. Finally I blew and sat up in the last three kilometers. At the finish the Wooshing Wust won. It's incredible that he won again, talk about some form. Tyler is scraped up but ok; Julian did a flip off the bike and landed square on his back. It took him awhile to get up because he lost all his wind.

Thursday, Sept. 9

Stage FIVE

We are now car 21. What that means is that our team had a bad day, you could say it was a disaster. We knew we had climbs today but the profiles for some reason were not so exact today. As soon as we left the neutral start we started climbing and descending. My favorite rider, and maybe yours, attacked at the start again today, Roscioli (Amica). The previous sentence is meant to be very sarcastic. We were going fifty km/hr before I could even tighten the straps on my Carnac's. The pack was strung out completely going up and down the rollers. I couldn't believe we were going up hill so fast. All of this was before we hit the first categorized mountains.

Once we did get to the first category 2 hill things settled down and we went easy over the climb. This race is weird sometimes. We go hard on the easy parts and on the hard parts we sometimes go easy. It's backwards. After the category 2 climb we hit the category 1 climb. Well, this was a hard part and it was time to go hard. My mind was thinking the right things but my legs were numb. For me it was not such a problem. I know how to look and find the right grupetto, practice makes perfect. For Tyler his mind may have been thinking the right things also but his legs failed him. As the race split apart going over the climb Tyler found himself losing contact with the first two groups. The climbing form he was hoping for was not showing itself today.

My group contained David, Frank, and Julian. Dylan had a game plan all laid out today, follow Wust. He was stuck on Wust like he was a sprinter in a field sprint. At the top of one of the climbs after the category 1 climb their group caught our group. Just after we could see a group about one kilometer in front of us on the climb. It contained Benoit. Benoit was on the front setting tempo with a few other guys. Every time we went around a switchback all the guys in our group would yell at that first group to slow down so we could catch them. At the top of the climb we started a fast decent and I could see a blue jersey leading the way down. After a few turns I could still see a blue jersey stringing out the group in front of us. I was thinking "Dammit, that's Benoit, what the hell is he doing." Finally we caught their group. As soon as we caught their group Benoit sat up and started drifting to the back of our eight man group. He went to the back and we never saw him again till the finish. I swear he was pulling up there so we wouldn't catch him.

The real front group contained twenty-one guys. The sprint was more of a show of strength than a sprint. Ullrich was leading out the group to the line with everyone in single file behind him. When the sprint started Olano came past him and Ullrich got behind Olano and then re-accelerated past Olano for the win. Vandenbroucke was third. Now, Vandenbroucke is no slouch in a sprint so they must have been going fast. Pretty impressive win for Ullrich. I think he will win tomorrow. The other safe choice would be Olano for the time trial. Olano now has the jersey. Once put the screws down in the race, they had five guys in the front group. Banesto had three guys, Piepoli, Beltran, and Jimenez. That's right no Zulle, he lost five minutes. Tyler finished fifteen minutes down on the first guys in the third or fourth group. He was with Marty and our sprinter Glenn. We had a laugh about it at dinner. When I was explaining to Tyler about our chase to catch Benoit and his group Tyler remarked, "Did you see my tongue on the road?" There are a lot of guys tired from the Tour and there are a lot of guys just plain tired.

I don't think Ullrich is interested in winning the Vuelta. I believe he is here to get ready for World's. He will win the time trial at World's. Also, if Ullrich gets the jersey the team he has here will not be able to defend it. Besides his team not being strong enough the Spanish teams will attack the heck out of him till he breaks. The Spaniards are not going to let a German win La Vuelta.

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