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Friday, Sept. 10

Stage SIX, T.T.

Today was the time trial. For some it's a difficult day, the G.C. guys, for some it's a nightmare day, Escartin, Jiminez, and for others it's a rest day. I fall in the rest day category. What a great day to only have to ride fifty kilometers and be done by two in the afternoon. This first week I have never returned to our hotel after the race earlier than seven and been able to eat earlier than nine at night. It's always rush, rush, rush in the evenings. The hotel we are staying at has a pool so after the time trial Julian, Dave and I went for a dip. It was very refreshing considering the never-ending heat we have been dealing with.

After my quick swim I went up to the room to watch the race on TV. Olano killed everyone. It was a surprise to me. I thought he would win but I thought it would be close. He won by a minute over Ullrich. I think for the 47 kilometer course he averaged 53km/hr. I know when I rode the course it was windy and undulating, not flat by any means. Jiminez who still can't time trial lost a whopping seven minutes. Escartin lost a fair amount also. A couple guys that didn't lose so much time today but didn't have a great rider yesterday were Tyler, Dylan, and especially Chann. Chann flew today and ended up fifth, he must be happy with that result. Tyler was eight and Dylan tenth and I think Ekimov eleventh. Ekimov had faster time splits than both Tyler and Dylan but must have blown on the way home. The last ten kilometers were very difficult with the wind in your face.

Yesterday I thought Blijlevens had stopped but today I saw him on the start line. So, obviously, he is still plugging away. Yesterday some of the Festina riders were riding their triple cranks to test them out for Sunday. The big climb on Sunday, Angrilu, is already closed down because of the amount of people up on the hill. They expect somewhere near 400,000 people. That's what they said, it's hard to imagine. Even with all those people up on the hill I'm still praying for rain.

Saturday, Sept. 11

Stage SEVEN

Today's profile card showed a rolling to flat day. It sounded pretty good but, as usual, the winds scared us at the beginning. The direction we started in had us in a crosswind battle right at the start. For some stupid reason Frank Hoj attacked first. Sometimes I don't know what he is thinking. If you are going to attack then take a run from the back and go 60km/hr flying past everyone. He starts at the front and gives a ninety percent effort which gets him nowhere. All this does is string everyone out and then riders launch off his wheel and make a break. That's exactly what happened today. Frank went and strung it out and five guys took off from his wheel and the break was up the road, without Frank. Once started chasing right away and the constant fight for position was already becoming tiresome. We had not even done twenty kilometers and I was thinking how this was going to become a problem. A few times Once had the peloton on the rivet.

Early in the race I got caught in the back and was hanging on in the gutter with my head down just trying to stay with the wheel in front of me. All of a sudden two Benfica riders stopped on the right side of the road to change wheels with each other. Nobody saw them till the very last moment. It was a completely stupid thing to do. I just missed them but right away I thought, "someone is going to plow into those guys". Well, a crash happened and a few guys went down. Someone's handlebars got caught in Tyler's rear wheel and destroyed it. Julich hit the ground hard and had to retire from the race. He got carted off in the ambulance. I heard he broke his helmet, got scraped up, but nothing is broken. He got a slight concussion but is fine and will be heading home. This is where he wanted to be anyway. I don't know why these Benfica riders had to stop the way they did. It was not like it was the last twenty kilometers of a race; it was the first twenty kilometers of the race. They had all day to get back to the group or just sit behind the cars and motorpace awhile.

Finally, the road turned and our crosswind turned into a tailwind. Sweet dreams! It was easy just sitting on, cruising at the back, and turning the legs. Once or twice the hammer went down but generally it was not too bad. Of course when we should have gone easy we didn't. For example, today was through the feed zone. We went through there at warp speed. To top it off some idiots even tried to take a feed bag. Do you know what happens to a feed bag when you hit it at 60km/hr? It explodes! When the bag explodes bottles fall, bags fall, and food goes everywhere. Then everyone swerves, brakes, and crashes. It always happens and today was no exception.

Near the end of the race we hit some cross winds again. This time the peloton had problems with punctures. The riders ride so far on the edge of the road they ride through all the rocks and gravel and glass. Inevitably, they flat. I would rather ride a little to the left and expend a little more energy than ride in the gutter and puncture and expend a lot more energy trying to get back to the group. In the last thirty kilometers there must have been twelve guys who punctured. One guy who didn't puncture was Marcel Wust. Festina didn't do any work today and Marcel killed everyone in the sprint again. He is head and shoulders and a wheel length in front of anyone here. Tomorrow is the stupid Angruila stage with the twenty-five percent grades. I still hope it rains.

Our hotel is an old remodled castle. It's really cool looking. We have big rooms that have attached a small living room area. Lots of space, this is always a good thing.

Sunday, Sept. 12

Stage EIGHT

Yesterday was the climb that everyone was waiting for and at the same time dreading. I'll let you know it was for good reason. The day started out with our favorite rider attacking from the gun, good 'ol Jacky Durand. It never fails. Of course this led for a bunch of other guys to attack and before we knew it there were twenty guys up the road. The chase was fast and pretty much all day. We averaged 46km/hr before the first category 1 climb that we had to conquer. The obstacles of the day consisted of one category 2 climb, two category 1's and then the Angliru climb.

The weather was hot as usual until we passed the category 2 climb at the one hundred-kilometer mark. As fast as we went up the hill the weather changed. As soon as we started to go down the fog rolled in with lots of wind and rain. From there on the finish was wet and cold. The cat 2 saw the group split up with twenty-five riders going over the top together. It was the downhill that separated the men from the boys. Actually, there was a lot of luck involved. Since it was the first time for rain to fall in awhile the roads were like glass. Everyone was crashing, the front group, the middle group and even the grupetto. Olano, the leader, and Escartin crashed going down the first category 2 climb. Olano got up, Escartin did not. He suffered a concussion, broken arm, three broken ribs and a cut to his thigh muscle. In other words, he got messed up. I made it around a couple crashes in my group so I was considering myself lucky.

At the bottom of the second category 2 climb I stopped for a wheel change. I decided instead of riding a 39x27 all day and suffering with the gaps in the gears I would use a 39x23 and change before the steep climb. Luckily, I changed my wheel before the second to last climb and not just for the Angliru climb. As it was I used my 24 for most of that category one climb. On the descent the same things happened. Guys were crashing everywhere. I was doing fine until I landed on my ass. I was going slow but I still slid out. When I landed on my hip I started sliding. I thought to myself, "I have to change positions so I don't scrape up my whole leg." I then consciously rolled on to my back to chew up some of my clothing instead of my skin. It worked. I only got a big raspberry on my hip. When I came to a stop and was picking up my bike I saw a bunch of white handlebar tape on the ground. I was thinking that I totally wrecked my bars and tape. Then I realized I have blue handlebar tape on my bike not white. Someone had crashed in the same spot earlier. As I straightened out my bike and got ready to get going again I hear the noise of metal and cement. An Once guy had just wiped out practically in the same spot. I'm sure he wasn't the last.

Finally I reached the bottom and started the last climb, the Angliru. The first four kilometers were a normal climb but after that everything changed. We went straight up. I was in my 39x27 the whole last five or six kilometers. At first I was doing ok but when the grade kicked up to 24 percent things changed. Thank god for the fans and the pushes I was begging for. Everyone except the leaders got pushes to make it up the climb. I honestly believe that without being pushed I would have walked, there is no question in my mind. For the guys that had the triple, 30x25, it would have been easier. Lombardy (Telekom) had a 39x32. Everyone had all sorts of weird set-ups for the race. Once all had bikes with small wheels to help their climbing. At the end it was Jiminez (Banesto) who won.

After the race it took forever to get down the mountain. All teams and riders had to stay at the top of the mountain in tents until the very last rider finished. Only then could the caravan leave. Once it was time to leave it took two hours to get down the mountain and to our hotel. It was a very long day and night.

Rabobank had five guys on their team go down. We had four guys go down, Tyler, Frank, Julian, and I. Julian had made it all the way down both descents and on the very last corner he ate it. Tyler now looks like a beat up old Pinto sitting in a high school parking lot. He has bandages everywhere. His worst injuries are to his ribs.

Monday, Sept. 13

Stage NINE

We woke up to rain and it never stopped. We had a plane transfer after the race and even walking to the plane it was raining. Today may have looked easy on paper but it turned out to be one of the hardest days of the Vuelta. I'm wasted right now.

The day started off with attacks at the gun. The first fifty kilometers were on winding roads and very up and down. Because the roads were wet and because every one had crashed yesterday it was a nervous start. Not starting at the front was my first mistake. As the group got more and more strung out sprinting out of the corners it eventually split. I was in the back and by this time suffering trying to stay on the wheels. After a few kilometers chasing with a few other guys up the category 3 mountain, Casero came by us. What the hell he was doing back there is beyond me but he saved our ass. As he went by I realized this was a "now or never" situation. I sprinted and got on his wheel and somehow managed to grit my way back to the group. We had done twenty kilometers and I was already spent. My legs were like knots because of the rain and cold. It was pouring.

Later on we came to what I would call river crossings. The road was flooded and we had to race through it. The water easily came up to our bottom brackets. I'm not talking about once or twice where we had these crossings; it was semi-regularly till the one hundred-kilometer mark. No worries, at this time Cofidis decided to put the hammer down and try to catch the break that got away at the start. There were eight guys up the road and Cofidis decided to set the race up for Frank Vandenbroucke. There was a category 2 climb ten kilometers from the finish that was perfect for Frank. At this time the group was in one line and when we went through the feed zone at warp speed the group split. Yeah, I know, another feed zone attack. This time the group split with fifty riders in the front. There was only one Banesto, no Casero. Telekom joined in with Once to try and finish off the guys in the back. Again, even riding in the front I was struggling to stay with the train on the small climbs. All day was up and down and by this time it was wearing on everyone. Banesto with some help finally managed to catch back up and maybe it slowed a little.

The fighting for position for the bottom of the second category climb now took over. I was with the group but by this time I had had enough and sat up. I was thinking of that moment the whole day. Finally, I could cruise to the finish. The climb was again a steep one. I had 39x21 and it was too small. Also, at this time the storm was getting worse. The winds were raging the whole way up and down the hill. At the top I was on my hoods and had to get on my drops to prevent me from getting blown over. I was also trying to avoid all the leaves and branches that were flying everywhere. At the end the break stayed away, first time this Vuelta. Laurent Brochard (Festina) won. He must have taken some risks because the last five kilometers was a descent to the finish. In the rain it was very tricky.

Tyler did not start this morning. His ribs were giving him too much of a problem. If you cant breath you can't ride. Marcel Wust has a journal. In his journal he nominates a "pestoso" of the day. This means "jerk" of the day. He always picks someone else. We nominate Marcel today for pestoso of the day. He attacked the grupetto and then when he caught the other grupetto he attacked them. This was all in the last ten kilometers going for 160th place.

Tomorrow is a rest day. We just flew in tonight and everyone is tired.


Laurent Brochard

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