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Tuesday, Sept. 14

rest DAY

Oh, the joys of the rest day. Sitting around all day watching TV, reading, sleeping, and eating. All of this never feels so good as it does during a big tour. As you watch the clock you wish the hours would pass more slowly. After a late arrival last night everyone was content to sleep in.

After the race yesterday we had to take a bus to the airport. Since the Vuelta has no organization we ended up sitting in a traffic jam for a half-hour trying to make our way out of the finish city. Also on their poor organization was the shower situation after the race. It was a free for all for everyone. The room our team crammed into with five other teams had three small showers. After freezing in the rain all day it was a complete mess. I couldn't deal with it. I just sat there in my cycling clothes for about a half-hour waiting for everyone to finish up and get the hell out. I didn't feel like fighting or waiting in line for a shower.

After everyone was cleaned up we went to the airport. There were two flights to take the riders to Zaragoza, a forty-minute flight. Yeah, it would have been quicker to fly. After we landed we hopped on another bus to go to our hotel. As we were driving along the autoroute the bus turned into one of those gas station exits. I didn't know what he was doing but as we got closer I saw a hotel who's front door opened to the autoroute. We were with TVM and Mapei in the bus and I was thinking that I sure hope it's their hotel and not ours. When we stopped I saw our soigneurs standing there - it was our hotel. The hotel is one of those gas station, snack, and/or sleep type places. When I walked in we had to go through the café bar area to get to our rooms. The smell and stench of cigarette smoke was awful. After that first encounter I know to take a big breath outside before I run through there. It's nasty.

This morning we had to wait awhile before we went riding. One reason was because it was raining and we wanted to see if the weather got better. The main reason was we had to give the mechanics some time to work and clean the bikes. It rained so much yesterday and we went through so many of those river crossings my bike and others had a couple liters of water in the tubes. My bike was so heavy! Maybe that was why I was suffering yesterday, I doubt it. All the big frames seem to collect a lot of water; the small frames don't have this problem. After the mechanics did the drain and clean we could go riding. We first organized a time for noon but when it started raining again everyone did their own thing. A few guys went riding in the rain, I choose to ride the turbo trainer. I didn't feel like getting wet again and the turbo is a good way to get a good sweat going.

As I sit here it's still raining. Better now to get it out of its system, although I think it will be around tomorrow also. Tyler flew out this morning to Barcelona and then home to America. He will need more than a few days to patch himself up. If anything maybe the stewardesses will feel sorry for him and give him an upgrade. He can dream can't he?

Look for the sprinters to battle again tomorrow. Robbie McEwen is planning on stopping after tomorrow so this will be his last ditch effort. He has to try and beat Marcel, no easy feat right now.

Wednesday, Sept. 15

stage TEN

The word of the day, WINDY! I can't complain because at least we had a blue sky and sun, but boy was it windy. We knew from the start that today's flat day was going to be hard. The start set us off into a direct head wind. We went slowly so at least I was able to get a warm-up for once. Guys would try to attack and they would only get one hundred meters and hit the wall of wind. It wasn't possible for the attackers to go anywhere.

At the seventy-five kilometer mark we turned left and everyone knew it. Everyone knew it and was waiting for it. When the turn came crunch time came with it. The crosswind battle started and peaked going through the feed zone. Where else, right? The thing with the feed zone attacks is that it's like a funnel going through there. All the soigneurs stand in the middle of the road and that causes the peloton to merge into one lane on the left side of the road. When these feed zone attacks go it's not possible to sprint around the outside to the front, all the soigneurs and team cars are in the way. Today was no different, we went into the feed zone fighting for position and we came out single file. Right away we went up a category 3 hill and that strung the group out even more. At this time there were guys everywhere.

After the hill we turned and headed back to Zaragoza for the finish. It was tailwind time and I never took it out of my eleven. If there was a group behind the first group there was no way they were going to catch. We were going too fast. A break had got away early in the race and as we sped back to the finish we cut into the time gap dramatically. As we reached the ten kilometers to go banner the break still had two minutes and it became obvious we were not going to catch them. Serguei Outschakov (TVM) won from a small group of four that ended up finishing only twenty-seven seconds ahead of us.

During the race we passed many barren fields. In one field there was a farmer rounding up his sheep in a corner of his lot. As the group raced by the farmer's field his donkey took off running towards the road. The farmer was yelling frantically trying to get his donkey to turn around. As the donkey was running next to the road guys in the peloton were yelling, "Allez Jacky, Allez Jacky" towards the donkey. Jacky was the first rider to attack again today and I think everyone is getting tired of his antics. Eventually the donkey ran out of field and hopped onto the road just behind the peloton. He was running in front of all the team cars. The farmer was screwed because he couldn't chase his donkey or all his sheep would run away. I don't know how he got his donkey back.

Zanini (Mapei) broke his wrist today. His race is finished and so is his chance to do World's in his home country.

Tomorrow the mountains start again. Robbie McEwen (Rabobank) told me he was quitting today, actually he pulled out in the feed zone. I was talking to Marcel Wust and Robbie about attacking the grupettos and they both had the same excuse, "I was cold, I just wanted to get to the finish." We all did!

Thursday, Sept. 16

stage ELEVEN

The mountains, I don't know who looks forward to them. I don't believe even the climber's look forward to them because of their difficulty. I don't think the G.C. guys look forward to them because of the chance they might have a "bad day". Usually you can never tell how you'll feel until it's all over. Sometimes on the first climb you might be super and on the last horrible. It sometimes can be the other way around also.

The start today was not flat and of course the end was not flat. Through the neutral zone on the way to kilometer zero I spotted Roscioli on the front row. He was waiting to attack. As we neared the start everyone else spotted him also. Roscioli was on his drops in his eleven sitting right on the wheel of a camera motorcycle. This is what he does. When the race starts and the motorcycles and cars speed away he sits in their draft and launches himself thirty seconds up the road. Well, today everyone was yelling at the motorcycle to take off before kilometer zero. Roscioli was still pinned right on the wheel. When the motorcycle didn't move everyone was yelling at the commissaire to get the motorcycle out of there. I think the commissaires said something to the motorcycle driver because at the start instead of speeding away he slowed down and filmed the back of the pack. Roscioli was contained, mission accomplished. That didn't stop some Rabobank guy from taking off about three seconds later. Of course that launched all the attacks for the first hour and a half. The start was up and down one to two kilometer rollers. It wasn't easy sitting on at all. A few times I went to the front but it was even harder up there. When at the front you have to go with the accelerations and close gaps that open up. It was much easier sitting in the middle of the group. There it was a constant fast pace. I guess it depends what you want to do. I don't care how good you are or who you are you can't make the break sitting in the back. I wasn't interested in making the break today, just surviving.

Once set tempo all day. After the feed zone we hit the first category 2 hill. This was a make or break point in the race for the survivors. It was necessary to get over this hill with the group to be able to make the time cut. Normally, it would have been the category three hill that came twenty kilometers early but because of the break everything changed. The break had ten minutes, in other words that is a ten minute head start and ten minutes less that we could lose to make the time cut. Everyone made it over the category 2 hill and the group was still together. What did happen is that on the non-categorized hill the shit hit the fan. I don't know why it was not categorized. It dragged up for ten kilometers and when the big guns went to the front the peloton exploded. I was feeling ok up to this point but trying to stay in the second group was very hard. Once our group formed we cruised up the last fifteen-kilometer climb to the finish. Someone else who was probably feeling good but had his "bad day" today was Olano. On the last climb seventeen guys dropped Olano. I'm not talking Ullrich and maybe one or two other riders, seventeen guys. Olano cracked and now that the peloton has seen that there will be no holding back. Olano still has the jersey, which is good for Telekom because, as I said before, they do not have a climbing team here.

As for surviving, we all made it. Marty Jemison had to retire because of an illness. He got sick last night and I guess did not feel well today.

Tomorrow is the real survival day. We start off on a category 1 climb for twenty kilometers. Then we have two more category 1 climbs and finish up an ESP category climb. It will not be an easy day. David George and Dylan Casey are our guys on the bubble. They will have a very, very tough time tomorrow. The goal tomorrow is to block the first climb. We will put as many non-climbers, sprinters, and anyone else we have to on the front row to try and prevent attacks. If they attack up this first climb there will only be sixty guys left in the race. I believe, well I hope, the peloton realizes this. We will see.

Friday, Sept. 17

stage TWELVE

I've never finished a race angry before, yesterday was the first time. I was mad and angry with the organizers for what they did to us yesterday. I'm writing this the next morning completely exhausted and tired. I felt like a piece of lead in my bed all night. Of course, I slept like shit, too tired to sleep soundly. If this is how I feel now, you can imagine how tired I was yesterday after the race. Yesterday was a day of survival for everyone. This was the most extreme mountain stage I have ever done in my life. We had four category 1 climbs and the first climb at kilometer zero was twenty kilometers long.

On the way to the start we decided we needed a bit of a warm-up if we were to get over the first mountain without destroying our legs. Later on you'll see that little did it matter. We stopped ten kilometers from the start and rode in. While we were riding we ran into Kelme who was doing the same thing. The start area that morning was completely different than any other day. Everyone was riding around warming up. I felt like I was at home preparing for a criterium not a 150km-road race. Not one rider was sitting in the village hanging out. The race started at one and at three minutes to one the whole Banesto team came flying in on their bikes. They were warming up also but got carried away and almost missed the start. You could see and tell that everyone was nervous. I know I was, and I know our team was.

The first five kilometers started at a human pace. We had a long way to go and most of us knew that to stay in the race you had to make it over the first climb with the group. One rider who either didn't know this or didn't care attacked fifteen kilometers from the top. Right away the group was splitting up, as we came close to the top there were no more groups just everyone time trialing up the mountain. I passed Julian, Dylan, and David right away at the bottom of the climb. They also were doing a time trial to try to stay in the race. Half way up the climb I was in the cars, this is good, not bad. For me it's easier to ride in the cars than behind the group. It's the draft thing. For awhile I stuck it in my big ring and gave everything I had for five kilometers to try and regain contact with the leaders. I was just off the back with about six other guys. We were all completely pinned. Over the top we got on the cars and screamed down the hill at ninety km/hr and caught up to the leaders. Well, not exactly the leaders but the group Olano was in. There was a break of twenty-five guys going up the road. Don't ask me how they got away, I can't imagine. Going through the valley to Andorra I looked over and saw Dylan. I couldn't believe my eyes. Come to find out Julian, Dylan, and David motorpaced the whole valley to come up to our group. They were not the only ones taking advantages of pulls, slings, hanging-ons, and motorpacing. Many riders were. This was only the beginning.

On the second climb, which was the steepest of them all, the group fell apart like a broken vase on a tile floor. Riders were yelling "grupetto" but it wasn't possible to sit up yet because we still had three climbs to get over. The time cut was not very much today. On this climb near the top I found myself with a good group of maybe thirty guys. Everyone was suffering. The Lotto car was pulling every trick in the book to keep his two riders in my group. The were hand slinging hats, cokes, bottles, pretending the rider had a brake problem and pushed him along. Out of the fifteen-kilometer climb I think he actually rode only half of it. It was the same with other teams but Lotto was the worst. Over the top our group had expanded partly because we caught a group in front of us and partly because some riders got towed up to us from behind. The group must have been fifty now. As we went through Andorra towards the next climb it hit me where we were going. I knew this climb from the 97 Tour de France. It was the same final two climbs from the stage that Ullrich took the yellow jersey. I couldn't believe we still had to get over these two mountain passes. Ironically, Ullrich took the yellow jersey from Olano, who lost eight minutes, here also.

On this climb the group dwindled to thirty. Guys were getting dropped, their legs just not working anymore. Many guys quit, pulling over and getting in their team cars. David and Dylan stopped just before this climb; they were almost twenty minutes down and completely in no man's land. After this climb we went through a valley towards the final climb. In the valley, all of a sudden out of nowhere, appeared Julian Dean and Frank Hoj. I was like how the hell did you get here. Come to find out Frank, who was only a couple kilometers behind by himself, got a couple good pushes and a couple slings to bring him up to the group. Julian, on the other hand, got a ten-kilometer sling up the whole mountain to come to our group. He was the very last rider at the bottom of the second to last climb. The ambulance and follow car were telling him to quit because he was so far behind. Julian wanted no part in quitting. Our team car went back there, got him and brought him up to our group. I look at it this way, if he doesn't take the sling he is out of the race for sure. He would be way out of the time cut. If he does take the sling then maybe he gets caught. You have to take the chance to stay in the race.

The last climb, fifteen kilometers of hell. At this point my legs are cramping and I'm barely able to stay with the group. There are guys everywhere suffering like mad to try and get up this last climb. I'm just trying to get one pedal stroke out at a time. I see Jalabert, Sorenson, Wust, Julian again, Liquigas riders, all going out the back. I know that if you don't stay with the group I'm in it's over. I figured if we are out of the time cut the bigger the group you are in the better the chances you will have of being kept in the race. At the top I managed to stay in my group. When I crossed that line I couldn't pedal another stroke. Amazingly Blijlevens, who was with Wust, bridged up to our group in the last kilometer. He knew the bigger the group the better.

As I said, when I finished yesterday I was pissed. I couldn't believe the organizers would make a race so damn hard. The reason it was hard was because of the time cut that was in the rules for this stage. With the average speed that we went, 32km/hr, the time cut was 12%, that worked out to thirty minutes. What the hell were they thinking!! A 150km stage with four big mountain passes and they only give twelve percent. The day before which had a cat 3, cat 2, cat 2, and a cat 1 we cold lose one hour. A whole hour! Yesterday which was ten times harder they make the percentage practically nothing. With the real time cut enforced my group would have been out. So would have the fifty guys in the group ahead of mine. The Vuelta would have had a sixty-man peloton. After the stage they started saying that they extended the time cut to include my group. My group finished thirty-two minutes down. I thought this was fair because everyone killed themselves to make sure they stayed with a big group for exactly this reason. Then at dinner it was announced that everyone who finished stays in the race. Complete BULLSHIT! This means that all of us who busted our ass pretty much did it for nothing. Glenn killed himself to stay in the group in front of mine all day. Why? It seems for no reason now. Lombardy (Telekom) suffered to stay in the group and Blijlevens who knew he had to be with the big group at the finish killed himself for nothing. If you are going to have the rules then use them. If this meant that my group and I were sent home then that's bike racing. You don't just make things up as you go along. Oh yeah, I was no saint out there either. I did take a few slings when I needed them. I'm no fool.

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