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Saturday, Sept. 18

stage THIRTEEN

The topic of today was how damn hard yesterday was. We all agreed it was pretty extreme. In the results it was shown that the 26th rider to finish yesterday was twenty-nine minutes down. If the organizers had kept to the rules they would have had a thirty-man peloton for the last week. As it was we still had a big group and thank God we had a headwind to start the stage off. It was easy sitting on the wheels but very hard to go anywhere. That didn't stop anybody from trying. We had a ten-kilometer neutral zone so that gave everyone plenty of time to loosen their stiff legs. As usual, at kilometer zero was the first attack. An Once guy gets the honors this time. I didn't mind, it was quicker that the stage would be over with. Yesterday I found out that a Fuenlabrada rider was the first to attack on the first mountain. He attacked, got caught one hundred meters later, and then was shot out the back and quit. Next time I see him I'll have to thank him.

Our obstacles for today were a category 2 climb in the middle of the race and then a category 3 just before the final finishing climb. On the category 2 climb it became very obvious who had tired legs and who didn't. The climb started off steeply and I thought I was feeling pretty well. By the time I reached the top of the steep part I could see that the climb continued for another five kilometers. I didn't feel so good that last five kilometers. It seems I have one pace I can go, medium. I can't go hard because the legs are too fatigued. Over the top I was with a group of thirty and we had to do a hard fifteen-kilometer chase to get back to the main group. The commissaires were not making it any easier. Every time we got close he would pull over all the team cars to make us finish off the chase. We couldn't sneak a draft in anywhere. I guess over the top of the cat. 2 climb Zulle got away with a couple other guys. When we finally rejoined Telekom was setting tempo along with Vitalicio Seguros. When we finally reached the cat 3 near the end I sat up and took it easy to the finish. Well, not exactly easy. The final climb was fifteen kilometers long. No matter how slow I went it was still hard. Zulle managed to stay away and win the stage. He only had to drop one other guy who managed to stick on his wheel till the last kilometer. Olano lost another seven minutes, his overall goal for the Vuelta is over. I have been noticing that Banesto has had a lot of guys in the top placings on the mountain stages. They must have a pretty good stack in the top positions on the G.C. They could become dangerous in the latter stages when they try to launch riders up the road.

The stage was only 150km's but that was probably because we then had to drive 200km's to our hotel. We didn't get in till eight at night. Tomorrow is a circuit race; we have to go eight times up a category 2 climb around Barcelona. It will be another tough day.

Marcel told me tonight that he will probably quit tomorrow. His usual chipper self is not so chipper anymore.

Sunday, Sept. 19

stage FOURTEEN

This morning as I watched TV and saw rain fall on the granprix motorcycle race in Valencia I realized we might have the same situation. A pack of racers on two wheels trying to go as fast as they can around a circuit with lots of corners. The motorcycles might have a few more horsepower but we have more idiots in the bunch.

For starters, the Vuelta tried to do this Barcelona circuit a few years back in 1995 without success. Then there was a boycott from the racers because the circuit was too dangerous. I was there and it was dangerous the way they had the corners arranged after the descents. This year they decided to try the same circuit but now it was raining, and hard. You can imagine the distress of the riders at the start. Actually, before we even lined up the organizers decided to take out the dangerous descent because they realized it wasn't very safe. When we scurried up to the line the riders started talking about not having the circuit race count toward G.C. When racing around a downtown circuit the roads become increasingly dangerous. All the oil, dirt, and slime accumulate on the road making the surface like ice. The riders wanted to do the bike race but not have the time count towards G.C. The organizers wanted the time to count towards G.C. but didn't care how we rode. For awhile we thought the arguing was because the Spanish rider wanted to stick the hill back in the circuit, but that was not the case. In the end the organizers won out and we rode the race counting towards G.C. The riders agreed to neutralize the race and just have a sprint finish at the end. You know how those plans never work.

We rode for four laps easy and we decided it was ridiculous to ride the whole distance neutralized. It was still raining out. At the end of the fourth lap we went to stop on the finish line to quit but the organizer told us we had three laps left. He begged us to keep going. They cut three laps out. We continued but this set the spark in Lelli (Cofidis) and he attacked throwing out everything that was talked about before. Rosciolli went after him and the two all of a sudden were in a break. Nobody was very happy and the race started going fast. It was pretty scary at first but after a little while I got used to taking the slick corners. As it was there were groups everywhere, if we had really raced I can't imagine the carnage. At the end Rosciolli beat Lelli in their two-man sprint. For once I was glad Rosciolli won and not Lelli. If you make a deal between everyone you should stick to it.

After the finish I was covered in dirt and oil. It's amazing how dirty I got riding in the pouring rain. I would think I would be all washed off not covered in grit and sand.

For our team the neutralized race was a blessing. We needed the extra rest day badly and not racing today may make the difference in finishing the Vuelta or not. After the stage we set off for another 150km drive to our hotel. Tomorrow morning we drive again for 50km to the start. I'd rather drive than add an extra day of racing.

Talking with Ekimov, who is on our team next year, he was telling me about some races in Italy. A couple days ago two Italians were high in their hematocrit levels at a race in Lazio, Italy. One of the Italians was on Amica Chips. The rider was an amateur and turned pro for the Lazio race for Amica Chips. After one day professional he has been suspended and fired - not a very good start.

In Rheinland-Falz, I don't know how true this is, two Rabobank riders (Wauters, Dekker) got in a break and built up a five-minute lead. During the race the two leaders pulled over, ordered a cup of coffee, drank it, and then jumped back on their bikes. They finished three minutes ahead of the pack. What was the peloton doing having cake?

Mapei next year is looking to have 35 riders, I've also heard 45, on their team. They are going to have an A squad and B squad. The A squad will consist of their heavy hitters and be their top team. The B squad will have its own director, own truck, and staff. It will consist of all young riders including, I think, nine neo-pros.

Blijlevens has left TVM and signed with Polti. Blijlevens had a contract with TVM so he has to pay a butt load of money to TVM to get out of his contract. Since TVM's sprinter is leaving TVM has hired Glenn Magnusson for two years and also Robbie McEwen

We have one week to go. There are two serious mountain days on Thursday and Friday. The days before that are all long and very undulating. That's a nice way of saying hilly. They have lots of category 2 and 3 climbs. Sometimes those days are tougher than the real mountain days. On the big mountain days a group will form rather easily and quickly to ride to the finish. On the rolling days the group never sits up and no one ever gets dropped unless it's not their choice.


Monday, Sept. 20

stage FIFTEEN

Well, would you believe it? I got second today, don't ask me how with the way I've been feeling before this. Actually, I didn't feel any different I just was in the right place at the right time. This morning we had a 120km drive to the start. We arrived a little late, only fifteen minutes to the start. After signing in it was pretty much straight to the start line. I didn't have any time to use the free phones that Telefonica provides for the riders. The start was pretty nervous because everyone wanted to be in the front because of the strong winds that were blowing. The direction we were heading, south towards Valencia, would have cross winds the whole day from our right. The first ten kilometers we headed toward the coast before we turned left to head south. This meant we had a major tail wind to start things off. I swear for the first five kilometers I never pedaled. The guys on the front were easily spinning and everyone in the back was just getting pushed along from the strong tail wind. We were going 50km/hr without even pedaling. We all knew that this would soon end.

After we turned left the pack remained together till the first Meta Volante sprint at the thirty-kilometer mark. Lampre lead out the sprint for Hunter, who is leading, and after the sprint the attacks started. It's pretty predictable. Anyway, I was up there for the sprint because I knew the attacks would come and I just followed. I got in a break and was suffering right away. It took twenty kilometers for us to build up a gap of two minutes. At first Banesto started chasing because we had a Kelme guy with us. The Spanish teams always worry about team G.C. It used to be a battle just between Banesto and Vitalicio but now Kelme is in the mix.

After Banesto gave up then TVM tried for about five kilometers but the time just stayed the same so they stopped. In the break with me was Piccoli (Lampre), Herve (Festina), a Kelme, a Liquigas, Ekimov (Amica Chips), a Saeco, a Euskaltel, and Bettini (Mapei). Everyone worked well together and we gradually built up to a maximum lead of eighteen minutes. The one obstacle of the day, besides the crosswinds, was a category 3 hill forty kilometers from the finish. When we approached this climb Bettini attacked a couple times as well as the Kelme rider. We all stayed together until we went under the five-kilometer banner. Here the attacks started. We did the usual cat and mouse games, everyone trying to take a flyer while some chase, some sit on, some pull, whatever. At the one-kilometer banner the Euskaltel guy took off. He was going away. The final kilometer had a major head wind so it was not a very fast finish. At this point I thought whoever goes after this guy is dead meat. I waited and then the Kelme guy started going. I should have counted on that because of the Spanish rivalry. The Kelme was pulling and swinging back and forth across the road with everyone on his wheel. At about four hundred meters Ekimov took off on the far right side of the road, at this point we were riding on the left side. I hesitated to see if anyone would react to get on his wheel, it was a long way to the line. When no one did anything I went. I started sprinting after Ekimov, who now had two bike lengths, but I was worried that when I went everyone would follow on my wheel. I didn't want to sprint till one hundred meters and then have everyone pass me. I was trying to look under my shoulder to see if anyone was there or if I had a gap, this was while I was trying to catch Ekimov. Because it was a strong head wind and he went so early I thought he might die a bit and I would be able to get in his draft. I should have realized I was chasing EKIMOV not some jaboff. He passed the Euskaltel rider with fifty meters to go and I came up to a bike length from him. Ekimov - 1st, Frankie- 2nd

In the pack Telekom rode tempo the whole day. On the category three climb Banesto tried to crack the group, actually they did. At the bottom of the climb six Banesto riders came flying by the pack and started sprinting up the climb. Everyone went into panic mode. After the climb there was a tricky descent and then a raging tail wind for ten kilometers. Banesto flew on the descent, a couple riders ended up crashing trying to keep up, and kept it strung out till the finish. The group split with about fifty guys in the front and everyone else was dropped. I don't know if any G.C. rider got flicked and didn't make the split.

Tuesday, Sept. 21

stage SIXTEEN

Not much to write about today. I didn't see half the race so I really don't know what happened. We had a 100km drive this morning to the start. It took forever getting there on the small roads. Today I did have enough time to sneak in a free phone call to my wife in Nice.

Again, it was very windy today. We changed directions a few times during the race but the start was a cross head wind. As we approached kilometer zero the peloton was yelling for everyone to take it easy and chill out for a little while. NO GO, a Fuenlabrada guy attacked. Actually, he didn't even attack he just rode in front of us at a little quicker pace till someone had to go after him. All he wanted to do was start the shit but he didn't even want to put in an effort to start the attacks. For one hour everyone was attacking and everyone was chasing. Then on a very hard head wind stretch a group of twelve went away. For a long time you could see them just in front of us and guys would try to get across. It was just too windy to make it. When the group got a little farther away, maybe a minute, Vandenbroucke took off to go across. I thought he was crazy and there was no chance in hell he was going to make it. The break away was a long way off. Vandenbroucke made it; it must have been an incredible effort. When he went he had one guy on his wheel but he shot him out the back after a quick two kilometers.

The break started gaining time and Telekom was riding slow behind. It was quite easy. Once the break hit eight minutes Amica Chips started pulling. They pulled for about forty kilometers and then Polti started pulling and Amica Chips stopped. Telekom was hiring out help throughout the stage hoping to save their riders for the next three hard days. Near the end of the race we had a category 2 climb and then a category 3 climb. On the profile after the category 3 climb it was all downhill to the finish. On the category 2 climb Euskadi started riding tempo. The break was eleven minutes up the road so Telekom must have hired some more help. This is where I sat up, ok got dropped, from the group and rode to the finish with thirty guys. I don't know what happened in the front but I'll tell you that the profile was completely messed up. There was a small downhill after the category 3 climb and lots of ups and downs. It was not as easy a finish as I had anticipated. At the finish Vandenbroucke put the smack down on everyone and won the race. He is going very well and is totally focused on doing a good Worlds. Rebellin (Polti) is another rider who has stayed hidden but is always in the front. He is just cruising using the Vuelta as preparation for Worlds. On the other hand is Casagrande who is racing all out in the one-day races in Italy. It will be interesting to see who will be fresh and who will be the strongest.

Tomorrow is very up and down with three category 3's and a category 2 climb. This profile does no effort in hiding the hills. It looks like a saw blade it's so jagged. After tomorrow are the last two mountain days. Ullrich and his team will have his hands full those days.

Today, I was approached by a couple of Americans wanting to have an interview with me. I said sure no problem, who do you write for. They are starting up a web page with cycling information. I asked them if they had a web page set up, their answer, "no". What are you going to call the web page? "I don't know, we don't have a name yet." What kind of information are you thinking of putting on your page? "Were not sure yet." Sounds weird, no? I'll talk with them tomorrow; there's nothing better to do in the hotel room.

Wednesday, Sept. 22

stage SEVENTEEN

Another day saved in my misery bank. Today was 225km long and the first seventy kilometers were on small, shitty, bumpy roads. The start was in a town where no one lived; at least I didn't see any houses or anything. All I saw was a bunch of old people hanging around a start area that was set up in the middle of nowhere. They must have bussed all the retirees in for their daily field trip. I'll give you one guess as to what happened at kilometer zero. You got it, Roscioli attacked. I am getting very sick and tired of this guy. Again it was very windy and because we were on small roads it made it that more dangerous.

The first three climbs were not categorized, but I'll tell you they were hard. They were hard enough to drop me and a bunch of other guys. On the second climb I got dropped with about twenty guys. We were chasing back to the front group going hard when in front of me I see Frank Vandenbroucke pulling over to take a piss. It was very demoralizing. That was one sign that Frank is feeling good. Roscioli was in my group chasing back to the lead group, we caught the leaders right at the start of the first categorized 3 climb. Roscioli went straight to the front and attacked. I couldn't believe it. Luckily, he broke a spoke and had to go back to the car to get a wheel change.

The pack continued to ride tempo. Don't think we were just cruising along the whole first half of the race. There were plenty of attacks until kilometer 50 where twenty guys got away. The next obstacle was getting over the category 2 climb at kilometer 68. After this climb, on the profile card, it was supposed to be easy cruising till home. The category 2 climb should have been a category 1. I was in my 39x21 the whole six kilometers and a lot of that I was out of the saddle. The peloton blew apart here because Vandenbroucke pulled the whole way up the climb bringing back most of the original break. This was the second sign that Frank was feeling good.

I made it over the top with the second group, surprise, surprise. Julian was in the original break and he drifted back until my group caught him. Frank Hoj was in the back in major trouble. I could hear Johan on the race radio telling Frank "only 500 more meters", "just try to stay with that group", " you are almost at the top." I'll let you know that while I was hearing Johan tell Frank that stuff that Frank was nowhere near the top. There were three or four very steep sections; the climb seemed to never end. I was not very worried at this point. I was in a group of sixty and there was a group of fifty chasing us down from behind. I figured when these two groups combined we could do what we want, either go hard to catch the leaders or cruise in. No way they can eliminate one hundred guys. The decision was made for me; we went hard to catch the leaders. When we caught the front group there were eleven riders who made it over the second climb and stayed in front, they were now at three minutes. No one was dangerous so Telekom and Amica Chips set a medium tempo the rest of the day home.

On one climb, near the top, the camera motorcycle was filming the race as usual. Along the course there are marshals, or volunteers, that wear reflective vests to stop cars at small intersections. At the top of this one climb when the marshal saw the camera bike pass she jumped into the road and started waving at it to get on television. She was facing the camera jumping up and down and her back was to the charging peloton. The first rider to hit her was the largest guy on Telekom, Grabsch. He must weigh ninety kilograms; he looks like a rugby player more than a cyclist. He crashed and then three Amica Chips hit the deck by trying to avoid him and her. It was a mess.

The rest of the way was pretty uneventful. Oh yeah, the third sign that Vandenbroucke was feeling good was when he was using his cell phone to make a call in the back of the peloton during the race. On the last category 3 climb the egos of some riders started to inflate. The break was twelve minutes up and we were just cruising in to the finish. On this last climb, fifteen kilometers from the finish, we started going harder and harder and harder. The front row was having an ego contest. Finally, some Riso Scotti guy went sprinting to the front along with Traversoni (Saeco) to start yelling at them to chill out. Thank God, I didn't feel like riding the last ten kilometers by myself. The break stayed away, some Liquigas rider won and a Banesto rider was second.

Two Vitalicios Seguros riders quit today, Peņa and Casero. They both have tendonitis. This will make it more difficult for their team to put the attacks in tomorrow. The team that is going to give full stick and attack till they kill everyone will be Banesto. They have three guys in the top ten on G.C. They have Piepoli, Beltran, and Jimenez. Then they have the rest of the guys who are still going very strong on their team. Telekom has been trying to use a lot of help from other teams, including today Cofidis, to try and save their team for tomorrow and the next day. Marcel Wust also quit, he got dropped very early on one of the non-categorized climbs.

This morning we had an early wake up. The UCI "vampires" came knocking on all our doors. I'm not sure why considering we are last car, last on team G.C., no one in the top ninety, and obviously just trying to survive. They also tested TVM, who was at our hotel, this was their third time to be tested at the Vuelta. Festina and Telekom also were tested. Everyone was said to be "healthy" and allowed to start. There is no way that the way I feel could be considered "healthy."

A lot of riders have found ways to ride the shoes they want to. I'm sure you notice no matter what the weather some guys always have booties on. Jan Ullrich wears Time shoes with Adidas covers. Vandenbroucke wears Shimano shoes with DMT covers. Fuenlabrada sponsored by Shimano, has guys who wear Sidis with Shimano covers. Jaksche (Telekom) wear Sidis that are painted up like Adidas. What it boils down to is that the riders pretty much use what they want and disguise it if someone does not like it.

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