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By Dede Demet Barry
Today, our little Discovery team supporter, Liam, got a chance to coo for daddy, as Michael went away in the early break and was virtual leader on the road for quite a while. Although, his luck ran out when the sprinters’ teams decided to chase and the break of 8 riders was caught at the base of the final climb with 15 km to the finish.
For Discovery, the plan was to have Benoit Joachim, Stijn Devolder and Michael cover the early breakaways and to help Max Van Heeswijk in the final sprint.
The pace was high from the start and all guys commented that it felt like the Vuelta of years past once again. The speed was certainly higher as the temperatures were not as intense today as they have been since the start last Saturday.
Michael said he could see Jakob Piil (CSC) was motivated to get in a break in the first kilometers of the race. Jakob has a good sense for making his move at the right time so Michael tried to keep an eye on him when the attacks were flying off the front of the peloton.
They both ended up in the break that stuck with several other riders that are horses on the long open roads. Jakob, a Dane, lives just outside of Girona and Michael trains with him occasionally, although they didn’t have much chance to talk about anything in the breakaway today as they had to ride full gas at 45-60kph to stay away.
Michael reported that everyone in the breakaway was cooperating and riding fast, although the chase from behind was strong once the gap reached four minutes, as Bradley McGee (Francaise des Jeux) did not want to lose his golden leader’s jersey.
The riders got a little reprieve from the heat today and even covered some more interesting terrain, at least in the final 25 kilometers, even including a cobbled stretch on the Category 3 Alto del Castillo. Most of the Vuelta has thus far taken place on wide-open roads in desert like countryside – not the most interesting terrain for the athletes or the telespectators, but it makes the racing relatively safe when compared to the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia, where the racing takes place on narrower roads.
There aren’t a lot of obstacles on the courses in the Vuelta, either, although there are these huge inflatable banners at five-kilometer intervals near the finish. With 10km to go, they have them at each kilometer. They stick out in the road and are held up with skinny rope that is tight as razor wire. This is scary, as the riders are often coming at them at about 60 kph and crashing into one of them would be more than catastrophic. It could be life-threatening.
Speaking of crashing, Jose Azevedo had more bad luck today, as he went down with Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) and Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) on the descent of the Alto del Castillo. Flecha was looking back to see if Petacchi was still in the front group and overlapped a wheel and crashed.
After the break of eight was caught on the Alto del Castillo, there were many fierce attacks and the front group was whittled down. Discovery’s hopes of helping Max win the stage were dashed, as he could not follow the accelerations on the climb. Two of Discovery’s climbers were in the front group at the finish: Triki Beltran and Tom Danielson. Jose would have been there too if he had not gone down on the descent.
The morale on the team is good and the climbers are looking forward to the first mountain stage tomorrow, which features the Category 1 finishing climb to Valdelinares. Michael said that Tom, his roommate, has been closely looking at the profile of the climb tomorrow in anticipation of the big battle.