By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
The race is off to a good start for the team with another victory for Max and USPS/Berry Floor.
Our directors have a bit of a competition running, as there are currently two Postal race programs, one for the classics and one for the smaller tours and Ardennes classics. I think Johan is now up on victories, 4 to 2 against Dirk.
The past few weeks in Europe have been frigid with snow in Majorca, Barcelona and throughout much of the rest of Europe. Races have been cancelled and training sessions have been indoors. It was a relief when we arrived in Almeria in the south of Spain on the weekend, as it was cold but at least dry.
Going into Murcia our goals were to help Max out in the sprints and hopefully win a stage, do well in the time trial, and maybe have one or two riders go well on the Saturday’s mountain stage. Winning the overall is a lofty goal at the moment as many of the Spanish teams are flying, most notably Kelme and Saunier Duval.
A few bobbles here and there
The stage yesterday started off in a tailwind and was therefore fast from the gun with attacks coming incessantly. With a tailwind every rider feels great and figures they’ll make it in a break that’ll go to the finish so generally nothing gets to far up the road as each group is brought back by another attack. After 45 minutes of attacks the pace slowed as bladders were full and everybody realized that it was futile to continue attacking.
With 70 kilometers to go, there was one rider three minutes up the road and the peloton rolling at a steady but slow speed through the arid countryside. To keep the race for the overall in their hands, and perhaps go for a stage win with Valverde, Kelme stepped on the front of the bunch and ramped up the speed.
During the stage I had a few close calls with the pavement. Coming off a climb my front wheel hit a big stone that was in the middle of a smooth road, my hands came off the bars, my front tire went flat and I quickly became slightly uncomfortable with the situation. Negotiating a bike downhill, through a peloton, with a front flat at over 65 kph is not good. Needless to say, it was a little touch-and-go until I got to the side of the road and to a stop.
In the feed zone a couple of kilometers later I grabbed two bags as Jurgen Van den Broeck had missed his feed. As I passed the bag to him we both realized that the two bags were knotted together and he was holding one bag and I was holding the other. So, tied together by the bags we negotiated a downhill then roundabout before I handed both bags off to him and escaped the scene.
In the final we went to the front with Kelme and split the field. Max did an awesome sprint to beat both Gutierrez and Zabel by a gnat’s whisker which not only gave him the stage victory but also the yellow leader’s jersey and sprint jersey.
The field in Murcia has many time trial specialists-a few world champions, national champions and grand tour TT winners.
The course was a 20 km loop on flat roads open to the wind with few technical difficulties.
Lance brought the bus music today, some good stuff that had everything from Led Zeppelin to Limp Biscuit. We were in need of some good music as all that we had on the bus was Elvis, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash-all good but not the music to have in your head before a race.
We also have a coffee machine in the bus that puts out several hundred(?) coffees before a race. A Spanish specialty is the Bombon: a shot of espresso combined with about a tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk. Not bad.
I figured I would give the time trial a good effort today as I had good sensations in Algarve last week. So, as a result, I had a car behind and a radio in my pocket so that our trainer could communicate and motivate me. He is Spanish, his name is Pepe and he has a good dry sense of humor. As I passed riders in front of me in the TT he would tell me, “ “Okay Michael, we pass the other riders with authority.” Yeah!
The other day when I was on the phone to my mom she asked me why I was good in the TT’s as a kid but had struggled a little more as an amateur and pro. I thought about this before the TT in Algarve and couldn’t come up with an answer other than that I was going as hard as I had as a kid.
Zabriskie, my teammate who is a bit of a specialist against the clock told me you have to hit the bottom as quick as possible and just keep scraping it until the line. I am trying to keep this in my mind now, along with my mom’s thoughts, as I roll down the start ramp.
Well, at the end of the day the TT wasn’t bad. Lance was beaten by a few “specialists” and took fifth. I finished 12th. Jurgen, my roommate and junior world champ finished in the first 20 with a good time.
Next up, after a massage, dinner and night’s sleep is a rolling stage. It might just be another good day for Max…