By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
The team has started the season better than it ever has with five wins to date.
Last year we didn’t have five before the Tour and only 12 in the entire year. The teams in both Ruta del Sol and Algarve were strong and successful. The nice thing is that we hadn’t really planned on being in flying form for these races; they were simply build-up for the main objectives, so it is definitely a confidence boost and a nice bonus to have the victories under the belt.
Going into Algarve we knew the last two days were to be key. The time trial was a long one, 24 km, with many false flat sections and a blowing headwind. In a longer time trial the time gaps are obviously larger and therefore the race has a great influence on the overall. The team came out of the time trial on top, in a better position then any of us had really imagined, and held the top three spots with 5 in the first 10. Overall we had four in the first ten.
Sunday’s stage looked to be the hardest in the race book with several steep ascents, winding roads, many of which were open to the wind. When we woke up in the morning it was pouring rain and the palm trees were swaying like saplings in the wind.
Our plan was to set Floyd up for both the stage win and the overall victory. With a strong team and so many riders in the top spots on general classification, controlling the race was fairly straight forward – let a break go near the start that wasn’t too big to control (no more than 12 or so riders) and then put a few riders on the front from the team to ride a hard tempo to keep the break at a manageable distance. From the start, Benjamin Noval and George rode on the front and then with 60 km to go I gave them a hand. The final climb to the finish was with 3 km to go and it went straight up.
At times the wind and rain were fierce and the rolling hills almost relentless. It is nice being on the front of the race in these conditions as there is much less spray off the others wheels, you can judge the corners much better and don’t need to deal with other riders and it is much easier at the front of a group on a hilly winding road than at the back of the elastic like peloton.
Our team is full of tough guys who excel in bad conditions. From the classics to the alpine stages in the Tours we are not ones to back down to adversity or foul weather. So, yesterday’s weather was not a disadvantage but actually quite a benefit. You could tell, too, since not one rider on the team was complaining.
We caught the break at the bottom of the climb and the rest of the guys took over to set Floyd up for the victory. With 2 km to go he attacked then decided it was too far to the finish, (remember it is a steep climb in high winds) waited for a few riders and then went again about 1 km from the line. He won the stage alone and took the overall victory. Vic was second overall and Lance fifth and the team won the overall as well.
After the race there are sandwiches and drinks for us in the bus as well as a shower to get some of the mud off our bodies before the bus and cars raced to the airport so we can get on our flights home. I am always amazed at how fast everybody can get washed up, dressed, and get all of the stuff organized and sent off in the right direction. There are cars going to Belgium, others to the airport and others to southern Spain. The pieces always fit together and we are almost always at the right spot with the right bike and right suitcase. Incredible when you consider all the factors going into the process.
Next week the half of the team will be heading towards the classics in the north of Europe and the other half, I am in this half, to the south of Spain for a single day race in Almeria and then a stage race in Murcia.