By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
Last Friday we finished up racing in the Tour of the Basque country. Nice terrain, green hills, and cold wet weather. The race is a five-day Hors Categorie UCI race which many teams have as an objective for the early season or use as a trampoline to gain fitness before the Ardennes classics.
The race offers up undulating and mountainous terrain, with several climbs each day – 25 over the five days – with much of the distance of the race being covered on narrow farm roads.
Our team went to Pays Basque with loose objectives. Floyd knew he would be able to race for the overall but the rest of the team was still building fitness for the coming weeks and months. So, Floyd was our leader and the rest of us were left to race for him and try and finish well on the stages.
As Euskaltel is from the Basque country they carried the race throughout the week. Their team was either on the front keeping things under control or attacking to break the race up.
The climbs were consistently lined with fans each day throughout the week. As we were racing through Easter week I imagine most were able to get time off work to come and watch the race but I was still amazed at the support there is for cycling in this region of Spain. Despite the bad weather there were more spectators than I have seen at most races in Spain, the Vuelta a España included.
The Basque region also produces and houses many of the top professionals in Spain-from Mayo to Beloki to Osa. You can tell which riders in the peloton are from the Basque country as they are usually quite white in comparison to the other Spaniards due the cloudy, cool and often rainy weather.
During the race, Floyd refined his NASCAR look to include a mustache. It is blond and a bit sketchy looking, but he sported it throughout the week and into Roubaix. At the tops of some of the climbs he had a little frost on it as well. I think we figured he might have a job on the police force when he retires from cycling as they seem to be the only crew in the World to pimp the mustache these days.
The mullet is coming back in force as well and can been seen throughout Spain and much of Europe. Many riders are growing their locks as well. Dirk Demol seems to be getting back to his ‘88 Roubaix style. Ryder and I are getting back to our Canadian roots with a few locks fluttering in the wind from beneath the helmet and Laurent Brochard’s hair is finally en vogue again after 2 decades of patience.
Europe has had an unseasonably cold spring with many races being run under cold rain or cancelled due to snow. Basque was no different and we raced in rain for three days and then faced snow. I haven’t raced in leg warmers ever and have already done so on several occasions this season. Last Friday the stage started at 10 and it was snowing over the first climb. It was a day for good morale and warm clothes.
The North Americans have been filling out the top ranks of the classifications the last months. Lance, Floyd, Levi, Bobby, Tyler and George have all been riding really well, especially in the TT’s. It could be an interesting July…
Ryder joined us last weekend for the Klasica Primavera and rode with the front group on the climbs to place a solid fifth against some of the best in the World. The rest of the team rode well considering we were all coming off a week of hard racing and were all near or in the front on the climbs.
In the coming week we are off to Belgium and Holland for the Ardennes classics. The team is climbing well and definitely came out of Basque with better fitness and more strength in the hills.