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By Michael Barry, Discovery Channel professional cycling team
Today’s stage to Cordoba was the one I feared the most when I looked at the course profiles a week ago, after I found out I was going to be starting the race. I feared it not because of its difficulty, but because the last time we did this stage, in 2003, I suffered unbelievably from start to finish.
Back then we were racing for Roberto Heras, and we had to keep him in the front of the peloton and out of the wind while also ensuring we had representation in the breakaways. The attacks began from the start and never relented until the line was crossed in Cordoba. Today, thankfully, the race was a little different.
The team fared well in Saturday’s time trial, with four of us in the top 30, less than 30 seconds from the race leader. Tom Danielson did a great ride and showed that he has the legs to do well in the coming weeks. The challenge lay in gauging the effort on the 2km climb. The initial section was steep, and a lot of riders made the mistake of giving too much gas and subsequently faded significantly – some almost coming to a complete stop – on the second half of the climb. The Liberty Seguros riders, except for Roberto, all made this mistake. They went out flying, with director Manolo Saiz screaming at them to go faster, and then blew about halfway up.
Today, we left Granada calmly, everybody in the bunch chatting and nobody too eager to get the racing under way. It wasn’t until the first sprint about 20 km into the race that the attacks began, and then they quickly ceased once two riders jumped away and had a gap. The roads in southern Spain are wide, rolling, and fast. We are basically racing on highways for most of the day, which doesn’t make for great TV but generally makes for pretty cruisy racing – when we aren’t going flat out and the peloton is a mile long.
The south of Spain is the olive capital of the world, and on our 200km trek from Granada to Cordoba we saw nothing but beige, sandy hills covered in ancient olive trees. Triki told me last night that many of the trees are a thousand years old. Pretty amazing, considering there are millions of trees as far as the eye can see. Our post-race sandwiches are incredible with sweet, fruity olive oil drizzled on baguettes with a slice of the famous pata negra Iberic ham, tomato, and buffalo mozzarella. Our soigneurs make sandwiches every morning before we leave the hotel, and the eats are waiting in a cooler for us when we get to the next hotel. I think I pay about $8 or so for a similar sandwich in the U.S.
The race remained pretty steady with Quick Step keeping things in control for most of the day. The temperature outside (it was 44 degrees Celsius), heated up when we neared the final ascent of the day, a tough second-category climb outside of Cordoba. The field immediately split on the lower slopes as attacks flew off the front of the peloton. Tom was off the front at one point, but got caught. In the end a small group stayed away while we raced in behind for eight place.
The finale was a little sketchy as we essentially descended for 10km straight to the finish. The descent was technical with many twisty turns, none of them uniform. When the temperatures are high, riders become tired and crashes seem to happen more often. As we descended Jose Azevedo, one of our hopes for the overall classification, crashed heavily on a corner when another rider slid out in front of him. There was nothing Jose could do – he crashed right into the other rider, and then riders began piling on top of him. Now his back is branded with about 10 different tire marks.
Yesterday, I crashed stupidly in downtown Granada. I wasn’t paying attention in the traffic, and plowed into the back of Stijn Devolder, who had stopped for a traffic light. Not too good, very idiotic, and I am paying for the stupidity with some sore muscles and a banged-up knee. It could have been much worse, and I thank God it wasn’t, but it was a good reminder that you always have to be attentive, especially when in the city traffic in southern Spain (drivers don’t stop for red lights, they just slow down)
I spoke with Roberto today and he is counting the days until we get up to Girona as well. His family, which lives in the area, is waiting there. We have only just started racing but we have now been gone nearly a week. Christian Vande Velde and I also have the countdown going to a dinner I owe him in Girona, which will be all the more fine in three weeks.
The next few days of racing should be nervous ones as there is a lot of wind on the wide-open roads in the center of Spain.
And finally, cheers to George on his fine win in Plouay!