By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
The highlight of the American racing calendar is the Wachovia week in Philadelphia.
It is a week of racing that draws the most interest from spectators and media and is also the week of racing that hosts the strongest pelotons to race on North American soil.
Of the three races Lancaster is perhaps the hardest course with its undulating and sinuous course. The peloton is full of motivated racers and the attacks are usually incessant for the entire 145 km event. Often times rain storms or thundershowers grease up the streets and add extra difficulty to the already technical course.
This year we arrived in Philly with a quality team of ambitious young guys and experienced riders who have done the Wachovia races several times. Half of us came over from Europe on Saturday and the other half arrived from their North American homes.
The race started off fast as usual and it was quite a shock to the system for those of us that had just come from Europe. Keep in mind that with the time difference, the 4:30 p.m. start was just about the time when we were usually getting tucked into bed overseas, so the first laps were a little tough.
Mike Creed covered a huge number of the attacks early on and then Antonio, Damon and Pat made their way to the front to help out. We missed a few large groups that got away and had to chase hard as a team. Dave and I were intended to be good in the final laps of the race and Max was to be saved until the end in case it came down to a sprint.
Max has been flying this year and when he arrived in Lancaster he already had seven wins on his palmares, each of them by winning a field sprint. He isn’t a rider that likes to be put into a must-win situation and he doesn’t feel comfortable having the whole team ride for him from the start. In our team meeting prior to the race, he said he wanted to wait and see how he felt, that the rest of us should take advantage of opportunities and make the race happen.
Still, in the end it was Max we were counting on as we had spent all of our energy trying to keep on top of the race and keep it under control. With 6km to, just after we had caught Bobby Julich, Max attacked the tiny peloton on a small climb. He immediately gained a good gap and went clear with only one rider in his wheel that he dropped soon after.
It was a great victory for both Max and the team as everybody put in a good effort throughout the event and Max won his first race of the year solo. It is also really good to start the week of racing off with a win. The ball is now rolling and the morale is good.
In the final kilometers Laurenzo Lapage our director was encouraging Max on the radio as he sped away from the group. It is always cool to hear the encouragement when your teammate is on the way to winning a race. As we approached the finish he was telling him, over the radio, not to forget to smile when he crossed the line.
Next up is Trenton, a sprinter’s paradise. The race has only once finished with the victory coming out of the breakaway, so tomorrow we are counting on it once again being a field sprint. And, once again it will hopefully be Max that will be leading the charge for us.
Robbie Ventura will race with us tomorrow and he is as motivated as ever for a good ride in Trenton. He took me out for a Stromboli in a little diner today. Philly style.