By Michael Barry, Discovery Channel professional cycling team
Two weeks ago my fall schedule was changed. Originally scheduled to race the fall season classics, I am now sitting, sweating, in a hotel room in Granada waiting for the start of the Vuelta a España. I am motivated to be here, we’re all in good shape and we have a team that can challenge for the overall classification and for stage wins.
One thing that is different for us this year at the Vuelta is that we do not have a clear leader. In past years we have gone to the race with Roberto Heras and Floyd Landis. This year there is no clear leader on our team but we have three riders who could challenge for the overall: Triki Beltran, Tom Danielson, and Jose Azevedo. The three can soar in the mountains and there are no shortage of climbs in this year’s course with nine mountain top finishes in total.
The past month and a half, I have been training daily with Tom Danielson. Neither of us have done a lot of racing but we have improved our fitness by pushing each other in the climbs and motivating each other to ride a little longer and a little faster. It is always hard going into a race without having raced but our power meters have given us the confidence to know that our fitness is where it needs to be.
Three weeks ago my life changed when our baby boy, Liam was born. When I left for Granada on Wednesday, it was by far the hardest good bye I have experienced. In a week, we will be racing towards Girona, so I have something incredible to look forward to as the race progresses.
The course this year is perhaps the most interesting in recent years. The first week the racing will be fast, as we will be flying along the rolling wide-open roads of southern Spain. The heat down here is intense, the air dry, and wind strong and persistent. There will be splits in the peloton as the sprinters’ teams keep the tempo high for bunch finishes while other teams will be racing on the front to split the peloton and put time into the climbing aces before we reach the mountains.
Our team here is well rounded with climbers, a sprinter and rouleurs, which will hopefully have strength throughout the entire three weeks of racing. Max Van Heeswijk is sprinting with the best in the world again, Stijn Devolder, Benoit Joachim and Leif Hoste are versatile riders that can destroy the peloton in the wind or control the group on the medium mountain days, Benjamin Noval can do everything and the team is lead by three of the best climbers in the world, Jose, Triki, and Tom.
The climbers will need to be patient, as the real mountains do not start until we reach Catalonia and Andorra nearly half way through the race. Then, they come one after the next as we cross the Pyrenees, the west of Spain and head towards Madrid.
I am rooming with Triki at the moment. A native of Andalusia, he is treated like a King here in Granada. On our training ride today, truck drivers blasted their horns and yelled his name with enthusiasm. The countryside is covered in olive trees and Triki is in his element as loves to talk about the tree, the fruit, the oil, the dirt, and everything else that could possibly be related to an olive.
Several weeks ago, after he had just finished recovering from a crash that put him out of the Tour de France, he was involved in another accident with a motorcyclist. The motorcycle slid as it sped through a corner and took out several of the cyclists in the group with which he was training. He was at the back and was the first to be hit by the motorbike. The skin on his calf is burned from the exhaust and his back and butt from the road. He seems to have recovered and is certainly motivated to race around his homeland.
The 2005 Vuelta is also different as the course is much longer than it has been in past years. There are many 200 km stages and the overall distance is just over 3300 km. The race will also start with an individual prologue whereas in the last couple of years it has started with a team time trial.
There are no clear favorites for the overall victory as Roberto Heras, last year’s winner, has not shown he has great fitness yet this season. He now sits among a handful of riders that can challenge for the Gold jersey. Each season, riders surprise the cycling world and perform beyond expectations. This year could perhaps be one of the most exciting races in recent years and there are sure to be some unexpected sensations.
MichaelBarry, is a member of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team, husband ofDede Barry and father to young Liam Barry. Michael Barry is also the authorof VeloPress’s “Insidethe Postal Bus”