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By Michael Barry, Discovery Channel professional cycling team
The last few days have been tough, not because it has been fast, but rather because of the intense heat.
The peloton is sluggish and the racing not very animated as a result. Only when the finish line is near does the pace pick up, the peloton becomes nervous and the racing gets exciting. Otherwise, the major objective of nearly every team has been to keep riders hydrated and not to expend too much energy. It’s easy to dig a hole too deep to climb out of when the temperatures rise over 35 degrees Celsius (95F) in the shade, of which there is little. Today’s stage was a little frustrating as we raced for 235 kilometers but didn’t really get anywhere and we are even staying at the same hotel again tonight. The entire course was essentially on wide straight national roads. The stage actually reminded me of an epic race in Yuma, Arizona I did as a kid; it was 200 km on one sun baked road in the Arizona desert and at the 100 km mark there was a cone in the road and the entire peloton did a U turn and headed to the finish line 100 km away. Today’s stage wasn’t much different as there was just one crucial corner.
The one hairpin corner meant that the wind would be different once the bend was made. Therefore, every team director had prepared teams for crosswinds and the chance that the peloton could split. We had planned to give it everything we had and try and split the peloton before every other team got a chance to. We raced into the corner full speed and came out even faster but it was all useless. As it turned out, the wind wasn’t in favor of our plan to break the race to pieces and the group remained in one big clump for the next 40 kilometers, until we reached the finish line. I feel bad for the television audience as the races haven’t been very animated and there certainly isn’t a whole lot to see in the countryside. I guarantee the race will start getting more interesting tomorrow. We have been drinking bottle after bottle of water during the races and it seems as though one of us is constantly back at the car picking up bottles. The liquid is hot within minutes of being on our bikes and tastes like warm bath water. Not the most refreshing, but it does hydrate, so we drink it anyway. Max has tried in the field sprints the last few days but the finishes have not suited him as he likes a tough finish, slightly uphill is best. Leif and I have been trying to help him out but it is a bit futile when the two of us are up against an eight-man Fassa Bortolo train. We simply just try to put him in a good spot with 2 km to go and hope he can stay out of trouble and the wind. Tomorrow is perhaps the ideal day for Max as there is a cobbled ascent of about 1.5 km a little more than ten kilometers from the finish. This will split the field and may eliminate some of the sprinters as the cobbles are bumpy, the road small and the climb steep. The sprint to the line is then uphill which is to his advantage as well. Both Leif and Stijn are legends on the cobbled climbs in Belgium so they should feel right at home tomorrow and will be able to give a hand to Max and get him in good position. The team is in good spirits, Jose is on the road to recovery after his crash and we are all looking forward to getting towards the north and into the hills and out of the heat.