By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
The first race of the year always feels a little odd.
The change from a training bike and long ride in a group or alone to a race bike and an attacking peloton is quite extreme and the body senses it almost immediately. But by the second day, my mind was back into it, the legs had come around and it seems like just a week ago I was in the Vuelta a España.
The Volta Algarve is a nice race to start the season, as the weather is fairly mild in the south of Portugal, the racing is quite tame, and the countryside is nice for racing with undulating terrain. The vegetation and environment seem very similar to that in southern California. The only downside to the race was that the staff had to drive 2300km to get here.
The race is comprised of five stages: the last three of which were fairly flat and have finished in field sprints, a 28 km time trial which is tomorrow and then a hill top finish the final day.
As we knew before the start, the time trial would be the major deciding factor for the general classification. Therefore, we have ridden conservatively in the first three days with the goal to get across the finish line out of harms way and not lose any time. Floyd and Vic are both riding quite well at the moment and will most likely do great rides against the clock tomorrow so we have been protecting them as much as possible through the last days.
However, Floyd has had a little bad luck the last two days and has crashed spectacularly in the last couple hundred meters, thankfully not injuring himself too badly in either crash and not losing any time.
Today he led out the sprint with me and only a couple of riders behind and then as he pulled off and the sprint passed him, he was hit by a rider and came sliding toward the line seated on the ground. A few more feet and he would have crossed the line.
Today we rode under the rain for a good portion of the stage. The roads were slick to the point we could feel the rear tires spin as we accelerated out of the corners or up the hills. The last three kilometers were extremely sketchy with several round-abouts and corners. In the last kilometers George, Benjamin Noval and Floyd crashed-luckily all were ok with little scrapes or bruises. The good thing about crashing in the rain is that the slide is a lot less abrasive and also less punishing to the body.
It is always a bonus to stay at one hotel throughout a stage race-no packing and unpacking or getting settled in a new environment each night. Here we are at a great hotel close to the beach and also very close to the football/soccer stadium where many of the Euro 2004 games will be played later this year. The night we arrived the stadium was being prepared for its opening night- a “friendly” match between England and Portugal. Our hotel hosted the English team’s press conference and it was a bit of a zoo. Needless to say the bar was packed and the bartender was very busy pulling pints. Reportedly they had 150 police officers at their hotel to protect Beckham and the team.
Racing with Lance is always good. He directs the team well and commands so much respect in the bunch. He is a good leader, not only of our team but also the peloton. He is not only an awesome champion but is also just one of the guys when we’re all together and on the bus on the way to the race or heading back to the hotel.
The team looks fit and seems to be a solid unit. We have two wins this year, both thanks to Max, and we’ll be aiming for another couple of results in the next days.