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By Christian Vande Velde, CSC Professional cycling team
Sunday May 15, 2005 -Yesterday (Saturday) was a tough day…I had a lot of flashbacks of riding with Lance and Johann.Obviously we didn’t have the jersey, yet. We weren’t even planning ontrying to get the jersey, but we had decided as a team to make a statement,so we spent most of the day up front – not chasing an unthreatening break– but riding up there to show that Ivan and the team are here to play offenseand not to be put on the defensive. Ivan and Bjarne are also being verycareful to keep him out of trouble.Thestage was crazy, with its crosswinds and wet roads, so our prioritiesfor the day were to keep Ivan upright, get him to the finish line and toshow a bit of strength. We knew that if we went to the front we would bethere on our own. It was one of those situations where it was all or nothing:You either go and do it or slip back into the field and hope someone elsedoes the work. As far as the break up there, we weren’t really too concernedabout the long-term threat posed by anyone up there. We were just spentour time at the front to make it difficult for everyone else and easier– and safer – for Ivan.The final climb if the day was amazing. If you saw it on television,you saw that it goes up through a dense forest. There was heavy canopyof trees and the roads were wet and very steep. In fact, it was sowet and steep at spots that you’d feel your tire slip out from behind youon some parts of the climb. It was not a classic steep, open dry col wherethe best climber emerges on the top. Part of the challenge was that youhad to be a good bike handler as well and it really suited the talentsof guys like Di Luca, Cunego and Simoni. It was a perfect climb for guyslike that and not really one that suited Ivan all that well. Just to seethat he was in the forefront on the climb shows that he is going to beriding well on climbs that suit his abilities.I don’t know if you saw it on TV, but he had to switch his bike threetimes in that stage. He’d had trouble with one of his levers and he endedup switching to his climbing bike. It was just a little off on fit andhe ended up getting a horrible cramp right before the top of the hill.Still, he didn’t lose much time… 25, 30 seconds or so.For me, I got to stop my big effort of the day at the bottomof the climb. After pulling all day, I was ready for a break, too… althoughas I was slowing down, I could help but hear Phil Liggett’s voice in myhead, declaring “Ooooooo, the engine is blown in that one, isn’tit, Paul?”At the finish, Ivan came in a little behind Cunego and Simoni and thoseguys and this morning the Italian press was all over him. The head linein Gazzetta today was “Bettini and Basso KO-ed!”That’s not a great thing to wake up to when you have to ride one ofthe more important individual time trials of your life, but maybe it gavehim a little motivation, too. Maybe, if he’d been just a little to confident,he wouldn’t have had theimpressive day he had today.Very impressive.Everyone was a bit nervous to see the end results. We all had a lotof confidence in Ivan, so it was nice to see the final outcome. He rodeamazingly well.In a way, it worked out well for him that he did miss that split yesterday(Saturday), because that is one less day of having to protect the jersey.We’ve been up that hill at least 20 times this year. Two or three timesa day during our training camps, so the whole team knew it like the backsof their hands. Dave knew a lot of the first part of the course, especiallythe climb and the descent. After that, he really didn’t need to know anything,because it was just a straight, flat shot to the finish. There was a crosswindout there on that part of the course, so it really couldn’t have suitedDave any better.So with the course suiting him perfectly, Bjarne wanted Dave to go outand be the rabbit for Ivan and if he could win the stage in the process,so much the better. A lot of us had confidence in Dave. But given thathe was only the 19th guy off the ramp, out of close to 190, he had a nervoustime waiting until the finish. He took his camera out and just startedtaking pictures of people at the race, trying to keep himself occupiedand off on his own rather than just sit around for three hours waitingaround.Toward the end – when some of the big guns came out – it was great tosee David’s time stand as the day’s best, with Ivan coming in just 17 secondsback to take second, with guys like Cunego losing two minutes to Ivan onGC. With Di Luca coming in as well as he did, we don’t even have the jobof protecting the jersey, which is a good turn of events for us. As a teamwe couldn’t have hoped for a better day. Maybe it was good, after all,that Ivan missed the cut on the climb on Saturday.For me, my only mission was to take it easy and finish within the timecut. I know it’s hard on the ego, but if you do enough of these grand tours,you learn to take the rest when you can. For the team there are muchbigger fish to fry than for me to try and get my rocks off going fast inthe time trial. I mean “easy” as a relative term, though. It’s never easyto ride 45km on your own, when you’re trying to make the time cut and Zabriskieis flying down the road.We’re excited. The pressure hasn’t eased at all and, in fact, it’s gottenheavier, but it’s great to see some results from the team and Ivan relaxa little bit.