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By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
Two weeks ago, when we arrived at the start of the Vuelta, we sat down as a team, had a meeting and talked about our goals for the race. The team time trial was our first goal — from there, we would aim for stage victories, first in the field sprints with Max and second as individuals trying to win out of breakaways. Max pointed to the third and 11th stages as ones he was looking to win. The third stage ended up being too hard an uphill sprint for him, and he didn’t make it to the 11th — but Dave did, and he took the stage in his grasp and rode away with the victory.
Dave has had a lot of troubles in the last couple of years, having crashed several times, horribly injuring himself and scarring his body. After his last crash in Redlands many of us wondered if he would be able to get back on his bike and race again. One crash you can overcome, but two or three horrendous ones tend to scar your mind as well as your body. So when Dave won the stage yesterday we were all psyched for him because he has battled extremely hard, both mentally and physically, to get back to the level he is at now.
His attack was a subtle one — he simply rolled off the front of the field a few kilometers faster than the rest of us and never looked back. Then he gained minutes by the kilometer when Valverde broke his chain in mid-acceleration and crashed heavily. The field came to a near halt as we waited until Valverde was comfortably back in the field.
When Dave attacked and went away solo, it wasn’t planned, and it certainly wasn’t textbook. Many of the teams in the peloton were confused by the tactic, and we once again were in a position where we didn’t have to chase, defend the jersey or do an ounce of work in the wind. Perhaps offense really is the best defense.
Dave did an incredible ride to hold off the peloton. Rarely does a solo escape that goes from the first kilometer stay away until the finish as the sprinters’ teams move forward and collaborate to ensure a field sprint. Yesterday, the teams began their pursuit of Dave but he held very strong, averaging 40 kilometers per hour for four hours straight. In the final kilometers he was cracking physically and mentally, but he pushed through to hold off the peloton by just over a minute.
Other than Valverde’s crash and the chase, the only real action in the peloton on Tuesday came when Zabel went for the intermediate sprints. He jumped off the front for each of the three sprints like it was the last meters of the stage, sprinting with everything he had, only to look back and see that nobody was fighting him for the points.
Now that most cell phones have built in cameras there are thousands of people along the course taking pictures of us with their phones as we race along – it is a bit odd seeing people with their arms extended holding their phones out towards us.
The crowds in the south have been a lot bigger than when we were further north. There are not nearly as many roads in Spain as in France, and we ended up racing along many highways through some pretty arid countryside.
Soon after the stage was over we were showering up in the bus and getting ready for a two-hour transfer towards Almería. Sandwiches were handed out, we got settled in our spots on the bus, and began resting up.
We are now at a beach hotel for the next three days. As today is a rest day, this morning we slept in, had a late breakfast and then went out for a couple hours on the bikes.
The countryside in Almería is blanketed in plastic-covered greenhouses. From a distance they look like water, or a lake, but up close they look pretty awful – basically like houses covered in plastic bags. Most of the fruit and vegetables for Europe are produced in the greenhouses in Almería.
We have all been waiting for this rest day. It is nice not to have to think about pinning on the numbers or signing in. More than a physical rest, we can enjoy a mental rest from the stress that surrounds the race.