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By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
Today was both a good and a bad day – good because Triki and Floyd were in the front group and Triki is now in the leader’s jersey, and bad because we had to battle an incredibly strong headwind for 190km and then our bus broke down as we drove down the mountain toward our next hotel.
The race started out slowly again due to the wind and we pedaled along at 25 km/h for quite a while when a few attacks were launched. There were two potentially threatening breakaways today, and thankfully both times we had riders up front in the groups, which means we didn’t have to chase in the wind. It definitely wasn’t an easy day for the teams that spent some time out in front chasing with their noses in the wind.
There was not a whole lot to see during the race today but empty fields and dry grass. In the bunch I noticed that a few of the Saeco riders are testing out a new Campagnolo electronic derailleur system. It is clean-looking, unlike the old Mavic Zap equipment, and I haven’t seen any of them have any shifting problems.
The finale of the race was not hard enough to make any distinct selections but it was challenging enough to separate the climbers and GC contenders from the rest of the peloton. The gruppetto was formed before the climb today, as there was a crash on the road leading up to the climb. We all came to a dead stop in the road and everybody behind the crash pretty much called it a day and the grupettos were formed at the back.
T-Mobile lost several riders today, and their leader, Vinokourov, finished in the gruppetto as they all came down with food poisoning from the last hotel. Vino’ has not had much luck in the race so far. Two days ago some idiot watching the race threw a cobblestone into the bunch just as we passed, expecting a crash. Vino’ hit the large stone and broke both of his wheels. He was back in the bunch quickly but narrowly missed a serious injury. The police caught the guy that threw the cobble and have charged him. From what I understand he had a camera out, ready to film the crash that he hoped would ensue.
After the finish we all piled in the team bus to drive 100km to the hotel, but soon after we had settled into the sofas, smoke began wafting from the shower/kitchen area – and the odor wasn’t that of cooking or a hot shower. The motor was on fire. Luc, our bus driver, grabbed the extinguisher and got the fire under control, and soon we were split up between the Telekom and Lampre buses. Lampre had quite a nice setup inside with a two-pot coffee machine, leather seats, a large lounge area and a kitchen. From what I have gathered our bus is in the midst of being repaired – the turbo broke and oil was pouring out of it onto the motor – and we’ll have it back before long.
Our two leaders were up front and Benoit made a valiant effort to maintain his jersey but lost it in the end to Triki. So, things are looking good for the team as we look towards the coming days. Everybody is still feeling okay and I am overcoming my cold and sore muscles from crashing.