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By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
A week has of racing has almost passed, we are now in Valencia on the Mediterranean, and the team has held on to the gold leader’s jersey for the entire week. Triki has now held it for a couple of days, and with each passing moment in gold he becomes more of a Spanish hero. He has been grinning like a kid that has just found a jar full of cookies.
The countryside has become a little more interesting in the last two days. We have gone from Alberta-like prairie to Southern California-style hills and orange groves, from straight roads in the open wind to sinuous and undulating roads along the coast. The morale on the team is good and the jersey has motivated us all. We have been lucky so far as we haven’t really had to defend the jersey much at all. Having several riders in the first 10 put the team in a nice situation; we could put riders in breakaways and always have the leader on the road, forcing other teams to chase from behind.
As we raced towards Valencia today it was clear from the start the stage would come down to a field sprint. From the first attacks in the opening kilometers we could see Fassa Bortolo wanted to control the race and bring Petacchi to the line for a field sprint. He has dominated the massive field sprints since the start, so it was a safe bet he would win in Valencia. And he did.
T-Mobile now has about three staff to each rider, or maybe more. At dinner last night, the riders’ table was virtually empty while the staff’s rectangular table was full, with about 10 people on each side. The team might be in a spot of bother if Cadel shines in the hills in the next couple of days and needs a helping hand. Zabel doesn’t really have anybody to help him in the sprints, either.
Stuart O’Grady is now wearing the fish jersey, the points leader’s jersey. Funny thing is he doesn’t eat fish at all – he hates it.
Valencia is a pretty neat town with some very cool architecture. Santiago Calatrava, the famous architect, is from Valencia and has designed many of the city’s museums and bridges – which we won’t be visiting.
We have been without a team bus for the last few days and it has become a bit uncomfortable to get ready prior to the race. Photographers crowd around the cars as Triki gets changed into his jersey and spectators peer into the van looking for hats, bottles and autographs.
A couple other luxuries we have lost include the coffee machine and the toilets. The port-a-potties at the start are about 50 degrees Celsius and baking in the sun – it feels like you’re stepping into air conditioning when you step out of one after having finished up. Nasty. I guess we are pretty spoiled with the old bus; we’re certainly missing her. From what I understand the engine is now in pieces but will be back together ASAP. Fingers are crossed throughout the team.
I have finally started to come out of my fog and funk, caused by a cold and crash. Stage racing wouldn’t be what the doctor would prescribe for illness and injury, but things are definitely starting to look up and I finally feel like I can pedal my bike properly again. Hopefully, it’s a trend that will stick.
Tomorrow the general classification will shuffle substantially once again as we race a 40km individual time trial. Some riders will lose minutes and their quest for victory in Madrid will be over. We have several good time trialists within the team, so hopefully we can have the jersey for another day or two — or more. We’re taking it day by day….