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By Antonio Cruz, U.S. Postal Cycling Team
I woke up at around 10 am. My weight is still at 64 kilos.
Breakfast of rice, eggs, croissants and coffee. Felt pretty good, not tired at all. Rode to start for sign in. Lots of cheers, even songs for Roberto. We had a team meeting in the bus. Basically the same plan as yesterday, keep Roberto near the front and out of trouble. Today Benoit and Victor would be his shadows.
There was a small hill at start of the race so Johan stressed the importance of keeping Roberto up front early on. Matt White offered a little entertainment on the bus when he put a techno tape on the sound system, pumped it up and got on the mic’ and welcomed us all to “Club Postal”. Roberto’s fans waiting outside the bus looked a little confused!
The starting village is great because the phone company that sponsors the race has booths where you can make free long distance calls. I was able to call my wife at 5 am her time. Maybe I’ll try waking up my parents tomorrow!
The weather was kind of cool in the morning but ended up in the mid 80’s. We have been having great weather. The landscape reminds me of Visalia and the Central California area. Once the race started and we got over the first hill it started getting real messy because of the crosswinds. Everyone was riding in the gutters. The group actually split a few times. One time Olano and Laiseka were stuck in the second group, some of the other teams decided to take advantage and put the hammer down. It eventually bunched back together. Every time a town would come up, a change in direction or the wind shifted all hell would break loose. Everyone would scurry to improve their position. Johan kept us constantly informed as to what lay ahead. Our soigneurs drive ahead of the race and scout out the terrain and radio back to Johan. He is able to tell us 10k in advance when a turn is coming up or a traffic circle or anything else important. This is important because we cannot afford to have the field split with Roberto in the middle or back of the pack.
The ONCE team especially loves to ride out of the gutters in the crosswinds to try and create these splits. Fortunately whenever we hit a headwind it all calms down and bunches back together. It is great when Cofidis is at front because it calms the whole bunch down.
Johan can see everything from the TV in his car. He will get on the radio and tell us to move in to better position when he can’t see us. There is no hiding even in the bunch. Once we got to about 15k to go the sprinter’s teams took over at the front. The entire team had to make sure Roberto stayed in good position.
With about 7k to go I was moving up on the outside to get closer to Roberto when I heard to skidding and breaking of an out of control peloton. I locked it up and tried leaning on someone to stay upright.Eventually I just flipped over his back and onto the ground, I tried to roll as much as possible. There were people down all around me. I got up and got on my bike as soon as I could. Luckily the bike was fine soI didn’t have to wait for a wheel or anything. I found out later from Benoit that a kid ran out into the road causing the chain reaction that knocked me down. It took about 5k to chase back on. I was back in the group for about 10 seconds when another crash happened in front of me. This time I stayed upright, but I had to jump the median and ended up on the wrong side of the road from the race. I was with about seven other riders and we had to ask the spectators to move before we could get back on the racecourse.
I saw a stunned Coast rider sitting on the ground about 30 feet from everyone else that had crashed. I think he just hit the median and flew to where he was sitting. I got in a group with Levi, who had gone down, and about, six other guys. They chased pretty hard but we knew were not going to catch on. They were just trying to minimize the time loss. I just sat on wanting only to get to the finish without any more problems.
Julian said the sprint was crazy — everyone wanted to sprint. He had been on Zabel’s wheel until the whole Relax train tried to move him off of it. Today was definitely more stressful than yesterday because of the crosswinds. Once again it feels good to have gotten through another day, almost intact. My wounds are pretty minor; a few raspberries and bruises. My jersey looks like it went through a shredder on the left side but I have no damage on that side. The team took it pretty rough today. Levi, Julian, Victor and I all went down. No one was hurt bad but more importantly Roberto stayed safe and didn’t lose time on his main rivals. The only worrying aspect of the crash is making sure I sleep alright with the road rash. I should be fine.
Antonio PS. Caida is what all the Spanish guys scream when there is a crash. It means fall or crash in Spanish.