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La Vuelta de Barry: Break out the big rings

For the last two stages we have had 54 tooth chainrings fitted on our bikes. On Tuesday we left the coast and headed directly south towards Burgos. The wind howled at our backs as we headed inland towards the center of the country. Thankfully, we had those bigger gears on our bikes, as we were often rolling along in the 54x11 at 70kph. Tuesday’s stage was nervous from the start, as everybody was anticipating a battle for the front on the hills and in the wind. Racing in a nervous peloton drains your energy. We were constantly fighting to push to the front and keep everybody together and

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By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team

That's us on Stage 4...

That’s us on Stage 4…

Photo: Graham Watson

For the last two stages we have had 54 tooth chainrings fitted on our bikes.

On Tuesday we left the coast and headed directly south towards Burgos. The wind howled at our backs as we headed inland towards the center of the country. Thankfully, we had those bigger gears on our bikes, as we were often rolling along in the 54×11 at 70kph.

Tuesday’s stage was nervous from the start, as everybody was anticipating a battle for the front on the hills and in the wind. Racing in a nervous peloton drains your energy. We were constantly fighting to push to the front and keep everybody together and our climbers protected and out of trouble.

Early in the stage we hit a long, steep climb. At the top the field was split into several groups with most of our team at the front by the time we hit the flat section at the bottom. It was a goal to get everybody over the top together so that we could split the field or simply keep the stronghold on the race. We never want to leave the climbers alone and susceptible to their adversaries.

At the top of the first climb the weather became foul and we were soaked by a cold rain. Whitey told me the temp on his bike computer read 12 deg. Celsius. Not too warm.

The last 30km we hit the front of the peloton to close down the gap to the breakaway. We rode not to bring the gap right down but to get it within two minutes as ONCE’s Nozal was present- a rider that could be a threat for the overall if given too much time. At the finish line we had the break within our sites and headed to the hotel with another day in the bank and another day closer to the mountains.

Last night at dinner, the news showed images of snow in Andorra, 100kph winds in Zaragoza and boats blown ashore in San Sebastian. We all went to bed with thoughts of gale-force winds blowing us across the course for 166km as we pedaled towards Zaragoza.

It looked easy on the map
This morning we had a two-hour transfer in the team bus so we had a good fill of Floyd’s CD mixes.

Once again the bunch was incredibly nervous from the start today. I think we are all looking forward to getting through the weekend as the time trial and the mountains should sort the race out a bit and calm down the nerves.

...and us on Stage 5.

…and us on Stage 5.

Photo: Graham Watson

The stage profile was one of the flattest, even downhill at times, of the entire Vuelta but at the same time it was one of the most volatile, since strong winds can split the field in seconds and small gaps can become minutes. Over the last two days we have climbed to the plateau in the center of Spain at 700 meters in altitude and then descended back down to towards the eastern coast.

There are also many riders here that have lost motivation, or are tired from a long season, a few others preparing for the world’s; which means that riders fight a little less for the wheel in front of them or simply can’t hold on. At the same time, the other three-quarters of the peloton is extremely motivated… and extremely strong.

The stages through the Vuelta are generally short compared to the other two grand tours. However, short doesn’t mean easier. We start off fast and never ease up until the line is crossed. The good side to the short stages is that we get to sleep in each morning and take a relatively relaxed approach to getting ready. We can also get by with a handful of gels in the pockets as race food and energy drink.

Going into the time trial on Thursday Roberto has a good buffer on a few of his key rivals. It will be interesting to see how the ONCE hitters will ride tomorrow and then in the mountains. I find it hard to believe anybody will be able to stay with Roberto and Triki in the mountains but they must also ride good time trials to stay ahead of the rest for the overall. For most of us tomorrow will be a half rest day as we can ride within ourselves and save or energy for the work we’ll need to do in the coming days and weeks.


For more on Michael and his wife Dede Demet Barry visit www.michaelbarry.ca/

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