By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
Everybody in the peloton is still waiting for an early breakaway to stick and go to the line. It still hasn’t happened and as a result three quarters of the peloton is trying to get in the elusive break. The race is still going from the gun each day and never relents. Because of that, we averaged close to 48kph on a hilly circuit on Wednesday.
We have now left the olive groves in the south and are on a train to Madrid. The entire peloton and most of the staff is aboard a bullet train and are headed from Cordoba towards the capital. We’ll be in Madrid for the next four days-until the race’s end.
The long climb
Tuesday, on the climb to Sierra Nevada Roberto managed to take another minute out of the two leaders from ONCE. He is improving everyday and still has a few more chances to win the race or at least finish second.
We started the stage in 30 degree Celsius heat and finished in a cold mist. The top of the mountain is close to three thousand meters and the ascent to the top is approximately 30km long, but we approached the foot of the climb like we were heading into the last kilometers of a field sprint.
Kelme, our team and Rabobank were leading out the team leaders into climb to put them in good position. Our goal was for the climb to be raced aggressively so that Nozal and Gonzalez de Galdeano would have a hard time with the tempo. They are both riders that are good at riding their own rhythm. They are power climbers, whereas Roberto and Triki and pure climbers with lots of snap on the ascents. Therefore to gain time on the ONCE riders the race needed to be ridden at a high tempo with consistent attacks.
The roads in the south were smoothly paved but relentlessly undulating. There are also long false flats and hills that seem to drag on for ages. The last few days we have been faced with viscous uphill starts and the first hour we have all been pinned to the gutter in a long line. Our job is to simply keep Roberto and Triki as near to the front as possible and out of the wind while also covering any large breakaways. After the first few hours of racing have been completed everybody in the peloton starts complaining about the speed of the race.
On Wednesday, David Miller won with panache. He said he was going to attack on the last climb and win and he did. The finish into Cordoba is one that is used yearly in the Vuelta. With 30km to go the race hits a stiff climb that continues for about 10 km before plunging to the finish in downtown Cordoba. If a rider comes over the top of the climb with a half a minute he is almost certain to win as long as he descends well.
We entered the climb at about 60 kph and immediately the bunch shattered into smaller groups. A peloton of about forty riders made it over the summit together and came to the finish in a sprint for fifth place.
On Thursday we have a fairly short stage and then another hilly day. Our efforts will continue to be focused on helping out Roberto and Triki and moving them up a few spots on general.