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By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service
The first time trial is over, we are in the Pyrénées, and the race for the overall is starting to sort itself out. The two big tests for the team leaders have taken place over the past two days: a time trial and a hard mountain stage. Thankfully, our leaders have come out near the top in both tests.
Yesterday’s time trial looked easy on paper. The profile showed a flat course on straight roads with a few 180-degree turns in the center of the roadway. We woke up to howling gale-force winds, and when Floyd, Roberto and Triki returned from previewing the course the warning was that it was going to be tough and that we would need to use our little chain rings on some of the hills. It wasn’t that the hills were hard – it was just that the wind was blowing so hard it was blocking them.
Triki did an incredible time trial, and Roberto held his own and limited his losses. The big surprise of the day was race leader Nozal, who rode the race of his life and put over a minute into David Millar, a time-trial specialist.
The team came out of the time trial ready to attack in the mountains and get closer to the race lead. Roberto and Triki will have to make the difference in the Pyrénées in the next three days.
Today’s stage started uphill, and immediately attacks flew off the front. Although today’s stage was perhaps the hardest and was also the longest in the three-week race, the peloton attacked the course like it was 140km with rolling hills. In front of us we had four climbs – the course was up and down with nearly no flat sections.
Our goal was to have one of us in front so that Triki and Roberto would have someone to help out after the attacks on the Aubisque, the second-to-last climb of the day. With each attack we had a rider present and thus ONCE would chase, and if they had a rider present and we didn’t, we would chase. Essentially, we simply canceled the attacks and breakaways out and a break didn’t stick until neither team had a rider present.
Nozal impressed everybody again today and fought hard in the jersey. Roberto summited the Aubisque with a few others a minute ahead of Nozal’s group. After burning through the team, Nozal was left with Galdeano to pull back Roberto. The golden jersey pulled alone for 6km of the climb and the entire descent and only stopped when Roberto was caught; although, Roberto was disadvantaged by a group that wouldn’t cooperate.
The big losers the last two stages have been Sevilla, who is still struggling from a hematoma on his hip from his crash the other day, and Casero, who blew in the hills today and ended up half an hour down on the leaders. Aitor Gonzales has not shown the same form as last year but still remains a threat, as he may get better as the race goes on. His teammate, Dario Frigo, is becoming increasingly dangerous – he seems to be riding well in the mountains and he can time trial very strongly. ONCE still remains our biggest rival.
The peloton is getting increasingly smaller with several riders either stopping today or being eliminated for holding onto team cars. The gruppettos are huge, and after the first climb of the day today 80 riders were left chasing behind for 70km. If the race continues at this pace, there will not be many riders left come Madrid. Tonight we are sleeping across the border in France. Much of the stage today took place in the French Pyrénées. I have good memories of riding in this area as a teenager with my father. At the bottom of the Aubisque we went through a small town called Argeles-Gazost and rode straight by the hotel my father and I slept in over a decade ago.
I think we are all looking forward to getting back into Spain as the hotels and food is generally not as good in France. Willy, our chef, is happier in the Spanish kitchens as well.
The Aubisque was incredibly foggy at the top and the descent slightly treacherous. We could not see 20 feet in front of us – not good while racing down a mountain with few guardrails. We did, however, see our old director and teammate Frankie Andreu, who was at the top with Trek and cheering us on.
Tomorrow we are again in the mountains and have another mountaintop finish. It will be an opportunity for Roberto and Triki to chip away at the Nozal’s lead and go for a stage victory.
For more on Michael and his wife Dede Demet Barry visit www.michaelbarry.ca/