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By Andrew Hood
An eerie calm returned to the 56th Vuelta a España Wednesday, a day after terrorist attacks back in the United States.
Riders from the U.S. Postal Service and Cofidis teams arrived at the start Wednesday morning in sunny Gijon with black armbands. The Vuelta’s fifth stage started with a minute of silence to pay homage to the victims.
The troubles back in the United States seemed far away, but the images burned in the minds of many here at the Vuelta.
“Last night wasn’t a good night for the team,” admitted U.S. Postal Service director Johan Bruyneel.
Members of Spain’s Guardia Civil, or state police, were posted at the U.S. Postal Service team hotel as a precautionary move Tuesday night. Racers and staff spent the night calling friends and family and watching the news in disbelief and shock on Spanish television.
There was some question that the team, with such strong ties to the United States, might pull out of the Vuelta. Bruyneel conferred with Mark Gorski and three-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong overnight by telephone back in America and decided it was best to stay in the race.
“The entire world is affected by what happened. This is an American team with friends and family in America, but it’s a tragedy for all the world,”
Bruyneel said. “I never thought in one minute to pull out of the race. Today we will race with pride and passion. To quit doesn’t change anything that happened.”
American racers were given the option to leave the race if they wanted, but all decided to carry on.
“We all feel it’s best to keep racing,” said Texan Chann McRae before the race. “This is a difficult moment. It’s a bike race and a terrorist attack, so there’s no comparison. It’s sad. We hope it won’t be a distraction. The team is going for the stage-win today with Roberto (Heras) so we hope to stay focused on that, at least during the race.”
Riders didn’t know the extent of the terrorist attack until they arrived to the finish line Tuesday.
“The thing that was crazy is that we didn’t know anything until we got to the team bus. Everyone was asking if we would abandon or what we thought, but we didn’t even talk about abandoning the race. It’s best to keep going,” said Levi Leipheimer.
Luckily, no one directly linked to the Postal Service Vuelta squad had family or friends involved with the attack. Victor Hugo Pena, a Colombian riding for Postal, has three cousins and two aunts in New York City, but they weren’t involved with the attack on the World Trade Center towers. Antonio Cruz has a friend in New York’s Lower East Side, but he was fine as well.
“We talked about it as a team and we feel good about carrying on,” said defending Vuelta champion Roberto Heras. “It’s important that we carry on. The attack was unfortunate for all the world, not just America.”