Well that was a bit too much. As if 6 laps and 7 times up the climb yesterday wasn't enough they made us ride up another 3 times this morning. Then to top that off we had a time trial this afternoon finishing..... at the top again! There must only be 1 climb in Poland! At least the weather was better today. With such a small peleton today it was a bit strange. It wasn't the easiest though, most of the riders left were good climbers. I got round without any major troubles. Now it is time to recover as much as possible for Madrid and the world championships next Sunday
And I thought the hard stages were done! The stage was crazy today. We woke to sloshing rain, which wasn't a good sign, though it was indicative of what was to come! After the last few days of 220km stages, the 150 on the agenda for today seemed positively short! That only encouraged riders to attack! From the moment the flag dropped we were traveling above 60km/h! Most of the stage was on a 20km circuit, consisting of a 8 km climb, the equivalent decent and a few nasty false flat kilometers to get to the bottom of the climb again! We had to cover 6 laps, and finish at the top of the climb. The pace was frantic for the first lap. It had stopped raining so I took my rain jacket off to go over the climb. It was a bad mistake. On the other side of the climb it was pouring with rain. I froze on the decent! Being paranoid about catching a cold I dropped back immediately for my jacket ready for the next climb! Once again the attacks came thick and fast up the climb but I actually felt quite good. Over the top I put my rain cape on and kept warm on the decent. The problem was the group split on the downhill. Due to the treacherous road surface and the flowing water from the constant rainfall it was really difficult to follow the wheel. It was only at the bottom I realised someone had dropped the wheel about 20 places in front of me. We chased on the false flat, rejoining the group at the bottom of the climb. It wasn't too much of an effort but it did mean another lap without eating. I paid for that later! On the penultimate climb my legs stopped working. I was completely hunger flat. It was a fundamental mistake to make on a wet day but it is amazing how involved with the race you get, forgetting the simplest things! I tried to eat but of course it was too late. I had to struggle round at that horrible tempo where it feels like you are going at walking speed but it is impossible to do anything about it. I was happy to have got through though, a lot of riders had the same trouble, nearly 70 riders abandoned!
Thank goodness for that! We completed the last 220km day of this tour! Everyday has been more than 6 hours in the saddle! Should be good training for the worlds though. Lotto tried to pull a crafty one during the stage, worryingly it almost worked. Rodriguez (Lotto) attacked whilst the peleton were riding easy in the beginning of the stage then hid behind a house on the route, until the peleton had passed then rejoined the group at the back. When Quick Step heard what had happened they stopped riding. Within 5 minutes 2 more riders from Lotto attacked, this time Quick step were wise to the prank continued to trundle along. However the 2 Lotto guys put their heads down and went for it! 80km later they had 6 minutes! 60 km from the finish and the weather deteriorated, a storm blew in, causing crashes all over the place. It was really cold too, autumn is most definitely here! It messed up the chase and with 30 km to go the leaders still had 6 minutes! The finishing circuit was typically treacherous, with a climb on one side then a really fast decent, with pot holes, gravel and debris everywhere! On the first lap the peleton blew to pieces..... on the decent! I was too far back and resigned to a group of 40 riders that rode fast enough to keep warm but not fast enough to risk life and limb on the decent! The 2 lotto riders were caught 100 meters from the finish! Tomorrow is only 150 km! Though 80 km of the stage is uphill! I think it will be a hard day!
Quick step tried to attack today! Yesterday they defended Poalini's lead by riding on the front all day bringing everything together for a bunch sprint. Today started in much the same way. A strong head wind which occasionally became a very dangerous cross wind made the conditions very difficult to say the least. Just as we were lulled into thinking they would ride all day on the front they accelerated. The strong cross wind broke the peleton into 5 echelons! There was mass panic as several highly placed riders were caught behind, including myself! I managed to move up into the 2nd group on the road, fortunately there were a few really strong riders there, Voigt, Cancellara, Ekimov and Bobby Julich. We rode flat out for 20km before eventually rejoining the front echelon. That's when it got really dangerous! The road conditions here are fairly poor, so riding perched on the edge of the road trying to find any sort of shelter from the relentless wind was made even more exciting by the huge holes punctuating the roadside. Several crashes later and Quick step blew up! Initially a couple of teams tried to keep the momentum going but most teams had the sense to realise that 160 km into a headwind was a lot of work, especially as we were all sitting behind! The bunch regrouped at the feed, Quick Step had to start riding again! This time we stayed together to the finishing circuit. I was given some freedom today for the sprint. I felt really strong but with about 1.5 kilometers to go I was sandwiched between 2 riders, I had to brake. I managed to get back to the front but the effort meant I couldn't really sprint. That is the problem with bunch sprinting, there you need a lot of luck!
We had a really long day today! It looked as though it was going to be a day of suffering in cross winds, however a subtle change in the wind direction and we were blessed with a block headwind instead. It took a long time before anyone had the courage to attack. Eventually a lone Illes Balears rider attacked. He took almost 10 minutes lead before the Polish riders decided to show their faces! It was quite funny really as he waited so long before he counter attacked. They rode the whole day 10 minutes apart! For both it was to no avail as they were reeled in on the finishing circuits. The finish was uphill, Max found his way onto my wheel with 750meters to go so I accelerated as hard as I could. I was trying to line out the peleton so nobody could pass him. I started to slow with 200 meters to go as Max took over. Unfortunately Kirsipuu was on his wheel and passed him just before the finish. I was happy though as I felt much better today and felt as though the speed was coming back in my legs!
We had a marathon of a stage today! 225km plus a 9km neutral zone! What was noticeable about this race is the definite lackluster effort by most of the peleton! I think September'itus (an illness that seems to hit a lot of professional riders at the end of the season!) has once again got its grip on the peleton! We started into a crosswind today, which caused a split early on, which was more like the races we have done this year. However this time they didn't seem to ride that fast and soon the group was all together. We then rode easy for a long way! It was a bit of a pity really as the finishing circuit was even worse today! There were 3 u-turns and 9 corners within the 6 kilometer loop! The finish was once again just after one of the U-turns. There was predictably carnage on the last few laps, crashes all over the place. I just avoided a group of riders falling beside me, the tyre burns on the side of my leg showed how close I was! The finish was a farce, it became a question of the risks riders were prepared to take in the final turn. I tried to help Max but he ended up getting baulked, ending 5th on the stage.
The Protour of Poland started badly! Apparently Euskatel and Illes Balears had chartered a plane to get to the start of the tour. However, fog at Bilbao airport meant they couldn't take off! The problem was, the new rules state that all protour teams must start all the protour races, no exceptions! A new plane was chartered this morning but the plane was too late. The commissar of the race made us all wait around for the 40 or so minutes until the riders arrived! When we eventually did start it seemed as though nobody had any enthusiasm. For such a short stage they are normally run off at ridiculous averages. The first intermediate sprint sparked some racing but nothing like we have been used to this season. After the feed the wind started to play havoc though, a nasty cross wind split the bunch into 4 groups. I was caught in the second group. Fortunately it wasn't like the Tour of Britain last week, the group continued to ride and we were able to rejoin the leaders. From there to the finishing circuit though there was a lot more fighting to stay in the front. The finishing circuits were ridiculous! For such a big race, to have nearly 200 riders racing up and down a dual carriageway with u-turns either end seemed a bit unnecessary, but placing the finish just 150 meters after the last u-turn was asking for trouble. Trouble there was too! I wasn't feeling all that great so I tried to get Max in a good position for the sprint. He went into the last corner in 5th place which I thought was good enough, however the 3rd placed rider in the line crashed bringing several riders down with him. It was a pity as the rest of the stage was pretty good!
I'm impressed! When I thought the weather couldn't get any worse.... it did! It poured all day, from the moment I got up this morning and it is still raining now as I write this diary during our 250 kilometer transfer to the hotel this evening! It was hard to be enthusiastic for the stage today anyway as there were two 1st category climbs in the last 25 kilometers but add the rain... I spent most of the stage thinking about all the other sports I could have chosen instead and if we are going to get a summer this year. I have to admit it though, I may not have been enjoying the stage too much today but the thousands of people that turned out to cheer us along the route did help! The stage really dragged on today. After all the fast starts today we rolled away at a very lethargic pace, the rain and wind putting off the majority of the bunch. A group rolled off the front with very little resistance, the best rider overall was a very safe 15 minutes behind. Gerolsteiner dutifully chased on the front. We all followed trying to stop the cold drips of water from finding their way down our backs! The break was predictable caught on the final climbs where the groupetto formed and I tried to conserve as much energy as possible.
This sport is so frustrating! After feeling so good yesterday I felt so bad today. I'm not sure why but I suffered from the start! My legs weren't really painful, they just didn't work! As you can imagine the start was really frantic, once again we covered 50 kilometers in the first hour, including a 2nd category climb! I spent most of the time trying to get my clothing combination right. It poured with rain again today, which was irritating as it wasn't that cold. I'm paranoid about catching a cold though, so I erred on the side of caution and wore too much clothing. This can be worse than useless though, especially when you feel rough anyway! It can make you sweat so much and it feels like you can't breathe. Making you feel worse than you actually are! Fortunately I survived to the finishing circuits, 2 of 40 kilometers with 2 climbs per lap. We had discussed in the team meeting a break could possibly go today, as the teams had to chase so hard yesterday. Fortunately it did and we had Jurgen representing us! It meant I was able to hide in the peleton and try and recover as much as possible for the next few days.
I felt rough this morning! Yesterday's stage had done some serious damage to my legs! It was a difficult stage today too. At 220 kilometers long it was a long way plus there was a 1st category climb (1000 meter height difference) after 90 kilometers followed by 130km of flat to the finish. As I lost a lot of time yesterday, I decided to try and get in the breakaway and get a head start over the climb and hopefully Gerolsteiner wouldn't be too keen to chase if there was nobody too important in front. For the first 50 kilometers I tried to get away but nothing seemed to get any sort of a lead. Once we started the foot hills of the mountain I decided nothing was going to get away and settled back into the bunch to recover. Within minutes a group of 6 went!!! It was the worst case scenario, now I was tired from trying to get away, plus the teams would have to chase as a group did go! On the climb I didn't feel too bad. I was able to follow the tempo and made it over the top in the front, which was a blessing. Once over the top several teams started chasing immediately. On the descent I managed a maximum of 112km/h so if you were dropped there wasn't too much of a chance to get back on! We never seemed to slow down for the rest of the stage. It was amazingly fast but the break wouldn't give in. Eventually we caught them 500 meters to go! My legs got better as the stage progressed so I hovered near the front for the sprint. I followed Baden Cooke with 500 meters to go but as I passed him he swung out, it was enough to put me off for a split second. By the time I got going again it was too late, Benati from Lampre had a gap I couldn't quite close. On the line he beat me by half a bike! I finished 2nd, both pleased and frustrated!
Well that was just ridiculous! Everyone was talking about the final climb of the day from the start today. Now I know why! The stage was fairly flat today until the two 'Hors Category' climbs at the end. I knew I should have been worried when I saw the climbers with a 27 sprocket. Even for the very high mountains the lowest gear used is normally 39*25 so to warrant a 27 the final climb had to be hard! Today was always going to be the decisive day for the General classification with the highest finish of the race and the Pro Tour incidentally! For the rest of us it was a matter of survival. Over the first of the 2 climbs T-Mobile set the tempo for Jan Ullrich. I think he likes to wear out the pure climbers by making them race a long way from the finish. The problem for us was it meant the blew apart 100km from the finish. Fortunately I was feeling relatively ok given the circumstances and made the group with some good riders. As we headed up the valley to the last climb the groupetto caught us making our group 100 riders strong, which was comforting, safety in numbers. The last climb was madness though. We rode past our hotel for the night just at the foot of the climb, never easy! From there on I suffered for well over an hour! The climb was only 15km long! With an average gradient of 13 percent we struggled to maintain 10km/h. Even at that speed groups of riders dropped! Eventually we arrived at the finish, at 2665 meters altitude there was snow everywhere, people were even skiing! It was fairly cold so we just quickly changed clothes and rode back down the mountain to the hotel. Seemed a bit of a waste of time really, but it did give a real impression of how hard the climb was. It was a challenge just to ride up!
That was a really long day! 230 very uneventful kilometers! I'm not sure why that stage had to be so long! The riders in contention for the overall classification were all saving themselves for tomorrows mammoth stage in the mountains the rest of us were just scared about it! Anyway the first hour was incredibly fast, in the first hour we covered 50 kilometers including a 3rd category climb. Eventually there was a truce, not before 1 brave rider had got away. The peleton almost stopped for the second hour, with nobody really interested in chasing. Eventually Gerolsteiner decided to ride a certain tempo. Perhaps they were worried the Basque rider could climb! The last 30 kilometers were really difficult. We seemed to be on tiny twisting roads with not 1 meter flat. I was feeling much better than yesterday so decided to go for the sprint. Over the climbs I was able to hold my position which was a good sign after yesterday too! I found Baden Cooke's wheel with 1 kilometer to go, so thought I was sitting perfectly. In the race manual it showed the last km as a straight road. The reality was very different! The road twisted left and right. I was caught in a wave of riders coming over me on a corner 500 meters to go. I was trapped, I couldn't get out. The organisers felt it was necessary to put the barriers half way onto the road in the last 300 meters too, making the finish straight very narrow. I eventually had to just roll in for 6th place. It was a bit frustrating knowing there was more there, but I suppose there was a few riders around me in the same position! Now for the really hard mountain stage tomorrow!
I suffered today. Nothing was working after the crash yesterday! Today's stage was one of the easier stages to survive on. The majority was rolling roads until the last 25 kilometers which had 2 second category climbs. 3 riders attacked early on. They were given some freedom but it didn't take too long before Quick Step rode tempo on the front in an effort to defend the jersey Bram Tankink had won yesterday. I stayed with the main bunch until the final climbs where things hadn't improved, so I decided to take it as easy as possible and slowed as soon as the groupetto formed. We rode tempo over the climbs to the finish giving me a relative recovery ride to the finish
Today was a disastrous start to the Tour Of Germany. Once again within minutes of starting the the heavens opened and drenched us. It went on to rain all day in varying amounts! My only consolation is I'm getting good at knowing what clothing to wear depending on the intensity of the rain! The rain wouldn't have been too bad but I managed to get involved in a crash! The crash happened after only 30km, I really banged my knee in the fall. I continued but struggled uphill with the pain in my knee. I was able to finish the stage and have been icing the swelling since, in the hope I can get through the next couple of days.
Finally we had some good weather today! We woke up to sun and despite some ominous clouds rolling in just before the start the rain held off for the whole stage. I'm not getting to excited yet, but my shoes may just dry out in time for tomorrows final time trial! After Max's convincing win yesterday the plan was to orchestrate another bunch sprint today. As we still have 2 riders high up on the General classification and Max obviously not able to work we really didn't have a team to control the race. Instead we sent riders in the breaks. I managed to get away with a group of 19 riders not long after the start of the 200km stage. There were a couple of riders that were only 2 minutes behind the leader of the race so we weren't given too much freedom. We needed to get rid of those riders, so just before we were reeled in by the bunch I attacked. Four riders were dropped, including both classification riders. I think the group was still too big as several teams still seemed to be keen on chasing on the front of the bunch. There were several attacks in the front group and eventually 7 of us got clear. I thought now it would be ok as there weren't any riders to threaten the leader of the race. However, Lampre kept on chasing us. It was hard to work out why as they don't have a sprinter in the race, so to bring everything back together seemed to be a strange tactic. Anyway we were finally reeled in with 20km to go. The finishing circuit was really open with some nasty sections of cross wind. We were trying to protect Max but it seemed Angel Edo didn't want to let us get on with our job. He kept on bumping my handlebars, which is fairly dangerous at 60+ km/h. When he started hitting me though he really started to annoy me! Through the next corner he tried the same thing with a Domina Vacanze rider, almost causing him to crash in front of me. As we went past him we both retaliated, of course, I was caught on tv! It is really frustrating though, as in the majority of cases it is the riders that can't keep up in the final 500 meters causing the problems. Sure enough when the sprint started Mr Edo was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately Max had already found a good wheel, just behind the Lotto lead out, though this time he was beaten by Stephan Van Dyke. It doesn't always got to plan!
I felt better today. I had a good nights sleep anyway. My stomach was still irritated but at least I could eat breakfast this morning. I was given some freedom to recover today during the stage as yesterday had left me very weak. Jason was in contention for the climbers jersey after his epic breakaway yesterday. The final climbs of the tour were during the first half of the stage. He had to overturn a 5 point deficit to CSC rider Van De Velde. Despite the pouring rain (again!!!!) there were attacks from the beginning with the climbers trying to get away. Finally a group with Jason and Van de Velde went clear. Jason managed to beat his rival for all of the hill primes. Fortunately though, as the organisation had made a mistake with adding the points in the mountains classification and Jason was further behind than he thought! The battle went right through to the last climb of the tour where Jason once again took the points and the jersey! Behind that battle the rest of us tried to stay in the bunch which was splitting due to the constant accelerations on the climbs. At one point the group was reduced to forty riders. As the stage developed I was able to eat so felt better and better. By the time we got to the finishing circuits I was feeling fairly good. Max was the leader for the bunch sprint so the rest of us tried to get him to the finish in the best possible position. In the final 3 kilometers a rider from Illes Ballears attacked, it meant we had to chase from a long way out for only 2 of us. Hoste was on the front first then I took over with Max on my wheel. It was a long way to go but with the corners I was able to keep the bunch lined out until 250 meters to go. Max won the sprint convincingly. It was really good to have taken control of the stage and win it like that. The bus ride to the hotel was really pleasant!
Well that was ridiculous. The whole stage was a farce! I already wasn't looking forward to the stage as it was so hard, 230km over the highest and longest climbs in Belgium. This morning I woke at about 5am. I must have eaten something that didn't agree with me last night. I felt really sick and really struggled to eat anything at breakfast, but facing 230km I forced some cereal down. It was probably the wrong thing to do. I felt bloated all day. I hardly ate or drank for the whole stage. That was the beginning of the problems! After 190km the lead car took us the wrong way. At that point we were well and truly in the hills of the Ardennes. I punctured at the bottom of a 4km climb that was so narrow the team car couldn't get passed the dropped riders. I was hanging on to the group as long as possible with the flat tyre. I was flat out just trying to keep contact, then all of a sudden the group stopped! I thought there was a crash. In the chaos I quickly rode back down to the team car changed the wheel. When I got back the group still hadn't moved though! It was then we were told we had gone the wrong way, they had taken us up extra climb! We stood on the road for a while, I can only assume they were trying to decide what to do as we were told nothing. After a few minutes I could see a few riders in the distance further up the climb. The front of the bunch was gone! There was a huge panic, riders all over the place trying to scramble up the side of the 17% gradient climb. As I was at the back I was still chasing over the top of the climb. I just about got back on at the foot of the next climb, where once again I was trying to get past the dropped riders all the way up! By now I had been flat out for about 20 minutes. There had been no communication from the race organisers as to what they intended to do so we'd tried to stay in the front group to make sure if there was any time problems we would be given the same time as the main contenders. It was all a waste of time, the final gem from the organisers was to stop the whole race and re start it again. So once again I went from flat out to stopped for 10 minutes. Initially on the re start nobody wanted to race, however within 1 kilometer we turned right and started to climb again. The Spanish climbers obviously didn't agree! They rode flat out. I thought my legs were going to explode! I managed to hold on to the front group but having not been able to eat I was starting to feel weak. Just to add to my woes it hailed on the descent to the penultimate climb of the day, I got really cold and blew spectacularly! I was totally empty. I stood up to try and get over the top with the leaders but there was nothing left. I rode in with the second group trying to recover as much as possible. By the finish we had ridden 250km in the hills with majority of it the rain. It was probably the most eventful day of racing in my career!
That was hard! 206km on the circuit of Amstel Gold race. We had 23 climbs to negotiate during the 206km stage today. It was made worse by the amount of road furniture on the roads in this part of Holland. I remember Amstel Gold race being dangerous last year and today's stage wasn't any different. I'm not sure who decides to put 3 inch high concrete bollards in the middle of the road on the approach to a roundabout, but I can't image it's a car driver let alone a bike riders. Several riders didn't know they were there until they were sitting on the road wondering what had happened to them. What was more inexcusable though, was the parked cars just after blind corners. Normally they aren't too bad but here the roads are so small a parked car shuts half of the road! We rode the same tactic as yesterday, sending our riders close on the overall classification away in the breaks allowing us to avoid riding on the front of the peleton. The start was incredibly fast with attack going and being caught constantly. Eventually a group with Liefe Hoste in went away. It was perfect as he was the best placed rider in the break. The rest of us just had to wait and see. Eventually Rabobank started to chase. The feed zone was just before the last 3 climbs of the day. Rabobank ignored the rules and took their feed bags outside of the zone. They then proceeded to ride flat out through the 'real feed zone' causing chaos for the rest of us! Hopefully they will receive a fine for it this evening! The race split on the next climb with17 riders going clear. I was just 5 places too far back to be in the front. I was good enough to follow but not good enough to close the gap. Over the top Saunia Duval chased really hard but 5km from the finish the conceded defeat and we lost just over 2 minutes to the front group. It was along day and tomorrow is another epic stage, 230km in the Belgian Ardennes! Who ever said Belgium and Holland are flat definitely haven't ridden this race!
I can't believe the weather we're having this year. I seem to have done the majority of this years races in the rain! I can't understand how there can be any sort of a drought in the UK this year!! It was a flat stage today, but it was really wet and very windy. With Max in the leaders jersey after yesterdays stage I think everyone was expecting us to defend it and ride on the front all day. Instead we profited from the fact 6 of the team were in the top 20 on the general classification thanks to us all doing well in the prologue time trial Wednesday. We decided to send riders with the break, knowing that in the majority of cases our rider would be the best placed overall. It worked really well except for 1 break where, through a bit of confusion, (we thought a Joachim had made it across but didn't!) we missed it and had to chase it down quickly. It was pretty hard work to bring it back, especially so early on when the muscles aren't warmed up! It served as a great motivation boost to be in all the breaks! Eventually Stijn went away with 3 others but Eric Dekker (Rabobank) wouldn't ride so the break lost motivation and came back. So we were back to plan A. Go with the attacks! I went with a group of 17 but there were several teams not represented and we were pulled back just before the local circuits. We rode on the front for the local circuits just to try and keep out of trouble as once again, it was a really tight and very dangerous lap. With the rain it was lethal. There were crashes all over the place. It was hard on the front but the consolation was not crashing. A rider from Saunia Duval attacked on the last lap. I had to go after him, eventually he was caught only 30 meters from the finish which was perfect for us but left me struggling to stay in the front! Max kept his jersey and none of us crashed so we will fight another day tomorrow. It will be hard as we go over most of the climbs from Amstel Gold race, which are once again all very small roads!
We started off into a headwind today which seemed to stop the usual carnage of the first hours racing. There was only one brave rider willing to attack. The rest of us all wanted to be near the front but not in the wind. Racing in Belgium and Holland you never know when the road will turn right or left so you have to stay alert for the cross winds. The bunch could be struggling along into a head wind at 30km/h then all-of-a-sudden the group can be lined out at 60+ km/h with gaps forming between riders all over the place. No matter how strong you are, if you're not near the front right from the beginning the race is over. Fortunately the group stayed together for most of the stage. With the first 20 riders on the general classification all within 20 seconds the three intermediate sprints during the stage became very decisive. Quick Step were trying to control the peleton, hoping to let a group go with too close on the classification, but that was easier said than done. Finally a small group was given a couple of hundred meters, they took all the time bonuses. Quick step reeled them in almost immediately as every rider was in the race was still a threat. The next sprints were taken in much the same way, so we had to concentrate on winning the stage. Max seemed to be going really well so we decided to ride for him as it was looking like a bunch sprint. The finishing circuits were ridiculously tight for a 189 rider bunch. We tried to get the whole team in the front to stay out of trouble but it was very difficult to get there and even harder to stay there! With 3 of us protecting Max he was able to stay near the front, getting the perfect lead out from Rabobank to win the stage. I was trying to look out for Max on the last lap but on such a tight circuit there isn't a lot to do except ride on the front. On every corner there were several riders passing left and right, it was pure luck to choose the best side to go! Eventually I got swamped trying to stay with him losing a few places. I tried to stay in the front though as there were gaps forming throughout the bunch, just to stay in contention for the classification. Fortunately I managed to stay near enough as there was a gap of 8 seconds behind me! My deficit from the time trial almost gone!
Today was a fairly straight forward prologue. It was only 5.6 kilometers on a very simple circuit. I liked the circuit as I don't ride my time trial bike very often so I don't like to take too many risks in the corners. With the next 2 stage being fairly flat I wanted to ride well to stay in contention for the overall, just in case! I felt recovered from Hamburg at the weekend so I warmed up well. The time trial was harder than I expected, there was a fairly strong wind blowing. I went as hard as I could without taking risks in the corners. When I finished I had the 3rd best time! There were still a lot of favourites to come but I was pleased. Lady luck helped me later by raining for the last 15 riders! In the end I finished 19th losing only 9 seconds to the winner.
It seems ages ago I rode a single day Pro Tour race. It is also the first time I have ridden the HEW classics race in Hamburg. With my old team we were never given a 'wild card' to ride. The riders had been telling me how bad the race is and how dangerous it is but I went into it with an open mind. The characteristics of the circuit sounded as if they should have suited me. The principle difficulty of the race was the 400 meter long climb of the Waasberg, with an average gradient of 15%. We started off in really nice weather but the race was really subdued. I can only imagine there were a lot of tired riders after the Tour De France. Eventually a lone German went away but the peleton didn't really react. It was 40 kilometers before Liefe Hoste went after him! Eventually he got across, but this still didn't stir a reaction in the bunch. Finally, after the leaders had forged a 15 minute lead did T-Mobile begrudgingly start riding on the front. The weather changed for the worse too! It began to rain heavily. With a major part of the circuit based in the city center the roads were really slippery. In the end, the wet roads really decided the way the race was ridden. The steep climb had to be climbed 4 times in the final third of the race with the last ascent just 15km from the finish. The first time over the climb wasn't too bad as T-Mobile were still trying to reduce the 15 minute lead, so they rode tempo rather than attack. It gave everyone a chance to see how dangerous the run in to the climb was! With about 5 kilometers to the climb the roads got really narrow, only just wide enough for a car, so you can imagine how difficult it was to squeeze 200 riders down there! We then climbed a for about 1.5 kilometers before dropping down a 13% descent to the foot of the climb. The road was lethally slippery, with straw bails tied to the trees as an ominous reminder of what would happen if you did fall on the tree lined descent. All this to get to the climb which was so slippery we were wheel spinning most of the way up! T-Mobile accelerated over the climb the 2nd time, which caused a panic as the peleton was literally halved, there simply wasn't enough room on the roads for that many riders. The problem was the fight to be in the front for the 3rd and penultimate ascent was really dangerous. I was able to hold my position but it was with my heart in my mouth. T-Mobile were obviously setting Jan Ullrich up so he could attack on the final climb so I just tried to stay as close to him as possible. I managed to take the sharp left hand turn to start the first part of the climb in the first 10 and held my position to the top, It was on the descent I lost a lot of places! Riders took amazing risks on the descent to get to the front in time for the steep and final section of the climb. I wouldn't have minded too much if the those very same riders didn't get dropped on the climb when Ullrich launched his very predictable attack! It was really hard to get passed them on the climb, on such a narrow slippery road. I eventually went over the top with a small group just 30 meters behind the front riders. We weren't able to close the gap despite riding flat out for the last 15 kilometers with Van Petegem, Zable and O'Grady. On the run in through the city we were caught by the remainder of the bunch. In the sprint riders were crashing in a straight line, the roads were so slippery. Fortunately I stayed upright to finish 22nd. I was pleased to be competitive with the riders from the Tour De France, but more importantly, to once again feel good whilst racing!
Today was a disaster! So far everyday in this race has been the same. Attacks from the beginning, with a break eventually forming. Once the group has a reasonable lead the bunch stops chasing and lets the group ride away. Our job was to make the front group. I attacked early in the cross winds to make sure I made the group, initially we went away with 8 riders but we were soon joined by a big group swelling our group to 45 riders. We were well represented with 5 riders from discovery in the front. It was then we realised Tom had missed it. Although we were not here to defend his overall position in the race it would have been good to have him there. In the end the decision was made for 3 of us to drop back and help Tom chase! In the confusion Stijn Devolder didn't hear his radio leaving only 2 of us to help chase. We didn't close the gap and eventually rode easy to the finish. I was a bit disappointed as I felt I had the legs to do well today compounded by the fact we didn't get Tom back into the front group, but that is life as a professional rider!
Well today was very impressive. I had all the best intentions of getting a really good work out over the 216 km stage today. As it was the stage was over after only 2kms! The first attack forged a 20 second lead, we started to chase immediately just incase there was nobody from our team there. Once the commissars confirmed that Fumi had made the break we stopped chasing. Nobody seemed interested to chase, despite several teams not having a rider in the front. Team Wiesenhof went to the front to defend their leaders jersey. It was in their interests to let the break stay away, as there was nobody dangerous to their lead there, plus it meant they would take all the time bonuses on the road and at the finish. Their leader didn't have to bother going for the sprints for the rest of the day. The lead hovered around 5 minutes for most of the stage until Rabobank decided to liven things up on a crosswind section. They went to the front with the whole team and tried to break the bunch into echelons. Unfortunately 3 of them could only ride for a couple of kilometers before they 'blew up' leaving the others with a difficult task of riding flat out 70kms to the finish. They sat up a few kilometers later the bunch reformed. From then on though, nobody wanted to sit near the back for fear of being caught out again hence there was a lot of pushing and shoving for the rest of the stage. Thanks Rabobank!
My legs were a bit sore from yesterday, but my pain in my right knee was the greater concern today. I have had some tendon problems in my right ankle since I hit the post in Gent-Wevelgem this year. My knee hasn't been a problem until now, I wonder whether I have been trying to protect my ankle and in doing so have been twisting my knee. The result being though I didn't really want to push it too hard today. It wasn't the best stage to take it easy. There were several climbs in the first half of the race with the final climb taking us above 900 meters altitude plus the howling wind of yesterday hasn't seemed to have abated at all. As with most races this year it seems, the attacks came from the start. It was the worst possible scenario as the weather is terrible here, wet and cold, so I could have done with a bit of time to warm my knee up! Eventually the break went on the last climb of the day, which was more than 70km from the finish. We had Tom there who was our highest placed rider after yesterday anyway, so we were happy. Chocolate Jauques tried to chase as the leader of the race had missed the move but after 20 kilometers they gave up and nobody else really seemed interested in chasing. We lost more time but it meant I could take it a bit easier on my knee. It feels a lot better today than after yesterdays stage so I'm feeling a bit less worried about it now. I hope another treatment tonight and a good sleep will help me recover well for tomorrow.
Today was my first race since the nationals. I have been training well after taking a couple of days off after the championships but racing is very different. Today's stage was very complicated too as there was a lot of wind which was a head crosswind for most of the stage. It made for a very aggressive start to the stage as nobody new when the break would go. I wanted to get going early on anyway, I was trying to get my legs going, so I went with a few attacks. None of which seemed to go very far. Then all-of-a-sudden the break was gone! I had missed it. I hadn't really realised I had lost concentration and the race was over. Initially Gerolsteiner tried to chase but to no avail. The Dutch Continental team 'Shimano' decided in their wisdom not to help until after Gerolsteiner had decided the chase was a lost cause! Eventually Shimano blew up and the bunch lost a lot of time. The general classification is over for most of the riders already! It was a bit frustrating as I really wanted to get a good race today to see how I am going after my break from racing. As it was, we just followed the bunch for most of the day.
With the Furka, Gottard and Nurfenen Pass all in a 100 km stage, this short stage was always going to be difficult. All of the non climbers that had stayed in the race ( a lot had abandoned after yesterday's stage as there was little to achieve on the last stage unless you could climb very well) were hoping for a slow start over the first 18 kilometer pass, then hopefully we would be able to make the time limit. As it was the same pattern for the week continued on the last day too! The first attack came less than a kilometer after the start, we hadn't even got to the first hairpin of the climb! I hate starting fast anyway but on the 9th day of racing and a 2500 meter mountain pass! The problem is on climbs like that you can't try to follow any other pace. You have to stay calm and hope that your speed is fast enough to get in a good group that will get to the finish. I felt rough, my heart rate was really low and I really couldn't any sort of rhythm. I quickly found myself in a small group but I knew straight away it wasn't big enough. There was nothing I could do though, I couldn't go any faster! Fortunately I remembered the climb from last year, I was able to get over the top in the front group, it encouraged me to keep going knowing that I could get better! The problem was, with a further 2 'hors category' climbs to go, the group I was with disintegrated with riders turning around and going back to the start/finish and the comfort of their buses! Over the top of the climb I was able to recover, and on the descent I started to feel better. By the foot of the Gottard pass I had warmed up and was in a good rhythm. I caught 2 groups and was settled into a good speed. It was just a matter of survival for all of us so we rode at a good tempo up the climbs and then drove it on the flat and the descents. We had no idea what was going on in the race, we could see cars and riders spread all over the climbs. It was just like a team time trial. Just going as fast as we could! The 3rd and final climb of the day was really hard. It was very windy up there, the whole stage was above 1000 meters elevation, with the tops of the passes all in excess of 2200 meters. At points we were riding flat out into the wind on the climb at 14km/h! It was good for the motivation! We worked well together and managed to make the finish well within the time limit. I was pleased really as it was a mamoth mountain stage. It felt like a 7 hour classic but the the actual stage time was just 3h 23 mins!
I survived the last 2 days of the Tour of Switzerland. The last 2 days were so hard it was just a matter of survival if you were not a pure climber. Yesterday there were 3 mountains to get over before the final ascent to at the top of a second category 1500 meter high climb. With the first 5 riders overall within 1 minute of each other there was no messing about on the climbs. Saunia Duval literally sprinted at the bottom of the final climb. It would have been great as it blew the peleton to pieces, the only problem was their classification rider couldn't follow the tempo and eventually lost 5 minutes. It was little consolation for the pain they inflicted on me though! I struggled to the top in the groupetto trying to save energy for the last but ridiculously hard stage
Sorry there wasn't a diary for yesterday. I was really tired after the stage plus we had a really long transfer to the hotel, meaning everything we had to do at the hotel was rushed! I finally got to bed at 11.30pm which, for me, is really late on a stage race! The stage in itself went well. I was worried about it before the start as we went straight up a 2400 meter high 'Hors Category' climb from the start! Given the starts from the last few days it wasn't going to be easy to hold on! I was pleasantly surprised though. I rode my own rhythm all the way up. At one point when the break was forming on the mountain it looked as though my speed wasn't fast enough, but they slowed in front and I was able to hang on again! Over the top I was still with the Ullrich group, which had been reduced to 50 or so riders! I was pleased as it meant for the next 100 undulating windy kilometers I was able to sit in the bunch. The groupetto that had formed behind us had a long day of chasing! The finish was at the top of a 27 km long climb. At the foot of the climb there break was caught, so with 18% time limit I rode my own tempo and saved as much energy as I could for the last few days!
Today's stage was hard to predict, apart from the fact it would be ridiculously fast in the beginning followed by what looked like a hard finish. The last 50 kilometers were uphill, though not steep it still looked like a grind all the way to the line. It seems the organisers are encouraging the long break here as there is always a nasty climb within the first 5 kilometers of each stage. Today there were 2 climbs in the first 7 km. A nasty steep climb from the start for about 1km then closely followed by a 4 km long leg breaker! The break had gone after 500 meters of the 192 kilometer stage! I tried to move up to go across to the early escapees but they were never to be seen again! On the second climb the peleton split under the pressure of the chase, several classification riders missed it plus most of the leaders team mates. The bunch remainder of the peleton had to chase. For what seemed like ages we rode constantly above 55km/h. It was I just sat in the bunch hoping we'd catch the break soon so we could all take a breather! The 2 large groups reformed but the early break was still in front. Quick Step immediately took over the chase, to defend Michael Roger's lead. It meant the bunch was in one long line for the entire day. The last climb was just a gradual 50km grind, though at 50km/h it may have well been a mountain. I just tried to stay near the front, in the hope that the break would be caught and we could sprint for the stage. Despite the lead dropping quickly the leaders stayed away and we, once again were sprinting for 8th place. The sprint was really fast, and I missed the 11 sprocket (we'd taken them off to give a 25 for the mountains!) and couldn't really challenge in the sprint. I finished 15th again!
This race is getting very repetitive! Once again we went flat out for the first 2 hours until a small group got away. T-Mobile, once again, were on the front from the beginning of the stage. It looked as though they were trying to employ a different tactic of sending Guerini up the road. He'd have been dangerous for the general classification so other teams would have had to chase. It isn't easy to get in the breakaway, especially here, they're riding so fast! Guerini didn't make the group so T-Mobile had to chase again although today they did get help from Davitamon, who were protecting Robbie McEwen's interest of a bunch sprint. The teams misjudged the chase and although the breakaway never got more than 3.5 mins advantage they stayed away! They must have been going well, the average speed for the stage was 44.8km/h and it was far from flat! The result was we were sprinting for 8th place. It is really hard to take the risks necessary to win a bunch sprint when you know it is for 9th place. Mike Barry helped to keep me in the front for a long time again today. I made a bit of an error on the penultimate corner, which was enough to lose 10 places. I tried to make up the distance but it was a bit late and finished 7th in the bunch sprint and 15th on the stage.
This race is starting to become very predictable. Jan Ullrich stated in the press he's not so interested in winning the Tour Of Switzerland this year. For somebody with no interest he is making his team work really hard! The stage was incredibly fast again today to begin with. We'd covered 51.8 km in the first hour on these 'Swiss flat' roads which included a 3rd category mountain! There were constant attacks from the start but with such high speeds again, the only way to get away was to ride at 70km/h plus! Eventually 3 riders forced themselves off the front but T-Mobile went to the front and started to chase almost immediately. It was quite strange as the closest rider overall had already lost 6 minutes on the climb yesterday and with so many mountains over the next few days I thought they'd let them go. I wasn't about to complain though it was much easier now to sit in as there weren't so many accelerations due to attacks. I was constantly thanking my lucky stars I wasn't riding for T-Mobile this week! It was fairly straight forward until we hit the finishing circuits, two 18 km laps with a 3 category climb. With the 3 riders nearly caught again the sprinter's teams started to show at the front plus the explosive climbers thought they stood a chance by going clear on the climb. I thought it was going to split on the climb so I fought to be in the front at the bottom. The first time over was relatively easy with nobody really attacking. I was able to stay near the front ready for the final lap. The 2 ascent was very difficult though. Illes Ballears launched a 3 rider attack right from the foot of the climb. I really had to go deep to hang on. By the top there was a split in the bunch with only 30 or so of in the front group. From the sprinters only Boonen had made it. I was pleased and was hoping for someone to drive it over the top to the finish, but realistically the group was too big and the rest of the peleton got back on a few kilometers later. I was still feeling good after the climb so I moved up for the sprint. There was a lot of teams trying to get their riders to the front. I decided I'd try something different. It had been a hard run in to the finish so there were a lot of tired riders. I decided to go early and pre-empt the sprint. With 350 meters to go I went as hard as I could, trying to surprise the sprinters. It worked well apart from I had misjudged how windy it was! I was swamped with 100 meters to go! I was happy I felt strong and had tried something.
I felt rough today! It had been raining all morning so we put loads of clothes on to try and beat the weather, especially as we had to climb to over 1000 meters in the last 20km of the stage today. As we went to the start it began to dry up. It was ominous when I saw a lot of riders take their wet weather clothes off straight away despite the black clouds still looming close by! Dirk had warned us of a short climb near the start so I tried to start near the front but I had a problem with the race radio and dropped back in the neutralised zone trying to fix it! I wish I hadn't bothered! They attacked from the bottom and for the first 50 kilometers the peleton was in one long line. There were riders being dropped left right and center. I was trying to move up but it was nigh on impossible! I did manage a record today though of 80km/h on the flat! Admittedly it was tail wind, but still! Just to make the fast even more purgatory than it already was the sun came out, I still had my rain vest on and I began to cook! It was too fast and dangerous to take it off so I persevered with it flapping in the wind. Really frustrating at 65km/h! Finally after 80km flat out the pace dropped and I was finally able to take my vest off and have something to eat! My legs were still feeling rough so I wasn't really looking forward to the final climb. There was a strange sensation for the next 30kms. There were a lot of riders that new they couldn't stay with the climbers but couldn't really attack now either, there wasn't enough time to get a big enough lead to stay away. The consolation was the climb wasn't too long. I really had to force the pedals round to stay with the group at the start of the climb until the groupetto formed. We rode our own tempo to the top at 1793 meters. I was way over dressed, I got really dehydrated by the time I could see the snow beside the road. It was really tempting to get off and roll in it. By the top it was fairly cold but I was the one of a few that still had a rain cape in my pocket for the 7 km descent to the finish. I was happy to keep warm on the descent! Tomorrow is a better day for me so hopefully my bad day is behind me!
I'm glad that's over! I'm glad it is going to be a while until the next time I have to time trial! Due to the sprint yesterday I set off quite late in the afternoon which meant I had to hang around all day to ride. Today's objective was to get around the time trial inside the time limit but I had to start just in front of the reigning world Champion Michael Rogers (Quick Step). So I had to try fairly hard so as not to look stupid! I held him off for 20km which I was fairly pleased with, especially as I wasn't taking too many risks in the corners. It was a fairly uneventful ride really. It was good to ride my time trial bike so far. It was a long time trial, 36km in total, giving me the chance to get used to the feel of the bike. The bikes we get are really nice to ride and look really nice too! I finally finished about 5pm then had to travel to the new hotel for this evening, which is rather strange as the time trial started and finished in the same place!
The first stage of the Tour of Switzerland is always a shock! The profiles for the stages never look too bad on paper, especially for the first few stages! The reality on the road is something else though! The first climb of the stage today was really hard. There were riders being dropped left right and center. I was glad they didn't go any faster than they did! There didn't seem to be 1 flat kilometer for the entire 170km. It was amazing how much faster the racing is over here than last week too. The roads are really good here but still the average speed was really high. From the first climb Gregory Rast (Phonak) was in the front which was perfect for the rest of us. Most of the time bonuses were taken so the the race was more controlled by the sprinter's teams. It wasn't until the last climb the attacks really started. I felt fairly good, following the front of the peleton over the climb with 25kms to go. The sprint was quite difficult though. The last 15kms consisted of 10 km into a head wind, followed by 3km cross wind and the final 2 km with a tail cross wind! As we started the final 2 km I was sitting perfectly, in about 8th position. La Francais Des Jeux were on the front going really fast. The rest of us were on the edge of the road trying to avoid the parked cars on the side of the road in the last kilometer! With about 800m to go Freddy Rodriguez came up next to me in the wind, totally flat out. I assume he was leading out Robbie McEwen. I could see Freddy was starting to slow when he tried to get out of the wind by swinging into the line in front of me. There was nowhere for me to go so I had to put my hand out to stop him pushing me off the road. It was enough we were both in the wind now. He blew and I tried to close the gap but the guys on the front accelerated for the sprint and that was it! It was a pity as he messed my sprint but Robbie was behind me so it messed all the work their team had been doing all day too! Tomoorow is a 36km time trial around today's finishing circuit. Not sure whether it is a good thing or not that I know the circuit!
It was hot today! The weather forecast was for a warm humid day and it didn't disappoint! I had a an average of 32 degrees C during the race. It really affected how the race was ridden. Max and I were supposed to look after ourselves for the first part of the race. In the past there has always been a small group at the finish so we were trying to make that group and then hopefully do something in the sprint from the small group. It wasn't to be though! As with every other race this week the attacks went from the gun, however today's race was 256km long, with the severe heat and humidity I thought any early attack were sure to be doomed. On the second time up the Manyunk wall a group finally got away. I wasn't interested in going with the attacks I was trying to get to the top each time using as little energy as possible. Using all the tricks, starting at the front and drifting back as we climbed but making sure I got over the top comfortably in the group. Initially I heard there was 4 riders from Discovery in the front, which was good but when I heard there was 39 riders I did panic a little. Normally a group so big wouldn't survive in Europe as there wouldn't be enough collaboration amongst the riders in front, but this isn't Europe! Once the group extended their lead to 5 minutes by half way and there was still little evidence of a concerted chase in the peleton, I really started to wonder whether we'd ever see the group again! Finally CSC decided to chase however they didn't have too many riders left to work. They rode for 2 laps on the front then decided it was better to attack. With 2 laps to go, Bobby Julich went really hard up the Manyunk wall, with gradients up to 17%. I felt really good and was able to go with him, along with Rodriguez. We were joined by a small group over the top but with so many riders with team mates in the front there was no real chase. It was a bit frustrating as the group in the front had split and we no longer had a rider in the front. now we had to chase, but with only Max and I we had to catch the remainder of the front group and then get help from our 4 riders there! With 15 kilometers to go we caught the group and started to chase. With 10 km to go were only 40 seconds behind and could see on part of the circuit they were not working together in the front! Then bad luck hit again! I punctured, with only 6 km to go! I had a really quick change and was able to rejoin the group but in meantime the front trio had maintained their lead, making it too late to close the gap. I had used a lot of energy getting back on and suffered in the sprint. I couldn't really sprint anymore. Now for the 7 hour flight back to Belgium! I'll be trying to recover as quickly as possible as I leave for tour of Switzerland on Friday!
It rained all day today! I thought it could rain in the UK but this was incredible. I waited and waited to try and get a training ride done but instead the weather just got worse. I'd arranged a meeting with Brian Walton to get my position checked at Cadence (his bike shop in Manyunk. PA) It was a really good service. The team started by checking leg length and any other physical features that could affect my position. Next the position of my shoe plates was checked, ensuring the my feet were in the correct position in relation to the pedal axle. Finally my position on the bike was checked. This was achieved by making sure my limbs didn't have to over extend during the normal pedal stroke. Finally I was filmed riding on a home trainer to see the final position for myself. I'm hoping to be able to upload the film soon, I'm just trying to make it a decent sized file. I'll post it when it is available
The race last Tuesday seems to have helped me get over the jetlag. I slept really well for the first time after the race which helped me adjust to the local time zone! I felt motivated to redeem myself for the fairly poor performance on Tuesday too so all in all I felt much better today. The race was, once again, held on a figure-of-eight circuit with a stretch of road (the finish straight) being used in both directions! I think it is good for the spectators as they get to see us in both directions but not so good for our nerves. There is nothing quite like seeing the break and its following convoy of cars and motorbikes hurtling towards you on the same road! Not to mention the confusion it caused some at the finish! The race was pan flat which meant there was a super high average speed. Attacks were disappearing up the road from the start flag, however with the bunch just rolling along with an average of about 30mph the groups never really got much of an advantage. I decided very early on that it was going to be a bunch sprint so bided my time in the group, trying to save energy! That was easier said than done. I quickly realised, that it is just a matter of fact, there is a different style of racing in the States. Despite the roads being much wider there seemed to be this urgency to pass in any corner, I started to get better at fighting to hold my position and by half way in the race I started to get the hang of pretending I was on my own in the race! A break did eventually get away and seemed t dangle about a minute in front, which was perfect. We had a rider in front meaning we didn't have to contribute to the chase. I started to get a bit worried when, with only 2 laps to go, the leaders still had over 1 minute lead! Suddenly Health Net decided to chase properly, the gap was closed really quickly and the preparation for the bunch sprint started. With 2km to go we passed the finish line in the opposite direction, much to the confusion of the Lampre team, who sprinted for the win and put his hands in the air only to be told by the commentator to keep going! It was an exciting finish to the race, with 9 corners in the final 1500 meters! My teammates were trying not to get involved so I tried to latch onto the lead out by Health Net but the lead out men tired due their earlier efforts and we got a bit boxed in but the corners soon lined out the group so I was able to get my position back going into the final 500 meter straight. I ended up on Rodriguez's (Lotto) wheel which was absolutely perfect. I waited and waited as it was a strong headwind in the final straight, then with 200 meters to go I stood up to accelerate, there was nothing! I didn't accelerate or slow down! I must have left my sprinting legs at home! It was a bit of a disappointment to have the got the position and then finished 4th. On the other hand it was nice to get a bit of a result after the long rehabilitation due to the crash.
It has been a long time since I raced in America. It was hard to know what to expect going into today's Lancaster GP. We were all suffering a bit from jet lag, which wasn't helped by the very late start. The start wasn't until 4.30pm US time which was about 9.30pm (UK time) for us! The race lasted nearly 4 hours meaning a finish time of about 1.30am!! Fortunately there was plenty of coffee available before the start! I'd heard that the race is usually run at a frantic pace so I tried to start near the front. I'm glad I did! The first few laps were very stressful! It seemed as though every corner was the last corner of the race! There were people passing me on both sides round the corners! It seems as though that is how races are over here, but it is a style of racing I'll have to get used to fast! The course was fairly difficult, loads of corners and hills, all made a lot worse by the very hot and muggy weather. I was feeling fairly good but not super. With 5 laps to go the attacks started in earnest. I went with a few groups but all seemed to get caught very quickly. All of a sudden a group rode away and that was it! No teams tried to chase and the race was effectively over for us! It was really strange to see. In Europe there is always a prolonged really hard section before the break eventually forcing itself off the front. Here it seemed to be a matter of being the right place at the right time! It was so frustrating to be caught in the bunch so I joined to forces to chase with Navigators for the last 2 laps but it was a case of far too little far too late! It was a long drive back to the hotel afterwards! Fortunately there is another race Thursday, hopefully we can learn how the American peleton works before the weekend and the USPRO championships.
I suffered today! Even before the start we knew today was going to be difficult! The first 20 km were up a first category mountain! Our job today was to ride at the front for as long as possible to protect Popo's lead. That was was thrown out the window when the Spanish climbers attacked right from the bottom of the first climb. The peleton blew to pieces. I really had trouble getting any sort of rhythm and ended up suffering in a small group just off the back. We were only 1m30secs behind at the top but a dangerous group had attacked. We rode flat out over the top but never got back on, despite averaging 47 km/h for the first 2 hours including the mountain!!! Eventually the groupetto, with 2 more of my team mates caught us, making our group up to 46 riders. We continued to ride to get to the finish in time so that we could work tomorrow. We thought there wasn't too much of a problem, however the organisers had imposed a delay of just 8%, which is very low for a flat stage let alone a mountain stage! As it was the whole group were just 20 seconds out of the time limit after 125 miles and the orgainsers refused to budge, saying the stage wasn't very mountainous! I find it a bit disappointing especially as we've had to put up with some very poor organisation over the week of racing, but there isn't much we can do about it. The main aim of the race was to get some good training, which has been achieved, I just hope Popo will be able to survive without us
I made it! I got up the climb in the time limit! Actually it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. With Popo in the leaders jersey we had to save as much energy as possible. I'm glad I did now as he retained his lead so it looks like we will be sitting on the front for tomorrows 200km stage! As the time trial was so hard I had to warm up really well once again! I'm getting good at riding the turbo now! From the start the road was climbing, however it was the last 10 km with an average gradient of 8% that really hurt! It was a really strange day though. There were hardly any spectators on the course plus I had no lead motorbike or following car. At one point it felt like I was out training on my own in the mountains! I quickly realised the lack of organisation was fairly dangerous too. By the second hairpin on the climb the early starting riders were descending back down the same road, flat out!! It was ridiculous, for a Pro Tour event. I'm not sure how there were not more crashes. I rode my own tempo and tried to keep my gears as low as possible, but however I ride up mountains it hurts. Fortunately my tempo was well inside the time limit and I have had the closest thing to a rest day ready for tomorrow.
Today was a mammoth stage of 237 km. However when the neutralised section before the start was included plus the 10 km to get back down off the mountain at the finish we ended up covering 255 km in nearly 7 hours of racing! Fortunately the wind was favorable as the terrain was far from that! The general profile of the stage was climbing all day, culminating with 2 mountain passes in the last 35 km! Popowych, in his first race back since Paris-Nice was keen to show how well he's been training. He was our designated leader. Max, Fumy and I were his chaperones to the bottom of the last two mountains, which doesn't sound too bad. It was 200 km of looking after him. It started badly when he missed a group of 40 riders disappearing up the road after only 5 km! We had to chase, which isn't the easiest thing to have to do at 9am on the 4th day of a stage race. Fortunately, Phonak decided to control the race a bit more after that incident - they too had missed it too, but let us chase anyway! From then on we just kept him out of the wind and helped him back into the peleton after calls of nature and a puncture. Once the attacks started on the climbs I found my own rhythm which was fortunately faster than the groupetto and rode up the climb, listening to Popo's progress over the radio. He was going very well. He rode all but 2 of the peleton off his wheel, putting time into all his major rivals to take the overall lead! It made riding up those interminable climbs a bit more tolerable. It was once again red hot and sunny. Within the first hour my suntan lotion had sweated off, so I'm burned to a cinder now! Anyway I still feel ok this evening. There is still a long way to go but we are keeping our fingers crossed!
There isn't too much to report today. We started off with a tail wind, which meant the speed was so high no attacks could really establish themselves. The hardest part of the stage were the 2 climbs, both about 7km long taking us up to about 600 meters. They were too far away from the finish to be a realistic threat for a breakaway attempt. There were a couple of attacks but not enough to split the group significantly. I was having more trouble with the heat. It was the first hot day since as far back as Tour of Qatar in January. I always take a few days to get used to it. I survived the climbs in the front despite that uncomfortable feeling of nearly melting! After the climbs Credit Agricol sat on the front for the last undulating 30kms, keeping it together for their sprinter Thor Hushvod. They blew up 5 km to go and Pedro Horillo (Rabobank) attacked 1 km from the finish. There was a moments hesitation in the peleton, which was enough for him to hold on for the win. Thor finished 2nd! I went to the front for the sprint and felt much better than yesterday. I helped Max a little bit before it got really dangerous again! Tomorrow we have a 237 km stage with 2 first category climbs taking us from sea level to 2000 meters.
Today's stage looked nasty on the profiles. There were 2 second category climbs to be negotiated in the beginning followed by another 2 late on during the stage. The first and last climbs of the day were the same narrow 6km long grind! It is always nasty to have to do the same climb twice, firstly because you know how long you have to suffer, but more importantly, the climbers know exactly where to attack to inflict the most damage! The stage was very predictable, 3 guys rode away very early on, Phonak controlled the race for a while but they seemed to get fed up of riding into the head wind and sat up with 50km to go. It looked for a while as though nobody was interested to take on the chase. The tempo was very steady heading towards the last climb, which was rather worrying! Fortunately Jan Ullrich put his team on the front just before the climb, increasing the tempo to the top. Nobody attacked! Once over the top Illes Baleares, joined the chase for the last descending 25 kilometers. Finally we caught the escapees 1 kilometer from the finish, setting up a nice bunch sprint, although it wasn't a particularly safe finish. I just tried to stay out of trouble. I still feel strong, but slow after the time off, so the sprint was a bit too quick for me. But I tried to stay in the front as long as possible. I finally decided to get out of the way when a rider from Credit Agricole came past me trying to sprint for 25th place pulled his foot out of the pedal. He swerved towards the barriers, I was already breaking hard and trying to decide which way his bike was going to go when they parted company! Fortunately he avoided the barriers but, still out of control, he swerved back into the bunch in front of me! I really don't want to crash again! My heart really starting pumping though!! Nobody fell but I'm sure it was due to more luck than judgment!
I'm glad I rode Lincoln last week. At least it let my lungs have an inkling of what they were going to have to go though today! The opening stage of The Tour Of Catalunia was a 20 km team time trial. We rode together this morning for 60km to sort out the order in which to ride and our bikes for some of us! With training done I started to get a bit nervous. It is a long time since I raced let alone did a team time trial, plus Discovery are renowned for not being slouches against the clock! Feeling motivated not to let the team down, I warmed up well on the turbo trainer which normally I struggle to do! At the last minute there seemed to be loads to do! I literally had to be prized into my new super-aerodynamic skin suit, which wasn't easy whilst sweating profusely from the warm up! Then the intercom had to be added, I was beginning to feel like a time trialist! After a quick UCI bike check we were on the start line! The race wasn't as bad as I thought. The first couple of kilometers were uphill so it was important to get going quickly. Despite the fast start I felt fairly comfortable! We worked well together until Lief Hoste had breathing problems after 7kms - he had to stop the race immediately. He damaged a lung crashing in Paris Roubaix last month. 2 kilometers further and we lost Beppu and Van Heeswijke. It changed the rhythm of the group, there wasn't much rest anymore. I felt sure we'd slow a lot now. The last few kilometers were really hard, just trying to keep the same speed. We couldn't afford to lose another rider as the fifth rider to cross the line that counted. I was sure we had not gone that quickly but we finished 2nd only 7 seconds behind the stage winners Phonak! It was a nice surprise but more importantly our GC riders didn't lose any time to their rivals.
I have been training now for a couple of weeks. Initially it was difficult as I suffered from a lot of pain in my right ankle (tendon strain), knee (heavy bruising) and thumb (Cracked in three places and tendon damage). The last few days has seen a dramatic improvement though. I even felt recovered enough to go to the Lincoln GP for a bit of extra training. I suffered a lot there but it was nice to be able to ride my bike competitively. It was a nice progression to have survived the race and giving me enough confidence in my health and fitness to train hard for the up and coming races. I'm still focusing on recovering my lost endurance at the moment as I'm sure the next few weeks of competition will be more than enough to fine tune my condition! Monday next week I will be starting to in Tour of Catalonia. From there I will ride the Wachovia week in the US before returning to Europe for the Tour of Switzerland and the National Road Race Champs.
I'm sorry there haven't been any updates. I Crashed in Ghent Wevelgem and broke my thumb in 3 places. It was one of those nightmare crashes. We were approaching the Moeren (the moors) just after De Panne on the Belgian coast road. It was a very strong headwind at that point. If it is headwind on the coast it will be a howling crosswind in the Moeren so everyone was jostling for position. Usually in such conditions only 20-30 riders survive in the front group. I was following a Barloworld rider up the outside of the bunch. I looked ahead and could see a spectator standing in the road. I thought he was going to do the usual routine of wait until the last minute to step backwards. I was a bit worried when he didn't move for a long time. After all we were thundering towards him at 55km/h. The Barloworld rider went behind him, which I think frightened him. Finally he stepped back to get off the road but I was following the the rider that had just gone behind him. I had to take evasive action so as not to hit him! I swung left to where he had been standing. It was then I realised he had been standing in front of a chest high traffic sign! I had no time to react, not even to brake. I hit the sign flat out. The impact shattered the aluminium steerer on my forks. Immediately, I could feel I had broken my thumb. From the scars on my handlebars it looks as though my thumb was crushed between the sign and the handle bars during the impact. It hurt a lot! I was taken to hospital for check ups, confirming three fractures to my right thumb, a strained ankle and knee. Roubaix looked very unlikely. I went back to the hotel for further tests with the team doctor. He also said there was a very small chance of starting Sunday. I went home very depressed and in pain. On the Thursday I tried to ride my bike. For the first 5 kms I suffered. Every pedal rev was painful in both my knee and ankle, not to mention I had to take my injured hand off the bars over every slight bump in the road. Fortunately I was riding with Dad, otherwise I think I would have gone home. After an hour my knee an ankle improved to the point where I started to believe I could ride again. I rang the team, they were delighted to take the risk with me in Roubaix, so the dream was back on! All I had to do was get my finger sorted out. The physiotherapist strapped my finger on the morning of the race totally immobilising that side of my hand. It felt great in the bus. On the first couple of sectors I felt good, I was able to stay in the front. The problem was I didn't have too much feeling in my hand due to the amount of strapping. Then disaster struck on the 5th sector of cobbles. A Credit Agricol rider tried to come underneath me on the right hand corner before the pave. He crashed, I couldn't react in time and hit him. In doing so I bent my broken finger back. The pain was incredible. From then on I could hardly hold the handlebars. I chased back on, only to crash again in the major crash that took out Van Petegem. I chased again but my hand was getting more and more painful. The last sector I rode in the bunch I could only hold the handlebars with my fingers. I could control the bike properly. I had to let the group go, it was a horrible moment. All that training and preparation ruined by a thumb!
This was the first major event for our team after Milan San Remo. The team were highly motivated to perform today, especially as Lance had decided to ride. It was quite strange turning up at the start today in a massive bus after all the years of cars and camper vans. The advantages of the bus were immediately apparent as the hoards of spectators tried to get as close to Lance as possible. In the end the soigneurs had to make a makeshift barricade around one side of the bus with the team cars. Creating a no go zone so the mechanics could get on with their work! I was sat looking out of the darkened bus windows for quite a long time, speechless. It was really strange, until that point it has been business as usual with this new team, testimony to the way they have made me feel comfortable over the last few months. However they can't protect me form this, the massive media and crowd interest. Finally I got myself ready and made the long ride down to the start area. It isn't too far but it seems to take ages due to the number of Brits who make the annual pilgrimage to Bruges! I feel so rude not to say hello to everyone, but time seems always to get the better of me. To those I didn't say hi to, I'm sorry! There are advantages of the Lance factor, it is easy to avoid the press. All you have to do is leave for the sign on at the same time! My objectives for the day were to try and get in the long break if a fairly sizeable group got away. If that didn't happen I was to take over from Max and Look after Lance as far as possible in to the race. It was impossible to get in the early break! I tried but to no avail. I'm not sure why but I just can't seem to read which break is going to go that early on! Plus I find it hard to go flat out early on in races. I have been concentrating for the last few years to save all my energy for the last 50 kilometers of classics. Eventually a group did go clear, I missed it so reverted to plan B, look after Lance. I thought I would suffer from the earlier efforts but seemed to get better as the race progressed. Lance was constantly after information about the race. His thirst for knowledge really impressed me! There is one critical point in this race and that is the Old Kwaremont. From there to the finish the race profile looks more like a crocodiles mouth than a bike race! There was a massive fight for the last corner leading to the foot of the climb. Every year it seems to be more and more crazy. I got caught behind a crash and lost 20 or so places. This proved to be critical. On the climb itself I was caught in the second split, so I had to chase over the next climb. Only to be caught again in a split! Over the next climb, the infamous Kopenberg, I could still see the lead group so I continued to chase. Finally I made contact. The chase had done me good though. I felt really strong so went straight to the front. I went with a few breaks over the next few climbs, feeling relatively comfortable but I was only there to police the moves so that Lance and George could wait for the last 20 kms. At this point the team was looking good. We still had 5 riders in the front group. Things rapidly started going wrong though! I was called back for bottles just before the Ledeberg. As I got back on I could see the attacks start at the front! I was last man in the group! There was nothing I could do. The bunch split into 4 groups. Only Lance and George made the 2nd group. I tried to move up but the race was really on now. There was no chance to get back on terms. It was a bit frustrating, I was feeling really good too. I rode to the finish in my group. The only consolation is my form is good for this week.
This mornings stage is hard every year! After a long day in the rain the day before it is really hard to do a short stage early in the morning! Fortunately they didn't go mad from the start as the normally do. Instead Lampre sat on the front and held the gap between the front group and the peleton at about 3 minutes. With 30km to go the sprinters teams started to chase. Fortunately there wasn't too much wind as this region is famous for its cross winds. It is here that the peleton is frequently blown to pieces in Gent -Wevelgem, that is still a week away yet though! Today we were able to hide in the peleton and look after Stijn in the hope that he can make up the 4 seconds deficit this afternoon in the time trial. I wanted to try and do the sprint at the finish but on short stages such as today (116km) there are too many fresh riders making it extremely dangerous. I really don't want to crash at this late stage before the classics.
Sorry there was no update for yesterday's stage. It turned out to be a very long day. I left the hotel at 8.40 am and didn't get back until 7.30 pm. To be honest the stage was very boring too! It was another very long stage, 230km in total. Once again we got intermittently soaked all day! The most exciting part of the stage was the last 100kms along the Belgian coast! There is a tram line running parallel with the road, which rather than stay on one side of it, they cross each other all the time! As you can imagine there were loads of crashes. I just tried to stay near the front and out of trouble but someone managed to fall off in front of me. He tried to jump over the tram line but instead landed bang in the middle of it. I was taking it very easy so was able to stop in time, but it did put me off trying to get up the front for the sprint! I finally sat down to eat at 8.45pm. It was really late considering the stage this morning started at 9am, hence breakfast was at 6.30 this morning! Not much recovery after a 230km stage!
We got soaked today! We signed on under very grey skies this morning for the 202 km stage from Middlekerke (on the Belgian coast) to Zottegem. We were told in the meeting to try and keep out of trouble during this race and not use too much energy. Tomorrow we have a 230km stage so we don't want to go too deep so we will be able to recover in the 2 days before the tour of Flanders. I used today to test my new bike for Paris Roubaix. Trek have made a frame with a small amount of suspension in the rear stays. Even though I tried to hide as much as possible, it turned out to be quite a hard day anyway. The finishing circuits had 3 climbs, all of which feature in the Tour of Flanders, plus a 2.5km long section of cobbles! The whole team moved to the front for the first time over the cobbles, it was a good move as there was a big crash. I heard the familiar scraping noises behind me. I was only able to look behind once we had finished the cobbles. The peleton had been reduced from 200 riders to about 50! From then on it was easier to stay near the front and out of trouble but just to add to the joys of the day it started to rain, really hard! There were a lot of nervous riders as we headed back towards the cobbles. In true Belgian style though, in the space of 15 minutes the sun came out and fortunately dried the roads! The bike felt really good on the cobbles, smoothing the harshness of the bumps. I'm sure it will be an advantage a week on Sunday! In the end a group went on the last lap. It was strange not to be too worried about the group riding away. I just took it easy and rode finished safely in the 2nd group. Tomorrow the weather forecast is rain. Though the team manager seemed to be really pleased there wasn't going to be too much wind!!!!
Well today didn't go quite as planned! I have never really like this race. Out of the 7 times I have started this race I have never felt good! I have managed to salvage a 16th and an 8th place in the last couple of years! I hoped after the good sensations of Milan San Remo and more recently Dwaars Door Vlaanderen to finally ride well in Harelbeke. It wasn't to be! I felt fantastic from the start. My legs felt really good which is always a worrying sign. If I feel good in the beginning I either go really well all day or get worse! Unfortunately today it was the later! I new something wasn't right after 90 kms when I hadn't started eating of drinking, though I didn't feel hungry or thirsty, despite the warm weather. I tried to eat before the climbs but didn't eat nearly enough. The climbs are very close together in Harelbeke so it is important to be in the front on the first climb. I was still feeling good and turned onto the Eikenburg in about 15th place. I moved up on the climb to about 10th thinking it was enough. It wasn't! Someone couldn't hold the wheel, letting a group of 6 riders go clear with 3 riders from Lotto. I reacted immediately but it turned out to be a long chase! I got back on to the lead group at the next climb the Taaienberg. To my despair, exactly the the same thing happened. It is really hard to get past slow people on the climbs as there invariably a smooth gutter. To pass someone you have to jump out of the gutter pass on rough cobbles and get back into the gutter and try to close the gap! Once again I was on the defensive and had to chase. Fortunately Rabobank had been caught out too so I had some help. The next climb fortunately passed without incident thought we were approaching the nasty combination of the Patersberg (22%) and the Old Kwaremont. I was not going to be caught out again, so I moved to the front and sat firmly on Van Petergem's wheel. Just as we turned to start the climb 2 riders came underneath me on the corner, which was really annoying as I lost all my speed at the bottom. The real gem was though, Farazijn (Cofidis) couldn't hold on up the climb! Slowly but surely taking the rest of us out of the back! Once over the top I chased to the foot of the Old Kwaremont but the leaders were gone. It was race over! I tried over the top to chase again but I started to get hunger knock. By the next and final climb of the day, I was happy the race was over! I felt really weak! It was a good lesson learned in a race I'm not too keen on anyway. I will ride 3 Days of De Panne, starting Tuesday as my last build up race for the Tour Of Flanders
Belgium turned on its best weather for today's Dwaars door Vlaanderen. The sun shone throughout the 200km of racing with a positively warm 21 degrees centigrade it made for a perfect days racing! Today's race is regarded as the opening race for the northern classics which culminate in 4 1/2 weeks time with Liege Bastongne Liege. It is also a chance to race over some the roads used for the coming classics. The probable reason for a lot of the classic specialists taking the start today. Right from the beginning there was a sense of urgency in the peleton. People fighting for the front positions before corners and roundabouts. That and the usual attacks to get on the Live television coverage helped us to cover 50 km in the first hour! I felt fairly rough, I don't think I was fully recovered from Milan San Remo, though it was encouraging to know we were traveling very quickly. I think the fast start did me good though as I felt better as the race went on. By the time we had to fight for the Old Kwaremont (a famous cobbled climb used in nearly all the northern classics) I was able to stay in the front. Lotto set the pace, closely followed by Boonen and myself. The peleton split immediately, by the top of the next climb, The Patersberg (a 22% cobbled climb!) there was only 16 left in the front group with 40 seconds advantage over the rest. With most teams represented the group worked well, even though there were plenty of fast finishers. I had a strong team mate in Stijn Devolder so we rode with the group to the finishing circuits in Waregem. 2 laps of 15 km with a section of cobble and a climb to be negotiated each lap. Lotto sent Nico Mattan up the road on the first lap which was really annoying. It meant his team mates in the group stopped riding, one of whom was Peter Van Petegem. Nobody really wanted to take him to the finish, so we decided to attack and try and split the group up again. Stijn attacked on the climb, but was closely marked by both Boonen and Van Petegem. It felt like the right moment so as they tried to recover I attacked. Initially I was away with Balducci but on the following descent we were joined by a few others. The plan worked fairly well as Mattan was caught in the chaos and both Van Petegem and Boonen were out of the picture. With one lap remaining everyone was waiting for the last climb. The predictable attack came but only served to stretch the group. I felt good on the climb so started to think of the sprint. I should have known it wouldn't be so easy! The last 5 kms there were attacks left right and center. It was impossible to stay cool and calm. I had to try and decide which attacks to go with, with a bit of help from my sports director in the car! With 2 kilometers to go Nuyens (Winner of this years Omloop Het Volk) attacked, I thought it was enough of a threat to go after it. Once I got across he stopped working leaving us open to the counter attack. It came immediately, with Eeckhout and Balducci. The rest of the group fell still. I thought it was all over and they were going to ride away. Fortunately Nuyens and Baden Cooke attacked again. It took a big effort to get across to the leaders and as we regrouped under the 1km to go flag I was just concentrating on trying to get my heart rate back down ready for the sprint! I was sitting perfectly with 400 meters to go until Baden Cooke tried to shut me in on the barriers. I had to slow and come back around him, leaving me out in the wind from 300 meters to go. I tried to hold on but Nico had a perfect lead out from me and in the final 50 meters came round me. How frustrating! Almost, but not quite! Last year I finished 3rd so, 2nd was an improvement but still it would have been nice to win. Now I have 2 days to recover before E3 Prijs in Harelbeke this Saturday!
IT is amazing how fast the time went by during today's race. When I got to the finish I couldn't believe we'd been racing for over 7 hours! It felt more like 3! It was my first participation in the 300km long, Milan San Remo, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Such a long distance and those climbs so late on in the race! With George and Max sick I was given a free role within the team, in the hope that I would get over the climbs and be able to contest a sprint if it stayed together. From Milan to the coast there was a really strong headwind, which didn't seem to deter the early attacks at all, though it did make it easier to save energy by sheltering in the bunch. Between the attacks the speed really dropped, at some points we were only managing 21km/h!! It wasn't good for my moral to start working out a predicted arrival time from those figures! The inevitable break went, which was a good thing as the peleton came alive and kept a decent tempo out to the coast. I was still feeling rough, I'm not sure why, perhaps the effects of Terrino Adriatico still in the legs, but once we climbed the Turchino and the race really started along the coast towards San Remo I felt better and better. It surprised me how hard the coastline was, I always thought it was pan flat until the Cipressa. The reality was very different. It is up and down all the way nothing dramatic, but still! The break had almost 18 minutes too so several teams started to ride, but once again I was able to hide in the peleton and although the speed rarely dropped below 55km/h (uphill included!) I felt fairly comfortable. The real race started about 30 kms from the Cipressa, there are a few small climbs to get the legs really going but mainly everone wants to be in the front for the Cipressa and the Poggio. The speed just got faster, people pushing and shoving. It really reminded me of the fight for the first section of cobbles in Paris Roubaix.... I was in my element! With some help from Haydon Roulston I turned onto the Cipressa climb in the first 20 riders. The climb itself wasn't so hard, it was the fact we rode up it so fast! Towards the top the climb the gradient reduces to a false flat but I was still suffering to stay on the wheel, I glanced down at my computer, 52 km/h uphill!! I survived in the front though! Only the Poggio to go...or so I thought! On the descent a rider from Phonac couldn't follow and left a gap! I saw the front group disappearing up the road, after 290 km I couldn't let that happen so I chased. I had to go really deep on the 10 km flat section to the foot of the Poggio. I made it but it was a big effort. The group then went flat out up the Poggio. I wasn't sure what was hurting most, my arms, legs or my head which felt like it was going to explode! To my surprise though I made it over the top in the front group, even Cipo was behind me at the top! The descent was once again manic. The Italians must know the corners like the back of their hands. I'm proud of my descending but I was on the limit in every corner! The problem was by the time the group reformed after the descent there was only 1km to go. I was too far back. I took a desperate dive into the last chicane with 600 meters to go but only made up about 5 places. The strong headwind along the Via Roma didn't help either. There seemed to be riders everywhere, I couldn't get out and had to just follow the group in rather than really sprint. I was really happy with how I felt though, especially after having had such a hard time in Terrino last week. Now the northern classics start!
I think there were a lot of tired legs in the peleton today. We set off at a very leisurely pace today. I think the previous 6 days of very hard racing plus a long flat final to today's stage put off any attacks. The stage started with a large loop including 2 difficult climbs, which I was glad we didn't actually race over flat out! We then had to cover 7 pan flat finishing circuits with time bonuses on a couple of the laps. We were interested in the bonuses as George Hincape was 9th this morning but was well within reach of 6th overall if he could take a few seconds in the sprints. With 20 Pro-Tour points on offer our tactics were simple: help George go for the bonuses. By the time we started the first finishing lap we were racing flat out again. There seemed to be a lot of riders motivated by the intermediate sprints. I felt fairly strong today so I was able to keep George out of the wind for a while before leaving him on Hondo's wheel with 600 meters to go. He finished 2nd in the sprint, moving him up to 7th overall! A quick calculation from the director in the car and 6th was still possible if he took time in the 2nd and final intermediate sprint. This time there were a lot of sprinters going for it. Afterwards we learned they were only there to take the bonuses so George couldn't overtake their leaders. There was a lot more pushing and shoving, but we worked well and George showed he hasn't lost his sprinting skills by winning! With only 2 laps to go we tried to keep George out of the wind, Any thoughts of having a go for the sprint were once again dashed by bad luck. With a desperate effort to get to the front in the last 5 km Bernard Eisel (La Francais Des Jeux) tried to squeeze through a non-existent gap on the right hand side of the road. He clipped the curb and crashed bringing McEwen (Lotto) down with him. I was only cms behind McEwen traveling at 60+ km/h I thought I was about to pile into either them or their bikes! I'm not sure how, I managed to find a way through the carnage, though in the process, I clipped a bike or something and managed to lose the locking mechanism on my shoe..... Once again I wasn't able to contest the sprint! I was happy to have got through, Now I have 3 days rest before attacking the 315km Milan San Remo on Saturday.
Sorry there haven't been reports for the last couple of stages. There were really long transfers after the stage, leaving very little time to write my diary. It is amazing how monotonous this race has become though. Until today every stage has followed a very similar pattern. We ride very slowly in the beginning, then the last hour is incredibly fast, usually taking in a climb or two in the last 30kms to make sure most of the sprinters don't make it to the end. Then Oscar Freire shows how versatile he is as a rider by thrashing what's left of the peleton in the sprint. He won 3 stages on the trot and seems to be flying. I'm sure he will be very close on Saturday in San Remo. My tale of wows seems to be continuing though day by day I am getting stronger. Today I really wanted to have a test to see how much I have progressed over the week. My job for the team was to go with early attacks and try to make sure nobody from the General classification took the time bonuses on offer at the top of the first climb after 27 kms. There were a few attacks on the flat before the climb but a strong headwind meant none really got very far ahead. It didn't deter the efforts though. We rode up the first climb so fast. I was really struggling to hold on! Initially it wasn't too good for moral. However over the top we heard on the race radio a group of 70 riders were dropped and already 1 minute behind! The news did wonders for my mood but my legs were still suffering! The attacks continued for another 30kms and there was not 1 meter flat of flat road. Finally Rabobank took control to protect Oscar's lead and the peleton admitted defeat and followed the tempo. The dropped group was able to get back on, providing Rabobank with more support from the sprinter's teams. With 3 teams sharing the work, Fassa Bortolo for Pettachi, Liquigas for Cipollini and Rabobank for Freire, the last 50 km were again super fast. With only one climb everything stayed together. I wanted to have a go in the sprint as Max Van Heeswijk wasn't too keen but once again bad luck ruled me out again. On a roundabout 3km from the finish my back wheel slipped out. I thought I had hit some oil as it was unusually slippery. It turned out to be a slow puncture..... again! There have only been 2 bunch sprints and I have punctured in the last part of the race in both of them! I hope this is getting the bad luck out of the way! We finish tomorrow.. so it's the last chance for a stage win!
There isn't really much to write about today's 180km stage. It was very similar to yesterday, except the finish was at the top of a 4km climb. It was quite frustrating in a way, as there were not too many riders capable of following the climbers up the final ascent so I can't really understand why more riders don't chance their arm. We rode piano again for at least 50 kms before the first climb. There were several attacks on the way up but as soon as the road leveled off again the tempo slowed. With 60kms to go Liquigas and Rabobank started ride, the speed was so high it was hard to move up the peleton. I started the final climb a little too far back, and wasn't able to move up. I rode my own tempo to the top saving some energy for tomorrows 230km stage in the mountains!
Well my bad luck seems to be continuing! I have just finished the first stage of Terrino Adriatico. Fortunately I made to the finish in one piece but it was a close run thing on the descent of the last climb. I wasn't sure of my form today after a sickness struck opening weekend so I was happy when the peleton decided to exercise the Italian tradition of riding Piano (an easy tempo) in the beginning. The gentle intro, plus the warm weather gave me the chance to find my rhythm before the real racing started on the first climb of the day after 80 kms. I managed to get over the top in the main group without having to try too hard but from then on we were to pay the price for the slow start. Professional races usually obey the following rule: the slower they ride in the beginning the faster they ride in the final. The last part of the race covered two 20km loops, climbing a 6.5 km climb each lap, followed by 4 finishing circuits of 4 kms. Max Van Heeswijk had said he didn't feel so good so I was supposed to try for the inevitable bunch sprint. I was looking forward to testing my condition. I managed to stay in the front group over the 2 climbs, which in themselves were not too bad. However the manic tempo we rode up them saw a good group of 60 riders dropped, Cipollini and Tom Steels amongst the casualties. On the descent I had a front tyre blow out. At the time I was we were traveling at about 65km/h. I was slipping and sliding all over the place, it really reminded me of being in a really wet, slippery cyclo-cross race! I had my foot out hoping I would be able to stop before the the rapidly approaching hairpin bend! Fortunately I did. But to my dismay there were no team cars as they were stuck behind the group dropped on the climb! I got a wheel from the neutral service car but the group was long gone. I was caught by the Liquigas led chasing group. We got back on with only 4 km before the finish, making it impossible to get to the front in time. I was just happy not to have crashed.
Today was a disaster! This morning I felt like I had recovered from yesterday, but from the first pedal rev I new that it was going to be a really difficult day! On the way to Brussels we had cross wind all the way. I never really felt as though I got going. I ended up sitting too far back in the cross winds, the race split and I was in the 2nd peleton. I wasn't too worried as there was a long way to go and several good riders were still in my group. Once it started to snow heavily, more and more riders in the group began to lose interest! When we reached Brussels and began to head back towards Brussels the last few motivated riders gave up and stopped riding. It was race over! I was quite surprised but more annoyed to have wasted a day! I have to remember in these early races there are some riders just starting their seasons! Both Ekimov and I rode to the feed zone and then got a lift back with the soigneurs to the changing rooms! Not the best start to the year. I just hope I can stay healthy from now on and get going again for Terrino-Adriatico.
I have been suffering this week from a nasty cold that seems to have been hanging around longer than normal. I started to feel a bit under the weather last Saturday on the flight home from Ruta Del Sol, the freezing weather in Belgium hasn't really helped either! Still today was Het Volk, the real start to the season, especially for the Belgians! The team was really motivated to do well given the live TV coverage. It was really strange to travel to the race on a massive bus after the last few years of arriving in a small camper to not much interest from the spectators! This year though, when we arrived the bus was immediately surrounded! Even though the temperatures struggled to get above 0 degrees there were thousands of people at the start, proving cycling is still as popular as ever here. Separated from the outside world in our bus we discussed the tactics with the sport director Dirk De Mol. Our protected riders for the day were Stijn Devolder, Max Van Heeswijk and George Hincape. I was just hoping that the lack of training would affect me too much and that at least it would stay dry! My role was to try and go with the early attacks, then if nothing went to help in the final. Het Volk is always a really hard race to ride. There is a long flat section in the beginning followed by 11 of the notorious cobbled climbs which also feature in the Tour of Flanders. The final 60 kms are all flat back to the finish in Lokeren. As with most events these days the organisers made the route harder this year by adding several more cobbled sections in the last 30 kms. Right from the start there were attacks, I think there were a lot of riders trying to get there new teams on the TV and the rest of us trying to get warm. With such a high average speed in the beginning no attacks really got much of a lead, even though no teams really controlled the race. So I settled back in the bunch to save my legs for the middle section of the race. The fast start must have tired a few riders as the the race didn't really start until the last climb of the day, the Molenberg. Van Petergem attacked taking with him 7 riders, three from our team. All three of our protected riders. It was perfect apart from one thing. Quickstep had missed the break and didn't wait long before chasing it down. Finally 20 kms to go they were caught. It started to rain and I got really cold plus I started to feel the lack of training kilometers last week. I was hoping that Quickstep would keep it together for a bunch sprint, but that was just wishful thinking! There were attacks left right and center, eventually another break went with none of our riders there, so my worst case scenario developed, we had to chase! I was flat out for 5 kilometers before we finally caught the group. I struggled to recover over the next section of cobbles, then on the final sector 7 kms to go I was caught behind a split in the bunch and rode to the finish in the 2nd group. I was disappointed but considereing how bad I'd been during the week I was happy to have been able to help out so deep into the final of a classic race like that. It was so nice to be able to get onto the bus at the finish, which was has loads of room and kept tropically warm for us! Now I just have to recover for tomorrow!
Louis Puig is run in different directions each year, this year the start was in Benidorm with the finish in Valencia. I'm not really sure which direction I prefer, they are both difficult! With the start being in Benidorm all the climbs came in the first half of the race. We went from starting on the promenade by the sea to 1000 meters altitude within the first 25 km! With only 1 rest day, which involved a 700km transfer my legs weren't feeling too fresh on the start line! A lot of teams had fresh riders which didn't help my cause! Our plan was to try and survive the first 3 climbs then try and help Max in the inevitable sprint. I was expecting a Spaniard to attack at the km 0 sign, but I was pleasantly surprised by the truce exercised by the peleton. I think the howling head wind expected for the whole ride was deterring even the most brave! George Hincapie decided to tempt fate after only 5 km by noting there hadn't been any attacks, someone must have heard him! Within seconds there were riders flying up the road left and right! George seemed to find it amusing to begin with, I not so sure he was still smiling 5 km later. I tried to move up to the front as soon as possible but the climb was really steep. I just had to ride at my own rhythm on steep sections and try to recover on the flatter parts. There were several times where I thought this is it I can't follow any more, but the road would just flatten off or the group would slow just a little! I made it over the top in the second group with George, Ekimov and Max. 13 riders had pulled away on the climb, but Rabobank had missed it and the break was caught soon after the climbs. From then on Fassa once again controlled the race, letting any breakaways get only a minute or so lead, before reeling them in. In the bunch we all tried to hide from the wind and once again save as much energy as we could for the last few kilometers. The headwind made it easy to sit in the group, which is always means a hectic finish because everyone thinks they have a chance of winning! We tried to stay as a team in the group then accelerate with 3 km to go. Max was knocked out of the line by Galvarez in the last kilometer which meant he was in the wind longer than he should have been. Eventually he finished 4th. Pettachi, with his very impressive lead out train, won easily.
I was quite happy the stage was flat today. My legs were still a little bit tired from yesterdays hard finale. It turned out it be quite frustrating though as it was the only flat stage of the race all the sprinters teams were very keen to keep everything together. From the start Kelme, Fassa and Quickstep were riding tempo on the front. There was a really strong tailwind too making breakaways nigh on impossible. It was one of those days though where it was easy to sit in the bunch but everyone wanted to be at the front as any slight change in direction would mean a very strong cross wind. Hence the whole the peleton was rotating behind the leaders. The right hand side moving up to the front, the left dropping back! The cross winds never materialised and it was clear it was going to be a bunch sprint. We tried once again to get Max in a good position, but the Pettachi train is well practised on such flat finishes. He won convincingly from Freire and Max third.
It was really cold again today, only 6 degrees! With reports of snow in Belgium though, I was happy to be in the sunshine, cold or not! I think Fasa Bortolo must have read yesterdays entry in my diary and decided to prove me wrong ! They, with the help of a couple of riders from Kelme, took control of the race right from the beginning today. I tried a few times to get away but each attempt was quickly shut down. I had wanted to get away in a small group so I could get over the 1st category and two 3rd category climbs (all in the last 40kms) in a steady group rather than having to follow the accelerations of the climbers. Stijn Devolder (Discovery) and Johan Vansummeren (Lotto-Davitamon) did eventually get away but were never given any leeway. They persevered, however they never got more than 4 minutes lead. It felt very fast all day, on the flat towards the climbs we were constantly traveling at 60+ km/hour. We finally caught the leaders again at the start of the 1st category mountain. I think the high speed had sapped the climbers strength, I was able to stay near the front over the climbs. At one point I even thought about attacking! I changed my mind very quickly, deciding it would be more use to save my strength and help Max Van Heeswijk in the sprint! Once over the climbs it was 15kms downhill to the finish with only 45 riders in the front it was easier to hold our position near the front. It was really nice as the whole team had survived the climbs in the front group. We all got together to help in the last few kilometers. Max sprinted really well and it took an enlarged version of the photo finish to show Pettachi (Fassa Bortolo) had beaten Max by 1mm.
This race just gets stranger by the day! Nobody seems to want to control the race. Kelme took the lead on the first day but decided not to defend the lead today! Even the really cold wind didn't deter the now customary early attacks. Once again I found myself following groups at 60+ km/h within the first couple of kilometers of the stage, which at the best of times is difficult, but when the temperatures are struggling to get above 3 degrees it wasn't much fun! I felt much better today though so I was keen to either get in the break or at least get over the 1st category climb after 120km in the front. Within 15km the bunch lost interest in chasing and groups started to ride away. I didn't think they were too much of a threat as there was only 1 Kelme rider in the front, he wasn't the leader either. We had 3 riders (Ekimov, Hoste and Beltran) in the front so we just had to wait and see who chased. Nobody did! The bunch rode tempo for the rest of the day, arriving nearly 25 minutes behind the front group. It was good training, but that was about all! I saved my legs again, but with a 1st category climb in the last 25km tomorrow, it will be hard to stay in the front. Baguet, won again today.
I felt a bit tired this morning after yesterdays final climb so I was hoping for an easy start to get my legs going. It wasn't to be however. The first attack was after only 2km. It wouldn't have been too bad had it not been uphill for the first 10km! I went with a few early attacks, which meant I had to go fairly hard before I was properly warmed up and my legs suffered for it! I couldn't really get a rhythm for the rest of the stage! Every sprocket was either too big or too small!! Eventually a break went and Kelme (who had the first 2 riders on General Classification) immediately went to the front and started to chase. I tried to hide in the bunch as much as possible and try and save my legs for the final climb. By the time the peleton started to accelerate to the bottom of the final 8km climb the break was only 1 minute ahead. It was really hard to hold my position near the front, as everyone wanted to be there! The stage win was still very much a possibility for nearly everyone. At the start of the climb I was too far back and missed the front split, but I certainly didn't have any sort of climbing legs on today so I rode my own tempo to the top and tried to save some energy for tomorrow. Though I still had to use the 39*25 all the way to the top such was the gradient of the climb. Serge Baguet won the stage.
It was the first stage of Ruta Del Sol today. It has been a few years since I have raced here. With Mr Bookmaker we always rode the French pre-season races such as Etoile De Besseges and Tour Of Mediterranean. It is nice to be back, the weather was fantastic today, 25 degrees with clear blue skies. There was no time to enjoy the weather though, the first attack came at kilometer 0 from one of the smaller Spanish teams. There were a lot of teams ready to follow though! In our team meeting we had discussed I should try and go if a big group went. I got myself to the front and started to go with a few attacks. It wasn't long before I found myself in a group of 22 riders headed for the mountains. We rode steadily through and off for about 15 km. Our lead had grown to 1 minute 50 seconds. It was going to be a long day!! The lead grew steadily to the bottom of the 2nd category climb half way through the 155km stage. Fortunately nobody in the front group attacked on the climb, probably we were all to scared of the 1st category climb to the finish! It was a good group with only the original attacker sitting on! At the bottom of the final 12 km climb to the fish we were all still together. It didn't last long! Kelme attacked almost immediately and blew the group to pieces. I felt good and went with them! It was a mistake, I went above my threshold and quickly began to suffer. I slowed for a while to try and recompose but with very little interval training my recovery on the climb was slow! A group of 5 riders came past and I couldn't hold on. I dropped 20 meters behind them and stayed there to the top!! Really frustrating! All in all I was quite pleased with how I went. Hopefully I will continue to improve as the week goes on.