Thank goodness we still have fantastic weather! It made the stage bearable today! From the start our objective was to make sure we had someone in the breakaway. From the last few days experiences we were all on the front row of the bunch at the start! Sure enough the attacks went left and right for the first 10km. We took it in turns to cover the moves, eventually Bert Grabsch, was the lucky one, I think! He was away for the entire stage, only to be caught on the last climb to the finish! Once again we had the most ridiculously dangerous finish. There was a 5 kilometer descent on a two lane road to the red kite, where we turned left onto a very narrow 1 lane road uphill to the finish. I'm sure you can imagine how many riders tried to be first into that corner! People were bouncing of each other, locking back wheels, generally out of control. I just wonder what would have happened if it had rained all week like last year. Tomorrow is going to be a big day, 200km and 9 categorised mountains!
It seems this race is just getting faster and faster. With the start half way up a climb it was always going to be fast but it still surprised me at just how fast it was. The peleton split under the constant attacks. Fortunately I felt the best I have all week so I was able to stay in the front. It is quite a relief after last year, by this point of the race I was suffering to stay in the bunch at all let alone in the front. Eventually the long break got away and the customary chase began. With the finish at the top of a 3km climb a lot of the teams with General Classification contenders helped, resulting in a really fast stage. Most of the way along the valley we were traveling above 55km/h into a head wind. I was thankful we weren't asked to help! On the final climb I rode my own tempo iq option review, which at some points wasn't very fast at all, I was producing 490 watts to do just 8km/h!
What a ridiculous stage! It amazes me sometimes the interpretation some of the commissars have of the rules of racing. Yesterday I was fined and penalised 20 seconds for riding back to the peleton after a call of nature! I could understand had I been dropped and was cheating to get back on, then I would have deserved to be kicked off the race and fined, but that was not the case. If they don't want me to ride behind the cars then get the convoy of cars and motorbikes out of my way when I'm trying to come back. Most of the team directors are good drivers in the convoy but some of the drivers associated with the race leave a lot to be desired to say the least! In the past it was always a bit of quid pro quo. A bit of help from the cars in a straight line, then baulked badly by the next one in the corners and uphill. While I'm ranting, I'll make a positive suggestion. Perhaps they could have spent the time it took to write my fine inspecting today's finish. For the third time this week we have had an irresponsibly dangerous finish. The last 5 km were on a big wide 80-90km/h downhill then, with 500 meters to go, the road narrowed. In their wisdom they put the crowd barriers on the road, further restricting the size of the road. You can imagine how unnecessarily dangerous the finish was for us, 160 riders trying to fit into a width restriction 500 meters from the finish at speeds in excess of 70km/h. I think we should impose a system where the riders can fine and penalise the organisers and UCI! As you have probably gathered today didn't go so well. It was the longest stage with a few climbs in the last 50km. The early break went, we all thought it would be caught but 1 riders managed to survive. I was trying to get up there for the bunch sprint but had to decided between hitting the crowd barrier or braking heavily in the last 500 meters. I chose for the latter! 220km of hard work all lost in the fraction of a second. Very frustrating!
Well we lost the race in the first 10km today! I must admit i was a bit surprised how many riders went away in the beginning of the stage but we should have had a rider in a group of 17! As it was we didn't and the price we paid was severe! We had to chase and it was really hard! We rode flat out with help from CSC for about 40km. I didn't or couldn't really see how fast we were going but we caught the group after about 45km, we then rode slowly to the 50km point where I happened to notice we passed in 52 mins and it wasn't flat! Almost immediately a group of 4 riders went clear, Saunier Duval started riding tempo on the front of the bunch. It was a really nasty tempo, not fast enough to be really hard but by no means easy either! The leaders were once again caught before the finish. It seems a long time ago the early move has survived in a pro tour race. So once again arrived at the bottom of the last climb to the finish as a large group. Quick Step went so fast from the beginning, I couldn't follow, my legs still suffering from the long chase and hard day! I was happy to see I wasn't the only one suffering, the whole Quick Step team came backwards too! They went too hard for themselves! There was something nice about today though, between the climbs I was able to say hello to Markus Zberg from Switzerland. He was the rider that attacked on the first lap of the World Junior Cross champs in Leeds '92. I had to chase really hard to catch him but it did give me the race winning lead! He is riding for Gerolsteiner now.
I had a great day today! The sun was shining, and the first break went before the 'Km o' and the bunch seemed happy to let it go. No 60km/h average for the first hour and none of the snow that froze us on this stage last year! Dave Millar had obviously told his team to defend the jersey as they started to chase very early. It is going to be a long week for those guys. I'm not sure it was the right thing to do so early on but we shall see. Towards the end Lampre helped chase and the break was caught well before the finish. I was trying to help Greg Henderson (fresh from a couple of good sprints in California) to the finish today. Our tactic was to try and stay near the front then just before the last corner 800 meters to go I'd tow him up to Boonen's back wheel. The plan worked perfectly... almost, I left him on Boonen's wheel but for some reason Boonen hesitated 400 meters to go, Greg was boxed in and a wave of riders passed him just before the finish. Tomorrow we'll try another plan!
I hate prologue time trials or at least the prologue for Paris Nice! For some reason I cannot do this circuit! I think it is because it is so short and the climb is in the beginning so I never really get going! Plus the start area for the time trial is a mess. As it is in the centre of Paris, the opportunity to warm up on the roads are very limited. After lasts years effort (I went too hard at the bottom of the climb and suffered over the top) I decided to take the bottom of the climb fairly steadily and then try to accelerate nearer the top. I felt much better this time though I think I may have gone a bit too steady! On the top I still felt relatively good, which didn't really help as it was just downhill to the finish!
I had a great day today except for the last 500 meters. I have ridden this race many times in the past, never with good weather. Today was fantastic though, 14 degrees and sunny! The race comprised of a big loop with 4 climbs, nothing serious, then 4 laps of a 20 km long rather lumpy finishing circuits. The racing really started there. With several sections of cross winds the bunch was quickly whittle down to just 25 of us. Then on the last lap 5 of us escaped, myself, Adam Hanson (T-Mobile), Gilbert, Casper and Gilling. We had to use our numerical advantage so as we neared the finish but Adam was really tired and Gilbert closed down every effort. It was a bit strange as Casper is renowned for his sprinting, so to give him a free ride to the finish wasn't playing into any of our hands let alone his own. In the end we started the last climb all together and Jimmy Casper won. I was a bit frustrated at the tactics played, but happy to have been fighting for the win!
Kuurne Brussels Kuurne is always a really hard race. The race route isn't that hard, only 6 of the Flemish climbs figure on the 196km route but the 200 km from the day before are still very fresh in the legs! Normally a few teams change a few riders in their squads to give a few fresh pairs of legs, ensuring a fast start usually! I was praying for them to take it easy in the beginning as my left buttock was really sore and stiff from the crash yesterday. My prayers were answered, a strong head wind to Brussels deterred the usual long break and we started to head back to Kuurne as a big group. The critical part of the race was the the 3 climbs that come straight after each other, the Kruisberg, the Old Kwaremont and the Mont L'Encluse. It is imperative to stay in the front for these climbs, but I think everyone knows that! After the climb the peleton was reduced to about 40, which would have been perfect. Once again (the race slowed last year too) the peleton regrouped and we came to the finishing circuit with a lot of riders still in contention. Quick Step took control on the finishing circuit to lead out Tom, for the rest of us it was a matter of fighting behind to profit from their lead out. Chavenel once again took loads of risks to follow Boonen, after yesterday I let him have the wheel, I don't need him to crash in front of me twice! On the last corner I was swamped and lost about 10 places. By the time I could get out the sprint was in full flight, making it difficult to pass people.
The season has really begun! It was an epic day too! Winds gusting over 100km/h plus rain. It couldn't have been a more 'classic' classic day! I was really looking forward to today after feeling quite good in Ruta last week. Unfortunately I felt awful from the start. I really don't know why. Perhaps it is due to the atrocious weather in Belgium for the last week, I was soaked everyday and cold too! Anyway I tried to stay in the race and hoped things would improve. Het Volk is a really hard race to predict, I think it is because at only 200km it is relativly short, plus the climbs are fairly early on in the race. This allows a lot of riders that are normally not able to fight for the front as the distance has usually made a natural selection. The result was, on most of the climbs today there must have been a hundred riders trying to be 1st on a cobbled climb made for 1 car! When you are not feeling the best, it is really frustrating having to close gaps left over the top by riders not able to follow the leaders. Once the climbs were negotiated though, the size of the group rapidly reduced and we could concentrate on the cobbled sections that were obviously going to decide the winner. As you can imagine after the last month or so of constant rain Belgium has endured, the cobbles were in a very poor state! On the penultimate section, there are several corners. I could see the leaders had braked for the next corner, it was very wet and slippery so I started to brake slowly. Chavanel was one place in front of me panicked, slammed on his brakes and promptly fell off right in front of me! There was nowhere to go, I hit him and landed heavily on my hip on the cobbles. By the time I got up and got going on the cobbles there was a 100 meter gap. I think the guys in the front heard there was a crash (several riders fell behind me too!) and accelerated hard to the finish as it was only 12 km to go. I am really hoping now I have three (superstitions!) really unfortunate incidents that have been out of my control, so hopefully now I can get on and race properly!
Today was always going to decide the General classification. With five 3rd category climbs, 2 of which were in the last 30km of the stage it was obvious it would be a small group at the finish. The bad weather, rain and cold made the already difficult conditions worse! The first 3 climbs were rather uneventful, which lulled everyone into a false sense of security. The sparks started to fly as soon as the penultimate climb began. First Cunego attacked, which was fairly impressive to say the least. I adopted my usual mountain survival technique - move as far forward as possible in the group, find a good climber and try to follow! The climb was 5 kms of purgatory! It was definitely the hardest 3rd cat climb I have ever done! Well, at least until I had seen the last climb of the day! At 9km in length the average gradient wasn't too steep, however the climb was not a steady gradient. Rather 1km really steep followed by 200-300 meters to recover then steep again! It was horrible, similar to a really nasty interval session Simon would suggest for me! There were attacks all the way up the climb, people motivated by the fact the first 30 rider in the overall classification were separated by only 35 seconds. My game plan was to survive to the top then see who was left for the sprint. Over the top the group had been whittled down to just 25 guys. Freire had made it but other than that there were no sprinters! This is where I made my mistake. I relaxed, trying to recover on the descent as much as possible. I should have known a 7km wet descent to the finish in Spain would spell disaster. The group split on the downhill, both Freire and I missed it. We had to pass half the group then bridge the gap. Freire was descending like craxy. I just tried to follow him. I have to say I felt very safe on my new bike. The Giant Compact frame handles really well, added to that the amazing grip from the Continental tyres (I will get the model name of the tyres we used as they are the best I have ever used) I was able to hold on. On each corner I heard people crashing behind us. We caught the leaders on the last corner 800 meters to go. I tried to follow Freire to the finish but he accelerated really quickly. I lost 2 bike lengths and struggle from then on. Eventually I finished 6th on the stage.
We were once again greeting with cold temperatures and rain today. It wouldn't have been too bad had the opening 50 km not passed through the olive region. The roads were filthy, within 5 minutes all the riders were covered in mud. I have been cleaner after 'cross races! Fortunately 2 riders escaped before the first climb (Eric Bauman - T-Mobile). It meant the peleton rode fairly steadily down the first couple of descents which were very slippery. One of the motorbike outriders skidded off at one of the hairpins. Ominously the race ambulance charged past the peleton 20 minutes later. Today was always going to be a sprint so I tried to get up there for the finish. It was a difficult sprint to get right as it was downhill for the last 10km into a head wind. These are the worst conditions as it is easy to move up to the front, so everybody does! I was sitting perfectly until 1.5 km to go when Napolitano decided he wanted to be where I was. He just head butted me and pushed me off the wheel. I would have fought back but he must weigh 90kg! It meant I was out in the wind. Trying to get back in the line is not easy. It took me until 500 meters to go to get shelter which when you are sprinting against the likes of Boonen is fatal. The only positive thing is it is hard tomorrow so Napolitano shouldn't be there by the end! So hopefully the sprint won't be so dangerous!
I knew I shouldn't have
complained about the downhill start to races over here! There was much
deliberation on the bus this morning as to just how hard the first climb
was going to be, starting at the km 0 and climbing for 7km it was always
going to be nasty! It is all very well calculating the gradients etc but
the most important factor as far as I'm concerned is just how much of a
warm up the little Andalucía riders had before the start! It seems they
had a good one! Despite the rain and cold wind one of them attacked from
the foot of the climb. From then on it was a case of survival, riders
throwing clothes off left right and centre, trying everything to stay on
the wheel in front. About half way up I passed the first attacker of the
day, breathing so heavily I though he would have to stop. I didn't have
too much sympathy at that point! I managed to get over the top in the main
group fortunately! Someone dangerous for the race lead must have gone in a
small break over the top, the speed never dropped below 65km/h for 20km!
Eventually we caught the group at the bottom of the second climb of the
day! People tried to attack but I think a lot of riders were suffering and
no groups were able to get away. Quick step started to ride on the front,
hoping for a bunch sprint for Tom Boonen. It was a really hard finish once
again, 3 km gradually uphill to the finish. I tried to get up there in the
sprint but Rabobank went up the last climb so fast I was already in oxygen
debt 400 meters to go! My sprint was more a case of trying to hold speed
rather than accelerate. I seem to be getting better each day though, which
is good for my motivation!
was very fast again today. Spanish races seem to have a habit of starting
downhill on a motorway! I think we averaged 55km/h for the first hour! It
didn't stop anyone attacking though. I'm not sure how fast they could ride
on their own but they must have been feeling good to attack at those
speeds! I would've been comfortable in the bunch had I not been desperate
for a pee! I tried to hold on but in the end it seemed the race would
never slow down. It's never easy to pee on the move but at 60km/h downhill
it was really not easy. I managed it though and was quickly bad to the
safety of the peleton. I felt a bit rough at the beginning of the first
climb, but by the top I had worked my way to the front. The speed was so
high nobody could create a big enough gap, on the decent the peleton was
all together. For what seems to be the first
time the peleton rode fairly steadily and nobody seemed to
challenge it, except of course 1 rider from the local Andalucia team.
Everybody was happy to let him go. Lotto chased and he was caught again at
the bottom of the last climb. After yesterday's uphill finish I was
encouraged by my form so decided to give it a try. I surprised myself how
I was able to hold my position. I was following Freire as I thought he
would win. With 1km to go he seemed to fade, I had to pass him as he left
a gap which cost valuable energy. I thought it was worth it though. I
never really recovered. I was in oxygen debt 500 meters to go, what really
made it worse was Freire passed me 300 meters to go and won the stage! I
was close but that last little acceleration just wasn't there. I was
pleased though as it was a really hard finish!
I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything else after Besseges last week! I don't think the back of the bunch had passed the Start sign before the first attack was launched. In typical fashion by a rider from a small Spanish team that I get the feeling I will be hearing a lot of this week! The speed was ferocious for the first 50km, which included two 3rd category climbs. We had a bit of a scare as a group of 14 riders went clear, with none of us there. We were able to chase it down fairly quickly though except for 2 riders. We decided it was not up to us anymore. Lampre chased, followed by Rabobank then finally Saunier Duval tried to close the gap. The 2 unbelievably stayed away to the finish! It was not easy in the bunch, so to stay out front with the wind that was blowing today was a tremendous feat. I finished in the peleton about 10th. It was a difficult uphill to the finish, I was a bit boxed in 150 meters to go so I just made sure I didn't lose time
I felt much better today. All that was missing today was a little bit of luck! We did 2 laps of a large circuit today, with a 6km climb just 15km to the finish. Getting over this climb in the front group was going to be crucial! Most teams realised it too as most of the peleton was happy to let Cofidis ride a good tempo on the front until the bottom of the afore mentioned climb. The tempo steadily increased until the bottom where we were near sprint lead out pace! I was in my element and was able to stay near the front as we made the final turn onto the climb. From there the climbers took over and I tried to hold on as long as possible. There were attacks going left and right, with 1.5 km to go it got really hard. I was going to have to let 20 or so guys go when Axel came past me. He is a really good rider to sit behind on a climb, he can hold a very constant tempo. Just near the top 10 riders went clear. I went over the top, with Axel's help in the 2nd group of about 20. Credit Agricole had missed the front group and duly chased and caught the front group 5km from the finish. We were going to be sprinting for the win. I felt really good, the best I had felt all week. With 1.5 km to go I latched on to Sebastian Chavenal's wheel. Not long after there was a very loud crack followed by a rear derailleur passing my right ear! It was mine! An Ag2R rider had rammed me and snapped my gear off. Race over! I was not happy - to say the least! The rider apologised, citing he had been looking behind trying to locate his sprinter! What on earth was he doing looking behind at 50-60km/h, 1km from the finish. It's a miracle he didn't cause a much worse accident. Hopefully my luck will change soon!
I thought there would be some sore legs after yesterdays stage, apparently there weren't! The race was on from the start again today! I went to see an Osteopath last night as my back was really sore after the stage. It helped a lot, I felt much straighter on the bike today though it can leave you feeling a bit weak for a couple of days. A super fast start was exactly what I didn't need. I tried to get in the early break, which isn't easy at the best of times but when you're feeling a bit off it was going to be a long shot! In the end the speed was so high the groups that did manage to get away never got very far. It looked like it was going to be a bunch sprint as there was only 2 riders in the front with 20 km remaining. As both Mark and Andrei have stopped due to sickness I had to try the sprint. I got the front and had a perfect position but the acceleration I needed to win wasn't there. In the end the 2 leaders did make it to the finish so we were sprinting for 3rd anyway. I ended up 9th
That was incredible! The route for today's stage was incredibly hard. There was hardly 1 meter flat but more importantly there was a 13 km climb to be negotiated twice! The first attack came within the first km of the stage and that was it, the race never slowed down. I have been struggling for the last couple of days since my crash on Tuesday and have been struggling to find my rhythm. The climbs today just exaggerated the problem. Over the long climb for the first time I already knew I wasn't feeling great. I hung on though only to get caught behind a really nasty crash on the descent. 2 riders hit a speed bump at 80 km/hour, lost control and hit a brick wall. Both riders were taken to hospital with various breaks. As I passed them on the road I had feared much worse! By the bottom of the descent we were 2 mins behind the very fast traveling bunch and we never saw them again! I rode groupetto to the finish.
Today's stage was much more reasonable. I think there were a lot of riders with sore legs today. 1 Rider attacked from the beginning of the stage, Credit Agricol went to the front immediately and started to chase at a very steady tempo and the scene was set for the rest of the day. There was a climb on the finishing circuit which livened up the peleton towards the end. It was a really nasty climb to be negotiated 5 times! I was ok until the penultimate climb, I punctured at the bottom! For the second time this week I was standing on the road side watching the group ride away very late on in the race! A really quick wheel change (I think the mechanic had more than his fair share of stress at that point!) and I was off chasing again. I got back to the group by the top of the climb where Axel had waited to take me to the front! The group was lined out so it wasn't easy but he took his time and I eventually made it to the front at the foot of the last ascent! The race was really on now, I had to really dig deep to make it over in the front group, which turned out to be a bit of a waste as the peleton reformed on the decent. I tried to help Andre in the sprint again, he eventually finished 3rd. I was pleased to have been able to get back to the front... hopefully no punctures tomorrow!
Wow! that was fast! Today we averaged 45.6km per hour, with several climbs and some foul weather! It started to rain just 10 km into the race, which is not good if you're trying to recover from crashing the day before. I felt pretty stiff all day. I only really started to feel better 20km from the finish. We were trying to help our sprinter today, Andre Greiple, as it was obvious from the average speed of the peleton it was going to be a bunch sprint. The finishing circuit was really dangerous and in the last 2 km our train was broken when thed peleton swerved round a parked car on the circuit. Mark managed to get through but both Andre and I had to almost stop! Mark managed to get 2nd on the stage so all was not lost but there was definitely the feeling of we could have done better!
My first race of the year was by far my best! It was great to be back racing though. It feels like ages ago I lined up for a road race. We were really lucky with the weather, the morning rain gave way to sunshine as we set off for the 127km between Gardanne and Marseille. I didn't feel that great in the beginning, plus the race started with my pet hate, a long climb in the first ten kilometers! I managed to hold on, near the front in fact, though it did hurt. A small group clipped off the front just over the top. I chased, as our tactics were to be represented in groups of 5 or more. That was it! We were gone for the day! The group had swelled to 14 riders by the bottom of the decent. Everyone worked well and the lead steadily grew until the first categorised climb of the day. 3 riders accelerated 500 meters from the top. I sat tight in the group as I thought they were just going for the mountains classification plus there was still 80km to the finish! It turned out they were attacking for the finish. It was perfect for me, we were still 12 riders together chasing behind, and as Jeremy was probably the guy I had to watch out for the most in the sprint at the end working hard in the front group of 3, things seemed to be going well. The 3 riders hovered around 40 seconds but each time we went uphill their lead tumbled. With a 7km climb 12km to go I was sure we would catch them. At the bottom of the climb they had 35 seconds and we were closing fast when disaster struck. A guy from Lotto tried to pass me but was so close he caught my hadlebars. It knocked my front wheel away and I crashed uphill!!! I was devastated, my rear derailleur was broken so I had to just watch the group ride off up the climb as I waited for the car. Those 20 seconds seemed to last forever. Back on my spare bike I started to chase. I caught the back of the group - several riders were dropped on the climb and were hanging at about 15 seconds from the front of the group I was originally in. I knew I had to get across to them quickly if I was to see the front of the race. I made a massive effort to go across on my own, just as I got there someone attacked. I was already in oxygen debt so I had to let them go again! I rode my own tempo and got back on again. But rather than chase the group just attacked each other, letting the leaders stay in front. I tried to recover on the decent to the finish but the effort on the climb and the crash had taken the sprint from my legs. I was happy I was good enough to get back to the front on such a hard climb. Hopefully I won't be too stiff tomorrow!