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Michael Barry Report – Early Season Racing

March 4, 2008 – The racing season is well underway and I’m slowly getting my legs back underneath me after the long break from racing. In the last couple of weeks our team has been competing on several fronts as the 29-man squad is stepping into the season to attack several objectives: the early season Cobbled Classics, the Ardennes Classics and the Giro.

I began the season last week in Italy in a one-day race on the Mediterenean coast in Laigueglia. The race is an Italian one-day classic that is hilly enough to cause splits in the peloton and fast and long enough to make the race hard and wearing. From Italy we piled into the bus for a quick trip to France for Haut Var.

Haut Var is a classic French race – where Ireland’s Sean Kelly won one of his first races as a young pro and where the climbers for Paris-Nice and the Ardennes Classics can test their early season form. It is a race of attrition that is nearly always won by a strong rider who’s had a number of successful spring victories. For us, it was another race under our belts and another step toward finding some good form for our future objectives. The team was competitive and helped animate the finale but with few races in our legs we were still lacking the needed speed and race rhythm.

Last weekend, we competed at another one-day race in Lugano, Switzerland. The day was abnormally warm and hydration became one of the biggest factors as we raced under sunny skies and 27 degree Celsius heat. Like Laigueglia and Haut Var, the GP Lugano has a tough and relentless parcours with many climbs and little recovery between them.

The last time I raced in Lugano was in 1996 at the U23 Road World Championships. I have fond memories of the week spent up there. I had a great race and proved to myself that I could be competitive with the best and felt at home in the passionate world of European cycling. The crowds were animated – it was how I’d imagined it when I was a kid racing in Ontario: the air horns blasting, the painted roads, the aroma of chestnuts and hot dogs cooking on the roadside…

In Lugano, the team performed well and Linus Gerdemann came close to victory but he was caught in the last 5km after being up front alone over the last climb. As I expected, I struggled on the final lap, but was happy to get some needed work and speed in my legs.

This coming weekend, I will be up on the racing battlefields of Flanders where the hills are steep, short, and cobbled and the strong wind makes racing hard and selective. The event, Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, a three-day stage race, is not known for its good weather, but in a region known to produce the best cyclists and where cycling pulses through the blood of the society, it is a race that is thrilling and puts hair on every cyclist’s chest.

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