February 23, 2006 – The season is underway for us and it has been a tough but fruitful start to the year. The Tour of California, my first race, started off with a tough uphill prologue in downtown San Francisco – a vicious way to get the year going. The first half of the Tour is the hardest on paper and, likely, the General Classification will not change much after yesterday’s time trial where Floyd Landis crushed the competition.
My teammate George Hincapie went into the TT with the race lead after his stage victory on Tuesday (Stage 2), the team’s first win of the year. Tuesday’s mountain stage was perhaps the hardest stage of the race with a tough steep twenty-minute climb, thirty kilometers from the finish. I had previewed the climb with Tom Danielson a week ago so I had a good idea of how hard it would be in the race, but we also knew the descent towards the finish well. Our goal going into the stage was for Tom to attack and climb away alone, and if that was not possible, to try and have several riders get over the summit within a minute of the leaders so that we could chase together on the descent and lead George out for the stage. George’s victory was a great team effort as every member of the team played a key role in getting him to the line for the win.
Having chased for almost over thirty kilometers yesterday, and then leading out the sprint, my legs were empty and tired for yesterday’s time trial. I was never able to get on top of the gear and couldn’t find my rhythm during the 27K effort. The team fared well although George dropped to fourth overall. We had several riders in the top twenty and all in the top fifty which keeps several of us within striking distance of the lead.
The stages that are coming are rolling to hilly and could be challenging if a strong wind is blowing off the Pacific. Early season races are harder for teams to control because riders do not have the same endurance or sustained power they might have during the middle part of the year which means that when they’re at the front working they can tire easily and are more apt to let the race get out of their control.
There is no doubt that both CSC and Gerolsteiner will have the same objective as us – to attack Phonak repeatedly and everyday until the finish in LA. Although the overall standings have been established the race has not yet been won.
The courses and weather have been ideal for cycling and the crowds have been comparable to any race in Europe, and even larger than most overseas. I am always amazed at how many people come out to watch bike races in America but how little television coverage the races get. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people watching with enthusiasm each day. If so many people are standing for hours at roadside waiting to watch us race and pass by in seconds, I would have thought that the sport would also be popular with television viewers.