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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

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Photo: © Franklin Reyes

Papillon: The Joe Papp Diary 2004

Joe Papp is a UCI Elite rider with the UPMC cycling team. He was a double stage winner at the 2003 Vuelta a Cuba (UCI 2.5) and in 2002 won the GS Mengoni Grand Prix, the BMC NYC Cycling Classic for elite amateur men and a stage at Superweek, among other events. Joe's writing is good enough to make boring races intriguing and intriguing races captivating.

Tour of Korea - 2.5, Korea, June 12-20, 2004

Ecstasy - go team!

Stage 4 - June 16: Kang Leung - Yang Yang, 149.5 km

Western-style beds are a rarity
Photo ©: Joe Papp
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The ACT-UPMC team
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Alvaro Tardaguila makes a bold promise
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He did it.
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The stage podium
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Joe Papp poses with the local delicacies
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Joe Papp and his teammates
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The ACT-UPMC team
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Coto's first words to me this morning were, "I'm going to win today." Given yesterday's disappointing finish, I hoped it was true and pledged my help in whatever way possible. Since Alejandro was never awarded a leader's jersey or stage winner's medal for his victory in the prologue, the team has been left feeling like we'd won an exhibition race but nothing more. A victory in today's stage would improve our morale substantially.

The route went north along a coastal highway, past the town of Yang Yang to a turn around, then south via the same route to a slight inland detour, up a short but steep KOM climb and then to the finish back in Yang Yang. Winds from the East Sea steadily buffeted the course, and after watching the first 30 minutes of racing while safely ensconced in the pack, we made a collective decision to not participate in the endless flurry of fruitless attacks that were being launched against race leader David McCann and his Giant Asia team. Rather, Alejandro, Coto, Eneas, Jerry and I would ride together in the back of the bunch, just following the field, until the wind crossed and an opportunity to launch a devastating, full-team attack presented itself.

After about 1'20 of racing, Alejandro called out to the rest of us and we started to move. Unfortunately, as he was sprinting down the right-side gutter (with me on his wheel), two Korean riders drifted into our path and we had to hit the brakes, literally, and shut-down the move. Ale kept us calm and immediately called for us to move back to the rear of the field, since we never made it all the way to the front of the bunch and our intentions still weren't known to the leaders.

We had to wait for another 10 minutes before the right moment to go, but even then, the conditions were less than ideal. A large break had already gone up the road, and there was a light chase coming from the field. No matter, as Alejandro dropped the hammer and we were off. As we hit the front of the field and went straight by it, I felt a twinge of regret for the fact that we'd unintentionally attacked just before a stationary feed zone, but we were already committed. It must have been quite a sight to see all five of us sprinting up the road and then slamming it into the left-hand gutter.

We succeeded and caught the field unaware and were steadily closing in on the break, though the cost was enormous. When we caught the escape we rode right by them, and for the first 20 minutes we averaged over 48kph; that was with only Coto, Ale, Eneas and I working. Jerry sat at the back, keeping the door closed to prevent any of the hangers-on from benefiting too much from our draft. Unfortunately, the wind wasn't truly crossed, or after this opening salvo no one would have been left. Eneas and I held nothing back, since our job was to work so hard as to reach the foot of the climb with no reserves.

Giant Asia had two riders pegged onto our break, but they both dropped back to the field in order to help their team leader McCann, who was caught out by the attack. Karl Menzies (MGZT), who'd grabbed a hold of the train by the skin of his teeth, was the first non-ACT-UPMC to help set the pace, and he was quickly joined by a Shimano (riding for Suzuki Shinri, who stood to take over the race lead if we actually stayed away). Cory Lange from Marco Polo and his Mongolian teammate also began to take pulls, though it was an all-foreign affair for the longest time. Frustrated with the reticence of the Korean riders, Ale shut down our effort and made it clear that we wouldn't work without their participation. The break slowed like a car that was sputtering as it ran out of gas, until the Koreans finally started doing their share of the work.

For the rest of the stage until the base of the KOM we motored, taking time out of the chase the entire way. When we hit the first pitch of the mountain, which was the steepest, Eneas and I were both dropped. If we'd had a better idea of the hill, we might have sat-on for the last few kilometers before the climb in order to conserve an extra bit of strength for the first 500m of the ascent, but such is life. Our race was over and we rode together down the descent and tried to stay ahead of the chase, though McCann's group caught us with 5km to go.

Up ahead, the Coto was in rare form, and he eventually bid adieu to the rest of the break, save for a Korean rider from the Seoul City team who had just enough strength to follow his attack. The finish was a formality, however, with Alvaro taking the win he'd promised, the Korean finishing second and Menzies - yesterday's second place finisher - coming third. Jerry even hung on for fifth!

To say we were happy would be an understatement. We were ecstatic. Today was our best ride ever as a team, and I won't soon forget it.

I also won't forget the horrendous drivers here, who make the worst motorists in Latin America look like driving school instructors in comparison. While the organizers were trying to present stage winner awards after the finish, a car and two motor scooters buzzed through the center of the podium area, nearly running down a commissaire.

More pizza for lunch and dinner, putting the final nail into the coffin of what was once my favorite food.

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Email Joe at joe@cyclingnews.com