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The Scott Sunderland Diary 2004
Racing to the sun in Paris-Nice
Stage 8 - March 14: Nice - Nice, 144 km
The last day!
It was good weather, good start and a good crowd for the final stage, but it was pretty daunting coming into it. Everybody knew it was going to be, especially those who had done it last year. This is like a Tour stage or a Giro stage - you don't get many as hard as this with five climbs, each 8 km, all within close proximity of each other. It was a heavy day but it would have been great for the spectators. I think I counted about 50 swimming pools up the Col d'Eze. You see all these big mansions, nice swimming pools full of blue water ready for the summer. People are doing it tough up here I reckon.
It was a very fast start: we had 3 km of flat, then we hit the Col d'Eze for the first time and straight away the attacks went. The first 3 - 3.5 km were hard as they were the steepest. Then a there was a bit of a reprieve on a false flat, then another 2 km section that was quite steep again before the top.
Today you really knew that you'd done such a hard day yesterday. You had no time to ride into it. There were a lot of good climbers who were chewing on the bit as well as the not so good ones! No-one was doing it easy.
After the Col d'Eze, which was a first category climb, we dropped down a very fast descent to go to the Col de la Chateauneuf. The second time we did that, Erik Dekker nearly came to grief with his carbon fibre wheels. He couldn't brake and just missed George Hincapie! The hairpins were very steep.
Then we went across and up to the Chateauneuf. It's second cat. climb and there are a lot of very tight hairpin bends going up it. Mostly I was riding my 39x17 or 16, but sometimes I was changing up to the 21 or 23 just to accelerate out of the corner. It was pretty tightly packed and we were shoulder to shoulder. The guys who were riding in front would get a better line but we'd have to accelerate to get on the wheel, elbows out just to hold your position. It was something like 20 sprints out of the corners. That made it hard.
The second time on the Col d'Eze wasn't too bad. Fassa were riding tempo at the bottom, then a Euskaltel rider took over and led to the top. It was hurting, but it was OK. That climb caused the biggest split of the peloton I think.
The second time on the Chateauneuf...oooh. That's where I came undone. A couple of kilometres from the top I couldn't keep it up. I slipped a few places and went out the back with Mario Aerts and a few of the other guys. Then we went and did the Col d'Eze for the third time and headed down to the finish in Nice. I was happy with it. I would have liked to do more but didn't expect more.
Both descents were quite fast. The corners you could do in 53x11/12, freewheeling or pedaling, we were just going so fast. You could take them full whack, especially the second time as the first time we were just checking it out. For that matter I'm really happy with the bike that I got a few days ago. This bike is descending nicely and these X3 Campag wheels have a higher profile than the Nucleon wheels: they're fantastic.
Overall it was a fast day. 145 km just went like that. Even the 10 km back to the showers was quick. Luckily I speak French well and can find my way around, otherwise I would have had problems finding them. The showers were about 8-10 km from the finish, and we had to ride right back past the airport through the traffic. They could have done with a few more arrows...
We also had cars coming at us today. We were only a couple of minutes behind at the bottom of the Col d'Eze the last time and there were cars coming the other way! We're lucky our team car, and US Postal's team car went ahead of us to keep the people out of the way. A mountain biker came around a corner and nearly took Baranowski from Liberty Seguros and myself out! That was a bit disappointing as we were only couple of minutes behind.
Vinokourov made the best of his missing the move on the first day there. He realised he wasn't a classement player and he definitely had the legs. Three stage wins - what more can you say?
Also, Johan Bruyneel's got one up his sleeve if Armstrong gets sick: George Hincapie! He's been climbing well and I haven't seen him this good at this time of year. For a boy who bumps along on the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix, he's doing Ok.
Weather: finally good
It was nice and sunny today, although still a little fresh. The legs were a little bit better today as I could actually sweat. To me, sweating is when you've got it on your brow and on the inside of your glasses, not when you're rugged up in thermal gear.
All in all, I'm happy to get through it. I feel OK: tired, but not shattered. This will do a lot for me, and my condition is a lot more solid coming into the classics.
Next week they've forecast 15-20 degrees all the way from Paris to the Cote d'Azur. All you can say is "That's bike racing, c'est la vie."
That's all folks until the classics!