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59th Vuelta a España - GT
Spain, September 4-26, 2004
Scott Sunderland's Vuelta Diary
Cyclingnews' longest contributing diarist Scott Sunderland is taking part in his fourth Vuelta a España in 2004 as part of the versatile Alessio-Bianchi team. Scott's role will be to help Pietro Caucchioli as well as having opportunities for stage wins. Once again, he'll be providing his highly experienced viewpoint on the Vuelta, its riders and anything else.
A relaxed start
Stage 1 - September 4: León - León (T.T.T.), 28 km
It's been a bit of a relaxed start to the Vuelta actually. If we didn't have to do our medical controls on Wednesday, we probably could have come in on Thursday night. We had the rest of Friday for a ride, then the team presentation at 7:30pm. We were on the stage for about 15-20 seconds. We didn't get any hour long lectures like we did from Leblanc in the Tour!
In fact we didn't even see an official. It was like, "If you don't speak Spanish we don't want to talk to you." So that gave us more hanging around time and we could get plenty of rest and sleep. The Vuelta is a good race - it's different and more relaxed than the other grand tours. It's my fourth Vuelta, but it's the first time I've done it at this time of year.
After the TTT you can see that there are two sprinters in a good position as far as the leader's jersey is concerned: Max van Heeswijk and Erik Zabel. Floyd Landis took the jersey today and US Postal must have been going! I know that T-Mobile was hammering because I saw the final part of their ride on TV. US Postal lost a rider in the first 8 km too.
We had Cristian Moreni sitting on until halfway through, but when we came into 2.5 km to go, there were a couple of corners. Then Moreni and the others started pulling through really hard. I was last wheel and I lost 2m, 3m, 5m...I ended up going off the back. I was a bit pissed off, especially after Moreni sitting on!
Liberty Seguros split themselves in two towards the end as well - there were four guys up the road and two chasing. There were quite a few corners in the final there and that made it a bit hard for everyone after you come down off the hill. In the last couple of kilometres you're just fanging it.
We weren't out to break any records today. We don't have anyone for the classement - it's just stage wins with Moreni and Caucchioli in the mountains and Angelo Furlan for the flats. Martin Hvastija, Ruslan Ivanov, Vladimir Miholjevic and myself will try to pick up a stage win in the first 10 days.
I think most teams generally are going for stage wins in the first 10 days. The four days after that are pretty heavy, then there's the one flat day after Sierra Nevada...and that means nobody's too confident going into the last five days. So in the first 10 days, every man and his dog is going to be up there. We expect some very fast days coming up.
There should be a bit of a crosswind in the next few days. Teams like USPS and T-Mobile will be trying to control it, but a few of the Spanish teams will be trying to catch each other out - that's the game they play. Floyd is good enough to position himself to stay out of trouble. We can't rule out Sevilla and Hamilton from Phonak, but I'm not sure how good Tyler's form is after doing special TT training for the Olympics. We'll have to wait and see.
Tomorrow is the longest stage at 207 km. The flatter stages in the first week are a bit longer than in the last couple of years. We're still only riding for 4-4.5 hours though. It's a nice time to be on the bike.
The weather's a bit up and down. We have a few rain showers and I thought we'd get wet today. But we were lucky. Otherwise it's been alright - we have a good hotel and good food. I'm glad to get going. I've been looking forward to it!