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Hangin’ In There: The Floyd Landis Journal
During last year’s Tour de France, Cyclingnews welcomed Floyd Landis as a diarist. The talented, gutsy, 26 year old former mountain biker had ridden his way to a start in the Tour as a key part of Lance Armstrong’s USPS squad, and went on to distinguish himself as an important member of the 'Blue Train' at the Tour. Floyd also endeared himself to Cyclingnews readers for his unique take on an American rookie's life in the Tour de France peloton.
For the 2003 58th Vuelta a España, Cyclingnews is pleased to welcome Floyd back with his exclusive journal.
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
It would be very unwise and almost impossible to plan a three week tour to work out the way the Vuelta happened this year, but it is was the best possible scenario for our United States Postal Service-Berry Floor team. After three weeks of work by ONCE, they were generous enough to give the leader's jersey to us for one day, the only day that matters.
So for the first time in five months, I am writing my Cyclingnews diary from back home in California, and things couldn't be more different than the last time I was here. Five months ago I had surgery and left California with little hope of racing the Tour de France, but far more importantly, simply wondering if my right hip was ever going to be ok and if the risk of using it too soon was going to pay off. Looking back, I am sure that I made the right decisions, and now I can relax and forget about racing and injuries for the first time since January 11. Just one more race, the World Championships next weekend, and the off-season begins with at least a month without looking at my bicycle.
But first, back to the Vuelta. With two stages to go, our team (except for Heras) was pretty sure we would go home with second place for a second year in a row. But Roberto Heras had other plans and proceeded to give us yet another lesson in fighting and never giving up until the end. For the last week of the race, Nozal had been getting dropped on every hard climb, but his ONCE team always stayed together, and when Nozal did lose time it was never much.
For that reason, we had hope, but with almost two minutes lead on Roberto, and only 11km left of racing, it would be tough for Roberto to win the Vuelta. After that final week of proving to us that he was a fighter, we were almost certain that Nozal would hang on for one more day and likely win the Vuelta.
After Saturday's uphill time trial, our drive from the end of the race back to our hotel in Madrid was more than an hour, so we had to listen to the radio broadcast rather than watch it on TV. Thanks to Roberto, it was the most exciting drive we had all year! We didn't see him until three hours later when he returned to the hotel and to our amusement, after all the post-race interviews and awards ceremony, Heras was still in his cycling clothes and was as happy as I have ever seen him. ONCE deserves to be congratulated for all the time that they spent in the Vuelta's leaders jersey and they should be proud of all their team work.
I am well aware of how difficult it is to be the team that everyone is racing against, so congratulations to them. However, it is not easy to work for the guy who is trying to take the jersey either, since the team of the leader expects to be allowed to ride with nine guys in a row in the front whether they are pulling or not. This means we have to ride beside ONCE in the wind in order to stay in the front of the peloton and not get pushed to the back, so we did equally as much work as them and deserved to win as much as anyone. No matter what the 2003 Vuelta was an exciting race and we are all very impressed with the performance of Roberto and thanks to him we celebrated our second grand tour win for the year.
Now just a few more days of hard training, the World Championships, and then it's the off-season. Fortunately I don't have to ride too much to be in shape two weeks after that race, and with the morale I gain from being at home with my family in California after five months away, it's easy to stay motivated. And one day races like the World Championships are sometimes very surprising, so pay attention next Sunday; you never know what might happen!
Until Next Time,
Hi To all Cyclingnews readers,
The last three stages, 17, 18 & 19, have been the best for me, and while I would have liked to have won a stage on my own, it wasn't due to a lack of attempts. More importantly for the team, Roberto Heras is now in second place and in a good position for tomorrow's time trial. All that the rest of us can do now is hope that we did enough damage to Nozal that Heras can take the two minutes in the uphill time trial tomorrow. For the rest of us there is not too much to worry about, the pressure is on Roberto and we can take it easy tomorrow.
Stage 17 and 18 were expected to be a bit easier than the big mountain stages like today but as it often happens, that is what everyone else thought and everyone shows up wanting to win the stage. We expected a breakaway to last to the finish both days so several of us were told to be in the breakaway and thereby avoiding chasing while at the same time possibly winning the stage.
Stage 17 began with 10 km of flat road, on which we averaged 58km per hour, followed by about 15 km of rolling uphill road. I was feeling great and thought that I could win a stage, so I followed all of the attacks and finally at the top of the climb 18 riders got free of the peloton. For the next two hours all 18 guys rode together trying to get some time, but several teams missed the break and we just never got more than two minutes lead before being caught with 50km to go. Having spent all of my energy trying to make the breakaway work, I sat up on the last climb and rode in with the grupetto.
The following day, on Stage 18 I was feeling a little less inspired about going in breakaways, due to my experience the previous day, and I was not in the front when the group went (and this time it worked). So I spent my day helping Heras and Beltran stay out of the wind because it was a difficult finish with several hard turns and small hills where it was possible to lose time if you are not in the first 20 when the sprint began.
Stage 19 being the last mountain stage and chance for Heras to get some time was, tactically, one of the best stages for the team even though we gained less time than we hoped. The morning meeting today in the bus was simple. Everybody stay with the two leaders as long as possible and in the end hopefully Heras could ride away and finish ahead of Nozal by enough time to take the lead. A few of us were told to go in any breakaways so when Heras and/or the peloton caught us we could help.
So in the first few kilometres, when a group of 18 riders went clear of the peloton I was sure to be there in the hope that we could get enough time and if I got lucky, Heras would not need help and I could go for the stage win. However as we began the final climb of the day it was clear that I would need to wait for Heras so I followed the attacks until about 7 km from the summit when I realized that they were not going to work together. My problem at that point was, since I was no longer racing for the stage win in which case I would take my chances and hope we made it to the finish, but rather that I would have to work for Heras, I needed to make it to the top before he arrived so I could recover a bit.
So, reluctantly, I pulled the breakaway the rest of the way up the climb while at the same time trying to make it as hard as possible on them. In the last km from the top, as much as I hated to do it, I slowed down and let the last two guys go on to win the stage while I recovered for a minute until Heras came over the top of the climb.
My new job, for the last 25 km, was to make sure that Heras got as much time as possible on the leaders before the finish. Fortunately, several other riders, including three Kelmes, were not far behind and were also interested in going fast, so we had some help in our high speed chase.
After riding to complete exhaustion, all the while with Johan yelling in my ear, we finished with only one minute and fifteen seconds on Nozal, which may or may not be enough. Whatever the outcome, we have all made sacrifices and done what we could and now the pressure is on Heras and all we can do is watch.
For me, at this point, my biggest motivation is my flight to San Diego on Monday and thinking of my wife and daughter waiting at the airport. I know the race isn't over yet but tomorrow is only a half hour and Sunday is a formality so I think it is ok to think about the end.
Until Next Time
Hello again Cyclingnews readers,
Once again, it's the case that the day after the rest day was chaos at the start, due to the fact that everyone had a day off and forgot that everyone else also had the same day off. The 161 km stage finished on a 30km climb up to Sierra Nevada but before that the first 131 km were up and down all day, with the longest climb being 7 km, just the right kind of race for the guys who think they should attack to make it hard for everyone.
My job for the day was to save as much energy as possible and then ride the first few km of Sierra Nevada at a fast enough pace to get rid of anyone who was having a bad day (hopefully one of the ONCE guys ahead of Heras).
This probably doesn't sound so bad unless you understand how climbs in big races go. The 10 km before the climb are always worse than the climb and you need to fight for position unless you have someone riding in the wind for you, which is what I was supposed to do for Heras and Beltran. I have to thank Max Van Heeswijk, my Vuelta roommate for making that job much easier by riding in the wind for me all through the city of Grenada just before the start of Sierra Nevada. After that, I rode at what was supposed to be a steady, but fast pace until I couldn't go anymore. Following that I rode as slow as possible without falling over until everyone had passed and the grupetto caught up.
Heras and Beltran were on their own for the rest of the climb, but like I said, the hardest part is before the climb and the beginning of the climb, so after that they were able to fend for themselves and once again Heras was able to get another minute back on the leaders. Heras is now only 6 seconds from second but still about three minutes from first. No matter what happens next it will be a close race but we are still confident that in the final few hard mountain stages Heras can get back the time. Tomorrow, however, there will be no time differences for the leaders and hopefully a breakaway will go and we can all have an easier day.
Until next time,
Hey everyone at Cyclingnews:
After yesterday's stage to La Pandera, a 15km climb with several kilometers at more than nine percent, today's rest day could not be more appreciated. Yesterday didn't go as well as we had hoped, since we worked for the first part of the stage hoping Heras could ride away at the end, winning the stage and in the process gaining time back on the two ONCE riders. Normally when a team has the lead in a big stage race, they are expected to do the work to control the speed of the race, but under these circumstances it was in ONCE's advantage for a breakaway to get a big lead and have the winner of the stage come from the breakaway. So in the hope of winning the stage we all had to chase hard when a breakaway of 16 riders got 30 seconds just a few kilometers into the stage, then a smaller group of four got away and we could ride slower and just keep them at four or five minutes lead.
Generally when there is a break in front of the peloton the attacks stop and the speed is easy to control, so it is best to have a small break get a few minutes when you know you can catch them at the end. After that group got away the stage went according to the plan and we rode on the front until the attacks started on the climb and the two leaders could take care of themselves.
For the rest of the stage we all just finished and drove back to the hotel knowing that today would be much more relaxed.
There is not much to say about the rest day other than that it is not long enough. We all woke up around 9:30 and at 11:00 went for a two hour ride after which I have no idea what everyone did after that because I went to sleep for three more hours. There is a light at the end of the tunnel now and for everyone except the leaders, we only have four hard days of racing left since we don't have to go too hard in the time trial and the last day is never too bad until the last hour. Tomorrow, however, is neither of those days, and we will, most likely, attempt to win the stage again, so for now I will go eat some more pasta and enjoy the rest of my rest day.
Until Next Time
Hey everyone at Cyclingnews,
Yesterday was Stage 13, a 55 km time trial and a critical day for anyone with aspirations of winning the Vuelta. For the rest of the field except for a few guys like David Millar, it was more or less a rest day. It can never be a complete rest day since there is a time cut to keep people from just taking all day, but there is a big difference between trying to win a TT and just riding to make the time cut. Physically, the amount of effort when you are giving 100 per cent is completely exhausting by the end of a TT, whereas the rest of the field may need to ride only 75 per cent when their only objective is to make the cut and stay in the race.
But the biggest difference is mentally, when there is no pressure you can relax all morning and then, with very little warm up, go for a one hour ride. The race contenders, on the other hand, have none of that; in a time trial they have nowhere to hide if they are having a bad day. In yesterday's TT, I happened to have the best of both worlds. On one hand, I wanted to do well for my own morale and confidence, but on the other hand it didn't really matter to anyone else, so there was no pressure on me from outside.
The only twist in my plan came when Johan Bruyneel asked me to be the rabbit; ride the first 20 km as fast as possible so he could take time splits each km which he could use as a gauge for Heras and Beltran to give them an idea how fast they were going. Since I was feeling strong, I was happy to do it, even though I would normally have started a little slower considering the 50+km length of the TT. Johan's plan worked out fine and I ended up finishing 12th, which did a great deal for my morale - important in a three week stage race.
Today, luckily for anyone who didn't want to race to hard, the stage favored the sprinters and once again Fassa Bortolo was happy to work for Petacchi, who has won almost every time they have ridden for him. I would liked to have gone in a breakaway to try for a stage win, so when nine other riders attacked including one from Fassa, I went along, thinking we might get away. It would have been fine except for the fact that Quick.Step missed the move and since they also would like to win a stage, they chased us down hoping that Boonen could win in a sprint. So for the rest of the stage, I helped our leaders Roberto and Triki stay out of the wind and in the front, and as far as the Postal Service team is concerned, the stage went quite well.
Now we are focused on tomorrow as it is one of the last few stages where Heras and Beltran can gain some time on the ONCE riders. Most likely there will be no going in breakaways tomorrow and we will ride hoping Heras can win the stage, but for now I will get some much needed sleep and worry about that tomorrow morning.
Until Next Time
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
After yesterday's speedy stage of 49+ km per hour for three and a half hours, we were all certain that a breakaway would go away early today and we would be able to ride at an easier pace. As long as the wind continued to blow in the same direction we would have a tailwind until the last 30 km where the course turned to the left and then there would be a cross wind.
Fortunately, we all have time to talk to friends on other teams before the start and thus learned that Fassa Bortolo intended to make the race a sprint for Petacchi, who has already won two stages and has been almost unbeatable in the sprints this year anywhere. So with that in mind I didn't spend too much energy following attacks and within a few kilometres the break was gone and Fassa was riding on the front with the relieved peloton sitting behind and trying to recover from the previous day.
During the first three hours of the stage, everything went smoothly with the exception of the wind, which was slightly from the side and this was causing nervousness in the peloton. Slowly the pace increased until everyone realized that it was going to be critical to stay in the front if you needed to be there when the group split. In this case, the best thing to do is ride with the whole team on the front and let the other teams try to fight in the wind behind you. This takes a little more energy as long as the group stays together, but as soon as there is a split it is much easier than trying to close the gap.
When the road curved to the right, Johan told us on the radio that it was a good moment to try to split the peloton, so I did my best to keep Heras out of the wind and George did the same for Beltran until the speed was high enough to eliminate the other teams from the front of the bunch. In the resulting chaos Max van Heeswijk, who, by the way is my roommate for the Vuelta, missed the split and I spent so much energy getting to the front with Heras that I also got eliminated from the first group of about 25 riders.
For the next 35 kilometres to the finish, the seven Postal riders pulled the first group, as the teams who missed it had to chase from behind. The end result was the best possible scenario for us, where Heras and Beltran gained a minute and nine seconds on several of the best time trialists in the race.
While one minute may not win the race, it's better to go into tomorrow's time trial with an advantage, while at the same time forcing them to work today. With that in mind, good luck to Roberto Heras and Triki Beltran tomorrow.
Until Next Time,
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
The good thing about rest days is that you get to rest, but the problem is that everyone else also gets the same amount of rest. Today we expected a breakaway of several guys who are no threat in the general classification to go away early and then ONCE would ride a reasonable speed the rest of the day. As it turned out the speed of the stage was anything but reasonable and no breakaways got away without at least one team that wanted to chase.
Our team meeting in the morning sounded pretty simple, since the wind wasn't too strong, Heras and Beltran could stay in the peloton without any help and the remaining seven of us were supposed to try to go in the breakaways. After two hours at an average speed of 49.5 km per hour it became evident that no breakaways would get any great amount of time so I decided to help the two leaders stay in the front until the end where there was a cobblestone climb and it would be critical to start in the front. With about 30 km remaining in the stage, a few guys attacked on a small uphill and it looked like the peloton would let it go, so I spent what little energy I had left to join them only to realize, after about 10 minutes that there were a few things working against us.
The biggest problem was Telekom, who after Zabel's victory in stage 10, were again confident that he would make it over the climb and then be the obvious favourite in the sprint. The second problem occurred a few km before that when Heras was caught in a crash, and although he didn't fall off of his bike, he had to put his foot down and lost his front position. When the ONCE team heard that he was in trouble, they rode as hard as they could to the bottom of the climb, hoping that the peloton would split on the ascent and ONCE could then take some more time on Roberto.
Fortunately for us Heras was strong enough to start in the back and still ride to the front and finish with the relatively small lead group. Unfortunately for the breakaway, the speed of the peloton was too high and we never got more than 50 seconds ahead of the peloton despite the huge effort we put into it and in the end Telekom was right and Zabel won his second consecutive stage.
Tomorrow we will use the same strategy and hope, for everyone's sake, that a breakaway goes early (with one of us in it) and the rest of the stage will be more bearable.
Until Next Time,
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
The last four stages of the Vuelta have been the hardest so far and now that we have a rest day, our USPS-Berry Floor team can look back at the good points and what could have gone better. On the positive side we have two guys in the top five and as long as things continue like this they should be able to stay there. Also, we got through the most difficult part of the race with nine riders who are still healthy and as motivated as you can be after 10 days of racing.
On the other hand, we would be better off if a couple of the other riders who can usually climb, including myself, were be riding better. But bicycle racing is sometimes difficult to figure out and sometimes you do everything right and still don't go fast. Fortunately, we have been able to help Heras and Beltran enough and they were never in trouble where they needed more help. We had hoped to have the lead or at least have gotten more time for Heras in the last three mountain stages.
There are a few more uphill finishes which suit our team but there is also a 55 km time trial which unfortunately favors the competition and where Heras and Beltran will just have to lose as little time as possible to the time trial specialists. Otherwise things have gone normally except for Nozal who we never could have foreseen would have been able to keep the lead after getting it in a small breakaway a week ago. At the time Johan told us on the radio that we should not let him get more than a minute or two, but no one on our team saw him as a threat for the general classification and using that to his and his teams advantage, Nozal now, after the three hardest mountain stages, has refused to give up the lead. That's how bicycle racing goes, it's a monitored effort and decisions have to be made based on what has happened in the past.
We have to save as much energy as possible until the race is sorted out and it becomes obvious who is strong enough to make it to the end. In this case the right decision at the time turned out to be a misjudgment on our part and hopefully our two climbers can take back the time in the next two weeks.
As for the rest of the team, we are now getting our long awaited rest day and it comes in Valencia, a beach city a few hours south of Barcelona. I guess after the last 10 days, the race organization decided that we deserved a relaxing day, so we are staying at a beautiful hotel with an ocean view, just outside of the city. Tomorrow, hopefully, no one will want to ride too hard and we can enjoy our one day away from the race without returning as exhausted as we have been lately.
Until next time,
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
Stage four consisted of a steep climb after 40 kilometers followed by smaller rolling hills across a plateau to the city of Burgos. The difficulty for anyone who cannot climb is the fact that there is no downhill after the climb on which to catch up.
To make things even worse for anyone having a bad day was the strong tail wind of about 35 kilometers per hour, meaning that even in the peloton, you would be getting much less help and the speed is higher. The fact is that a stage with a strong tailwind is harder for everyone, and while the peloton was split into several groups on the climb, everyone had to ride very hard today. Sometimes these stages with smaller climbs and wind are harder than the big mountain stages, so everyone was happy when today's stage finally ended. Once again the Postal Service team finished intact and without loosing any time to anyone who will matter next week in the mountains.
The bad weather continues and while we only had rain for a few minutes today, the weather has changed dramatically from the hottest summer in many years to a cold rainy fall. We are hopeful that, although we are tired of the heat, the sun will come out for the big mountains - but on the news this evening I saw a clip of snow falling in Andorra. I know we still have a few stages before we get there and the weather can change quickly in the mountains, but after the extreme weather this year, I can only hope.
At least tomorrow's stage is generally downhill as we descend off of this plateau, but then on the other hand we were told to expect a strong cross-wind. I guess that's what makes it a bike race.
Until Next Time
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
This morning's team meeting before the stage was as simple as they get, since today's stage was not as difficult and ONCE has made it clear that they will do the work. So Johan told us to expect ONCE to have help from Fassa Bortolo today who would be sure to try to end the stage with a field sprint for Petacchi. And as long as this was the case we should all ride together at the front of the peloton to avoid the crashes which were sure to take place since it has not rained much in Spain lately and the roads were slick and dirty.
Fortunately the race played out to our advantage and we avoided working for one more day and somehow we all avoided the crashes in the last few kilometres. Now just to be clear, when I said we avoided working, I am only referring to the USPS-Berry Floor team or a few of the team pulling on the front.
What we did today would be considered work by most people but it is easier than riding on the front, although not by much. The wet conditions today make it hard for everyone in the peloton for several reasons. The biggest problem in the rain is stopping, so we are forced to ride with more space around each rider which gives more reaction time, but less help from the wind. The other problem is that all the riders want to be in the front to avoid crashes while still having that space around them to react to slowing or turns. The end result is that the peloton tends to ride covering the width of the road and thus if you want to ride in the front you are forced to ride in the wind some of the time.
In a three week race, every single pedal stroke counts and only a few minutes of riding in the wind each day adds up to an hour by the end, but we have to try to balance riding in the safest position with how much the risk of the other choices would save us in the long term. It's not an easy thing to decide and when you are tired and it is raining so hard you can't even recognize the rider in front of you, let alone, actually see when they are slowing down, so sometimes you just don't have a choice.
But on rainy days like today, when you have enough energy to fight for the front position, it's a better idea to do so and not risk injury or losing minutes when the peloton splits from a crash in front of you.
Anyway, we all did our best and with a little luck we all got through successfully, and although it may not appear that way on the results, after three hours of fearing for my life because I couldn't see where I was going, we all felt as successful as Alessandro Petacchi. Petacchi, by the way, won his sixteenth race of the year, so hopefully that gives you some idea of the effort and risk involved on a stage like today.
Until Next Time
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
Today's Vuelta stage, the second, and the first road stage of the race was equally as difficult as the profile in the race book indicated. I had hoped to be in the first group at the finish but after seven of the nine km on the final climb of the day, I couldn't follow the accelerations anymore and was forced to just ride my own pace in the hope that I could get catch up on the downhill. But the climb took too much effort and the group in front didn't slow down for the last 15 km, so I spent the last 20 minutes chasing with two Lampre and two Banesto riders only to finish 1:30 behind the winner.
This is where experience becomes helpful in staying motivated and focused. I knew that this stage would be difficult because there have been many stage races where I was humiliated in the first mountain stage and went on to surprise everyone, including myself only a few stages later.
Knowing that, of course doesn't make it any less painful to my legs and to my pride but the good news is that our team leader, Roberto Heras, is feeling very well and finished the day without incident in the front group. The other good news which does actually help my legs is that tomorrow's Stage 3 is much flatter and most likely be a field sprint or a long breakaway. Either of which will be an easy day for the team and I, so now, after a late dinner and massage, we can sleep well knowing that things so far are going according to the plan.
Until Next Time,
Hi Cyclingnews readers,
After practicing on the time trial course yesterday, we felt confident that stage 1 of the Vuelta was going to be ours. We did two laps in training and worked out the team order and the plan. After dinner in the bus, we had a meeting confirming the details. Our expectations were that ONCE would be the hardest team to beat, considering that they have had the best results in the TTT event over the past few years, but winning the team time trial in the Tour de France is still fresh on our minds.
We woke up this morning as confident as ever and fortunately the morning's rain ended sometime around noon, and although admittedly I am not a big fan of the late starts at Spanish races, this time it worked out in our best interest. It's exciting to watch the team time trial and for that matter when you have a good team it is equally as exciting to race, but on the other hand it is one of the most dangerous events when you add bad weather.
Things worked out just fine in the end, at least with the weather, and it wasn't a big surprise that ONCE went fast, so congratulations to them. Even though we won't drink champagne tonight, we are in the perfect position having lost only 10 seconds and now having the luxury of ONCE doing the work.
Until next time,
Hey Cyclingnews readers,
It seems like yesterday that the Tour de France ended, but there is no time now to sit around and try to figure out where the time went because today begins the Vuelta a Espana.
Following two weeks of more or less vacation time after the Tour for me, I have been training with the Vuelta in mind, trying to balance my recovery from a stressful Tour de France with training for the Vuelta a Espana, my second Grand Tour of the season.
Fortunately (or not so, depending on how you see it), I had a very restful spring and am still motivated to race this year, unlike some people I've spoken to who have been racing hard since Febuary. Thankfully no one on the Postal Service team for the Vuelta feels that way and we are all very confident that this race will also end, like the Tour De France, with us on top.
For the past two weeks the weather here in Spain has been much more reasonable, following one of the hottest summers ever. I spent my time in the mountains north of Barcelona training at altitude for what I'm sure is going to be a difficult Vuelta. So now after three 800 km weeks in a row, we begin today with a team time trial, which, unlike the Tour de France TTT, is only 28 km.
We have one of the best teams for this event and our confidence is high after our performance in the TTT in the Tour. We spent yesterday practicing and perfecting our order of riders and technique and this afternoon the course is open for training, so we will ride it a few times to be sure we have it right. It is critical that we know every corner and dangerous section because although the TTT is a beautiful event to race and to watch, it is very dangerous even in the best of conditions. There is simply no room for error when nine guys are following each other at 50km/hr+, unable to see, unable to brake. The person in front must be aware but everyone else must also know what is ahead without seeing it.
After we get through the TTT there are a few relatively easy days until stage five which has a bigger mountain. This is followed by an individual time trial in Zaragosa and then several very hard mountain stages in the Pyrenees. Well, at least that is how I've broken it down in my mind, so I will try to keep you updated each day on Cyclingnews as things change and the race develops. For now we will get through tomorrow without any incidents and then formulate a plan.
Wish me luck!