The Discovery Channel riders have continued to show their strength over the past two weeks of racing.
The Discovery Channel team has continued to show its strength over the past two weeks of racing. In Spain, at the stage race Castilla y Leon, Egoi Martinez started off a good week for the team with a third place podium finish in stage 1.Yaroslav ?Popo? Popovych quickly followed suit by winning the stage 2 Time Trial beating out teammate Jason McCartney by only 1 second. Manuel ?Triki? Beltran went on to impress the team in the uphill finish of stage four by finishing 2nd while teammate Jose Luis ?Chechu? Rubiera rounded out the week finishing 3 overall on general classification. Team Discovery also captured the overall Team classification win.
While the riders racing in Spain have many of their big objectives later on in the season, the guys racing in the battle ground of northern Belgium have been honing their fitness as they prepare for the team?s first major objectives of 2006, the Spring Classics.At the Three Days of DePanne, a 3-day four-stage event, the Discovery Channel Team flexed their muscles against the world?s best heading into the Classics.Leif Hoste took the prize for overall ?tough guy? by not only winning stage 1 in a three man sprint but also winning the stage 4 individual Time Trial as well as the overall race victory.His victory overshadowed the stellar performances of teammates George Hincapie and Stijn Devolder who took second and third respectively in the stage 4 Time Trial, with Hincapie also finishing fifth overall. The team also won the overall Team classification. And for me, well, I was lucky enough to arrive in Belgium on Thursday and watch the race on TV and then later that evening share in a glass of champagne with the team upon their return to the hotel in Kortrijk. Stijn Devolder and soigneur Geert Tibergijn both commented on how Leif?s win corresponded with my arrival in Belgium.Coincidence???
In a quick sidebar, I have a story for those of you wondering what the guys do with some of their race trophies and prizes. At about 10pm Thursday night, after a celebratory dinner, the guys had a hunkering for something sweet.What to do?Well, why not dig into Leif?s massive stage 1 chocolate trophy, or at least what was left of it.Apparently the hotel staff had also enjoyed some of it too- Leif had given them the green light to ?help themselves." Not to worry, there was more than enough to go around. The excessive chocolate consumption even kept Aussie Matt White up a bit later than he hoped and apparently woke him up a bit early the next morning as well."Whitey" explained to me as I walked into breakfast at 7:45am that, ?I just couldn?t sleep mate. I don?t think Jolly Roger- his nickname for roommate Roger Hammond- appreciated me making a racket either. That chocolate was really good though, huh??Oh well, so goes life on the road as a professional cyclist. But he was right, the chocolate was amazing.
Welcome to Belgium
The countryside of Northern Belgium and France is truly a special place and it will play host to three of the biggest races of the season over the next week- Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem & Paris-Roubaix.The weather here is more unpredictable than anything I have ever seen living in the northeast, specifically Lake Placid, NY, where the weather drove me crazy at times.In Belgium, one minute it?s sunny and the next there?s driving rain and 30mph wind. And when you combine weather like that with really narrow roads, climbs of 10+% on cobble stones that are over 200 years old, well, what you have is a very long day of bike racing known as the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).Luckily for us, the Discovery Channel Team has guys like Hincapie, Hoste, Devolder, Hammond, Ekimov, Barry, White, and Gusev who seem to love races like Flanders or at least pretend to love it.These ?tough? guys will lead the team into battle this Sunday at the Tour of Flanders and are feeling very confident about their form.
In a major Belgian newspaper this morning the headline read ?Discovery Is Stronger Than Quickstep?, a quote from Leif Hoste after winning the Three Days of DePanne.For those of you not in the know, Quickstep is the team of World Champion Tom Boonen who has shown amazing strength and form this season winning seemingly any race at will.After Hoste took some gentle ribbing at breakfast from staff and teammates about the quote he proclaimed, ?Well, we are stronger?, a point which no one in the room seemed to refute and brought about a short silence.This to me was the sign of a confident, but not cocky, group of riders.A lot of things can happen over the course of a 6 hour bike race and these guys know it, but their relaxed attitude and gaunt faces, are a very good sign.
Who Needs Rest?
So what do a group of guys do after four hard days of racing?Well, this group of guys enjoyed a relaxing breakfast, sipped on coffee and applied an extra layer of nutella to their morning bread before getting ready for their 10:30am ride.The morning?s ride was an easy spin along the canal for some, with others opting for the rollers due to, you guessed it, some sudden rain that rolled into Kortrijk. The rain however didn?t dampen the guy?s spirit as you can see from this picture taken just prior to the ride.For the record, I don?t ever recall seeing Matt White (left) without a smile.
After their ride the guys enjoyed some lunch and a visit from Sports Director Johan Bruyneel who was in town for some meetings. Following a few good laughs the guys headed for massage and some rest, or as George Hincapie told me, ?I?m going to rest my way to fitness? followed up by a big smirk.
What to expect on Sunday
On my way to the Discovery Channel Team?s CyclingServiceCenter today I was driven by a staff member up the final two climbs of Sunday?s race.The first of the final two climbs begins at 242km (149 miles) into the race and if racing your bike that far doesn?t scare or hurt you, then the climbs of the Muur and the Bosberg will surely do it. These are not just ordinary climbs either. These are steep, cobbled, narrow climbs that are slippery on the driest of days and will loosen your fillings.Take today for example when Eki decided to venture over to Sunday's Koppenberg climb, solo (because he?s Russian and tough), to see what the cobbles looked like this year.Upon returning to the hotel he explained to the guys while they ate lunch, ?I got up about half way the first time before slipping. Then I went back down an up a second time and, oh man, I almost made it, but 10 meters from the top I had to put my foot down. After that I just walked my bike the rest of the way.? And this was on a day when Eki said the cobbles were completely clean. Yikes!! Regardless of the outcome of Sunday?s race you can rest assured that the Discovery Channel Team is ready for battle, and all the challenges that the narrow, cobbled roads of Belgium will bring.