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Flat out in Italy
9 Apr, 2003
Things are going great here in Italy. I'm living in the team house with 9 others in a small village called Penna, which is 50km from Florance and 35km from Arezzo in the Tuscany region. The training around here is awesome!

I did my first race as a Professional in Croatia, in a UCI Cat. 2.5 a 4-day stage race. The Rabobank team, the 1000m snow top mountains and the weather smashed me. On the last day after my team duties were done and I was off the back on another climb the team pulled me out. I don't think I have ever pulled out of a race without good reason. So I was surprised when the director told me to hope into the team car.

The next weekend I was in Switzerland for a National calendar race, we averaged 47km/h for 140km. At that pace all I could do was hold wheels and get the water bottles for the team. The next day we did a UCI 1.3 and as I lined up for the start, looking around at Saeco, Phonak, Gerolsteiner, Mercantone Uno, Colombia-Selle Italia, Flanders-iteamnova plus many others and Kiwi Lee Vertongen. I realised I am now a pro. I had been dreaming of this exact moment for years. (It's like a dream come true…. But I'm sure that in my dreams I got payed a lot of money?). Bang we were off. I was expecting the pace to be fast, so I pushed to the front only to find the bunch calling "piano", "piano". So for a few laps we took it mostly easy. Apart for the odd leg tearing Indian file in the gutter attacks. 3 Laps to go on the 1 ˝km climb the pace is hot! At the front of the bunch 4 Phonak riders are riding away, while I'm left swinging out the back. I didn't feel as bad getting dropped with a Saeco and a Flanders riders. Only 30 or so riders finished.

3 days later we were off for a 20-hour drive to Montenegro. Another UCI 2.5 race this time 3 days. I found my racing legs and got stuck into some hard work for the team. We got a rider onto the podium and I was thanked for my work. The trip home is another story! 20-hours turned into 30-hours after we took some short cuts! Don't ask.

So I'm back in the house this week for a week of training. Next week I have a 5-day UCI 2.5 tour in Italy, then the same a week later in France or Brazil. The house has been good this week with several riders returning to their homes for the week's rest.

You can keep up to date with all of Stephen's adventures here

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