Well, once again I'm ready to roll. It has been three weeks since the Tour of Denmark and I've just completed my final block of training for the Tour of Spain. I'm now resting up getting ready to take the line for Saturday's start.
We're all here in Gijon in the northern provence, Asturias, for the team time trial on Saturday. I've been here a few times. The two that I remember most, is the Vuelta Asturias which I did with Mercury in 1998. This was my first pro race in Europe and the prologue of that tour was also here in Gijon. The second time I'll also never forget, but for very different reasons, was during the Vuelta 2001. We were coming into Gijon for the stage finish when our director told us over the radio about some plane crashing in the middle of New York. The date was September 11th and as I heard this, I didn't think too much of it. Instead, I was concentrating on preparing for the bunch finish into Gijon. It wasn't till after the stage as we were driving back to the hotel in the team bus that we started to realise the seriousness of what had happened. Being on an American team at the time, the feeling inside was eerie and uneasy. At first there was a question mark hovering over the team as to whether we would continue the tour. However, it was decided the team should carry on. We all wore black arm bands to show our respect. The rest of the tour saw us with constant police supervision around our cars, buses and riders.
It was a time which brought with it a lot of changes - both in the world and with me personally. Within the following days of 9/11, I would sign a new contract with a new team, CSC-Tiscali, in the hope of getting to bigger and better things. I carried ambitions to ride the Tour de France with my new team and bring myself up to the next level. Things looked good for me, despite the hurt that much of the world was feeling over the events of Sept 11. Unfortunately, things have not worked out so well since then and at the moment, although as a pro-cyclist I am physically in a better place, my future for me is a lot less certain.
I still, at this point, don't know what my plans are for next year nor do I have a slight hint as to what might be happening or where I might be going. I had hoped that by this time I would have things done, and given the points and results that I've had this year, I thought that signing a new contract would have been relatively straight forward. I have had my best year ever, yet it is proving to be the most difficult to get a contract.
Anyway, I've tried not to think about it too much and have been concentrating on having a good Vuelta. I honestly don't know how the form is. I know that I was very good in August but I don't know if I'm at the level now that I was then. You can't hold on to it forever. Getting crook during Denmark really knocked the stuffing out of me and it has taken me a while to get over that. This is pretty normal though after such a hard and long season. My immunity system isn't bouncing me back as quickly as it normally does.
Since being well enough to train properly, I've been doing really good quality training and I even went to the Pyrenees to do some training in the mountains. Although I'm not a mountain climber, I really enjoyed it. The air was a lot cooller and and the riding was awesome. More than anything, it was mentally refreshing to train somewhere different for a while. I trained hard that week and hope that it will enable me to survive the very difficult mountain stages included in this year's Vuelta.
We have a few sprint stages and some of the best sprinters here - which I'm happy about. I look forward to the chance to race and sprint against them. I know that I have the ability to beat them - I just hope I have the condition for it. At least with them being here the race will be controlled a bit to set up the field sprints. I hope I can benefit from this.
I don't have any riders of my own here to support me in the sprints but I'm sure that I can fight enough in the sprints to do it myself. I just have to be a little smarter, aggresive and decisive than the others. I've done it many times before solo and I can do it again. I can't wait. When I think about it, that is what I love. Being up against it. Being the underdog. That's what you have your whole career in a sport like cycling when you are from NZ and that's what I have always had to battle against.
So guys, cross all your appendages for me. I'll be out there giving it my best....