Tour of California - 2.1 USA, February 19-26, 2006
Stage 1 - February 20: Sausalito to Santa Rosa, 129.1km
Today was such a big day! I can't even describe it...I don't know what to say. We've got this huge race here in America which comes through my home town, with one of the best pelotons in the world - eight Pro Tour teams that compete in races like the Tour de France and riders who compete in all the big races are here. We've got guys like Gilberto Simoni, Paolo Savoldelli and Michael Rogers - it's an amazing peloton, and for me to come into my home town and lead the race is just fantastic. It's indescribable.
When I got on the podium I just didn't know what to say; normally I don't have a problem speaking but today I was a little bit overwhelmed to see all the people standing there cheering me on - it was unbelievable.
I told my teammates today that the finishing circuits were technical, and I just wanted to stay among the first 10 riders at all times; I think we ended up being in the first five at all times. The circuit wasn't actually too bad - it turned out to be not as tight and technical as I thought it would be. It was a big day for me and the team today. They were really motivated and they saw that I was motivated after winning the prologue - any bike rider knows how special it is to lead a big race into their home town, and as such the guys were very committed to making that happen today.
We're going to have to play it a little conservatively tomorrow and really judge our efforts because it's a very hilly, longer stage - teams are going to be very aggressive. We're going to have to save a couple of guys for the finale, and then we'll see - the last climb is a little way from the finish, but I think it's hard enough to force a selection.
Normally you'd look to guys like Simoni to have a go on stages like the one tomorrow, but I don't think he'll be amongst it so much - I think the big favourite for me is Dave Zabriskie. He's the biggest talent of the young Americans, and it'll be important to make a selection without him in the end because he's a big threat for the time trial.
But today, to see all my friends when I was up on the podium getting the jersey - to see the whole city get out and support the race and me, that was overwhelming and very special. To win the prologue and lead this race for a couple of days means my 2006 season is already very positive, and today my team made it possible for this to happen after the great start yesterday - they worked their butts off and did a great job. Let's hope their good work pays off again tomorrow.
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