The morning before stage 3.
Olga Zabelinskaya attacked into the downhill finish to San Marco, which didn’t come as a surprise to anyone; the Russian can descend. She can also climb and drive the flats. In a sea of skinny legs and skinnier arms she cuts a formidable figure. Tall, muscular, intimidating.
She’s the overall race leader and intent on keeping it that way. The Russian is steely faced and aggressive, flanked by a strong team, and not afraid to ride on the front every now and then, even in the yellow jersey.
Tracking her every move, the United Health Care team is never far away—a wall of royal blue and white kits surrounding their own GC contender, Mara Abbott. Diving into San Marco yesterday afternoon, Abbott stayed in contact with the flying Russian, just a few bike lengths behind teammate Sharon Laws, who currently sits in third and offers UHC another interesting hand to play.
Rolling into Stage 3, Abbott sits 33 seconds off Zabelinskaya, but the next two stages suit her well, a veritable gauntlet of long, steep climbs. At 7:00 in the morning the day is already heating up in San Salvador. Teams staying at the race’s athlete compound in the Indes Hotel are starting to stir and by 10am they’ll be packed into pickup trucks and buses and cars for the two hour transfer to the start in Nueva Concepcion.
Upstairs in the rooms now some of the racers are digging into bags of the food that they or their swannys have bought or portered with them on the plane; granola, eggs boiled in rice cookers (one racer stores her eggs in the dresser drawer—eggs here do not require refrigeration), yogurt, oats soaked overnight in almond milk, fruit and vegetables meticulously washed with special soap to prevent sickness, rice cakes with peanut butter.
Downstairs the complex will serve an optional simple breakfast; boiled eggs, bread with butter or ricotta, a small fruit selection, maybe some beans or rice. For those teams with smaller budgets, these included meals help take the edge of the financial demands of the race.
Yesterday near the end of stage two, a race helicopter crashed, killing at least one—David Diaz, a well-known radio DJ who was working with the UHC team here. The death hit the peloton and the race organizers hard and the tone has been somber. Last night during dinner a local news report came on TV and everyone in the dining hall stopped what they were doing to watch. The video was graphic and disturbing, a sobering reminder of what had transpired as the front six riders were rallying their kamikaze descent to the finish banner.
Today’s ride will be dedicated to the victim; and the first major climb and descent (opening 22k of the race) with be neutralized though some feel that the best way to honor a man who loved bike racing would be to let the riders race. Whatever happens, with temperatures hitting 90F and humidity at 48%, today’s course is sure to crack those that are becoming weary and test the mettle of the two teams exchanging blows at the pointy end of the race.