I’m in Spain for the Saunier Duval Team Launch 2007. I got my SRAM piece away first thing this morning then ambled down for breakfast and to see if I could find Virginie, she’s the Saunier PR girl – I met her at the Tour – she’s a nice lass. I asked about interviews; “maybe tonight, but certainly tomorrow.”

So I said; “how about getting in a team car?” and she said; “can you go right now?“. Ten minutes later and I’m in the Honda behind Matxin the Director Sportif and beside Robert the mechanic, and we’re off on a five hour haul round Andalucia with the riders.

It’s bizarre here, the coast is just a huge construction site and every second business has the word “English” above the door, but drive inland for half-an-hour and the roads are deserted. You are in the land of the White Towns, or Pueblos Blancos. Beautiful, quiet towns, clinging to the rugged slopes.

When the sun hits them they shine like jewels against the barren slopes they occupy. The first climb of the day came within a few kilometres of the coast and was brutal. The team was divided today: into those training for early season objectives – for example Pieopoli rides Tirreno-Adriatico in March, whilst if Millar does nothing but win the Tour prologue in late June then the team will be delighted.

Saunier Duval Team Launch 2007
Francisco Ventoso tucks into his scientific energy food – the good old banana!

Piepoli is impressive on the climbs but he really is a tiny guy, his calves are non -existent and his waist must be a schoolboy size. Wielinga was impressive – a big Dutchman who can climb, he won the GP Chiasso last year and looks in great shape after a winter spent training in Monaco with Piepoli.

I was surprised that we stopped at the top of the climb but we were there for maybe 15 minutes until all the riders had taken on drink and clothes for the descent. Like all drivers of professional team vehicles, Matxin is deranged and our progress down the descent off the first climb was radge.

The second climb was savage too with some very steep ramps which Piepoli revelled in. Another stop at the top of that one surprised me too but some of the guys were starving and all were very thirsty. The descent off this one was long and not too technical.

It’s easy to see how good descenders can make-up so much time when descents like these go on for maybe 15 minutes. After the second big descent Matxin let the guys ride steady for a bit, then it was through and off then some sprints.

Again I was amazed when the whole sheebang took-over a sleepy wee cafe for coffee and cookies. There was much fiddling with positions at this stop and plenty of banter.

Saunier Duval Team Launch 2007
The lads take over a cafe for “viente cafés con leche y algunas galletas”.

Mayo seemed much happier than he did last night. Millar was chatty too, I think he’s just wary of the press, one minute he’s their Golden Boy and the next he should be ‘banned for life’ – (all I would say is that everyone should be given a second chance). However out in the sticks on a training run it’s not so threatening: he’s promised me an interview over the next day or two so that’s cool.

The run-in to the hotel was pretty horrid – road works, traffic and busy dual carriageways. I made it five-and-a-half hours including stops. I’d like to go on a CSC run at this time of year to see how many stops old Bjarne let’s them take!

It’s 6.00 pm now and time to wander-off in search of interviews… The hotel lobby is a good hunting ground and in the evening I nabbed interviews with the guy who runs the team – Mauro Gianetti, a former Liege and Amstel winner. He’s “muy sympatico” – a nice man.

He obviously had a hundred things to do but gave me his full attention and plenty of time. He’s still in good nick and if he’s stressed he hides it well.

I also interviewed Francisco Ventoso – he’s the up and coming sprinter, he’s a likeable big guy and we had a few laughs despite the language barrier. A long day, but a great experience. Hasta mañana.