WINTERGREEN, Va. -- At the finish line, Tour Du Pont leader Atle Kvalsvoll was talking with reporters when Spago rider Oliver Starr collapsed from his bike, nearly at Kvalsvoll's feet.
Interviews with Kvalsvoll continued. Starr was on the groundgasping in pain.
Finally, a team trainer ran to his assistance. She rubbed hichest. She poured bottles of water over his head, his chest, his legs. She poured water down his gasping mouth.
"I had goosebumps the last hour," he told her. "Oh, God."
It was the end of Stage 6, a 112-mile race through Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains in yesterday's 90-degree heat with matching humidity.
"I had a very bad problem with the heat," Starr said later. "I thought I was seeing God. My body simply shut down."
"It was just such a hot day," said Starr's teammate MarSouthard. "Water doesn't evaporate off your body and the pace over the last 50 miles was so fast, it was really difficult to go back to the [support] car for cold water. I think all of it got to Oliver. I know it got to me."
And that was only the beginning. Stage 7 today goes over somof these same hills on its 128-mile course to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. Tomorrow, Stage 8 is a 168-mile course on which the riders will have to scale Jacks Mountain (3,210 feet) and part of the Shenandoah range (3,700 feet). The cumulative effect is expected to be even worse.
An hour after yesterday's finish, Kvalsvoll had finished thwinner's interview. He said he had "felt bad" coming up the last three miles, the distance that included most of the final 1,901-foot climb. But Kvalsvoll really knew little about feeling bad.
Oliver Starr is the one who knew.
At the team's Wintergreen condominium last evening, he harecovered, or nearly so.
Starr finished 51st yesterday, 4:27 behind the winner. Budespite dropping nearly seven minutes behind in the overall standings (6:52), his determination to finish the race paid off. In the overall standings he climbed from 77th place to 56th.
"To be honest, it really wasn't the climb that got me," Starr said"I live in Boulder and I work out on a 2,000-foot climb over the same distance as this daily to get to my house. But the heat and the humidity here is a whole lot different from Boulder."
His body temperature shot up to nearly 103 degrees"Dehydrated and overheated, I became very inefficient," he said. "I guess I looked pretty awful too."
No one will argue. He did look awful, pale white beneath healthy tan.
Asked why he didn't quit on the course, Starr explained that'not what this game is about.
"If you stop on the course, you're finished," he said. "I was 5-[3.1 miles] from the end. You can make yourself do anything for 5-K. And good pros continue until they can't anymore. Good pros go to the end, and then they die."
He laughed just a little.
The weather conditions combined with a fast pace set bKvalsvoll's "Z" team had taken Starr out of his race.
"I'm still amazed at how fast Kvalsvoll went up that mountain,Starr said of the Z-man who finished in 5:09:43. "I've never been like I was [yesterday]. Never like that. I was really in bad shape."
Starr, 23, has been riding for 15 years. He's old enoughexperienced enough to know the warning signs. It was 90 degrees and he was freezing more than an hour before the finish.
"I had been drinking a lot of fluids," he said. "But the humiditwas deceptive to me. My body was coated with a sheet of water and I thought I'd be all right. I was so focused on this race. All my attention was on this stage as the beginning of the real race for me."
When the riders got to the foot of the steep climb, Starr wariding at the front, keeping pace with Kvalsvoll, Alexi Grewal and Erik Breukink.
"I think that was part of my problem," Starr said. "I didn't go amy own pace."
Did he plan to race today?
"I'll get checked out by the race doctors to make sure nothinunusual is going on," he said last night. "But I believe I'll race. I'm standing on my own two feet, I'm coherent enough to talk to you and I'm feeling pretty good. And who knows, depending on the split over the mountains tomorrow, I could pick up a couple minutes on my time."