Saturday, August 30, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 8: A whole lot of nothing, then everything at once

Today was the longest stage in the race, but had no categorized climbs. It was still a warm day, but in my opinion it was the most pleasant day we’ve had so far. Almost the entire stage was on a big national road, and we went almost the same direction the whole day.

Everyone expected a field sprint, but before that can happen the right break must be created. We had the whole team on the front row of the field when the neutral section ended. 2 guys were allowed by, and then the road mysteriously became clogged by a field that wanted an easy day.

We had a tailwind for most of the day, so the stage went by really quickly. Lawson spent a lot of time on the front riding tempo, with Johannes subbing in periodically. FDJ finally contributed a rider, but he was constantly whining that we were only putting one rider on the front. He wanted at least a 2:1 ratio as condition for his work. But for all his complaining, we couldn’t get him to slow down when the gap started falling too quickly.

After 150km, the field got really excited. Every team knew that at 175km, we would change directions. The threat of crosswinds meant we spent half an hour in a 60kph washing machine as everyone tried to be at the front on the twisting valley road. In such a nervous bunch at those speeds, I don’t do so well at holding position. I was able to join up with the team several times, but would get separately soon after.

With the turn coming soon, I made my way to the upwind side and prepared for one final, big move to find the guys. And I almost made it. The crosswinds grew, the field strung out, and my legs felt pretty good as I made my way towards the front. Then I saw Ramon taking Warren across the gap that had formed to the front group. I was officially caught behind the split. With most of the team in the front group, including our GC rider and sprinter, my job shifted to staying near the front of the chase group. In the event that our group made contact, I would need to be fresh and quickly rejoin my teammates for the leadout.

But my group never caught the leaders again, so I had a fast but fairly easy ride to the finish. John finished 4th after doing a bit too much work to stay in the front group, and Warren would finish with the front group and preserve his GC place before tomorrow’s climbing stage.