Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vuelta a Burgos

After the Classica San Sebastian, I was back in Lucca for most of a week—enough time to get in a handful of good rides with some intensity to continue my build back to race condition. Then I was on my way back to Spain, where I would hopefully be spending most of the next month.

The race was the Vuelta a Burgos, a 5-stage affair that would be a good training race for me. Daan and Thomas were already on good form, so we would be focusing on them for results in the road stages. My focus would be to race as hard as I could as a domestique in the road stages, then go for a result myself in the final time trial.

The race only had a dozen teams—not even 100 racers in total, so a really small field. We expected a fairly relaxed race (until the finale, of course), but that most certainly was not the case.

On Stage 1, the break got away immediately and Movistar took control right away as Quintana was expected to win again and they wanted to keep him safe for the Vuelta. It was a windy day, though, and the threat of crosswind chaos kept everyone a little bit on edge. My personal challenge was to make sure that Daan and Thomas never touched the wind the whole stage, and I think I was pretty successful there.  I spent a lot of the stage sitting out in the wind near the front of the field, keeping the team out of the scrum.

It wasn’t until we neared the finish laps in town that we finally got a good crosswind that stung my legs a bit. Then we hit the finishing climb the first time and I was quickly out the back as I couldn’t sprint up the hill like everyone else just yet. I fought, though, and ended up in a chase group. In my absence, Lawson was their guardian. With 10k to go before the finish, I was hopeful that I could get back to the lead group and help Daan and Thomas one last time. We regained the front group with 4k to go, so I paused a moment to recover. I took the hot route around the outside of a fast right-hander, with 1k to go before the crucial bottleneck at the base of the climb. With momentum at the exit, I started screaming at Thomas as I was coming by, and he and Daan quickly jumped on. I motored right past the train at the front, knowing that I just needed to hold them there until the bottleneck. It worked perfectly, and I slid out of the way just before the turn to give them a clean line, and left them to it. Both had a great ride, finishing 3rd and 7th on the stage. 

Unfortunately we lost Loh to a bizarre crash late in the stage. He fractured his sternum (?!) and still managed to finish the stage.

The theme of the following stages: conflict.

We had 3rd place on GC. From the time that the break was established at km20, we were set up as a team behind Movistar. Rightfully, Katusha could have been there but they showed no interest. We rode there undisturbed for 30km. Then, randomly, 2 lower level teams with no results warranting such behavior, came up to push us off the wheel and promptly freaked out when we pushed back.

For 3 days we endured much finger-wagging, fervent gesturing, and childish temper tantrums as we spent most of the stages in constant conflict with these teams. They really did not like us! I was beginning to call Lawson and Tom Professor Chaos and General Disorder, as they proved quite adept at antagonizing the others. It was unnecessary stress, but also time-killing entertainment:

-Lawson gently winning the fight over a wheel, so the other guy swapped positions with his bigger teammate to fight for him. Are we in the WWF now, tagging in teammates?
-A smaller rider in a super-tuck at the incredible speed of 40kph thinking that he could push Tom off the wheel. He was unsuccessful and quite upset. There was much shouting.
-The argument that “We can share this space! Why won’t you share?” being used against us. We tried it later, and it turns out that this sharing is not bi-directional.
-Lawson attempting to “share the space”…one of the opposing teammates rode up the right side of the field, past Movistar, across to the other side of the road, then dropped back so that he could pinch Lawson off from the other side. It was awesome.
-Lawson finding himself completely surrounded, in the bubble of the other team.
-Lawson’s peace offering of a half-finished Coke to said team being rejected outright.

In the sprints, even with our smaller squad of 6, we did well. Steven and Thomas took 2nd and 3rd on the second stage. We weren’t quite able to get past the IAM train before a crucial turn, but we came close to the win. I managed to coast in for 12th place after finishing my leadout.

On the Queen stage, I again spent a good deal of energy keeping Daan out of the wind and at the front, then let him go when the field exploded. He had a good ride to land in 10th place on GC.

On stage 4, we were in for a real bike race. Lawson and I were both trying hard for the break and burned some matches in the process. I was away for a while in a group, and Lawson countered when we were caught, but it was the next one that got clear. It looked like we were in for another boring ride to the finish, but then Astana took over on the next climb and proceeded to toss a bomb into the field. Boom!

They stayed on the gas over the final climb, too, and by the time we were over the top, the field size was halved. I was suffering to make the front group, but I managed it. It was supposed to hurt anyways, right?
It was looking like a reduced field sprint, so as the kilometers passed by we organized our leadout. A series of turns separated me and Thomas from Daan and Lawson, and with 1.5km to go we were still about 10 riders back. I panicked and burned my match too early to get Thomas to the front, forcing him to fight on his own for the last K. In hindsight, I wish I had waited another 250-300m before making my move. A little patience would have gone a long way in that finish, but as it was, Thomas finished 6th. Live and learn, I guess.

Finally, the TT! The field was not very heavy with TT specialists, so Lawson and I stood a really good chance of taking the stage. I knew it was a perfect opportunity. I managed two practice laps of the course, but wasn’t able to really practice two of the more technical turns because the course wasn’t closed to traffic at the time.

The course was rolling upwards for the first half, and mostly false-flat downhill to the finish, so I pushed the pace on the way out, knowing that that’s where the most time would be made up. Since I wasn’t working with my best legs, I knew that technically I had to have a perfect race. I stayed in the aero bars through all 6 big roundabouts on course, not willing to waste a single second on needless drag.

I had been steadily gaining on my minute-man the whole race, but as we neared the finish I was trying desperately to catch him before the last 2 turns. The last 150m of the course were very narrow and twisty and it would be impossible to make a pass there. I almost made it, too, but not quite. Instead, I rolled up on him 5kph faster and had to scrub speed because we couldn’t take the turns two-wide. By my estimation, I lost between 1 and 2 seconds there. I would miss the stage win by 3 seconds, finishing in a season-best 4th.

For once, my effort was actually televised (there was nobody important on the course at the same time) and I can go back and critique my effort. I got everything out of my legs, but I think I could cut out those 3 seconds with some small changes to my pacing and better technique with my head. I spent the whole race looking up or looking down, never spending any time in my intermediate head position (the one where I can see about 30m ahead). I also could have taken those two technical turns a tiny bit faster, if I’d been able to take them hot in practice.

All that put together, I’d have a stage win. But that’s how it goes…woulda, coulda, shoulda. I’ll just have to win one of the Vuelta TT’s, I guess.

To cap off a solid week, Daan had a really good ride to jump up to 8th in GC. In all, it was a pretty successful week for us!

You can find the videos of the stages here, but here's the video of the TT. I first appear around 3 minutes in, #44.