Friday, September 26, 2014

Post-Vuelta thoughts, Worlds TTT, and more

I realize that the World Championships TTT was the better part of a week ago, but cut me some slack! I think I broke the blogging world record by posting 24 times in as many days. 15,000 words while racing a Grand Tour.

Speaking of, I’ve got some final thoughts about the Vuelta, now that I’ve had some time to digest it. First, I still can barely grasp the significance of what I/we accomplished. My longest bike race ever was 10 days and it was far from the level of the Vuelta, and it destroyed me (with the aid of a nasty South-American bacteria, to be fair). My longest WorldTour race was 8 days. So it was a reasonable expectation that I would be able to contribute for the first half of the Vuelta before shifting into survival mode. I and my coaches anticipated finishing the Vuelta with the ability to do nothing more than curl up in bed until the end-of-season team meeting, which is why I’m only a reserve rider for most of the post-Vuelta races.

But that’s not what happened. Thanks to a lot of hard work on my part and the careful training/racing schedule planned out by my coaches and trainers, my legs did much more than survive their first GT, and I’m pleased as punch about it. We fought as a team for every chance we had and came out with a staggering 4 stage wins, very nearly getting 3 more. I have to say that the last 200m of stage 4 was my happiest moment on a bike ever. There are only a few times in my life I’ve had the thought “we’re going to win this bike race, ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it,” and that was one of them.

There’s also something that those outside of bike racing usually don’t consider, and that’s all the extra bike riding we do. What, isn’t a GT enough? 10km of neutral before every road stage adds up! Plus all the riding to/from sign in, and the ride to the bus after the finish. The race was officially 3232km(1995mi), but over 23 days I accumulated 3677km(2270mi). I covered that distance in 103 hours, 10 hours more than my GC time.

Like I said, we thought I’d be dead after the Vuelta, so I was only a reserve rider for Worlds TTT. But then John had to be hospitalized for an infection and I got the callup. Every TTT I do just makes me love the event that much more. I’m a perfectionist, and the TTT is an event in which perfection pays huge dividends. I also find it to be the most exciting/terrifying event because of the skill required. We were rolling at 60kph for the first 15 minutes of the race. We’re going crazy fast, nowhere near the brakes, and each of us only able to see the wheel in front of us. To recover at all at those speeds, you have to fully commit to the wheel and trust that the guy 5 bikes ahead of you will pick a good line and that the director in your ear will warn you of dangers with enough time to do something about it.

The TTT is also one of the most painful events. Unlike a long TT, where you can just dial up the pain to a sustainable level and hold it there, the TTT is an hour-long over/under interval. In the first 15 minutes, on the flat ground, I was doing nearly 550W on the front for close to 30 seconds (I kept forgetting to look at the timer when I started my pulls and went too long). Then I swung off, soft-pedaled for 5 seconds, then sprinted to get back on. Then I had 2 minutes at 300W before I had to do it again. And that was the easy part of the course. Then we reached the hills.

I was really in the hurt locker for 10 minutes before the top of the climb, but I was pleased to have made it into the final 4. Our efforts were rewarded with the top-10 placing that we were seeking. We’re constantly getting better, which bodes well for the future!

The TTT was my first race with Marcel—I hadn’t even seen him since the first week of January—so it was nice to get to know each other.  I still haven’t done a race with Tom Veelers or Bert de Becker (although I got to know Tom well at camp). That’s how big the team is, there are guys that I haven’t seen all year!

I still have at least one race remaining, so there’s still some training to be done to maintain my form. I mentally can’t do intervals anymore, and even just telling myself that I’m going training cracks me a bit. So yesterday I covered up the power and went for a bike ride. When I’m supposed to go hard, I’ll just chase some Strava KOMs.

Want to know what a GT does to your legs? I can’t go easy anymore! It’s either 150 or 300W all day, I can’t find the in-between. 300W is just cruising speed now, nearly nose-breathing. Also, 21 days of WorldTour racing is a lot of speedwork, and now 90rpm feels like grinding.

So, I’ve got at least one race remaining—Milan-Torino, plus I’m reserve for a few others. I’m hoping to get bumped up, though. I’ve got good legs at the end of the season for the first time ever, and want to use them. Also, I’m not going home until after the team meeting in October, and racing makes time go by much faster!

I said in an interview earlier this year that, as riders, our job is to race our bikes and leave the team management to those in the office. We can’t be stressing about sponsorship issues if we hope to perform well, and our team office rewarded that trust by securing a new major sponsor, Alpecin, for the coming years. Sponsorship stability is such a big deal in this sport! I also love that the sponsor of the team with the rider most synonymous with fantastic hair (and Marcel, too) is a shampoo company.