Saturday, September 6, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 14: a real kick in the pants

Today’s stage profile had a menacing shape. Even with only 3 categorized climbs, we knew that we could be in for a day of suffering, depending on how we raced it.

We anticipated another big fight for the break, and wanted to have somebody in it. If the race exploded on the first cat 1 climb, we’d at least have one guy on the other side to help Warren into the finishing climb.

I made sure to be on the front line at the end of the neutral section—you know, just in case it was the first break that went (a guy can hope, right?). The attacks kept going, and I was doing my best to hold myself back. My legs felt good again, but I had to be smart to not destroy myself and then not make the break, in case the race blew up later. I would only go with one or two attacks at a time before taking a breather in the field. After about 15km, I made one real attempt at the break, nearly matching my 5-min power record. After that, I gave up hope on the breakaway. It was hard enough just sitting in the field.

When 30km had passed by without the break being established, we decided to take control of the front to keep things together for the intermediate sprint in 5km. The field welcomed a brief respite while Tobias and I set a good tempo. Everyone knew that the break would go just on the other side of the sprint, so Johannes was resting up for it. John won the intermediate sprint, padding his lead over Valverde with another handful of points.

Sure enough, a group of 24 got away (with Johannes in it) immediately after the sprint. Tinkoff was still setting a pretty good pace to hold the group around 6 minutes.

After the cat 2 climb, I saw that I was already at 2500kJ burned, and we were still at the bottom of the stage profile! The pace Tinkoff set for the first 10km of the giant climb was manageable. I had started in the center of the field and drifted back as guys worked their way up the sides. The climb was gently rolling upward, so I was looking for a flatter spot to make a move back to the front with the others. Before I could do that, OPQS took the front and proceeded to shred the field. I was able to get to the front group as guys continually peeled off, but the effort to get back to the front was a bit too much for me.

The group I found myself in as we crested the top 4-5 minutes behind the GC group was about 30 riders, including Koen. We had 60km of low-grade descending ahead of us. For about 40km we actually had the whole group rotating through. It wasn’t so hard to pull through because the group had so much momentum. With all of us working, we were steadily making up ground on the GC group. Eventually some guys got too excited and upped the pace when we were just 1:30 back, at which point only a half-dozen riders were still working. Oh well.

Suddenly we found ourselves just 3km from the finish of a really tough day. We could see the 1km to go banner waaaaay up on the mountain, and couldn’t fathom how it there was only 2km of pavement to get there.

Then we reached the proper climb. That son of a gun was steeeeeeep. It took 360w for me to turn a 34x28 at 55rpm. It was the sort of climb that wears your arms out as well as your legs. I watched as a handful of guys from our group got pushed halfway up the mountain by spectators, but I’m proud to say that I got to the finish completely under my own power!

Up the road, the plan had gone perfectly. Tobias got over the top with Warren, and they were joined by Johannes when he sat up out of the break. They delivered him to the steep slopes with the GC favorites and let him go on to another solid finish.

All was not well, though. Lawson has been in the hurt locker for days and found himself in the cars early on. He fought all the way to the top of the cat 1 climb until he was talked off the bike. We’ll definitely miss him in the final week, but he can be proud of all he’s helped us accomplish so far.

As for me, today set personal records in TSS, kJ burned (5800), and power records of 4.5-6 hours. 
Good thing the last week of the Vuelta is the easiest, right?

14 down, 7 to go!