Sunday, September 7, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 15: chewing on the handlebars

I’ve been fortunate thus far to roll out of bed each morning with fairly fresh legs. They were aware that they’ve been punished repeatedly over the past two weeks, but still started each day with a vigor and eagerness for more. Today, that changed. I got out of bed and immediately thought, “oof.”

Over-analytical me immediately thought this was a bad sign. Then I thought, “Hey goober (I sometimes call myself goober in such situations), you’re two weeks into one of the hardest bike races the world has to offer. It would be weird if your legs DIDN’T hurt, especially after yesterday’s stage. Besides, sore is good. It's dead legs that you need to fear. And yours aren't dead, so quitcher complaining!"

We started under sunny skies, but knew that it would change at some point. With luck, we’d stay dry until the final climb. In either case, I was wearing my rain socks. I’d heard that the descent to the final climb could be treacherous if wet, so I let a bit of air out of my tires on the start line. It also made for a slightly more comfortable ride (my underside is also aware that we’re two weeks into the race, after all).

We again wanted to have a rider in the break if possible, to guarantee that someone was there for Warren before the final climb, which is one of only two HC climbs in the whole race. Feeling sore from yesterday and intimidated by tomorrow, I allowed myself to follow exactly one attack: the first one. It didn’t go, so I settled into the field to save energy for later.

Everything was going fine for about 15km, at which point I was caught up in a crash. I almost saved it, but when I came to a stop I had nowhere to put a foot down and fell over the guy next to me. I’m not sure that even counts as a crash, but there’s no need to pick nits. You know you’re okay if your first thought is, “Aww man, I didn’t have the camera on!” Side note: I’ve had a camera on my bars for the past few stages, hopefully I got some nice footage.

I chased back on without incident, getting back to the field just as another crash happened. I was eager to recover a bit from the chase back, but the next 20km were cross-windy, rolling, and twisty. The field was almost completely single file, and I was suffering. I just kept telling myself, “Everyone’s suffering, just hold the wheel. Just hold the wheel.”

Finally, mercifully, a group of 5 got away with John inside. He was excited to ride in a break for the first time in his pro career, and while he was up there, he took the sprint points to further pad his lead over Valverde. We just might be able to hold on to the green jersey to the end!

Things were easy for a while, and we managed to get our rain vests from the car just as the first drops started falling. Then a lot of drops started falling. We got soaked, and it kept pouring all the way to the bottom of the cat 2 climb. Koen and Johannes got Warren to the bottom in perfect position, while I was a bit further back. I made the front group, though, as the grupetto was forming behind. I felt good for a while, then all at once I was done. I was down on myself for a bit, thinking that I simply wasn’t very good today. Post-race analysis says: nope, I was pretty good again today, we were just going really really hard.

I got over the top in a small group somewhere between the leaders and the grupetto, which is where I wanted to be. I got to do the descent in a small group at my own pace, which was very nice, because that descent was Sketchy with a capital ‘S’. The pavement wasn’t good, and most of it was shaded. Translation: it was mossy and slick. I had spun my wheel twice going UP the climb, so I knew the road was not to be trifled with.

My tires and skills delivered me to the bottom safely, and our group set about getting up the last little hill. Just 12-ish kilometers at 10-ish%, no big deal.

If you watched the race at all, you know that Warren felt good today, attacking the biggest names in the sport several times. He went on to literally climb himself back into the top-10 on GC, and we’re all pumped for him.

Tomorrow is going to hurt. Like, really bad.  And we’re going to get wet again. Everyone is hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the big hitters will wait until the third climb before they start launching bombs. But I’m doubtful.

15 down, 6 to go!