Tuesday, September 9, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 16: By the skin of our teeth

Yesterday, I was expecting to spend the whole of today’s stage in the rain, so I was pleasantly surprised to see sunny blue skies at the start. The updated forecast showed that we’d at least get through the first climb dry, but rain was likely later. In the event that the race became a triathlon on the later climbs and I didn’t have access to the team car, I started with my rain vest in my pocket. Just to be safe.

The worst case scenario was realized on the first climb when the break still wasn’t established at the base. The race exploded just 10km into the stage on the first of 4 cat-1 climbs. Everyone stayed calm and just rode as hard as they could over the top, finding a group. Today was all about strength in numbers for the climbing-challenged.

The break finally got away on the other side, and the race regrouped completely. 1 climb down, just 4 to go! The pace over the cat 2 climb was quick, but manageable, and the field stayed together for that one, too.

At the base of the next climb, there were a couple of rolling kilometers before the real climb began. Our director said this would be a good time to get bottles, and I was already near the back, so I decided to go for it. We had a soigneur on top of the climb with bottles, but I was completely out and figured that my teammates could also use a fresh bottle. I loaded up with bottles and took off just as the road got steep. It didn’t take long for panic to set in, and I barely managed to get to the front to deliver the bottles (I would later learn that most of the guys didn’t need one at that point. I’ll take a poll in the future before going back on a climb for bottles!). The effort blew me up, though, and by the time I was recovered, I was in the grupetto. Our numbers swelled the further we got up the climb, and by the time we reached the next climb, we had about 50 riders.

Still no rain by this point, so that was nice! With two climbs to go, we were already 11 minutes behind the leaders. Rough time-cut estimates were about 36 minutes, so we should be okay. As long as we didn’t go too slow, that is.

Then we went really easy on the penultimate climb. I always find myself at the front of the grupetto on climbs, as I usually don’t belong there and am comfortable climbing a bit faster. Even still, I spent the whole climb thinking that we needed to go just a bit faster. You can’t ramp the pace up without being bombarded with complaints, though, so we chugged along. We got over the top 20 minutes behind the leaders, and things suddenly looked a little dangerous for us.

When Contador won the stage, we still had 11km to climb and only 35 minutes to do it. We actually had to climb quickly, but many riders were really protesting the effort. They were using some more liberal time-cut calculations (which I really don’t understand…it’s elementary math, after all) and said we had plenty of time. “They’re not going to time-cut 50 guys!” Yeah, well it’s best not to dare the officials.

We reached the top just 30 seconds before the time cut. Whew! I wish I had been in a chase group that was a bit safer, but in the end it was good that I was in the group with John, Koen, and Ramon, as I was able to do a lot of work on the flatter portions to keep us rolling. There were lots of guys that didn’t contribute at all on the flats and then did nothing but complain on the climbs, so it was good that I could help in that way.

We ended up reaching the finish just as the first drops of rain started to fall. After putting on a lot of clothes and a rain jacket, we descended back down to the bus in pouring rain. Not much could dampen my spirit, though, as I’ve reached the second rest day!

To top it off, Warren climbed up another rung on the GC ladder today. Yeah, things aren’t too bad in the Giant-Shimano camp right now!

16 down, 5 to go!