Friday, September 12, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 19: Mind games

Racing for such a long time does weird things to your body. My legs are still good, but I just feel kind of exhausted in general. I’ve been sleeping really hard the last few nights. So hard that when my bladder wakes me up in the middle of the night, I walk into walls because I’m so out of it. Part of that is due to the countless times we’ve changed hotels. If only hotels would adopt a universal floor plan…but then I guess that may be too much like prison.

The fatigue has carried over into my willingness to sign autographs. If somebody comes up to me when I’m not moving, sure, I’ll sign, but you have zero chance of getting me to stop once I’m rolling to/from sign-in. Every time we’re ambushed for autographs at the hotel elevators, or the walk to/from the bus, or at breakfast, I die a little inside. All I want is to not think about bike racing, and here’s some stranger that thinks I’m important because I can pedal a bike well. This daily blog is the only race-related activity that I actually like to do each day (aside from the race) because the positive responses it gets are good for my state of mind. Thus concludes my antisocial paragraph.

Sitting on the start line each day is the toughest point of the day mentally. Once the race has started, you just focus on the task at hand. But sitting there, just waiting for the suffering to come, that’s miserable. Today’s mental battle on the start line was tougher than normal because it’s not the last road stage, but the next to last. We’re almost almost there. So I did some fuzzy math to trick myself (insert Aggie joke here). Basically, the last stage is a TT, which barely counts. Tomorrow will be tough, but today? Well, it’s already today. You can’t include today’s stage in the count (nevermind that it hasn’t started yet), so really there’s just one stage left. I can do one more stage!

Today’s stage was a perfect one for the breakaway, but it was also another perfect opportunity to get another win for John—and equally importantly, more green jersey points over Valverde. The course profile was tough, with two cat 2 climbs, the second topping out just 15km from the finish. For us to have our way, it would require another full-team effort from start to finish.

Even though there are only 7 of us now, we rode like there were a dozen Giant-Shimano riders in the field. We had to break the spirit of the attackers. Even though it was hard, our constant presence at the front showed that we were willing to keep the fight going as long as necessary until the reshuffling dealt us a hand that we liked. Soon they weren’t even attacking at 100% because they didn’t want to waste energy. Slowly, fewer and fewer riders were attacking, until finally 3 riders slipped away and we shut the field down for good.
Then the Ramon show started. I helped him a bit today, but he took on 80% of the workload, nearly shutting down the break single-handedly.

You now things are going pretty well when your biggest complaint is the complete failure of your usually-trustworthy weather site. Even after it failed me yesterday (I looked like a hobo, wearing my rain socks as my tanlines were being sharpened, the forecast rain nowhere to be seen), I trusted its forecast for sunny skies today. I was dressed in blazing white, my socks brand new and my kit with only one rest day ride under its belt. So when it started to rain, I was quite upset. Oh well….

The fuzzy math continued well into the stage: 180k total, and we’ve done 60…I’m working to chase the break until the base of the final climb at 160…the descent of the first climb is 15k…so really there’s only 85km left! See what I did there?

With 40km remaining before the final climb, Orica sent two riders to help me and Ramon. We were chasing hard, but it was obvious that the break was lacking motivation, legs, or both, as the gap started to tumble quickly. With 5km to the base, our job was done as the GC teams took over to begin the fight for position for the narrow climb. The break was caught before the climb.

John suffered up the climb—even earning himself a ‘chapeau’ from Contador—and came down the other side with a few teammates to finish the chase. Then, the only wrinkle in the day’s plan: a 500m wall through a little town with 5k to go that we had no idea about (it didn’t show up on the course profile). It shed Nikias, who had just finished a pull, and allowed an opportunity for Adam Hansen to jump away. Once he had the gap, the course favored a committed solo rider—twisting, mostly downhill, and tailwind.

In the end, John won the field sprint for 2nd, just 5 seconds behind Hansen. As much as we wanted the win, the green jersey points were arguably more important.  Now, Valverde has to podium both of the last two stages just to match John’s total.

Now there’s just one stage left between me and the time trial. So basically I’m already there.
19 down, 2 to go!