Saturday, September 13, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 20:Dark places

Our mood before the start was very good. It was the last road stage, the weather was nice, John had a good lead in the points competition, and Warren was 8th on GC.

The problem with mind trickery, such as convincing yourself that you’ve made it to the end, is that eventually you are faced with 185km of racing before it becomes true.

The stage started with 20km of descending, with some short little kickers thrown in. The descents were narrow and technical, and bumpy. I was mid-pack when I threw my chain coming out of the corner. I had a 32t cassette today, which requires a long-cage derailleur, which can be quite bouncy in the smaller cogs. All that is to say that, when I was in the 11t through the corner and hit a bump just right, off it went. I tried for a while to gently get the chain back on, but it just wouldn’t go, so I had to stop and put it on by hand.

I chased back through the caravan (but didn’t have the presence of mind to turn the camera on) on the tricky descent. When I got back, I saw that the field had split into multiple groups, and Warren was in the last one with me. So I worked my way up to the front and started chasing with Tobias and Nikias. 

We got Warren back to the main field just in time for it to split again. This time, at least, he was ahead of it. I wasn’t so lucky, though, and my group didn’t regain the main field until the bottom of an uncategorized climb of 10km at 5%. I had spent the whole race chasing, and the attacks were still going.

When I ended up in the cars just 35km in the race on such a hard stage, I started to freak out. I was panicking that I would end up by myself all day and miss time cut. I thought about the consolation that everyone would give me about all the success that the team has had and the part I played in it, and that just sent me further into the dark places of my mind. I thought about how I wanted to finish the Vuelta for my dad and everybody who’s helped me get this far, and the fear of failing sent me further into the spiral. I knew that the break would go eventually and the field would take it easy and I could make it back, but rationality in such a situation on stage 20 is hard to come by. Thankfully my directors were there to calm me down. It also helped that there were 20 other guys in the cars suffering just as badly.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened, and I enjoyed the hour of relaxed pace to recover and eat. I learned that I didn’t have it so bad, as Warren was really suffering from mounting knee pain—a lingering side effect of his crashes. My mood was really boosted when Larry Warbasse said that my legs, in his opinion, show the most improvement in muscle definition out of the whole Vuelta peloton. That meant that I have any muscle definition at all, which sent me over the moon.

Thankfully the pace over the next two climbs was hard, but manageable. My legs were tired but I was feeling better, and every kilometer spent with the main field meant that the risk of missing time cut was further reduced.

My mental trick today was as follows: 80km to go, that’s just 50 miles! Look at that, 30 fewer already just by converting the units! With my SRM display showing the kilometers ticking by, but thinking of remaining distance in miles, my end-of-the-grand-tour mind had a firm grasp on any straws it could reach. Just get me to the finish!

I managed to reach the bottom of the penultimate climb with the field and happily sang ‘grupetto’ as the fast dudes took off. Time-cut estimates were about 40-45 minutes, so when we reached the top of the climb just 10 minutes behind, things were looking good.

The last climb was brutal for about 5 kilometers in the middle, but we reached the top with 10 minutes to spare. I spent half of the final climb swatting off spectators who forgot the number one rule of spectating: don’t touch the bike racers. Guys are welcome to ask for a push if they want (although they could be penalized for it), but I want to reach the finish line under my own power. So keep your hands off!

Warren not only battled his demons, he beat them into submission to finish 6th on the stage. I’m so impressed with his Vuelta so far!

Now, it doesn’t require any mind tricks: there is only one stage left. It’s a short and technical TT, and it’s what I’ve had my sights set on for 3 weeks now . The chance of rain should keep it interesting.

20 down, ONETOGOONETOGOONETOGO! (You’re supposed to read that in Dave Towle’s fanatical end-of-crit voice.)

Also, seeing as the time trial isn’t until tomorrow evening and will be immediately followed by post-race festivities and travel, it may be a day or so before I post again. Just be forewarned!