Sunday, August 24, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 2: A case of the almosts

There’s nothing special to report today, as we’re entering the time vortex of stage racing. As we settle into the rhythm of the race, we’ll lose track of the days because we’re so focused on the task at hand and the stage that’s in front of us. It’s a good thing there’s nothing too significant going on in the world that we need to stay informed about….

The mostly flat stage, aside from the opening cat 3 climb and another pair of smaller climbs later, was going to be a warm one. The break went away immediately, as the peloton was more interested in repeating the phrase “sweating like a pig” than chasing it down in the oppressive humidity.

Movistar immediately took control, and we agreed that I’d contribute to the chase at the feed zone. It was a windy day, so we spent our time keeping John and Warren out of the wind and trouble. The gap had been holding steady around 4 minutes, but jumped a bit to 5+ minutes after the field’s second pee break. Then I and a FDJ rider joined Movistar at the front and started to chip away at the gap.

Maybe “chip away” isn’t quite the correct term. We were never pulling really hard, but the gap plummeted from 5 to 1 minute by the time we reached 35k to go. At that point, with the threat of crosswinds coming soon, all the teams started pushing toward the front. Then I eased up and tried to recover, my work being done for the time being. Just the action of teams fighting to stay at the front meant that the break was doomed.

I spent the next 20k preparing for the fight to come. Things were really hectic in the closing kilometers, so I used my remaining energy to keep the others out of the wind for the leadout later on. At 5k to go, I swung off, but did my best to stay in the field to help in case something happened with Warren. The leadout didn’t go quite as planned when the wind came from the opposite side we expected in the last 3k, but they adjusted well. Then Ramon was nearly crashed by somebody’s crazy moves in one of the last turns, and his support looks to have been the missing ingredient to get John the win today.

After two 2nd places at the Tour, today’s finish was far from satisfying for John. As was the case earlier this season, I’m sure he’s about to break through again and I’m ready to do my part!

One final remark: this was my first Grand Tour road stage, and I was really impressed with the sheer number of spectators along the whole route, much less their enthusiasm! But it was definitely frightening at times how far out into the road they were standing, and how late they moved back. Not just on climbs, but when we come blasting through small towns at 50kph.

2 down, 19 to go!