Tuesday, August 26, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 4: Do you like apples?

Well, how d’you like THEM APPLES?!

The day started like all the others, only now I’m a year older. Now I’m above the average age of our Vuelta squad, and that’s not even taking into account how old I act! Early to bed and early to rise, let’s face it, I’m already old.

Anyways, the bike race:

The heat has done a good job of suppressing everyone’s will to race until it’s really necessary. The break, again, got away immediately from kilometer 0 and the field took it easy. The first real climb didn’t come until 100k into the stage, which was a short 164km compared to yesterday’s 198. For the first two hours, I averaged 143w.

In that time, we were constantly going back for bottles. 3 pee breaks in those 2 hours—we were all making sure to stay hydrated! I have to say, though, that it still wasn’t as hot as Tour of California this year, much less TOC 2 years ago. I’m well familiarized with how I handle the heat by now, it’s just a matter of doing what I need to do.

The fight leading into the first climb was a big one, as we weren’t sure how fast the climb would be. The fight paid off, though, when Tinkoff-Saxo took the front and set a hard pace that caused a lot of damage to the field. Once we reached the bottom, the field slowly regrouped just in time to pass through the finish the first time. The last 15km was done twice, so it was nice to have a preview of how the finish would play out.

Just as everything came back together, the fight was on for the last climb. It didn’t take long for the field to explode, and 15 minutes later the front group of 40-50 riders crested the climb. There were about 10 undulating kilometers before we really descended, in which time Lawson took the front to keep the pace up. We had our GC rider and our sprinter in the group, so it was a really good situation for us.

I was hurting, as I’d run out of water on the climb. Just in time, we reached our soigneur, who had musettes ready with 2 bottles. I’d finish both in 20 minutes….

The descent was technical and really fast, and once we reached the bottom there were only 8k to go. With Lawson at the front keeping things under control, I rolled up to Warren and John and asked what they wanted me to do.

“Keep us at the front,” they said. So I pulled them up next to the Tinkoff team and held them there. At 2k to go, both were slotted in around 7th wheel.  I slid in behind Orica and Tinkoff, making especially sure that we didn’t get swarmed before the last roundabout. At the exit, Orica started to accelerate, but a couple of riders attacked up the side and Orica was running out of gas from riding the front all day.

I jumped onto BMC as they were coming by, and just when they started to fade at 1.5k to go, I heard John yell, “CHAD, GO!”

I had thought that Warren was behind me, but it was obvious from his volume that he was on my wheel. The number one rule of leadouts is: never slow down. Even if you have to go early, it’s better to go too soon than to get swarmed. So when John yelled, “go,” I went.

At the same time, I was doing the mental math. 1.5k to go, and John is on my wheel. Leadout starting now, ideally ends at 200m to go. Wow, that’s a long way. Can’t slow down, though, I have to go until John comes around. I’m gonna need a bit of draft along way, good thing those guys attacked separately. Let’s play a game of leapfrog! Okay, that’s a good speed, we’re making progress. Come to papa…alright, one down, on to the next. Boom, another one bites the dust. Wow, this hurts, and there’s still a long way to go….

From 600m to go, I knew that I was fading and was just begging somebody to start the sprint too soon so that John could jump on. I saw a move coming up the right at 400m and John again yelled to go, to which I replied—seriously—“I CAN’T!” and swung left as John jumped right. There was a gap perfect for him in 4th (I think) wheel, and from there it was up to him.

I was completely gassed and just waiting to hear in the radio the results. Lawson and I saw at the same time John’s name as the winner on the finish board, so I took my time over the last 200m to celebrate, giving high-fives to the crowd. Then it was hugs all around after the finish.

In summary: John gives the best birthday presents! No matter what else happens during the Vuelta, we’ve won a stage!

4 down, 17 to go!