Back at it today.
After worrying a bit how the legs would respond to yesterday’s rest day, I am happy to report that I made it through the initial 8.1km climb no problem. It was definitely a hectic start, however, a whole handful of riders fighting off the front to get in to the breakaway. It was also nervous today for the most part of the race, which hasn’t really happened yet. Sure, the previous stages have been nervous at times, but it seemed that almost all day today everyone was on guard, fighting for position. Nervousness equals crashes, and today definitely had it’s fair share. I counted three that happened in my vicinity, luckily never involving me.
So I made it over the first climb no problem, with some riders not so lucky but regaining contact to the bunch later on. The legs actually felt so good that over a couple rollers I made my way to the front, and on a downhill, launched a counter-attack to try and bridge up to a group of 5. We all got reeled in, however, and I paid dearly for my effort as we hit another roller/climb-that-is-not-a-climb. I suffered through it, slowly making my way to the back of the pack as we climbed to save energy.
Soon enough, the break was established, with a dozen riders in it–including our own Manuel Quinziato.
The pack never really slowed, as it normally does when a break is let go–this was due to its size. 14 guys in the break vs. Team Sky defending the jersey is not an easy task for them so they never let the pace get too slow.
Today’s stage was hard. Yet another up and down all day kind of stage. Most of it on small, bumpy Spanish roads… I felt good though, was suffering at times, but never too much. The day passed by rather quickly actually and soon enough we were nearing the penultimate 3rd category climb before the final ascent-of-death to Montaña Manzaneda.
I had kept hydrated and fueled all day, and was able to set into a rhythm on the second to last climb, making it over no problem. As we descended down to the base of the last climb my plan was just to hold on until a grupetto was formed and then I would jump in there and ‘cruise’ up to the top.
The grupetto didn’t form for quite a while, but this was no matter as I wasn’t in a desperate state. Some of you might be wondering, if you felt good, why would you just get dropped? Well, even on my greatest day I can’t climb with the best of the best at this moment in my career. AND, this race is about survival and making it as far as possible, which means saving energy when I can.
That said though, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten dropped early, because once I did, and once the road percentages started rising towards the 15-20% range…I started to feel like SHIT. Even in the grupetto, where I was supposed to be ‘cruising’. To start off with, the final climb–on paper was 19km, but the base came after a good 11km of climbing that didn’t count to the actual finishing climb. So the grupetto ended up forming just BEFORE the technical start of the climb.
It also didn’t help to have Tony Martin at the head of our grupetto. I’m not sure of his reasons for getting dropped, and I have to the utmost respect for the man as he is beastly on a bike, but he was riding way too hard for us mere mortals.
Something didn’t feel right on my end of things–I was pedaling, I had the right gears, we were maybe going ‘too hard’ but it should not have been too uncomfortable wattage-wise. I just felt empty, drained, life-less. I was constantly wincing–I wasn’t even breathing that hard, I didn’t even feel like my legs hurt, but I could barely turn them. My body was silently screaming at me NO by completely shutting down.
Um, dear body, not really a good time.
The worst part of it all was passing the 15km to go mark and knowing I still had an hour of this body-prison to endure before I would be done.
It was all I could do to hold the wheel in front of me. I urged myself to eat, to drink, but minutes would pass before I even realized what I was telling myself.
A Movistar rider tried to pass me on my right and bumped my handle bars with his. I then spent almost ten minutes wishing I could ask him why he did that. Why was that necessary? Why did you have to do that? It wasn’t even a big deal! We all bump into each other countless times on a day to day basis… I was just so out of it, I fixated on it–I couldn’t let it go. And I couldn’t do anything about it. All I could do was alternate between pedaling seated, and pedaling standing.
A couple weeks ago I talked about the feeling of nothingness you get when on good form. Today I had that feeling, that feeling of nothing, but it was exactly the opposite of good. Like I mentioned before, my body felt like a prison and I had nowhere to go. Funny the human roller coaster ride cycling takes you on.
Tony finally went off on his own after enough people yelled at him, which was a relief.
The kms had clicked by slowly, and I had a good friend in the grupetto–CJ Sutton from Sky. He’d been working all day on the front and noticed the dire state I was in almost immediately upon looking at me. He gave me a gel, a push, and some positive words. I ate the gel, relished the 2 seconds of relief I got from his push, and could barely make sense out of what he told me.
Back into the prison.
Over the last 5km I gradually made my way to the back of our grupetto. Not on purpose, but due to the fact That I started to go slower than everyone else.
I stared at my SRM, watching the meters as they counted down to the finish. I stared at the ground. I stared at the wheel in front of me. I stared and stared.
My body empty, my mind empty. I felt nothing, I felt life-less. What am I doing?
And then I made it, and it was over. I’d like to say that I made a concerted effort to finish last today, but no, I really did…finish last. Not off the back of our group, but last place nonetheless.
I am now quite tired, especially after writing all of this!
Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is even a ‘flat’ stage! Hallelujah.