With US sponsors, and the success we had last year, we have a lot of pressure to win this race. We have a diesel team and the defending champion. Personally, I’ve been training hard, trying to replicate the work I did to prepare so well last year, but my body has not responded as well to the training. I’ve seen glimmers of potential and hope the competitive energy kicks me into gear.
I’ll spend this week training in Lucca, Italy. That is, if I ever get there. I
arrived at the quiet airport with my team director and time to spare, but the
airline refused to issue my boarding pass over 50 minutes before take-off. I
rallied what stress hormones remained after the race and organized a time
sensitive plan B: purchase a ticket to Rome, then get to Lucca via trains,
busses, and taxis.
I wasn’t always sure if I was on the right train or bus, but if it was moving, I
was nonchalant. As a special bonus, one of the busses, took me by the Roman
Pantheon, which I’ve always wanted to see.
Stage 4: 190 km
With our Tiago sitting in second on GC (general classification) and Sky in
confident control of the race lead, our director, Jose, gave us freedom to go
for the breakaway. I raced the first 10 km maximum to cover as much as possible.
After that 10 km effort the road went into the mountains, and I paid in agony
for those attacks. At the hardest moment, a 9-man breakaway formed with my
teammates, Bakelants and Busche. Some teams wanted to shut it town immediately,
but failed. We settled in for another rapid day controlled by Team Sky.
Sky chased down the breakaway with 2 km to go resulting in another field sprint.
The amount of field sprints belies the difficulty of this race.
Stage 5: 25.8 km TT
I raced this twisty individual time trial without previewing the course. Going
full gas into blind turns would have been dangerous, and the team had eyes on
our TT specialists and Tiago for the overall. Jesse Sergent posted a leading
time until four of the final fifteen riders bumped him to fifth. Tiago slipped
off the podium into 5th overall.
My American cycling compatriots and I pedaled over green Tuscan hills striped with vineyards and paused to sip cappuccinos at sunny cafes. In our 8th month of competition, this type of anti-stress training serves as a mental shot of espresso for the final race. It was the perfect combination of saddle time, wine, and pizza.
A chartered flight of European cyclists landed in Beijing Sunday morning for the first edition of the Tour of Beijing. On the first day training in the massive city proved impossible, so the next day we organized a caravan and drove 1.5 hrs out of the city for a ProTour group ride. A few of us explored the silk market for knock-off electronics and name brands.
Road Race: 266 km 36 km then 17×14 km circuit
Honored to be selected for the team, nervous and motivated to contribute to the team, and confident in our team leader, Tyler Farrar, I prepared for a battle against 210 riders which my coach, Jim Miller, claimed would cost 6000 calories. For an hour at 50 kph, I followed or helped neutralized every attack from the powerhouse teams. Teams without sprinters hoped to make the race hard, but there seemed to be a terminal velocity on the circuits which we held for most of the race, allowing the protected sprinters a comfortable draft and smooth pace.
Unsure of my ability to aid in the finale, I asked Tyler if I should pitch in up front. He said, “ask Sayers (our director).” I dropped back to the car and Sayers said to wait a lap or two. With 145 km remaining I slithered to the front and swapped steady pulls with GB and Germany. 15 km later Belgium, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, and Denmark started hurling guys off the front. We lifted the pace and lost the Germans. More than once I gave what I thought might be my last ditch effort. During one pull, I overshot a corner and barely held it up on the curb without causing trouble. I felt amateur and embarrassed. When I got back to the front, I apologized to the Brits. Back in the rotation they even offered a, “nice pull” or “good job” every now and then.
With 60 km to go, another flurry of attacks upset the rhythm, and I sagged off the front. With 3 laps to go, I tried to work again, took one pull, and fell back. Phinney did what he could for Tyler in the finish, but Cavendish (Great Britain) won motivated by his team. Farrar took 10th.
I managed to finish in the front group. It is the furthest I’ve ever ridden (170 miles including the ride back to the hotel) with an average speed over 29 mph. Tenth is a mediocre result for USA, but considering the young team we have here, it’s a result.
Stage 2: 210 km
After his untouchable victory, we felt confident in Levi. We just had to get him over the gravel Cottonwood Pass (12,100 ft elevation), and deliver him into Independence Pass (12,000 ft) 110 miles from the start. For an hour we followed breakaways and chased them down. We wanted no more than seven riders in the breakaway. More than seven would have too much horse power for us to chase. I drifted back to recover from dragging back an attack. Just behind me Levi said, “great job. Keep riding strong.” The next second we hit a cattle guard. The rider to my right caught his wheel in a gap. He went from 40 mph to a standstill- deep face, chin, and lip lacerations, less teeth, two broken hands, concussion. Riders plowed into him. I panicked and looked for Levi. He survived.
The riders collectively neutralized the race for ten minutes. Then seven riders attacked and were gone. Murayev, J-Mac, and Hermans rode tempo for the next sixty miles. The team wanted to save me to help Levi on Independence Pass, a big responsibility. I went back and forth from the car to the front of the peloton getting information and water bottles from our director. He recommended pulling the breakaway back to two minutes before the climb.
On the first gradual slopes of Independence Pass, Bennet and I swapped pulls. As soon as the road pitched up 8 km from the summit, Vande Velde and Columbian bottle rocket, Henao, attacked. I suffered in 5th position on Gesink’s wheel. Then Levi said, “go, Ben.” Way above my limit, brain oxygen deprived, my vision narrowed. I emptied myself pulling back the attack in three minutes. The world spun, as I regained my breath and settled into a comfortable pace, leaving Rovny and Deignan to fend for Levi.
Massive, out of control, crowds parted to reveal the road, as we climbed the last mile through the rain. They shouted, “Levi’s on a great ride!” Lightening licked the mountains below us. We shivered on the wet 20 mile descent into Aspen. A small group had escaped on the descent and Levi lost the jersey by 34 seconds. Murayev suffered from altitude sickness on the climb and abandoned the race. Tomorrow is the time trial. Levi is hungry.
Stage 2: 16 km Time Trial
I rode easy tempo, along with the other domestiques, banking on Levi’s ability to reclaim yellow and call on every bit of our strength to defend. We watched Levi’s dramatic ride on TV and a cheer went up from our bus when he hit the line to win the tt by half a second and win back the yellow jersey. Big days ahead for us.
Tour of Utah recovery merged with Tour of Colorado taper. We crashed at the TLS U23 house in Boulder, CO. One day we splurged on burgers and ice cream. One day we trained hard. Each of the seven days we tapped our fingers waiting for the familiarity of racing to settle our nerves.
Tour of Colorado: 7 days
Prologue: 9 km
I felt sort of betrayed by the promotional ads focusing on crashes and carnage. Fans and/or sadists clustered around a high speed corner hoping for some bloody action. Nobody crashed. But we plunged through that turn like roller coaster cars. Once we plunged out of the scenic Garden of Gods, we drag raced a straight 5 km through downtown to the finish. The early starters had a stronger tailwind and clocked the fastest times. Levi and I raced late. We finished 7th and 17th respectively.
Stage 1: 160 km
Levi smashed everyone. A break of four went. We raced over Monarch Pass, an 11,321 ft summit, in slow motion. Riders hopped on their tires checking for a flat, certain that they must have a flat; the slow pace felt too hard. Oxygen, please. After the climb, one lonely road brought us to the finish. I fought boredom.
With 5 km to go we ripped through Crested Butte and launched into a 2 km climb. Riders exploded. When the pack strung out in town, I slipped back too far to influence the finish. I could, however, watch my teammate, Ivan Rovny, stand up with an almost casual bearing, click down a few gears, and wring the power out of his legs with Levi in his draft. With 500 meters to go Levi launched for the finish and claimed the stage victory and yellow jersey.
Need I say much more about the stage? With 12,000 ft of climbing, today was a day of survival, or a day to battle on the longest climbs I have ever done. Wearing the KOM jersey I went into the stage ready to defend and get more points, little did I realize how much yesterday took out of me. 6km into the stage the road turned up and I threw in my first attack. I was hoping to get off the front with a small group of riders who would let me take the points in exchange for setting the pace on the climb. I was quickly reeled in only to try again. A few more tries and I was cooked, so I retired to the pack only to see a group ride off the front and the pack sit up. I summited in the second group, but by the time we hit the foot of the second climb the pack (only about 60 riders at this point) was all back together.