Vuelta Pais Vasco: 6 days, 6 stages
Casual conversation between riders often includes the question, “What’s your
A disconcerting look of horror flickers over their countenance. Some fidget and
flash a nervous smile suppressing obvious psychological damage. “Oh, thaaat’s a
Teams send their top riders here to tune them for their season goals. We have
one of the strongest teams and have won the past two editions with Chris Horner
and Andreas Kloden.
Stage 1: 154 km
The race lived up to its reputation. On a normal day I would have suffered like
everyone, but for some unknown reason I felt way below my level. The pace never
relaxed. From stomach cramps, indigestion, and back pain, to burning arms and,
of course, legs. My lungs were tight and the team doctor thinks my pollen
allergies might be inducing asthma.
At the start I felt strong, covering attacks and controlling the peloton no
problem. The first time I went over my limit, however, I faded and never
recovered. I pedaled squares and yo-yoed at the back of the bunch. On the last
climb I dropped in a small group and rode to the finish as a pack of 100 leaders
sprinted for the win.
Stage 2: 165 km
This Tour, as my teammate, Jens Voigt put it, is a Character Building Tour. If
Jens is hurting, everyone is hurting. After some adjustments to my position,
which I had found to be slightly off, I felt more stable.
We started with a maximum seven minute uphill effort until the breakaway
escaped. The peloton set a fierce “tempo” pace cutting through cold wind and
rain. We held the break at six minutes and eventually reeled them back.
On one fog shrouded climb you could see each rider’s breath. I looked like The
Little Engine That Could. I huffed and puffed and crested the last mountain with
the peloton for another field sprint.
Stage 3: 160 km
I can’t climb out of the hole I dug on stage 1. Once again, I dropped with about
40 riders before the finish of the Queen (hardest) Stage. Horner attacked the
final climb and finished third.
Stage 4: 155 km
Rain hissed off our wheels surrounding the peloton in a forcefield of spray. Our
brake pads lost traction on our carbon rims and we weaved amongst each other
attacking downhill at 50 mph. I aggressively followed attacks with Jens, knowing
that even if I were to be dropped again, I could at least first contribute to
the team by preventing big groups from escaping and representing our team at the
I blasted through a roundabout in pursuit of four riders and heard the snap and
crunch of carbon smashing concrete. I looked back and saw two bikes in the air.
I thought the peloton would release us as the day’s breakaway, but they pulled
us back, and three other riders escaped.
I struggled over the first few climbs, then slipped into another gruppetto. A
gruppetto is a group of riders out of contention who work together to finish
within the time cut. The time cut is a predetermined percentage of the winner’s
finishing time after which riders are eliminated.