Monday, November 17, 2014

Knobby tires, swinging hammers, and trainer time.

Well, I've made it through the first week of training for 2015!

My off-season went by way too fast, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I got to spend a few days with my parents in Texas before returning to Colorado where I had barely parked the car before I was on my mountain bike. My skills re-acquisition could have gone a bit smoother, leaving me with some minor scrapes and bruises, but hey, it's mountain biking. The good news is that my skills were sharp before we hit the road for Moab, one of the most famous mountain biking locations in the world. Our merry crew was filled with collegiate teammates from years past, and we enjoyed the scenery and incredible riding. For those wondering, we made sure to use our 3-days of riding well, hitting Slickrock, Klondike Bluffs, and Porcupine Rim. 29ers all-around, and most of us on hardtails. It was punishing at times, but a ton of fun.

Trying to look tough

Slickrock is nothing but an enormous sandpaper rollercoaster!

Pick a line, any line
 After another few days of trails in Colorado, Shane and I were on a plane bound for California, where we'd board a bus and drive to Mexico for my second house build. Of all the opportunities that cycling has given me, these builds are my favorite. This weekend was on my calendar before last year's build was even finished, and I knew that I had to bring Shane along this time. You can read Shane's take on the incredible trip here. The weekend ended far too soon after many friendships and memories were made, and I can't wait to go back. And there's no substitute for the perspective and thankfulness gained on a trip like that.
Hanging drywall with Tanner Foust
Our build team with the family
Shane and I returned to Colorado as Snowpocalypse 2014 hit and ended up spending the night in a hotel room just 60 miles from home after driving for 2 hours without even reaching the ring-road around Denver. After getting back to Colorado Springs the next morning just as the next snow storm started, I kicked off my 2015 season with a ride on the trainer. Then I spent the next 5 days on the trainer, too. You know it's bad when you actually go through the trouble of putting on the trainer tire. That's accepting that you won't be outside for a while!

As un-enjoyable as all that trainer time was, I got through it with relative ease with this thought: I just helped a family in Tijuana with nothing build a house, and they were so thankful. Can I really complain that I'm being paid to ride my bike inside for a week?

The first week of training is always a big adjustment, though. Mentally, it's getting back in the routine of training. There's also the readjustment of eating like a professional athlete again, moving away from the off-season indulgences. The most difficult adaption is physical, however. After a three-day block of riding, lifting weights, and running, I was moving really slow. I felt weak on the bike, fighting off the fear that I'll never regain the fitness I once had. But I've been here before and know that I just have to push through the first week. Sure enough, by the end of the week I was riding 30w higher and 10bpm lower. Training at this time of year is addictive for me because the gains come so quickly and easily. I'm so excited for next year!

Thanksgiving is coming up, and I have so much to be thankful for. I get paid to do what I love and see the world in the process. I get to meet incredible people and call them friends after a weekend spent building a house for a family in desperate need. I'm thankful for the time I get to spend with friends and family before I leave the country in 7 short weeks. Today, specifically, I'm thankful that my dad gets to celebrate his 55th birthday. He's riding a tumultuous rollercoaster, still fighting his cancer for the third time. The doctors can barely agree on what to do with him, as he's in uncharted territory. He is the cutting edge of treatment, as it is a rare patient that gets to the five-year mark. My dad is a rare one, though, and we Hagas are fighters like you wouldn't believe!

That's all for now, I hope you can all enjoy time with family next week!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Winding down

My last race of the season was two weeks ago, which is hard to believe. I was considering not even posting anything about it, but changed my mind because I’ve written about every race so far this year and wanted to finish it off.

Milano-Torino was my first road race in Italy, and my first since the Vuelta. At a 1.HC ranking, that meant that there would be several continental teams racing. The race was almost completely flat for 170km, then featured two trips up a nearly 20min climb to finish. The plan was for Daan and I to save it for the finish, while the others were free to go in the break.

The race started (albeit a bit behind schedule because of protesters whose cause I couldn’t quite figure out….it involved a tractor in the road, though) and I realized just what a Grand Tour does for your legs. Attacks were constantly going for over 30km, and I was effortlessly floating in the bubble. I was watching many of the attacking riders burn themselves out after several failed attempts to escape, whereas it felt like I had no chain on my bike. Granted, I wasn’t attacking, but I had grown accustomed to it taking 400w to just hold the wheel for the first hour of a bike race.

After the break finally got away, we were in for a long ride before things got exciting again. The fight going into the climb the first time was a big one, and it highlighted the progress I’ve made this year. What should have been a straightforward positioning battle turned dirty when the Tinkoff team hooked the whole field three times on a straight road. It was a fast run-in and they couldn’t hold the speed required to hold off the waves trying to roll over them. As a wave was coming up the side, they abruptly swung to the other side of the road to shut it down. It’s irresponsible and dangerous, and it caused chaos behind. Out of anger and determination to give myself the best chance for a result in my last race of the year, I did what I needed to do and started the climb with Daan and Thomas in the first 20 riders.

In the end, I was unable to get a result, but I’m happy with my race. How can that be? Well, that climb was the furthest thing from suiting me as it could possibly be. I’m a time trial climber, meaning I like to settle into my rhythm and gradually increase the pace all the way up. That climb was steep and pitchy, meaning there was no rhythm to be had, and we started it with a 2 minute sprint. Even despite all this, I barely missed making the select front group of 30 riders over the top. Part of that was due to not knowing the climb. I had one big effort left to get over the top, but with the climb constantly changing pitch I used it too soon and then got hit with another steep section.

I spent the few rolling kilometers at the top in a chase group, knowing that we were steadily losing time. I couldn’t ride the front the whole time, but we were losing time in every turn. I wasn’t taking risks on the damp-at-times road, but if the next turn looks like a possible u-turn, do yourself a favor and set up on the outside, eh?

Anyways, after a disjointed chase effort and doing the final climb at a manageable pace, we only finished 4 minutes down. If I had only made the front group the first time up….

My feeling about my race only improved when I downloaded the power data from the race. It’s a good thing I had the power on my SRM covered up, as my head would have exploded the first time up. After 170km of racing, I started the climb off with a 2-minute power record. Then I kept going and matched my 5-minute record. Then I kept going and set a new 10-minute record. Then I kept going and almost matched my 15- and 20-minute records. All on a climb that didn’t suit me.

So while I failed to get a result, I’m happy with my last race of the year. I needed to start the climb at the front, and I did. I didn’t make the front group over the climb, but I posted some ridiculous power numbers doing so. The only time I ever set power records late in the year was in 2012, after my season prematurely ended in July with double hand surgery. To be setting records in October after such a heavy race season and go into the off-season without being in desperate need of rest, well, that can only mean good things are on the way in 2015!

After learning that I was definitely not going to Beijing, I decided to go into the off-season with one final crazy ride. I’m going to live in Girona next year, but there were still a couple of destinations around here I hadn’t hit yet. The weather deep in the mountains was no good, so I was headed South to Volterra. Wanting a real challenge, though, I made it a ride to remember: 200 miles (325km). I was on cruise control from sun-up to sun-down, finishing the ride in 10:15, plus 45 minutes of rest from stops for water, pastries, and a bit of sight-seeing in Volterra. It was an awesome ride, my longest by a huge margin. My first 6, 7, and 8000kJ ride, finishing at nearly 9000kJ. And I wasn’t dead at the end!

The best part is that I awoke the next day fresh and ready to go again. Life as a stage racer, I guess. After a couple days of rest, I went for a run. Almost 5k in 20 minutes. I was sore after that! Since then, I’ve gone running a few more times, and have adjusted well. I know I’ll be doing some trail running and playing soccer in the weeks to come, so this transition will help prevent injury.

Today is my last day in Lucca, and I’ll be home in less than a week! Just a handful of days with the team for sponsor meetings and getting set up for next year, and then I get to see my family again!

I’ll conclude with a treat for the data dorks out there: a picture of my CTL for the 2014 season (starting in November). In layman’s terms, this is the level of fatigue I went through from training and racing. You can see the steady build and rest periods in the first third, becoming more saw-toothed as racing starts. Catalunya, my first WorldTour race, appears just before the middle of the graph. After Circuit de la Sarthe, and I had a bit of rest, which is followed by the triple peaks of California, Belgium, and Dauphine. Then begins the long slide of my summer break, which is followed by camp in the French Alps and Vuelta a Burgos. Finally, the real purpose of this graphic: that is what a Grand Tour looks like. It’s no joke!

I wish you all a happy end to 2014! I'll be bouncing around visiting friends and family, playing in the dirt on my mountain bike, and helping build another house in Mexico before getting back to work for 2015.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An American in Europe

Before moving to Europe this year, the sum total of my time on this continent was 3 weeks. If that was dipping my toe in the water, this year could only be described as jumping into the deep end of Euro-life. In 2014, I have spent only 40 days in the US.

As my time over here this year winds down and I become increasingly homesick, I’ve thought about all that I will and won’t miss from this side of the pond. I made a list of everything that is quintessentially American—seemingly insignificant facets of the country I grew up in, but that I find myself missing now.

It is likely no surprise that the thing I miss most from the homeland is food. Not just American food, but food in America. Want Thai food at 6pm? Got a sudden hankering for pancakes in the afternoon? Can’t decide if you want Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or juicy steak? In America, you just find a strip-mall with all of the above restaurants at whatever time the mood strikes and go for it.

I have dozens of incredible Italian restaurants just a short walk from my apartment. I could eat myself into a pizza-and-pasta coma (but only after 7pm) any day of the week without visiting the same place twice. It doesn’t matter what I’m in the mood for, I’m having Italian for dinner. Variety is the spice of life, but the spice rack over here has just basil and oregano. Thankfully, mercifully, the supermarket has a few racks of imported foods that give me a taste of home. Of course the prices are premium, but BBQ sauce and Thai sweet chili sauce go a long way when it comes to sanity. Side note: Italian grocery stores have pasta AISLES. Plural.

Speaking of, I will never understand Europe’s widespread avoidance of condiments. It only seems logical that your sandwich of awesome bread, great meat, and tasty cheese would be well-complemented by some spicy chipotle sauce, but maybe that’s just my typical American decadence speaking?

Just because the supermarket has imported foods, though, doesn’t mean they’ll be good. I have left the Mexican rack alone--I can’t even see the expiration dates on the salsa because they’re so dust-covered. Maybe I’ll crack in another week, though.

I celebrated the end of my season with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (they actually have it, and it only costs as much as a pizza!), which is how I learned not to buy American ice cream in Italy. It’s been sitting there so long that it crystallized from so many thaw/freeze cycles of being moved from freezer to freezer while awaiting a particularly homesick bike racer.

Say you’re going out for dinner in Europe. You can sit inside, but it’s a lovely fall evening and the weather is fantastic. Of course you’d like to dine outside, and why shouldn’t you? Oh, right, because your dinner might be ruined by the smoky intermingling of cigarettes and two-stroke scooter exhaust.
I miss America, where cigarette smokers are the rightfully vilified minority (I may be a bit biased on this topic, as their disgusting habit is why I must preempt any judgment on my Dad’s cancer with the oft-repeated “no, he never smoked”), rather than the behind-the-times majority who can’t be bothered to account for the wind’s direction or the sensibilities of other humans. Side note: I hate few things in life as much as somebody having a smoke upwind of me while watching me warm up for a time trial. It happens way too often.

In America, your dinner is accompanied by unlimited free water in a glass that is filled to the brim with ice cubes, even though the AC in the restaurant is cranked to ‘Arctic’. You finish dinner and drive to your hotel in your big SUV that would lose its mirrors driving through any of the small villages around Italy, and lay in your oversized hotel bed while flipping through the myriad TV channels, all of which feature the original audio track rather than the dubbed-over versions that dominate European media. Your phone is charging while you watch How To Train Your Dragon for the third time (because you only caught the second half the first two times), because you don’t have to choose between recharging your phone and watching TV, as the hotel room has 37 outlets to meet your electricity needs from any location. The movie finishes and it only takes 2 seconds to check your email because the internet in America moves faster than a door-busting shopper on Black Friday. Caught up on email, you feel like taking a shower before bed.

You wouldn’t think it would be such a big deal, but I really miss American showers. Showers that make sense. American showers are big enough to bend down and shave my legs without banging my head into the door or bumping into the handle and turning the water to freezing cold. European showers that actually have a door are just small vertical tubes that Americans who find themselves on the right side of the waist-size bell curve would vehemently protest.

Odds are, however, that the shower is one of the open-air bathtubs with the plastic divider as a half-hearted attempt at keeping the water in the tub. If the shower head is actually high enough to stand under without bending over, it’s assuredly one of those adjustable-height numbers that is worn out and constantly slides down while rotating to spray the wall instead. The lukewarm water, in the short time that it sprays you before returning to the wall, fails to combat the cold air attacking you from all sides, as the absence of a door or shower curtain allows any warming water vapor to escape. 

Dissatisfying shower completed, you go to step out, but realize that you forgot the floormat on the other side of the bathroom. Now you nearly bust your head because every European shower is a foot (that’s right, an American measurement) above the floor, so you must awkwardly step down onto a surface covered in water because that little plastic divider works about as well as a mesh umbrella.

And that’s just the AVERAGE European shower. I’ve seen some truly baffling ones this year. At our altitude camp in the French alps, I spent 3 weeks trying to figure out how I was supposed to use the shower. I have an engineering degree and was confounded by a shower. The plastic divider reached no further beyond the slanted back of the tub, with the faucet at the other end, where the mount for the shower head was at waist height. I found that if I took my showers sitting down while holding the shower head with the water barely flowing, I could limit spillage to just what the towel could absorb.

In America, you can go out in public without considering your future restroom needs, as nobody is going to charge you for a visit to the Water Closet. I have never paid to use a toilet out of principle--my American pride would rather suffer a bladder fit to burst than pay for the privilege of using a public toilet!

I hope you enjoyed my tirade. I really do enjoy Europe and its culture, and my litany of trivial gripes will be quickly forgotten after an evening of watching real football while eating a big juicy burger at home. I’m counting down the days!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Post-Vuelta thoughts, Worlds TTT, and more

I realize that the World Championships TTT was the better part of a week ago, but cut me some slack! I think I broke the blogging world record by posting 24 times in as many days. 15,000 words while racing a Grand Tour.

Speaking of, I’ve got some final thoughts about the Vuelta, now that I’ve had some time to digest it. First, I still can barely grasp the significance of what I/we accomplished. My longest bike race ever was 10 days and it was far from the level of the Vuelta, and it destroyed me (with the aid of a nasty South-American bacteria, to be fair). My longest WorldTour race was 8 days. So it was a reasonable expectation that I would be able to contribute for the first half of the Vuelta before shifting into survival mode. I and my coaches anticipated finishing the Vuelta with the ability to do nothing more than curl up in bed until the end-of-season team meeting, which is why I’m only a reserve rider for most of the post-Vuelta races.

But that’s not what happened. Thanks to a lot of hard work on my part and the careful training/racing schedule planned out by my coaches and trainers, my legs did much more than survive their first GT, and I’m pleased as punch about it. We fought as a team for every chance we had and came out with a staggering 4 stage wins, very nearly getting 3 more. I have to say that the last 200m of stage 4 was my happiest moment on a bike ever. There are only a few times in my life I’ve had the thought “we’re going to win this bike race, ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it,” and that was one of them.

There’s also something that those outside of bike racing usually don’t consider, and that’s all the extra bike riding we do. What, isn’t a GT enough? 10km of neutral before every road stage adds up! Plus all the riding to/from sign in, and the ride to the bus after the finish. The race was officially 3232km(1995mi), but over 23 days I accumulated 3677km(2270mi). I covered that distance in 103 hours, 10 hours more than my GC time.

Like I said, we thought I’d be dead after the Vuelta, so I was only a reserve rider for Worlds TTT. But then John had to be hospitalized for an infection and I got the callup. Every TTT I do just makes me love the event that much more. I’m a perfectionist, and the TTT is an event in which perfection pays huge dividends. I also find it to be the most exciting/terrifying event because of the skill required. We were rolling at 60kph for the first 15 minutes of the race. We’re going crazy fast, nowhere near the brakes, and each of us only able to see the wheel in front of us. To recover at all at those speeds, you have to fully commit to the wheel and trust that the guy 5 bikes ahead of you will pick a good line and that the director in your ear will warn you of dangers with enough time to do something about it.

The TTT is also one of the most painful events. Unlike a long TT, where you can just dial up the pain to a sustainable level and hold it there, the TTT is an hour-long over/under interval. In the first 15 minutes, on the flat ground, I was doing nearly 550W on the front for close to 30 seconds (I kept forgetting to look at the timer when I started my pulls and went too long). Then I swung off, soft-pedaled for 5 seconds, then sprinted to get back on. Then I had 2 minutes at 300W before I had to do it again. And that was the easy part of the course. Then we reached the hills.

I was really in the hurt locker for 10 minutes before the top of the climb, but I was pleased to have made it into the final 4. Our efforts were rewarded with the top-10 placing that we were seeking. We’re constantly getting better, which bodes well for the future!

The TTT was my first race with Marcel—I hadn’t even seen him since the first week of January—so it was nice to get to know each other.  I still haven’t done a race with Tom Veelers or Bert de Becker (although I got to know Tom well at camp). That’s how big the team is, there are guys that I haven’t seen all year!

I still have at least one race remaining, so there’s still some training to be done to maintain my form. I mentally can’t do intervals anymore, and even just telling myself that I’m going training cracks me a bit. So yesterday I covered up the power and went for a bike ride. When I’m supposed to go hard, I’ll just chase some Strava KOMs.

Want to know what a GT does to your legs? I can’t go easy anymore! It’s either 150 or 300W all day, I can’t find the in-between. 300W is just cruising speed now, nearly nose-breathing. Also, 21 days of WorldTour racing is a lot of speedwork, and now 90rpm feels like grinding.

So, I’ve got at least one race remaining—Milan-Torino, plus I’m reserve for a few others. I’m hoping to get bumped up, though. I’ve got good legs at the end of the season for the first time ever, and want to use them. Also, I’m not going home until after the team meeting in October, and racing makes time go by much faster!

I said in an interview earlier this year that, as riders, our job is to race our bikes and leave the team management to those in the office. We can’t be stressing about sponsorship issues if we hope to perform well, and our team office rewarded that trust by securing a new major sponsor, Alpecin, for the coming years. Sponsorship stability is such a big deal in this sport! I also love that the sponsor of the team with the rider most synonymous with fantastic hair (and Marcel, too) is a shampoo company.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 21: Done. And. Dusted!

Just a short report today, for a short stage.

We got a lap of the course in this morning. Once again, the course profile was incredibly misleading. If they tried to present that profile to an engineering professor, they’d be very disappointed in their grade. Scale, scale, scale!

What looked like a fairly flat course was actually either up or down with very little flat in between. What was obvious, though, is that the possibility of rain would seriously affect the outcome on the technical course.

Warming up for TT’s is the most bizarre part of bike racing for me. The best part of riding bikes is actually moving, so I naturally hate trainers. But there I am, pedaling and going nowhere. While I’m coming to terms with the necessity of this misery, there are complete strangers just arm’s length away looking at me and taking pictures like I’m a zoo animal, and all I can do is just pretend that they aren’t there.

After 3 weeks of racing, I don’t have much left in me, so I certainly didn’t want to leave my best effort on the trainer. I opted for a longer, easier warmup instead.

All was good until I got to the start house and it started to rain. I immediately reached over and lowered my tire pressure. On that course, it was impossible for a wet time to come close to the top of the leaderboard, but I gave it my best try anyways.

I didn’t take crazy risks, but I definitely pushed the tires at times. I wanted to have a more steady effort, but with the rain, I was just sprinting from corner to corner. By the time I was through the corner, I was recovered and ready to sprint again.

In the end, I finished 1’04” down on the winning time. I actually had a really good ride with good power numbers, and I’m pleased with my ride technically. Among everybody who raced in the rain, I finished quite near the top, so I can’t be too disappointed.  I did everything under my control perfectly, but there’s nothing I could do about the weather. Oh well!

But then Wawa had the ride he needed to hold on to 8th on GC, and John won the points competition! 4 wins, a top-10 on GC, and the Green Jersey?! I’m scared that the bar has been set unreasonably high for all future Grand Tours!

And just like that, it’s over. It’s going to feel really weird for the next few days, I think, as I adjust to life outside of this bike race again. Nothing important has happened while I’ve been away, right?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 20:Dark places

Our mood before the start was very good. It was the last road stage, the weather was nice, John had a good lead in the points competition, and Warren was 8th on GC.

The problem with mind trickery, such as convincing yourself that you’ve made it to the end, is that eventually you are faced with 185km of racing before it becomes true.

The stage started with 20km of descending, with some short little kickers thrown in. The descents were narrow and technical, and bumpy. I was mid-pack when I threw my chain coming out of the corner. I had a 32t cassette today, which requires a long-cage derailleur, which can be quite bouncy in the smaller cogs. All that is to say that, when I was in the 11t through the corner and hit a bump just right, off it went. I tried for a while to gently get the chain back on, but it just wouldn’t go, so I had to stop and put it on by hand.

I chased back through the caravan (but didn’t have the presence of mind to turn the camera on) on the tricky descent. When I got back, I saw that the field had split into multiple groups, and Warren was in the last one with me. So I worked my way up to the front and started chasing with Tobias and Nikias. 

We got Warren back to the main field just in time for it to split again. This time, at least, he was ahead of it. I wasn’t so lucky, though, and my group didn’t regain the main field until the bottom of an uncategorized climb of 10km at 5%. I had spent the whole race chasing, and the attacks were still going.

When I ended up in the cars just 35km in the race on such a hard stage, I started to freak out. I was panicking that I would end up by myself all day and miss time cut. I thought about the consolation that everyone would give me about all the success that the team has had and the part I played in it, and that just sent me further into the dark places of my mind. I thought about how I wanted to finish the Vuelta for my dad and everybody who’s helped me get this far, and the fear of failing sent me further into the spiral. I knew that the break would go eventually and the field would take it easy and I could make it back, but rationality in such a situation on stage 20 is hard to come by. Thankfully my directors were there to calm me down. It also helped that there were 20 other guys in the cars suffering just as badly.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened, and I enjoyed the hour of relaxed pace to recover and eat. I learned that I didn’t have it so bad, as Warren was really suffering from mounting knee pain—a lingering side effect of his crashes. My mood was really boosted when Larry Warbasse said that my legs, in his opinion, show the most improvement in muscle definition out of the whole Vuelta peloton. That meant that I have any muscle definition at all, which sent me over the moon.

Thankfully the pace over the next two climbs was hard, but manageable. My legs were tired but I was feeling better, and every kilometer spent with the main field meant that the risk of missing time cut was further reduced.

My mental trick today was as follows: 80km to go, that’s just 50 miles! Look at that, 30 fewer already just by converting the units! With my SRM display showing the kilometers ticking by, but thinking of remaining distance in miles, my end-of-the-grand-tour mind had a firm grasp on any straws it could reach. Just get me to the finish!

I managed to reach the bottom of the penultimate climb with the field and happily sang ‘grupetto’ as the fast dudes took off. Time-cut estimates were about 40-45 minutes, so when we reached the top of the climb just 10 minutes behind, things were looking good.

The last climb was brutal for about 5 kilometers in the middle, but we reached the top with 10 minutes to spare. I spent half of the final climb swatting off spectators who forgot the number one rule of spectating: don’t touch the bike racers. Guys are welcome to ask for a push if they want (although they could be penalized for it), but I want to reach the finish line under my own power. So keep your hands off!

Warren not only battled his demons, he beat them into submission to finish 6th on the stage. I’m so impressed with his Vuelta so far!

Now, it doesn’t require any mind tricks: there is only one stage left. It’s a short and technical TT, and it’s what I’ve had my sights set on for 3 weeks now . The chance of rain should keep it interesting.

20 down, ONETOGOONETOGOONETOGO! (You’re supposed to read that in Dave Towle’s fanatical end-of-crit voice.)

Also, seeing as the time trial isn’t until tomorrow evening and will be immediately followed by post-race festivities and travel, it may be a day or so before I post again. Just be forewarned!

Friday, September 12, 2014

THE Vuelta Stage 19: Mind games

Racing for such a long time does weird things to your body. My legs are still good, but I just feel kind of exhausted in general. I’ve been sleeping really hard the last few nights. So hard that when my bladder wakes me up in the middle of the night, I walk into walls because I’m so out of it. Part of that is due to the countless times we’ve changed hotels. If only hotels would adopt a universal floor plan…but then I guess that may be too much like prison.

The fatigue has carried over into my willingness to sign autographs. If somebody comes up to me when I’m not moving, sure, I’ll sign, but you have zero chance of getting me to stop once I’m rolling to/from sign-in. Every time we’re ambushed for autographs at the hotel elevators, or the walk to/from the bus, or at breakfast, I die a little inside. All I want is to not think about bike racing, and here’s some stranger that thinks I’m important because I can pedal a bike well. This daily blog is the only race-related activity that I actually like to do each day (aside from the race) because the positive responses it gets are good for my state of mind. Thus concludes my antisocial paragraph.

Sitting on the start line each day is the toughest point of the day mentally. Once the race has started, you just focus on the task at hand. But sitting there, just waiting for the suffering to come, that’s miserable. Today’s mental battle on the start line was tougher than normal because it’s not the last road stage, but the next to last. We’re almost almost there. So I did some fuzzy math to trick myself (insert Aggie joke here). Basically, the last stage is a TT, which barely counts. Tomorrow will be tough, but today? Well, it’s already today. You can’t include today’s stage in the count (nevermind that it hasn’t started yet), so really there’s just one stage left. I can do one more stage!

Today’s stage was a perfect one for the breakaway, but it was also another perfect opportunity to get another win for John—and equally importantly, more green jersey points over Valverde. The course profile was tough, with two cat 2 climbs, the second topping out just 15km from the finish. For us to have our way, it would require another full-team effort from start to finish.

Even though there are only 7 of us now, we rode like there were a dozen Giant-Shimano riders in the field. We had to break the spirit of the attackers. Even though it was hard, our constant presence at the front showed that we were willing to keep the fight going as long as necessary until the reshuffling dealt us a hand that we liked. Soon they weren’t even attacking at 100% because they didn’t want to waste energy. Slowly, fewer and fewer riders were attacking, until finally 3 riders slipped away and we shut the field down for good.
Then the Ramon show started. I helped him a bit today, but he took on 80% of the workload, nearly shutting down the break single-handedly.

You now things are going pretty well when your biggest complaint is the complete failure of your usually-trustworthy weather site. Even after it failed me yesterday (I looked like a hobo, wearing my rain socks as my tanlines were being sharpened, the forecast rain nowhere to be seen), I trusted its forecast for sunny skies today. I was dressed in blazing white, my socks brand new and my kit with only one rest day ride under its belt. So when it started to rain, I was quite upset. Oh well….

The fuzzy math continued well into the stage: 180k total, and we’ve done 60…I’m working to chase the break until the base of the final climb at 160…the descent of the first climb is 15k…so really there’s only 85km left! See what I did there?

With 40km remaining before the final climb, Orica sent two riders to help me and Ramon. We were chasing hard, but it was obvious that the break was lacking motivation, legs, or both, as the gap started to tumble quickly. With 5km to the base, our job was done as the GC teams took over to begin the fight for position for the narrow climb. The break was caught before the climb.

John suffered up the climb—even earning himself a ‘chapeau’ from Contador—and came down the other side with a few teammates to finish the chase. Then, the only wrinkle in the day’s plan: a 500m wall through a little town with 5k to go that we had no idea about (it didn’t show up on the course profile). It shed Nikias, who had just finished a pull, and allowed an opportunity for Adam Hansen to jump away. Once he had the gap, the course favored a committed solo rider—twisting, mostly downhill, and tailwind.

In the end, John won the field sprint for 2nd, just 5 seconds behind Hansen. As much as we wanted the win, the green jersey points were arguably more important.  Now, Valverde has to podium both of the last two stages just to match John’s total.

Now there’s just one stage left between me and the time trial. So basically I’m already there.
19 down, 2 to go!