At first glance, this stage looked to be a straightforward sprint stage. But look a little closer and you’d realize that it would be tough for us. We have the most dominant sprinter in the race, while other key sprinters have dropped out. If we wanted a sprint, it would be up to us to control it. Of the remaining stages, there are limited opportunities for breakaways (depending on how the GC riders play the uphill finish stages), so they'd probably be gunning hard for this one. The course for the stage also presented a challenge: it was along the coast the whole day. Winds can shift constantly, and the roads are always rolling and twisting. It could make for a very hard day. The last time I chased a breakaway on coastal roads (California), the break managed to stay away….
But we did want a sprint, and that meant that our work started from kilometer 0. There was likely to be a big fight for the break, but we had to shut it down, probably alone. We had to assert ourselves and make sure that the break was manageable, and let me tell you, we asserted ourselves all over the place.
The fight went on for 20km, and we had all hands on deck to shut the moves down when they got too big. In that time, I could tell that I had again responded very well to the rest day. My legs felt awesome, and I was excited to put them to use.
As we went through a town, a small group was off the front. We all rushed to the front and clogged up the works immediately while we still had narrow roads. It worked, and the break of 5 was established.
A short aside: I’ve always thought the team’s superstition about how the salt should be passed at meals was silly, but I respect it to be a good sport. Well, last night Warren was reckless with the salt at dinner. After he stopped to pee today, he crashed into a car in the caravan. He’s alright, but I think he’ll be a bit more careful at the table in the future….
We started riding tempo immediately so the gap wouldn’t go too far, allowing it to slowly grow to 3 minutes. For over 70km Tobias and I took 10k pulls at a good tempo, keeping the gap at 3 minutes. Orica and Omega had promised to contribute to the chase after 100km.
It’s a funny game, the give-and-take between the break and the chasers. They ride hard enough to increase the time gap, testing to see how far we’ll let them go. We adjust our pace behind when the gap reaches our desired maximum, then both of us ease up a bit while still holding the same gap. We want them going hard enough to at least get a little tired, but not hard enough to wear ourselves out. Then later on, we start ramping up the pace to bring them back. So they ramp up their pace to hold us off. So we keep going harder until the gap starts to fall. Or in today’s case, we add more riders to the chase when we can’t go harder.
The break today was really strong, I’ll give them that much. After the feed zone, we started trying to pull them back. It was me, Tobias, Johannes, and a rider each from Orica and OPQS. We were going hard for 40k, but all we managed to do was match the pace of the break. OPQS added more riders along with Orica, and finally the gap started to fall.
I had to take a break after 150km. I was starting to crack, already over 4000kJ. After a short recovery, I was back at the front for another 10k before I could contribute no more. The gap was slowly falling now that there were a dozen riders chasing all-in, and up ahead the break was starting to splinter.
We checked out the last 7km of the stage yesterday, and it served us well today. We had wanted to save the other guys for a proper leadout, but in the end we needed to use everybody just to bring it to a sprint, and hoped that John could finish it off. And boy howdy, John sure knows how thank us for our hard work, bringing home his 4th win at this Vuelta!
Our team had a goal today, and it required a complete team effort from start to finish. We did exactly what we wanted and needed to do, and the goal was accomplished. I’m so happy, it almost makes my legs not hurt!
Today was another 5000kJ day for me, setting new power records (for the second time in a week!) of 3.5-4.5 hours. That makes my legs hurt.
17 down, 4 to go!