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.