For me, I lost time on the day because I made my contribution by giving Haimar my wheel on a descent after the field had split, he had a flat, and the team car was way behind. With all the adrenaline and lack of mechanical skills at work, it took us what seemed like forever to swap wheels. Haimar did make it back to the main peloton though, so the wheel change was important. The team car arrived as Haimar was going again, so I got my wheel from them and was off. I chased pretty hard and thought I would make it back because I was still in the team cars, but when we arrived at the bottom of the descent, the group had split. I would ride gruppetto to the finish, unknowingly "saving" my energy for the next day's undertaking.
So the next day, stage 4, would take on 50+km of climbing, go to the highest altitude of the 2011 Vuelta, and be the scene of the first real mountain showdown for the gc favorites, so I decided I would go in the break! I should rephrase that, by me doing my job, suffering quite a bit, and feeling like quitting a few times, I wound up in the break. I was on call to make sure we were represented in any big groups, and I followed a big group initially. We got a gap, but the peloton chased. As we were caught, a few guys jumped again, and I followed. Seven of us went clear, and would spend the rest of the stage in front. Our group worked pretty well together. There was one guy who tried to skip turns, but we forced him to work because no one was getting a free ride! I was not incredibly comfortable for most of the day. It was the familiar feeling I have had for the first days here, feeling like I really have to fight the bike to make it go anywhere. I gave it what I had though and thought for a moment we might make it to the finish. When the peloton wants you back though, 99% of the time, you come back!
We hit the base of the final 23k climb to Sierra Nevada with something like 3min in hand. Rohregger attacked immediately and made the selection of 4 that would ride until 3ish km to go until the chasing peloton caught us. Honestly I was praying to be caught way sooner because I was not very comfortable. I rode as best I could though, even trying to help my teammates as they came by, but one dig to try and stay with them and I was filled with lactic acid enough to say enough is enough! I watched, trying to regroup my senses as the peloton sped away. Not much else to say about that. It was a long, hard day in the saddle; a good experience for sure and should help to make me stronger.
Today's stage 5 was not incredibly difficult looking on paper, but it was potentially the hardest stage so far! It was never flat and never easy. After ONE HOUR of neutral start (descent of Sierra Nevada plus 15k in/through Granada), we finally rolled through the km 0 banner. It was full gas with no sign of stopping. I was given the ok to rest today with other guys covering the moves, but there is only so long a few guys can last, especially when the road starts tilting upwards for sections lasting 4k+. Eventually, I found myself covering some moves. My legs actually felt really strong, maybe the best they have felt so far. With positive vibes and strong sensations, I did what I could. There were a couple sketchy moments in a town as I fish-tailed through a roundabout, then shortly afterwards skid straight through a corner coming to a stop unclipped just before a nice wire, construction fence as the guy in front of me laid it down into the fence. For some reason, the roads in this town were really slick. Several guys crashed. After this town, a big selection was made and we had Markel and Tiago in it. It was good team effort to make that happen.
Due to the size of this break and the fact that a couple big teams had missed it, there was no way it was going to get far. Before the teams organized and the chase happened, the pace lulled, so I thought all was fine as it normally would be. I drifted rearward in search of replenishment, meanwhile blowing my nose and happening upon an awesome bloody nose! These are the worst on the bike because you can't stop them and it gets all over you kit. I went back to the medical car to ask for some gauze to plug it. Meanwhile, the chase started, and the road went up again! With one nostril full of gauze, I suffered in the back. After a long, twisty descent, I found myself in the worst position possible to start the category 2 climb: DEAD LAST! Uh oh is an understatement at this point. I blew the gauze out of my nose and proceeded to navigate my way through the carnage. I made it to the back of the peloton and tried to catch my breath. I suffered over the top, through the finish line (first passage), down another big descent and finally got into the peloton. I was really suffering for no reason at this point from the hard start, hard effort up the climb, and general effort of the race. I finally got some food and drink though, and moved myself toward the front to protect my teammates. The pace was relentless today. I think I averaged the same or more power today than I did in the break yesterday. Ok, so this is getting long! In the final, I did what I could to deliver Jani, Tiago, and Haimar to the base of the final climb in good position, then sat up to save my energy for further on in the race.
My overall impression or mindset right now is still good. I really struggled the first few stages with feeling good on or off the bike. Now things are heading in the proper direction though, so hopefully I can keep the suffering to on the bike! The team attitude is still good with high hopes for good results to come. I think that's about it! Thanks for reading and all the support/encouragement.