The day after the rest day was the worst. Thankfully the stage was relatively easy. It was the longest of the Vuelta to that point, but it also was the easiest (on paper) and ended up being the easiest by all other evidence. For me, that was a blessing because I was nearly dead. Ok, I have been sicker before, but there was no part of me that wanted to pedal the bike that day. I suffered through the 203k though and was happy to still be in the race.
The following day was the longest stage at 211k, and it ended up being probably the fastest stage of the whole Vuelta. We did the whole thing in about 5hrs. Luckily I was feeling a little healthier and more motivated because I am quite certain that I would have been going home had I not been. The stage was quite ridiculous actually. We did the first 100k in 2:10 I think, and the pace never really eased because of the race situation(s): breakaways, teams being unsatisfied with the situation on the road, etc. Again, I was happy to see the finish, although it was not the greatest time climbing another mountain to the finish with the gruppetto. It is starting to really surprise me how guys don't get tired. It is a little depressing actually to feel like you can't hang with even the top 50 in a race. I continue though knowing I will be stronger and with/beyond those top 50 in the future.
Yesterday's stage was picked to be a big continuation of the war with Chris Froome only 13s out of the red jersey. Surprisingly, they played it cool though allowing a big break of non-gc threats to go and just riding tempo all day. For me, the sensations were a little better. Physically, the body is actually reacting pretty well. My legs feel pretty good and my heartrate has responded favorably the last couple stages. That gives me confidence that my body can still push. The biggest issue for me is the cramps in my neck/back from so many days on the bike. I think they are actually more accented the last few days because of the sickness. I am hoping they will dissipate over the last few stages, so I can finish strong and feel good about my efforts and in general in my body.
So I should probably offer a reflection on the mystic Angliru. My take is that I would like to go back some day and have the chance to race it. The day to Angliru was the shortest stage of the Vuelta (besides Madrid) and the pace was high all day. As we were approaching the category 1 before the Angliru, I was caught in a crash. The timing was horrible because it was less than 10k to the start of the climb, and the field was going 55kmh+ at this point. My teammate Nelson was also in the crash, so I waited a long time for a wheel while they fixed his bike. Once I got a new wheel, I followed cars and riders back to the field, but I was defeated mentally and physically at this point. It was nearly impossible to move up, so we hit the climb and I tried to move a little, but the front group disappeared. I made it to the top, descended and started the Angliru. I was with a big group of riders, but as the slopes steepened, the group split and I slowly went backwards just trying to survive. The crowds were pretty good and always eager to push. Many guys offered water bottles for pushes. One guys started the climb with 5 bottles (2 on the bike, 3 in the jersey) and finished with zero! It was a little dangerous at times with people pushing and running around, but the excitement is nice to see. The craziest part of the experience was climbing through the clouds. It was clear at the bottom, got misty/cloudy toward the top, and as we went over the top, the clouds disappeared and we were above them. It was a neat experience. Thankfully the steepest parts of the climb were in the clouds, so you could only see 100m in front of you. I was happy to complete Angliru and make it to the second rest day because I knew the stages I had just completed were incredibly difficult.
Now it is only three stages to go and I am returning to health and happiness. The nest two stages are not easy by any means, but I feel confident that I can at least complete them given what I have already ridden. The team is looking for a stage win to try and erase the bad luck, and we were close yesterday with a valiant effort from Sergio. Maybe the next two days can return the luck from Pais Vasco earlier this year. Thanks for checking in again, sorry it took me so long to write. Hope you have enjoyed the read.