Saturday, April 6, 2013

My 4th & 5th Lives at Basque

If I were a cat with 9 lives, I think I may have lived/lost a couple of them during stages 4 and 5 of Basque Country. I think my mind is already putting a block on the memories because I am already struggling to recall exactly how the stage went! Remembering correctly, it started with a relatively flat start for the first 40-50km around the lakes outside of Bilbao. Then it was into the more proper mountains surround the town of Eibar. It took an hour or more for the break to finally go, which was a welcome occurrence as it was wet and cold, even while riding full speed. I was very undecided on what to wear before the race. I debated and debated, asked everyone else what they were wearing, walked through the bus to see what everyone was wearing, and finally settled on a windstopper baselayer, regular jersey, heavy arm warmers, thermal vest, 3/4 rain jersey, and my rain jacket in my pocket. I was actually good for the first 40min or so, but then the water soaked through my layers. Also, I didn't realize it, but my forearms and hands had become quite cold, nearly inoperable really. I quickly put my rain jacket on, and immediately felt the benefit from simply shielding my forearms from the wind. After some time, I went back to the car and changed gloves, which made a world of difference for my hands, too. Now that I was "comfortable", I could resume racing.

The tempo never really relented during stage 4, and then terrain made that ever more obvious. We did several longer climbs that were really challenging after 3 already hard stages of racing. The final ~40km was a circuit, so we rode the finishing climb once before the actual final. The first time up it was quite hard, as it has been in the years passed. Despite the weather, the fans were still quite impressive. Usually there are thousands of people up near the top, and this year there were still a lot, but maybe not quite as many. Still, chapeau to the Basque fans for coming out again. On top, it was immediately downhill, and I was unable to get my jacket zipped, so I suffered a little bit there. It was either this descent or the one from the second last climb where I finally felt how cold my feet were. We raced from the descent onto the second last climb where Movistar put the hammer down and really stretched the field. I forgot how quickly the climb came after the descent, so I was too far back, but I made it safely over the top. Then it was the final descent and run into the finishing climb. I stashed my rain jacket and battled for a good position.

We raced through town in one line and hit the base of the climb. Immediately guys exploded. I battled to follow the selection and was there for the first couple kilometers. The attacks began immediately at the bottom, and I followed the group, but I was only hanging on the back. I began to lose contact, and that was ultimately my fate. I didn't sit up though and kept going at my own rhythm. I crossed the line a couple minutes down and a little disappointed that I couldn't dig deep enough to follow. It was a mental and physical battle all day though with the elements and the tough racing.

Stage 5 was a roller coaster mentally and physically. Mentally, it went from positive to negative many times. First, the sun was shining at the start, then it was full gas raining, then it was sunny again. Then it was the same during the stage: full rain, sunny, snowing, super cold, everything! There were many moments where I was wondering what the heck I was doing out there, but then there were moments when I thought to myself, "this is really awesome". For example, there were a couple moments we were climbing these steep, Basque climbs where the sun was just right to catch everyone's breath and reflect the rain/snow with just the right light, that it was almost surreal. It was like a picture/movie out of those "epic" cycling movies. In those moments, my thoughts were more, "wow, this is pretty awesome!" I actually gained a little inspiration from those moments. I would flash back to reality though shortly after and realize how much I was suffering and how I couldn't really feel my body!

The stage was pretty uneventful really. It was simply really hard. We started out with a hard climb after 6km, and the field exploded there, then another 8.5km climb after that descent, and the field dwindled even more, then another 3km climb immediately following that, then finally after those 40-50km, the break "established" itself. Laurent did a super job of getting into the move, but it was quite pointless for everyone because they never even gained more than 1.5minutes I don't think. Movistar played it really silly. They were able to get 3 guys into the move, with one of them being 1:15 down on gc, yet they didn't pull hard in the break to try and break Sky. That really doesn't make sense. In the end, it was Sky pulling in the field that simply set the whole tone for the race. One guy, Kiryienka, pulled for 60km+ and controlled the whole race. The weather and sheer toughness of the course wore the field down to almost nothing by the time we were hitting the last climb. As expected, some attacks of the gc guys flew, and it was simply survival to try and follow. Kim, our director, was encouraging us to attack if we had anything left, but it was simply not possible or logical. The three of us who remained, Maxime,  Haimar, and me, were all riding on pure survival instinct, and an attack, although maybe good for TV time, simply didn't make sense. I guess you never know if you don't try, but it was almost surely a "boomerang" attack: make it a little ways and come back quickly. I guess that might be a mental battle I lost yesterday. In any case, I was really happy to battle to the finish. There were many occasions yesterday where I wanted to stop, but I kept reminding myself that everyone was suffering the same, so I needed to keep going. I wasn't going to stop unless my body stopped me.

So that brings us to today's time trial. It is 24km around mostly the same circuit we did yesterday. It has three hard climbs. Basically, it will be three all out efforts, followed by some descending, and a little flat time trialing. The weather looks the same or worse than yesterday. It's colder and still raining, even snowed overnight. I'll battle for one last time, then it is home for a rest. Thanks for reading!


Cindy said...

Awesome recap. Glad to know your "tough" side prevailed and kept you going.

Anonymous said...

Cycling News said only 73 riders finished yesterday's stage. Nice job on the TT today, good placing.

Get some rest. You deserve it!

Scott K said...

I enjoyed the recap. Yes it sure sounded like some ugly conditions but glad to hear you kept at it. There is something to be said for finishing a days work. Get some TLC from your chief crew member and good rest.

Cianciola said...

Epic. Spring weather in Europe. Gotta love it. Great job on bringing us along for the ride with your post.
--Hip in Tosa