The team spirit and attitude were set from the beginning with our near miss in the team time trial. We committed to protecting our leaders, which eventually became one, Chris, and we rode with a purpose during every stage. When Chris took the stage win and red jersey for the first time on stage 3, it was another boost to the team morale and motivation. He lost the jersey after a controversial time gap, but we didn’t let it interfere with our long team focus. We faced some opposition with a few of us crashing and/or getting sick, but we persevered and riders step up when others were down. It was a true team effort to keep Chris in the hunt until the final couple stages. Obviously he had to do some work himself, too, which he did without question!
After 19 stages, Chris had managed to take the red jersey again by a narrow 3-second margin, so it was left to the penultimate stage that ended with the infamous Angliru. It is one of the most revered climbs in Spain, if not Europe because of it’s relentless 20%+ gradient for several kilometers. We entered the stage with confidence but not certainty because everything would we won/lost on the steep slopes, where 3 seconds could be as little as the time bonus at the finish if Nibali and Chris came to the line together. We controlled the start as best we could, eventually letting 30 riders up the road. Normally that is too big of a group, but we only had to focus on a few riders at this point who could be dangerous to the gc. We took up our own tempo until some other teams decided they had interest in the stage or team gc or their own gc position. From there we took a backseat until the second last climb of the day, where the first real selection would be made. The typical dash for the bottom ensued, but we remained calm and got to the bottom in good position. Katusha set a hard tempo that thinned the group to maybe 25 by the top. Robert and I were still there with Chris so our situation was good. After a fairly technical descent, we were immediately onto the lower, less steep slopes of the Angliru. It didn’t take long for Katusha again to express interest in the stage win for Rodriguez by sending Dani Moreno to the front to ramp up the pace again. I made one last effort to offer Chris a gel or bottle, then I bid him farewell and good luck.
The next 10km to the top took me close to an hour. I spent that hour listening in my radio as Jose offered words of motivation and encouragement to Chris. I prayed and hoped, even cheered aloud every once in awhile! I was very uncertain what was happening at several moments. I knew at one point Nibali had a 10 second gap, then they were together, then again Nibali was alone. For a good period of time all Jose was saying in the radio was “come on Chris”. I didn’t know what that meant, but it was torture, perhaps even more so than the climb itself! After what seemed like forever, I finally heard more detail in the radio. Something to the effect of, “keep going Chris, he’s suffering. He’s close to dropping. He’s DROPPED! Go, go, GO!!” I was suffering at my slow speed, but I couldn’t imagine the pain Chris was experiencing. I willed him all my strength and tried not to celebrate until I had crossed the line and knew it was certain. The smiles and hugs that greeted me after the line gave me the assurance I needed to know we were one “ceremonial” stage away from winning the Vuelta.
It was a long transfer (500km) to Madrid that night, but the excitement that surrounded the accomplishment far outweighed the immediate drain of three weeks of racing. We arrived at the hotel at 1am, had some food, and slept! It was joy and excitement at breakfast the next morning. We took pictures and enjoyed our time before the start. Then we took a slow start to the stage, sipped some champagne, and rode the front of the field until we hit the finishing circuit in Madrid. After a bit of high speed, nerve racking racing, we officially finished. Chris was the 2013 Vuelta champion. A night of celebration ensued before everyone had to part ways today. It was a memorable and certainly difficult at times three weeks of racing, but I’m so glad I could be a part of it, creating these lifelong memories. Thanks for checking in and continuing to support the team and Lisa and me along this journey!
|Traditional champagne on the way into Madrid.|
|It took more than just Chris or the riders to make it happen!|
|Trying to enjoy it after 3 weeks of hard work.|
|Every second of suffering up the Angliru was worth it!|
|It is official!|
|Couldn't do it without my best teammate.|