Monday, September 16, 2013

Creating Memories

Twenty-one stages have come and gone since I left Girona on August 21st and with them I have created memories that will last forever. When we had our first team meeting on the bus to discuss our goals/ambitions for the Vuelta, it was never really considered that we could be standing on the top step of the podium in Madrid. We thought it was possible to have a top 10 in the general classification and we hoped to win a stage or two, but we never could have guessed how the past three weeks of racing would have played out. To have been a part of this is very special for me and something I may never have the opportunity to do again.

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.

14 comments:

Scott K said...

CONGRATULATIONS! So proud of you and the team! Could not be happier for you! Enjoy the celebrating and TLC from your favorite team member! Nice photos with Chris too!

Cindy said...

So glad Lisa could be there for the celebration! Most excellent victory.

Anonymous said...

Just saw confirmation of your resigning with Trek! Way to step up Trek! Hoping for a trip to France for you next July!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure with the caliber of rider like you, there will be more of this opportunity to come. You are a great rider so the road is really wider for you. Congratz and thanks for your hard work.

Tom said...

Congrats!
Thanks for the race recap. I was wondering if the rest of the team knew Nibali was dropped or not or were in the dark until they crossed the line. Was also unsure how much the DS's could even see what was even going on up Angliru.

Enjoy this great accomplishment. What an experience!

Anonymous said...

The Angliru stage may have been the best I have ever watched, cherish the experience it can never be erased and is something to be proud of. What a 3 weeks it was. Enjoy some rest, can't wait for next year!

Caren said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!! What a huge accomplishment!! Thanks for taking the time to share your memories!

Todd Christensen said...

You killed it man. Liked the insight into the Angliru battle.
Congrats and GREAT season. Hope you can enjoy a few days off now.

Anonymous said...

Go get em at the World Championships!! Help bring home the gold!!

Kristin Lee said...

Congrats on Worlds! You're in great form coming off the Vuelta.

Anonymous said...

A great post-Vuelta post. Thanks! Great news that you are going to Worlds! That's a great cap to a great season! Suerte.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the Vuelta!
Also enjoyed reading your recap and seeing the pics. Quite a nice pic of you and Chris. Now on to Worlds....Buona Fortuna. Well deserved and your skills will be such an asset to the US Team. Also liked your Worlds tweet where you acknowledged Freddie.

Cianciola said...

Fantastic post Matthew. I have photos of only two pro cyclists in my new house....YOU and a picture of Chris and me at the ToC. Good things DO happen to good guys! Congrats.

Marina said...

Buona Fortunate en Firenze! Great year for you!